Board Game Review: “Dead Men Tell No Tales”

dead men tell no tales, minion gamesI play a lot of board games. Complicated board games that take hours to play. It’s fun, social and intellectually stimulating. Better yet, I’ve got my kids hooked on the hobby too, though some more than others. My youngest, K-, is the most into it right now and the little tyke wins quite regularly, reinforcing that she’s a bright spark.

It’s a rare week when we aren’t playing something or other, either me with my gamer friends or with K- and/or other children from the family and our social circle. And I like it that way, so it’s all good. In fact, the latest game we’ve been enjoying is Airlines Europe, a sort of airplane route building game that has purchase of stock an integral part of the gameplay. Another favorite is The Manhattan Project, where players are competing to build the first working atomic bomb while also trying to disrupt everyone else’s munitions factories and research facilities.

The latter game is from a game production company called Minion Games, and when they announced a new cooperative pirate-themed game, I was extremely interested. The game is Dead Men Tell No Tales and it turns out to be great fun, even if we did end up dying – twice over! – the first time my friends and I pulled it out of the box and tried it.

The basic theme is that we’re a cooperative band of pirates and we’ve come across a ship that’s on fire. Together, we need to run through the burning ship, fighting skeleton guards and other pirates to get the loot. Once we find the treasure chests, we have to drag them off the ship and if we can do that, and all get off the ship alive, we win!

Of course, it’s not quite that easy, as you can see from this glimpse of the game in progress:

dead men tell no tales, game in progress

In the above image, I’m the pirate Five Fingered Titian (as the card denotes). The wheel indicates my current fatigue level: if I get too exhausted trying to make it through the burning ship, I die. Not good. I’m at a fatigue level of 5, which isn’t too bad at all for a rough, tough pirate motivated by treasure.

You’ll also notice there are red and yellow dice, along with little white skulls with black printing, and a big black die with white pips. The red and yellow dice track how hotly the fire is burning in each of the ever-growing rooms on the ship, and if a fire gets to 6 the room goes BOOM and it’s history, including anyone who had the bad luck of being in that room.

The white skulls are deckhands and while they aren’t inherently dangerous, there are a lot of them in the lower decks and they can definitely make winning (like picking up a treasure) more difficult. Finally, the black die is your combat tool and players use it to “fight” skeleton guards or other non-player pirates.

Look at the previous photo again. See the grid of tiles on the top portion? That’s the pirate ship we’re plundering, and each turn you have to fit a new burning room onto the ship, place the appropriate die to indicate the fire level, and move, fight fire, attack bad guys, etc.

Here’s a closer look at the ship:

dead men tell no tales, minion games

It took about 20min for us to get the gist of the gameplay on our first time out, and four of us, three experienced games and a newbie, played through the entire game in about 90min after that, with much fun and collective strategy along the way. We ultimately lost because we weren’t sufficiently focused on lowering the fire levels in rooms, so six exploded and that was that, the ship sunk with all of us still on board.

All in all, Dead Men Tell No Tales is a really fun coop game perfect for when you don’t want to be competitive with your friends or family but want to work together on a shared goal. The theme is straightforward and come on, who doesn’t like pirates? The game’s targeted for 2-5 players, but I haven’t had a chance to play with but a single partner yet, so I can’t say how it’ll work with that small a group. For us, there were a few glazed eyes as the last few rules were explained, but then much fun as the plunder began in earnest.

I’ll recommend DMTNT and observe that it definitely borrows some inspiration from the tremendously popular coop game Pandemic, but that’s okay, Pandemic is a great game too! My only caveat: the game designers forgot to include elements that let you mark one of the four starting rooms on the ship as having exploded, so we had to improvise our own with torn-to-size sheets of tan paper. You can see one in the big photo if you look closely!

I say check it out, $44.99 at Minion or a few bucks cheaper on!

Disclosure: Minion Games sent me a copy of Dead Men Tell No Tales for the purposes of this review. Which was darn nice of ’em.

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