Carcassonne Central

Off Topic => Other Games => Topic started by: Decar on July 31, 2018, 12:31:25 PM

Title: Ruthless: Legends of the Black Flag
Post by: Decar on July 31, 2018, 12:31:25 PM
Thar she blows! -  (aka Context)

We’ve been lucky enough to be sent a review-copy of Ruthless: Legends of the Black Flag by Roland MacDonald (published in the UK by Alley-Cat games) a couple of months before its release.  Roland MacDonald is a highly accomplished artist having worked many years in the computer-game industry and has an impressive resumé of credits.  He’s now turned his attention to game designs. I believe this is his first title to be picked up by a publisher, though he has self-published a few smaller projects.  Rich the Fish has followed his work for a number of years, and I became aware of his talents when Roland self-published the Reiner Knizia classic ‘Battleline’ in a limited print-run.  This classic finally got the attention to detail it deserved; the end result was phenomenal.

Thanks to Rich the Fish, I was fortunate enough to sit down and demo Ruthless at the UKGE 2018 and have the game explained by Roland.  If you’re read my write up, you’ll know I was impressed, but Rich got in contact with Roland and he was kind enough to send us a copy.

So a word of warning:  The copy I have is a prototype, meaning components are non-final.  I’m aware of a few minor tweaks, but the end result shouldn’t be too far off.  I’ve also included some Legendary metal coins that are not included in the game.  Roland was also kind enough to send us some prototype play-mats that are not included in the game, but an additional purchase.  Bear this all in mind when you’re looking at my photos!

( (

A Pirate I was meant to be… (aka Theme)
You know what I like from a game.  You all know I like straight-forward games.  Most of you know I like deck--building games.  Some of you know I like pirates too.  I don’t know any personally, but when it comes to anti-establishmentarianism and accessibility-for-all, pirates are leading the way.  There’s a world of opportunity, and pirates know how to make the most from it.  You could call them the first ‘adventure capitalists’, if it wasn’t for the rum of course.

I’m a big fan of abstracts and rarely care for theme, but Ruthless is somewhat different for me.  But I find all the bits that make up the game have been interwoven tightly. The game has balanced delicately the mechanical implementation with its thematic components.  For me that’s a big deal because usually they offset each other; here they work together.  On top of all that it’s wrapped in a wonderfully engaging art-style and has clear and precise iconography.

Blow the man down - (aka Gameplay)

Like a traditional deck-building game, every player starts with a starter-deck with some low-value treasure cards and some weak inexperienced crew, namely ‘Powder-Monkeys’.

In front of all the players is the familiar ‘buy-row’ containing pirates you’ll be recruiting to join your deck. Treasure cards are available in another deck, which you can obtain through plundering. Both these card types will ultimately end up in your deck.

During round you’ll be using your hand to form a raiding party, which means grouping the pirate cards you acquire and play during a round in such a way as to maximize their raiding-strength.  This is pretty elegant and works by building pairs, straights and flushes which is all pretty intuitive.

The Pirate cards have a variety of special actions, but they also belong to suits of cards: (Hearts, Skulls, Anchors, Swords and Kraken).  There are 10 cards in each suit: 1-7 (4-10 in my prototype deck), a Parrot card, Quartermaster & Captain.

On your turn you must perform one of the following 5 actions if you have cards in your hand, followed by an optional recruit action:

Trade - Play your money cards and receive coins
Brawl - By playing 1 Powder-Monkey you can knock a card out of the ‘buy-row’.  By cycling-cards you can limit your opponent’s choices or hopefully find something you’ll need
Bury - Equivalent to trashing cards from your hand or discard pile.
Plunder - You can use 2 Powder Monkeys to pull the top card from the treasure-deck.
Board - Allows you to play a pirate from your hand and perform their special action.

You may then Recruit, allowing you to spend the gold you’ve accumulated to hire a pirate from the Pirate-Deck (‘buy-row’).  But, you may only recruit 3 pirates in a round.

The boarding actions are where the meat of the deck-building lies.  When you recruit a pirate, you may take their action immediately.  This offers the player’s some hard decisions.  I’d like to recruit the 8 of Swords so I can get one more coin and bury a treasure card, but the 8 of Hearts is also available and that will score me a flush at the end of the round.  It can be really tough knowing where to invest; weighing up short-term and long-term goals against your opponent..

