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Seas of Havoc

Ahoy there, matey! With Rock Manor Games' Seas of Havoc, another pirate game has just heaved into our Board's Eye View. In Seas of Havoc, 1-5 players select a unique captain and a ship and create a starting draw deck made up of the captain and ship cards (eight in all), and each turn you'll be drawing a hand of four cards which you'll be able to use to control the movement of your ship and to fire its cannons when combatting other players' ships (or the 'ghost' ships that are added into the mix if you're playing solitaire or just want to beef up the game when playing with just two or three players, or if you want the option to play Seas of Havoc as a cooperative.

The game design by Sébastien Bernier-Wong and Peter Gorniak combines a worker placement mechanic with deck building. Players place out their three skiffs at island locations around the board, on cards in the market display and/or on flags. The locations mostly give you an additional resource: a sail (recorded using the wheel on your individual player board), a cannon (marked by placing a cannonball token on your board) or a coin. You'll need various mixes of these resources to buy cards from the market to improve your deck and to control your ship on the central board. Resources can also be used to activate your ship's upgrade cards, again adding them to your draw deck. Flag locations let you take one of the four flags on the board for its single-use benefit (gain a resource; scrap a card from your hand or deck, draw another card from your deck to your hand; or immediately take another turn). In addition, a flag that matches the one shown on a card will give you a bonus 'flag action' when you play that card. You keep the flag until it's taken by another player, so flag locations can become quite hotly contested when players are placing out their skiffs.

But the skiff placement and resource gathering are the prelude rather than the main event, which is the competition between players on the high seas - or rather the 36 square area that represents the sea on the central board, albeit that it's treated as wrapping around. Players will be using cards to manoeuvre their ships so they can fire broadsides and raking shots at each other. You can try to salvage shipwrecks for their booty and when you sail your ship you may encounter gusts that increase your movement and whirlpools that change your ship's heading. You can also come to grief by hitting rocks or by being rammed by an opponent's ship. Whether by cannon fire or collision, whenever you take damage you add a damage card to your deck. Damage cards clog up your deck, tho' you can use a subsequent skiff action to ditch them. However, they also act as a game timer: when the damage deck runs dry, it's game over. Players tot up all the Infamy they've earned over the course of the game, mainly from attacking other ships, and they add in the Infamy value of all the cards in their decks: player with the most Infamy is the winner.

Players all start off resource poor, so Seas of Havoc has a distinct game arc with players initially focused on competition for resources as they place out their skiffs. The game really comes to life when you're able to command your ship on the sea board as you blast your way to Infamy. There's tactical positioning on the sea board, particularly through creative use of the 'sea features' (rocks, gusts and whirlpools) but this phase of the game is inevitably chaotic, particularly at the higher player counts where Seas of Havoc is at its best.

You shouldn't be surprised at the chaotic naval combat: the game is called Seas of Havoc after all. It's a 'take that' game and it's a lot of fun. Rock Manor Games have done a great job with the production, with its mainly wooden pieces and with art from Nabetse Zitro. With a high number of different permutations of captains and ships, and with dice-randomised set up for the 'sea features', there's good replayability, and our Sea Monster Edition also included an expansion with additional captains and ships plus the threat of various sea monsters, including the inevitable Kraken!

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