Avast! Yar! Other pirate-y words, matey! There are enemies in sight and it’s your job to stake your claim of the high seas! Direct your crew to grab their weapons and hoist the sails; you’ll have to outsmart and out-shoot your opponents or you’ll find yourself going down with the ship!
Scalawag!, from Steve Nix and Troubadour Games, is a competitive game of hidden roles and bluffing for 3-8 players. In Scalawag!, each player will be captaining a ship and giving orders to their crew in an attempt to sink their opponents and be the most powerful on the seven seas! The game consists of:
- 48 Cards
- 30 Crew Cards (6 Sailor, 6 Gunner, 6 Marine, 4 Pilot, 4 Mutineer, 4 Lookout)
- 2 Bonus Crew Cards (Rogue Wave, Black Spot) Unique to the Limited Edition
- 8 Allegiance Cards (2 English, 2 French, 2 Spanish, 2 Pirate)
- 8 Ship Flag Cards (Crown, Eagle, Griffon, Lion, Snake, Unicorn, Crossed Keys, Crossed Swords)
- 120 Tokens
- 80 Compass Point Tokens
- 40 Ship Damage Tokens
- 8 Ship Mats (Crown, Eagle, Griffon, Lion, Snake, Unicorn, Crossed Keys, Crossed Swords)
- 1 Fog of War Die
- 1 Rulebook
- 1 Bonus Crew Rules Sheet
The component quality found in Scalawag! is top-notch. Both the cards and tokens are made from sturdy material and have held up well across multiple plays. All of the components feature stenciled art that looks great both in black and white (on the cards) and in full color (on the player boards and tokens). Another bonus is the rulebook and player aides, which offer concise and detailed information of each turn and action option, making the game easy to teach and play.
Regarding game mechanics, the gameplay in Scalawag! is largely reminiscent of other hidden role/bluffing games, primarily that of Coup. Players have a variety of different action choices, each of which is altered in some way by a specific type of crew card. On your turn, you can take any available action and claim to have the corresponding crew member in your hand; it is then up to your opponents to decide if you’re telling the truth—and allow the action to resolve—or take the risk of calling you a “Scalawag!” and challenge your claim. Much of the game play revolves around the decision of if, when, and how much you should lie to stay ahead of the pack.
To begin Scalawag!, each player chooses a player board. With 6-8 players, the game can be played in teams of two, which will dictate which pair of player boards you and your teammate use. Otherwise, this can be a random choice based on which flag you think is shiniest. Based on the number of players, the crew deck will then be constructed according to the stipulations in the rulebook. The distribution of the available crew members changes based on the number of players, making deduction much different depending on the size of your group.
Each player begins the game with a hand of 3 random crew cards and 2 Compass Points (CPs). These Compass Points are the in-game currency, which can be spent to take some of the available actions (mainly those that wreak havoc on your opponents). With set-up complete, it’s time to put the wind in your sails and load the cannons!
A player turn is fairly straightforward. Each player will take an action (a “Captain’s Order”), resolve that action, and then end their turn by taking 2 CPs. When taking an action, the player may declare possession of one or more crew members that can help them with their action, if they choose. Using these crew members usually makes actions cost a little less or hit a little harder. The action choices are as follows:
- Trim Sails: Gain 1 CP. Claim Sailors to gain +1 CP for each claimed.
- Fire Cannons: Spend 5 CP to fire on one adjacent opponent. Spend 8 CP to fire on any non-adjacent opponent. Reduce the cost by 1 CP for each Gunner claimed. Firing cannons deals one hull damage.
- Close & Board: Spend CPs equal to an opponent’s hull value to deal one Crew damage. Reduce the cost by 1 CP for each Marine claimed.
- Muster Crew: Draw 3 crew from the deck and then choose 3 crew to discard.
- Steal the Wind: Claim a Pilot to steal 2 CP from an opponent. One goes to your supply and the other is discarded.
- Call for Mutiny: Claim a Mutineer to steal up to 2 crew from an opponent and then discard the same amount stolen.
- On Watch: Claim a Lookout to go on defense, forcing opponents to pay an extra 2 CPs for any actions against you.
Once declared, it is then up to the other players whether or not to call “Scalawag!” and challenge the claim. If a claim is challenged, one of two things can happen:
- The active player reveals the cards that were claimed. If so, the challenging player takes one damage to their crew or their ship. The action still resolves and revealed cards are shuffled into the crew deck and replaced.
- The active player does/can not reveal the claimed cards. If so, the active player takes one damage to their crew or their ship. The action does not resolve.
Crew damage forces the player to discard one of their 3 crew cards. This is permanent and the player will play the remainder of the game with one less crew card. Ship damage is also permanent and reduces the cost for other players to execute the “Close and Board” action against that ship. If a player takes 3 crew damage or 5 ship damage, they are out of the game. Play continues until one ships remains.
Scalawag! is one of the few games we’ve played that elevates the hidden roles/bluffing mechanic. It does an excellent job of taking a highly interactive play style and integrating it into the theme of a ship battle. When you sit down at your player board and start executing your Captain’s Orders, you really feel like you’re duking it out with opposing ships on the high sea.
The gameplay in Scalawag! is quick and simple. When you first take a look at all of the options, it can be a bit intimidating, but as soon as the first shot is fired, the game picks up and vendettas are struck. Once you understand the basic rhythm, the only time the game will pause is right before and after someone yells “SCALAWAG!” In those small moments of tension, the players quickly stare at each other, calculating the chances of a bluff and thinking “Well…isn’t someone going to call him out?” Whether you’re right or wrong, the same smirk will creep over the active player’s face as they get caught in their lie or reveal that—yes—they did, in fact, have 3 gunners in their hand. It’s this kind of interaction, coupled with the potentially high player count, that can foster some memorable moments.
