Two Minds about Scuttle!
For today’s review, Dan Thurot was tasked with looking at a kid’s game — Scuttle!, an adventure of piratical treasure-hoarding — while unfortunately not possessing any kids of the proper age. His daughter can count to twenty, but even simple arithmetic is a little out of reach. In order to determine whether this is the Best Game For Kids, he has enlisted Brock Poulsen, who owns as many as THREE TIMES the number of children. You can handle that math on your own.
Dan: Hoo boy, we need an intro. How do we introduce a game that’s just… there?
Brock: Pirates, am I right?
Dan: Yeah, okay. Run with it.
Brock: It seems these days you can’t throw a cursed Spanish doubloon without hitting something pirate-related.
Dan: Yes. The last time I threw a cursed Spanish doubloon that’s exactly what happened, but I think that might have been the specific nature of its curse.
Brock: Disney is in on the act, with both live action swashbucklers and family-friendly animated ones. The gaming world, too, is lousy with them, from Asmodee to Z-Man, from RPGs to miniatures. Our fascination with pirates knows no bounds, and it is only this fascination that I can blame for the existence of Scuttle!
Dan: Harsh. But fair?
The big issue with Scuttle! is also pretty much its strength. And that’s the sort of thing you never want to hear. Because Scuttle! is so so so so simple. Draw a card or play one. That’s it.
Brock: Well, it’s also quite lovely. The art by Kelly Jo resembles a watercolor children’s book; each card has a clever go at a familiar trope of pirate life. Cards have multiple uses, and the iconography is straightforward enough.
Dan: Wait, now I’m the negative one? I can compliment it too. It’s, uh, in a box.
Brock: Worry not, Dan. I just heard a shout of “negativity, ho!” from the crow’s nest. As a game, Scuttle! simply isn’t much of one. My first game was over right around the middle of the second round. The goal – whether with a teammate or on one’s own – is to amass treasure, being the first to meet or exceed a target number. There are other cards that can mess with your opponents, but for the most part you’re relying on drawing enough treasure cards.
Dan: That’s also been my experience. Which is perhaps the curse of the… oh, whatever. I like games with multi-use cards. Love ’em, in fact.
Brock: They’re among life’s greatest pleasures.
Dan: That’s probably one of my favorite things to see in a game. But here, while you can lay out cards that protect your treasures or steal something or give you a raging case of scurvy, there’s not usually much of a point. Better to just pummel your opponent with a bunch of high-value treasures and yo-ho-ho.
How’s the solo game, by the way? I never played it.
Brock: When I played my first solo game, it felt like quite a challenge to keep up with the Robot Pirate (the game’s included solo opponent). When it defeated me, reaching 21 treasures to my own 8, I thought, “Maybe the solo game is the superior one, with some challenge and strategy.” I set it up again and promptly thrashed the Robot by a score of 27 to 6 in three rounds. So, hm. Is it better or not? I’ll play another. Okay, 26 to 3 in my favor. Perhaps this robot is not the merciless automaton I initially suspected.
Dan: I will say that I enjoyed it more with four than with two or three. Then you’re playing as a team, and vaguely playing off one another’s hands to accumulate a larger quantity of plunder. But that’s about it. It’s akin to saying I prefer walking the plank to being keelhauled. Which is technically accurate.
Brock: It’s no improvement, really. And before you try to invoke the right of parley, my kids didn’t take to Scuttle! any more than I did. It seems like a bit too much math for kids young enough to be entertained by the silliness of it, and even my six-year-old very quickly abandoned me for other distractions.
I can’t recommend Scuttle!, either for playing with kids or solitaire. Why’s the rum gone? More like, where’s the fun gone? Right?
Dan: Isn’t that a punchline from one of those newfangled full-color movies? Eh, I dunno. Let’s use this one as grapeshot.