It’s really rewarding trying to work out how best to use the pirate cards to maximize your scores.  There are some familiar traits founds in most deck-building games.  Do you invest in cheap cards to win some easy points, or do I hold out and invest in the more expensive cards which allow me to top-deck or rescue cards the cards I’ve already played to the discard?

The Treasure cards which you acquire through plundering (which we’ve taken to calling Plunder-Monkeys for no good reason) can be used in two ways too.  They can be cashed in immediately for a reward, or you can add them to your discard-pile then hope for a bigger payout later.  Cash flow is important.  Attack-cards can be played to make you return a coin to the supply or discard a valuable card.  This can be gruelling when you are trying desperately to save up for a valuable purchase.

( (

Simple enough...right?

Deck management is tough in Ruthless because there are only 5 rounds (6 with 2 players) and given you will be drawing 5 cards each round there is a really high chance you might not see the cards you were hoping for.  But burying cards is one of my favourite actions.  It’s another familiar mechanic in a deck-builder: trash weaker cards to streamline your deck and allow your hands to be more predictable.  In Ruthless however, buried cards can be put towards scoring end-game rewards; as an example, one gives points to the player who buried the most treasure.  Now rather than simply trashing rubbish cards, players are given another route to victory and they have to determine when the most suitable time to do this is!  This is precisely what happened during a game I played with my wife.  She had removed some of her starter-coins from her hand to thin her deck, I saw this and I decided to bury rubies.  As a result, I managed to achieve a tie-break at the end of the game.

As I said before, Burying and Plundering cards also gives the players choice:  If a hand is particularly bad, players have the option to invest in the legendary achievements rather than building the best raiding party to earn 6-points.  The alternative could be to maximize the treasure in your deck or spend the turn burying cards, which could win you 8-points during the end-game scoring. Recognising when to do this feels a lot like a trick-taking game, especially during 4 player games.

The majority of the game I’ve played are 2-player.  I’ve enjoyed trying different strategies to win games. Ruthless supports a lot of strategies that you’d find across the deck-building genre.  The pirate’s boarding actions seem limited but can all be used to manipulate the deck expertly.  As an example, I purchased a 7 of Swords to take the top-deck action: draw 2 and take one.  I was fortunate enough to select a Captain of Swords, that I could play next round to rescue a card from my discard pile.  I saw a great combination by pulling out the 9 of Swords, who, next turn, allowed me to rescue the 4 of Swords.  A flush of 4 cards is a high scoring hand and I was able to make sure of the final Bury Action to remove a treasure-map (-1 point) from my hand when scoring at the end.  Ruthless is full of small smart exchanges like this and although this was one of the longest combinations I’d managed to execute, it is significant to note that my opponent had turns during each of my plays.  This blocks those +5-buys or +5-attacks leaving a sour-taste found in a lot of deck-builders.


There will be rounds where you seem to not draw the cards you need, nor be able to generate quite enough gold to get the crew you want and this can be difficult at times.  Understanding this has gotten easier with more plays, I now find sometimes saving money for one turn grants you access to some powerful cards that can be crucial later on.  The game attempts to counter this in two ways, during the first two rounds building raiding-parties only gives you 1 point, as opposed to 6 in later rounds; simply because you should invest in deck-building. The other counter is more strategic. At the start of the round, if a player pulls a particularly bad hand, they may use the parlay token to discard and redraw.  That in itself is simple, but what if I know there’s a good chance of a rescue-action to pull back a card just discarded.  This isn’t a free action though, an unspent parlay token is worth a point at the end of the game.  For a simple-game, there is a smorgasbord of options. 

At 2 players the game never overstays its welcome and with a quick setup we can now blitz through a game in 25-30 minutes.  At time my wife felt like she had no chance of winning, but we’ve found the biggest point margin to be only 5-points.  I’m pretty sure an alternative play by either of us would have meant the game going the other way.  What we like is that all the different strategies available to us seem comparable or comparative with one another.

