Board Game Review, Previews

The Swashbuckling Zoo (Salty Dogs)

Pirates. They’re an integral part of many awesome historical tales. Countless adventures, stories and symbolisms come from the adventures of these swashbuckling, quirky misfits. There’s a heavy prominence in history of them doing some pretty shady stuff… Not to name any of said activities (for reasons). However, each crew had their own individual “Pirate Code”, despite what Johnny Depp may have told you, and it was upheld. Through these codes, pirates may have been led on some very heroic adventures. Blackbeard for example! He quit pirating a few times, freed slaves (whilst also stealing a ship’s contents), avoided killing, had a massive crew and was killed by being shot and stabbed over 20 times! Men who make their own laws will do crazy things in a lawless world. Nowadays, pirates aren’t as romanticised and are recognised as criminals, as they should be. Salty Dogs by Berserker Art is a hand management, take that card game for 2-4 players.

Before we get started, the version of the game we played is a prototype. Despite the fact that this game looks incredibly polished, there is a chance that elements, artwork, text and rules may change.


Each player gets a play mat, known as a poop-deck, on which to play on. This is where they control everything from. Players receive 5 pirate cards to start off with as their crew. The objective of the game is to be the only player with any crew left, through any means necessary. You can gain more crew throughout by playing crew cards to empty spaces and you can reduce another player’s crew by playing attack cards. Any remaining crew cards are shuffled back into the main deck.

Each player is then given 5 starting cards to begin their hand. The cards in the game are all illustrated within their own categories, with each having their own flavour text. The card categories include:

  • Attack cards – cards played against other players to remove crew, steal cards or even steal crew
  • Defence cards – cards played against attack cards
  • Illness cards – cards played onto other player’s pirate cards
  • Cure cards – cards played to remove illness cards
  • Pirate cards – cards played to stock your crew
  • The game is played across player turns, with each drawing a card then playing a card. Players can play one card per turn and can target any player they choose if the card determines so. Defence cards can be played out of turn under the right circumstances but others can only be played on your turn.

    Attack cards are used to remove pirate cards from other player’s ships. When you remove someone’s pirate, that pirate goes into your brig. The brig serves no purpose other than to store taken pirates and they don’t contribute to the total score, only glory. Illness cards are played directly onto other players’ pirates and count as them being out. Captains are immune from illnesses, but a ship full of sick people wont do you any favours! Also, cure cards can only be played on your turn, not out of turn as a reaction. Pirate cards can’t be played if you have no free spaces.

    How It Handles

    You’ve got to go all in with this game. No coyness, no friendliness, no love lost. It is exactly how a quick, take that game should be. The moment you show weakness is the moment every other player targets you for elimination.

    With most player elimination games, you’d be stuck sitting quietly until it’s done when out. This is often the reason a game isn’t played often: no one wants to watch play if they don’t have to, especially in a long game. Salty Dogs is played quickly. Very quickly. Tactics are available and big plays can be made, but only over turns and often you’ll choose more impulsive actions over schemes. The game plays in 10-20 minutes, and we’ve not yet broken that timescale, even when we had to refresh the draw deck.

    The artwork is crazy awesome. Each pirate is themed to their own design and may, or may not, have pop culture links and references. They’re all unique enough to be quirky and you’ll naturally begin to pick favourites. I’m all about Young Sean; eye patch and a tired look, something I can relate to. The played cards also look incredible. The explanations leave no questions and the art is funny, but not childish. Although all played cards have the same illustration, there’s an effort made to recolour them and the flavour text is different for each. It’s just a little addition that makes the cards unique without confusing what they are at a glance.

    The components of this game are amazing. I’ll acknowledge this is a prototype to anyone I play with, but the people who have enjoyed this game with me didn’t believe me. At all. The cloth play mats are self explanatory and the cards are well made. There’s little confusion across anything other than one or two discrepancies in the rules, but again, this is a prototype. If this is the calibre of quality at this stage, I genuinely can’t wait to see this as a polished product!

    Final Thoughts

    Salty Dogs has two important things you need to learn. Two things that you’ll come to realise through play…

    1. Salty Dogs shows how a take that game should be done. There’s little downtime between player turns and you’re always on guard or focusing on the next play. The moment your eyes are off the ball, bam! You’ve had it.

    2. The game requires aggression and lots of it! You play nicely and you’ll regret it quickly, fact. Any level of mercy will take you down later on, I personally learned that the hard way. The player I let live is the one who won. Hard lesson, no mercy.

    The game is fast, fun, hard hitting and a great laugh. If you’re a fan of take that, hand management or quick paced, quirky games, then Salty Dogs is for you. Keep an eye out for the Kickstarter later this year and check out the Salty Dogs website to keep up to date!