Scalawag! - Board Game Box Shot

Scalawag!

| Published: 2014
15 4 2

May the best (bluffing) captain win in this last-captain-standing nautical battle!

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Overview

In Scalawag! each player takes the role of a captain and battles it out on the high seas (your table!) against the other players with the goal of being the last ship floating. Along with their ship, players will have crew cards that are kept secret from other players. Different crew members allow you to take special actions or gain extra bonuses on your turn. The twist with Scalawag! is that you can bluff and take an action with a crew member you don’t actually have. Other players have a chance to challenge your actions by calling “Scalawag!” If you’re bluffing you’ll suffer the consequences, but if you weren’t bluffing, the challenger will have to suffer those consequences instead! You can even form verbal alliances during the game, but when it comes down to it those only last so long because it’s every captain for themselves.

Scalawag! gameplay

Gameplay

Each player starts off with a ship mat, two compass points and three crew members. The ship cards are much more than just a way to keep track of your ship damage. They also lay out all the actions (called Captain’s Orders) you can take, the crew members you need to perform certain actions, the bonuses that crew members offer to those actions and the prizes you get for defeating other players.

Before going into the gameplay details, it’s important to know about the two ways your ship can get eliminated.

  1. Ship Damage: After receiving 5 damage your ship is sunk!
  2. No Crew: If you lose your 3 crew members, your out!

Scalawag! Ship Mat

Player’s ship mat

Player Turn
On a player’s turn they will do two things. First, they’ll issue one Captain’s Order. Then, they’ll gain two compass points. That’s it, very simple!

Captain’s Orders involve gaining compass points, stealing compass points, spending compass points to deal damage to other ships or to make them lose a crew member, making other players change their crew members, or making yourself better protected from damage for a round.

Scalawag! tokens

Compass point and damage tokens

It’s with the crew members that the game becomes a fun challenge of bluffing and deduction. Certain captain’s orders require crew members, while other captain’s orders allow you to gain additional bonuses based on the crew members that you declare you have. For example, when you perform the order “Trim Sails” you can take one compass point, but when you declare that you also have sailors in your crew, you can take one extra compass point per sailor! What if you don’t have any sailors in your crew? Don’t worry, since your crew is hidden from the other players, you can simply bluff and say that you do! But be careful, if players are paying attention (which they WILL be doing), they can challenge you by calling “Scalawag!”

Challenges
The player being challenged must either reveal the crew cards they declared they had, or take the penalty. If they reveal that they do in fact have the crew they declared, it’s the challenger who takes the penalty. Whoever loses the challenge chooses to either take a ship damage or lose a crew member. This means you don’t want to challenge too often because you could get knocked out of the round by simply calling bluffs that weren’t actually bluffs! Note that when you reveal your cards, after the challenge is over you shuffle the revealed cards in with the extra crew cards in the center of the table and draw the same amount back out. This way the other players won’t know what cards you have.

Scalawag! crew cards

Crew cards

Deduction
The reason deduction is possible is because there are six different crew members, and only a certain number of those are included in the deck that is dealt out to the players in the game. For example, in a game of four players you’ll have four sailors, gunners and marines, and two pilots, mutineers and lookouts (a total of 18 cards). Each player is dealt three so there will only be six left un-dealt. So if you’re dealt three sailors and another player takes the “Trim Sails” action and declares they have two or three sailors, you’ll know they’re bluffing because there are only four in the deck! Also, when crew members are eliminated they are discarded face up in the center of the table (Davy Jones’ Locker) for everyone to see.

Prizes
When you defeat another player you get a prize depending on how you did them in. If you sunk their ship with damage, you gain a random crew card from them (but must discard down to three). If you defeated them by making them lose their last crew member, you get to remove damage from your ship! Attacking other players at the right time can be key so that you get the prizes and your opponents don’t!

One Victor!
The last captain floating is the winner of the round! You can play as many rounds as your group wishes.

Who would enjoy this game?

