As the title suggests, this is a broadly pirate-themed game, but it's really about a swashbuckling combat and it could just as easily have been given a quite different theme. Salt & Bones is a two-player head-to-head duelling game where you are trying to wear down your opponent's health before your own is reduced to zero.
The game is played on a board onto which players will be laying out attack cards. Field cards block off some of the squares, so games won't play out the same every time. Each round begins with players drawing up to seven cards into their hand. Players aren't exactly drafting because they are drawing from face down decks, but they do get to choose the balance of Attack and Strategy cards.
When both players have drawn, they each prep their combat by deciding on which Strategy cards to play to their individual player board. Cards that are designated as Equipment need to be played face up to an Equipment slot on your player board in order to be able to activate them. Likewise, Gambit cards, which can modify combat. Cards marked as Instinct cards are prepared by being played face down to your board, so are kept hidden from the other player.
With the preparation phase complete, players take it in turns to play their Attack cards. These look a little like dominoes and are played to the board so that they connect up to the edge or to a previously played Attack card. They dish out damage, subject to the modifiers on the Strategy cards, but their positioning can also boost the damage done.
In our Board's Eye View plays, some team members felt the rulebook was overly complicated but this game actually plays quite instinctively. Our only initial confusion concerned the important rules for determining Momentum, which allows Attack cards to be chained (ie: lets you play more than one at a time).
In Salt & Bones, David Cairho has designed a quick-playing game of attrition where you'll usually want to exhaust each other's Equipment and other Strategy cards before launching higher value attacks. There are judgement calls to make about the mix of cards to take into your hand. Strategy cards can be very useful, for example in increasing or soaking up damage, but it can sometimes be better to play with more Attack cards than your opponent. Note tho' that if you Disengage (in effect, pass without making an Attack - either because you've run out of Attack cards or you previously chained Attack cards), then your opponent will take Momentum in the next round...
Games can often be quite close and so tense contests, and the face-down Strategy cards allow scope for bluffing that can help to determine victory. With most plays taking only around 15 minutes, Salt & Bones delivers a filler-length game that's never in any risk of outstaying its welcome.