Even with these positives, there are a few chinks in the hull of Scalawag! that could be optimized with an expansion or some house rules. Our group’s primary concerns were a) the 3-card hands and b) the lack of defensive maneuvers. What we found time and time again was actually a lack of bluffing during our games. We were able to accomplish everything that we wanted each turn without having to lie; we saw this as stemming primarily from the number of cards in hand. Three-card hands provide a surprisingly large range of options and, even when caught bluffing, losing one is almost of no consequence.
Additionally, our group sought more in the realm of defensive options. In many cases, there is nothing that can be done about a “Close & Board” or “Fire Cannons” action. If they have the money, it’s happening to you—like it or not. Yes, there is the “On Watch” action, but this seemed much more a passive defense. We kept wanting an interrupt action or something similar so that we didn’t just have to sit by and accept whatever came our way. To be fair, though, this does keep with the theme, as I can’t think of an easy way for a hulking warship to dodge incoming cannon fire.
That aside, there is still a lot to like about this game. It’s cleanly executed, thematic and provides a nice change of pace from many of the games that are likely on your shelves. It takes bluffing and deception games to uncharted seas and gives you an experience that is highly interactive and directly competitive. Most importantly, it’s an extremely approachable game that can be taught quickly and hosts an impressive 8 players. If a game that fills that niche appeals to you, there are a lot of good things waiting for you inside the Scalawag! box.
Scalawag! is a gold standard in thematic integration and component quality. At $30 MSRP (less than that on Amazon), this is an easy addition to a game collection that is lacking a large scale deception game. When compared to games of the same family, Scalawag! will easily stack up to its competitors, if not surpass them in many ways. With the right group, this can quickly become a game of cheating, above the table deals and game-long vendettas. The cries of “SCALAWAG!” will fill your game room. At the same time, it didn’t quite hit home with everyone, as many games do not, and some of the concerns stated in the above review took their toll. I think we’re all looking forward to seeing what the Kickstarter expansion will bring and maybe even trying out some home-brewed variants. The game system certainly seems like it can stand up to the tweaks.
Scalawag! was initially described as “like Coup,” so out of the gate it was already living in the shadow of Coup and, unfortunately for me, never managed to outshine its comparison. Scalalwag! is presented incredibly well, with quality components and enjoyable art, but it didn’t feel particularly streamlined in terms of gameplay. And I didn’t find myself having as much fun as other bluffing/deception games.
The primary issue is there simply wasn’t enough reason to lie. As mentioned in the review, with a 3-card hand you can generally achieve what you’d like to without the need for a single lie. In all my games, I’ve yet to lie once and I’ve won on more than one occasion. Calling “Scalawag!” generally earned me double-damage since everyone was far too honest and early elimination, due to paranoia, resulted in me twiddling my thumbs for some time.
My other issue is the amount of ship damage and your crew members acting as your health. You essentially have 8 hitpoints, with certain stipulations. Larger games can drag on for too long as you wait for others to whittle non-adjacent opponent’s health down so you can go in for the kill, which includes a nice bonus in the form of a new crew member or ship repair. So, strategically, I found myself “spreading the love” and not focusing on one specific pirate foe, so that I didn’t give up a valuable kill-bonus. (When I spend my hard earned Compass Points, I want to reap the benefits!) In addition, there isn’t much in terms of true defensive actions, so when an opponent decides to fire all his starboard cannons at your old wooden ship, Diversity, there isn’t much that can be done but passively sit idle as she takes the brunt of an attack.
Lastly, I’d like to point out the design of the playmat. Having the Captain’s Orders and Crew List on the playmat is extremely helpful, but I found myself wanting the card breakdown handy (the list only appears on the back of the rulebook), rather than a ship graphic that only a portion of serves a purpose in-game. Scalawag! has its moments and is of a high quality, but it lacked the fun I was expecting from a game where I can usually fool people into believing I’m somehow playing every role with only a few cards.
I’ve never played Coup, so I can’t make any comparisons like mentioned above, but I do enjoy this game. I’ve gotta say, I’ve lied every single time I’ve played Scalawag! and I’ve never been caught doing it, which is quite anticlimactic. I’ve only played in pretty large groups, but we haven’t played as teams. I’m curious to see if the team element makes the game a little bit more backstabby and incorporates a few more deceptive elements than we seem to have had so far.
To lead off, I feel that I need to state that as piratical as I may be, a bluffing man I am not.
Given the three-crew hands, and the larger card pool that this makes necessary, I found it very difficult to determine who may be misrepresenting their complement of scurvy sea-dogs when compared to similar bluffing and deception games. Additionally, while the mechanic of taking hits to your ship is an interesting addition, the buffer that this provides makes it less costly to call an errant ‘Scalawag!’, even while those three crew make it less likely to require a lie in the first place.
While I do enjoy the theme, artwork, and presentation, this isn’t a game that I would look forward to playing again, so I must award zero thumbs in the Bluffing / Deception category.
Scalawag! was a fun little party/pirate/bluffing game that for me was pretty enjoyable for the most part. I went into the game trusting no one. I called “Scalawag!” very often and…well, let’s say I found that the other league members are pretty trustworthy. My ship sank first and I was a spectator for the rest of the game. I did make some observations during my time in Davy Jones’ Locker. One being the fact that there is no defense if you are being attacked. It would be nice if there was a defensive mechanism in place where a player may claim to have a crew member to help defend, also causing another round of “Scalawag!” claims. I think this game is great with the right crew of people. The theme and game play pair together very well. Would love to get this to the table again for another shot at staying in the game longer.
The League of Nonsensical Gamers would like to thank Troubadour Games for providing this review copy of Scalawag! The base game can be found on Amazon.com and retails for $30 MSRP.