Just a word of warning, the next paragraph is possibly the single best gaming experience I’ve had for an awfully long time.  However knowing about it, may reduce the chance of you experiencing the same gold.  So just skip ahead 1 paragraph if necessary:

Potential Spoiler Warning:   The treasure deck contains dubloons, precious gems and an array of ancient artefacts.  Typically, the treasure-deck will grant at least 2 gold when the plunder action is taken.  I happened to need 2 gold to purchase a very important card before Rich The Fish could during a make-or-break moment.  I was fortunate enough to have 2 powder-monkeys in my hand.  So off they went to find me some buried treasure.  I drew the top card of the treasure-deck.  My minions had returned with a potato (aka Yukon-gold), a measly potato, worth a single gold coin.  I guess you had to be there, but I didn’t expect to go treasure hunting and find a potato.  It was hilarious, this push-your-luck element really made me laugh.  Having spoken to Roland about it, he said this card almost didn’t make the final cut, as some players wouldn’t like it.  For me though, it was a wonderful demonstration of Roland’s thoughtful design and it made me appreciate the push-your-luck nature of treasure-hunting.  I still think those Powder-Monkeys may have been holding out on’ll be happy to know they went to see Davy Jones soon after.

Shiver m’ timbers - (aka Components)

Obviously, we were playing a prototype, so I can’t review the final card-quality and other components.  There are two things that I can talk about: The Rule book (on BGG) and the art work (and iconography).

The Rulebook - The rules are concise and to the point. There are enough examples provided to mean I had a good understanding of how to play without needing the cards out in front of me.  Similarly, I didn’t need to get the rules out to set the game up and make sure everything had been done correctly.  It’s all straightforward. But having the designer introduce you to the game at the UKGE has probably helped here.  I’ve still needed to pop back to check for certain situations, like tie-breaks though and I’ve found the layout and formatting is easy to navigate.  Most importantly, I’ve found I can remember what I’ve read, which is always a good sign!

The Art:  Honestly, I don’t feel qualified enough to talk about the art in this game.  It’s simply gorgeous and there’s a ton of it. The 10 buccaneers manifest a fearsome crew; they ooze character.  Similarly, the treasure cards demonstrate an attention to detail which separates Ruthless from its peers.  For example, the aztec statue has pockmarks and wear, which subconsciously makes us assign history and worth to the artefact.  All of the art is vibrant and colourful and with the careful use of colour and layout-designs nothing feels confusing, distracting or cluttered.  The iconography is intuitive too and the decision to include a player-aid helps reinforce everything found in the rulebook.

( (

The only other thing I should mention here is about the decisions made for components.  The prize tokens are a great way of summarizing each round.  Legendary Achievements are selected at the start of the game and provide different ways to focus end-game scoring.  This gives the players some direction and means that specific winning-tactics are not always guaranteed to succeed.  The use of cards and tokens are simple additions but provide good structure to the game. 

Dead men tell no tales- (aka Summary)

Deck-building is quite a varied genre.  I find Dominion is pretty complex and it’s been on the street long enough to provide an almost endless range of combinations to play.  I usually find that understanding a few basic strategies can mean an easy victory over a new player.  This causes two issues: i) No one wants to play with me anymore, ii) players have to invest a lot of time to improve their skills.  For some that’s worth-while, complexity isn’t something we should frown upon.  Ruthless is a more direct affair.  With the help from the player-aid, newbies at least know what they’re aiming for, even if they can’t immediately penetrate the versatility presented within Ruthless’s cards.  There’s also just a chance that new comer might hit a powerful combination and strip a master of a necessary 3-point lead at just the right moment (or wrong moment for the master anyway).

There is also a trait in modern deck-builders to focus on selecting cards that enable long and powerful combo-chains that inflict damage against targets, like the *-Realms franchises for example.  There’s countless multiplayer solitaire builders which shun almost all direct interaction.  In contrast, Ruthless focuses on maximising each round, which, though subtle, means that all players are in the game until the very end.  There’s an opportunity to reset.  The round structure enforces plays to be reset enabling even the weakest players to try again.  As I described earlier, giving the players multiple fronts to invest in provides many different routes to end-game victory. 

Ruthless feel like a game that’s always been here.  It’s a warm and friendly gaming experience, it feels trustworthy.  Granted there are no ultra-new hipster mechanics but instead I see careful use of existing ones.  This is a deck-builder built on heritage of poker-hands, push-your-luck, hand-management but it doesn’t over do any of those parent mechanics.   For me, Ruthless always feels welcome at the table, in the same way that games like Carcassonne and 7 Wonders do.  Key for me is that Ruthless is accessible.  The rules are quick, easy to explain and easy to remember; but there are nuances that more experienced gamers can experiment with.  Ruthless feels like a game that’s carefully watched its peers, taken the most suitable bits and then carefully rounded off the edges.  I think that’s most evident in the classical Raiding Party construction and the intuitive action choices.

