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Game Review: Scallywags

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Scallywags from Gamewright takes the print-and-play edition of Doubloons! and gives a good idea a makeover with quality Gamewright production values any game would be proud to have. Scallywags is great for kids to practice their deduction, math, and visual discrimination skills, and it is also a fun time for adults who like games mixing luck and skill.

The most obvious facet of Scallywags is its pirate motif. The cartoony pirate art is inviting and endearing, and the game begins with a bang as the player who “tells the funniest pirate joke starts,” to quote the rules. In our playtesting, it took us a few minutes to remember any pirate jokes, but they soon came in a swarm:

“Why couldn’t the cabin boy watch the pirate movie?”

“It was rated aaarrrggh.”

“What’s a pirate’s favorite element?”

“Ye might think arrrrrgon, but it’s actually the element of surprise.”

And the winner, “What do you call a pirate on land?”


Scallywags is a quick game, requiring only about fifteen minutes to play, and it replays well. It is flexible, managing two to six players ages eight and up. The basic gameplay is not difficult: forty plastic coins are dumped onto the table and spread out. The ones that fall face-up remain face-up, while those that are face-down stay face-down and a mystery until the end of the game. Players have the choice of taking a face-down coin, playing a card from their hand of action cards, or discarding a card and passing. Coins are rated with values of 8, 5, 3, 1, and 0 (marked by skull and crossbones, a nice piratical touch), and highest cumulative score wins. Cards come with a variety of actions such as stealing coins, sneaking peeks at face-down coins, and giving coins to opponents. Every card also has a pirate-sounding title such as “Arrgh!”, “Avast Me Hearties!”, and “Yo Ho Ho!” which, per the rules, must be called out “in your best pirate voice” as the cards are played.

The game continues until all players have exactly eight coins (six coins for four to six players). Some players may be given coins early and have eight long before the others, but all that becomes part of the strategy. While kids will enjoy the fun of the game, our playtest quickly fell to statistical calculations much like in a game of poker. There is a certain number for each value of coin, giving a hint as to how much the face-down coins might be worth. In many cases, grabbing up face-down coins could be the best strategy. In other cases, the best strategy could be filling up an opponent’s take with a booty of low-valued coins. Players may look at their own face-down coins when they take them, but doing so would require a stony poker face or excellent bluffing, both of which are necessary pirate skills.

Combining good fun with the potential for deep strategy makes for a solid game. And, to paraphrase Seinfeld’s Cosmo Kramer, people want to be pirates, to be devil-may-care. Arrgh!

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About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.
  • This sounds like it might be a good game for those who have mental impairment due to stroke, etc. I am always on the look out for games for the elderly.