Updated: Aug 26, 2020
Avast ye landlubbers! Another pirate game is hoving into view. No need to sail the seven seas with this one, however. There's no exploration or hunting for treasure. Salty Dogs is a slam bang 'take that' card game where it's every man for himself and the winner is the last man standing after everyone else's captain and crew have been eliminated.
I say 'last man' but there's scarcely a human to be seen. As the title punningly suggests, in Salty Dogs all the pirate crew are animals (mostly but not exclusively canines) drawn by cartoonist Simon Bisley. Devised by Andy Brown, Phil Cairns and Sean McCaughey, the game comprises a deck of 30 crew cards in a varied mix of 84 attack and defence cards. Players are dealt five crew (laid out as three pirates, a Mate and a Captain) and a hand of five cards with which to play the game. Each turn, you draw a card and then play a card - typically an attack card aimed at eliminating one of your opposing player's pirates and putting that crew card out of play in your brig. If you have a card that defends against the specific attack (for example, a rubber dinghy card successfully defends against a 'walk the plank' attack), you can play that card immediately (ie: not in or as your turn) in order to negate the attack card. The crew cards all have different illustrations but none have any specific powers - designating one as First Mate and one as Captain is because these posts give them immunity from certain attack cards.
Children and adults playing with their families will have fun with Salty Dogs but there are some caveats. It takes 2–4 players and is probably at its best with four players, but be warned that it's in the nature of the game that there is player elimination. That mean that someone evicted early may have to sit out for 10-15 minutes before the game is resolved. You don't, of course, need to worry about player elimination if you are playing Salty Dogs as a two-player game, but, as the rules stand in our preview prototype, you'll have 20 crew cards in the draw deck. That means players will readily be filling the gaps and replacing crew that have fallen victim to attack. Eventually attrition will thin the availability of floating crew (crew condemned to the brig are, in effect, taken out of play) but the initial overabundance of crew cards makes for an overlong game. We suggest seeding no more than 10 crew cards in the draw deck regardless of the number of players. When we tried this, it greatly improved the cut and thrust of the game.
Publishers Salty Dogs Games/Berserkerart.com have done a great job with the presentation of this game. They've produced colourful microfibre play mats as an add on. You can play the game without the play mats but they add to the jollity. If your kids dissolve into giggles at any toilet humour then you might also want to avail yourself of the planned 'NSFW' expansion pack. All of these should be part of the Salty Dogs Kickstarter campaign when that launches in the very near future.