Ruthless: Legends of the Black Flag is available to pre-order and Alley Cat games scheduling an October delivery; but I’m secretly hoping it’ll be here in time for International Talk Like a Pirate Day:  19th September!

Best of all, Ruthless has been given a sub-title….so I’m hoping for more subtitles in the Ruthless license soon!

Links of Interest

Bonus Review: Ruthless Player mats

I’ve really liked using these.  Even though it’s a luxury item, it has help embed the theme even more.  The communal tableu makes it easy to set the game up and manage all of the rounds and cards during play.  The player boards are nicely laid out too, I particularly like the home for the new-recruits which might become lost otherwise.  I was skeptical because I thought the canvas mats would wear too easily, and though they are showing signs of wear, this seems to give them character.  Much like the captain’s table, the tiny dings and dents entrench the players into theme.


Bonus Mini Review: Legendary Coins

I never thought I’d say it, but good components really do enhance a game.  These coins have a subtle design and work well for this game.  I particularly like the weight and size of the coins.  No doubt you’ll be seeing these in future photos.
Title: Re: Ruthless: Legends of the Black Flag
Post by: Decar on July 31, 2018, 12:44:31 PM
The playmats are now available:

and some images of the final cards/coins etc:

Title: Re: Ruthless: Legends of the Black Flag
Post by: Halfling on August 01, 2018, 06:30:57 AM
Looks to be a reasonable price too. I'm in.

Work this out. Game £22.00, shipping £3.00= total £25.60!!!!!!!...... Apparently the odd 60p is vat.

Title: Re: Ruthless: Legends of the Black Flag
Post by: Halfling on August 01, 2018, 07:31:35 AM
Whilst replying to my query, the Alleycat chap advises that video reviews will be coming soon. Hope Decar is featured.
Title: Re: Ruthless: Legends of the Black Flag
Post by: Hproctor1478 on August 01, 2018, 09:07:25 AM
Thanks Decar for the review!  The game even though it is still a prototype looks great!  I think the price is reasonable and because of that you can pick up the extras like the player-mats!  It looks fun and I think I am going to put an order in.  I love a good pirate game

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
Title: Re: Ruthless: Legends of the Black Flag
Post by: Rich_The_Fish on August 01, 2018, 09:11:45 AM
Great detailed review Decar [merit given], thanks for helping to spread the word about this great game which is a bit different to the usual deck builders. Definitely looking forward to playing it again with you now we're both more clued up on it and different strategies.
Title: Re: Ruthless: Legends of the Black Flag
Post by: Decar on August 01, 2018, 09:18:32 AM
Thanks for the positive replies everyone.

I know Roland intended for the playmats to be canvas to keep the costs down too.

Whilst replying to my query, the Alleycat chap advises that video reviews will be coming soon. Hope Decar is featured.

I'll consider posting one - would be fairly ropy though ;(
Title: Re: Ruthless: Legends of the Black Flag
Post by: Decar on August 03, 2018, 03:31:43 AM
I just had some details from: BoardgameCircus, they are support Roland for a German release:
Ruchlos: Die Schrecken der Karibik

literally — Ruthless: Horrors of the Caribbean
Title: Re: Ruthless: Legends of the Black Flag
Post by: Decar on August 06, 2018, 02:20:53 AM
Updated place holder post with details of pre-order and game mats.
Title: Re: Ruthless: Legends of the Black Flag
Post by: Decar on August 07, 2018, 03:49:04 AM
Roland is looking for some playtesters of the Tabletopia edition of Ruthless.  If anyone is interested:
Title: Re: Ruthless: Legends of the Black Flag
Post by: Halfling on September 18, 2018, 04:59:32 AM
Found the YouTube videos, I just need an opponent so I can try the game out.
Title: Re: Ruthless: Legends of the Black Flag
Post by: Halfling on December 19, 2018, 03:07:43 AM
Anyone going to Alley Cat Con?
Title: Re: Ruthless: Legends of the Black Flag
Post by: Decar on December 19, 2018, 03:21:42 AM
No can do, already set the date for another event.

Seems to be the mode now.
1. Make games
2. Host event