Family Gamer {yes & no}
Yes, if your family gets along and enjoys games where you’re constantly attacking each other. No, if you or your family doesn’t enjoy “all against all” games or bluffing games.
Strategy Gamer {no}
While there is plenty of strategy in Scalawag!, the Strategy Gamer purest probably won’t feel they are in as much control of what’s going on as they would like to be.
Casual Gamer {yes}
The rules are quick to learn and easy to teach. Round after round players will have fun experimenting with bluffing (or not bluffing), and looking out for other players’ “tells.”
Avid Gamer {yes}
This is definitely a “lighter” game that you could bring out with pretty much any group and have a good time. Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from those rule heavy and time consuming games.
Power Gamer {maybe not}
If you thrive on competition and/or games with deep rules and complex strategies, this is not one of those. But if you’ve got a group and want to play something quick and fun, this is definitely worth a look.

Final Thoughts

Scalawag! is full of wonderful woodcut artwork that fits perfectly with the theme, and the components are top notch. It also scales very well between 3-8 players. All games give you that range of number of players, but you can sometimes find that they are “broken” when played with too few or too many. With Scalawag! you can tell the designer play tested the game thoroughly and went the extra mile to balance the game when played with three players by including special rules and a custom die to keep things balanced.

As an added bonus, there are also rule variants where you can play with secret allegiances. If you have a limited edition copy you also have the option to play with bonus crew cards that change up the gameplay. This adds even more replayability to the game.

You definitely get a bit of a rush when playing the game. Should you bluff to get those extra bonuses, and if you do will someone call you out? You THINK the other player is bluffing, but if you challenge and you’re wrong you’ll have to take the penalty! If you’ve played games with bluffing or a traitor mechanic you’ve probably experienced it first hand (ie: The Resistance, Coup, Shadows over Camelot).

Scalawag! has a lot to offer, and is a welcome addition to group games. If you enjoy bluffing, deduction and games with a nautical theme you should definitely check out this game.

User Reviews (1)

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“Bluffing your way to Victory on the High Seas”

If you’ve played Bang!, you know the premise of Scalawag! — they even share the same exclamation point in the title.

Summing It Up Right Away

Scalawag is a bluffing game about action economy, with a touch of memory thrown in. It has a High Seas theme that will excite the pirate fans at your table, and a very cutthroat, competitive play style to match. Assault the players on your left and right, sinking ships and keelhauling crewmen until you’re the last man or woman sailing the Seven Seas.

Able to support play for up to 8 players out of the box, this is a great party game with lots of table talk and player interaction. It’s a free-for-all brawl to sink each others’ ships or slay each others’ crews by default, but 6- or 8-player games have the option for team play.

Here’s the Short Version of How To Play

You get one action per turn, chosen from a list of actions on a very handy card in front of you that also tracks damage to your ship. You also get a hand of three cards representing your crew. Players can use actions for all sorts of things that damage opponents, protect their ship, or gather tokens that let them take more difficult and expensive actions.

Your crew reduces the cost of certain actions, depending on their role. You’ve got Navigators, Marines, Mutineers, and a plethora of other sailor-types to help you out — but nobody else knows what characters comprise your crew!

When you take actions, you declare any crew that are assisting the endeavor. You’re allowed to lie through your rotten pirate teeth all you want! If someone suspects you’re bluffing, they call out “Scalawag!” and you reveal that you have the crewman, or you don’t. If you were bluffing, you take damage — if you weren’t, the player that made the accusation takes it.

Last player standing is the winner.

What You Get in the Box

Cards. Pretty nice quality, but nothing mind-blowing. The art is black and white — er, black and yellow — and pretty much line art, but it really fits the theme well and isn’t too cartoony.

Tokens. Track your compass points and damage to your ship. Cardboard punch-outs that will take you a few minutes, and small, plastic baggies to store them in. Would have been nice if the box had a compartment for them.

A custom die that is used only in play with very few players.

Should You Buy This Game?

If you like Bang! or Coup or Werewolf/Mafia-style games, you’re going to absolutely love this one. Yes — go buy it right now!

Bad at bluffing? Don’t like cutthroat competitive games? Absolutely hate pirates? You should still find a friend with a copy or visit a convention and give Scalawag! a try. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised.

 

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