Dead Men Tell No Tales Review - You'd Best Start Believing In Ghost Stories, You're In One!

Ahhhh it's refreshing to finally get to review another Co-Operative game, it feels like a long time since I did one. And I don't count expansions before you get on my case with Civil War, I'm talking brand new Co-Op's. It's no surprise to many readers that it's my favourite genre of them all - no vindictiveness among players, no peusdo-elimination Euro nonsense, no hard feelings from losing players and lots of player interaction with a heavy emphasis on theme, it's the genre designed for me.

But lately I'm not seeing many Co-Ops released, yet alone any good ones to note. I'm fine for competitive games and I can understand that many players don't enjoy working together as much as beating each other down . . . .wow that sounds quite bad when you put it that way . . . . but look at my Top 100. 6 games out of the Top 20 were Co-Op's and 5 of them were in the Top Ten. And there were 11 more in the other 80. So that's 50% of my Top 10 as Co-Op and 17% of the Top 100. It's a genre I want to see explored more and done right.

Minion Games released earlier in the year what looks like a hybrid of two of the most well known Co-Op games out there, Pandemic and Flashpoint Fire Rescue. Titled "Dead Men Tell No Tales" this is a pirate themed Co-Op utilising familiar mechanics blended together. But I haven't seen this buzzed about much really and it was a Kickstarter which does sometimes worry me - does it deserve more attention?


Designer: Kane Klenko
Publisher: Minion Games
Age: 13+
Players: 2-5
Time: 60-75 minutes
RRP: £41.99


Either Die Here Or Die Over There! Your Choice!


From MinionGames.com


For years you’ve been tracking Skelit's Revenge, the most notorious ship on the high seas, and now you’ve finally taken it. Your Captain has informed you that there are treasure chests hidden on board full of the most valuable treasure the world has ever seen. In spite of the raging inferno aboard the ship, your captain orders you and the rest of his crew to bring him every single one of those treasure chests or you’ll be taking a long walk off a short plank.

You and your crew will enter and search the Skelit's Revenge in an attempt to loot all of the Treasure. But beware, there are still enemy pirates lurking, and some nasty guards looking to make sure you don’t get out alive. Not to mention that you’ll be doing this while the ship burns. You’ll have to battle the flames, the guards, and your own fatigue.

Can you and your crew ensure that all of the treasure is recovered and receive more riches and glory than you ever dreamed? Only time will tell…

Dead Men Tell No Tales (DMTNT) is a cooperative game where players take on the role of a Pirate crew, boarding the doomed Skelit's Revenge for one purpose: to take the loot. You need to deal with the spreading fire and explosion potential as well as the enemies left on the ship. But what's a little risk for the plunder!

Each round you flip over a new tile to add to the ship and you also flip a card to show where the Skeleton Crew advances. You may then take a number of actions and use shared equipment to deal with the fire, your own fatigue, the trapdoors and guards on the ship. In DMTNT you can even pass some of your action tokens to the person to your left in case they need extra help this round.

Simple to resolve combat feels engaging without taking more than a quick die roll. You will be constantly gaining fatigue and you must manage your ability to keep going.

If you like such games as Pandemic, Forbidden Island/Desert, or Flash Point: Fire Rescue - you will love this game too.


No Fool's Gold Here


The colour palette may be generally on the dark side (don't play this game in low light!), but it can't be argued that the artwork is deeply impressive. A lot of Dead Men's theme is carried by the art alone with quality imagery of items, pirates and of course, the rooms of the burning ship. It's enough to get people making pirate noises and drinking grog. . . well cider in my case.

The map tiles themselves are decent quality also, and thankfully I have the second edition of Dead Men, which sorted out that original problem where the starting rooms were attached together meaning that you couldn't flip them over/remove them when they exploded. In this version the starting tiles are separate from the ship board with the explosion track on it so there's no further issue. But you may find yourself squinting a little to make out all the entrances on each one when it's all laid out especially if the lighting isn't good where you are. Several times someone would glance over and miss one.

Even the box isn't as big as normal square boxes which helps with storage. To be honest if there's a weak link here it's probably the dice. They are your bog standard wooden dice with no bells and whistles to speak off, though at least it will be cheap to find spares if necessary. There are a fair amount of dice though so having them all custom made would have cost a fair amount.


Honor Among Pirates


When you play Dead Men you won't necessarily notice a great deal that is new and innovative (with one exception) as the mechanics are compiled from a range of staple co-op games. However not only does this help seasoned gamers to quickly get into it, they also work together very well and create a lot of different co-operative tasks to consider. Fire needs to be controlled, deckhands need to be eliminated, enemies need to be killed, tools are useful to acquire and of course you need treasures to win! All your decisions are meaningful and you're constantly pulled in many directions never feeling like you've got it easy, a quality of a good, challenging co-op game.

I mentioned one exception and that's the twist on the action point mechanic. In other games you could stockpile un-used actions for next turn. Here in Dead Men, it's a little more interesting. Rather than keep spare action points for yourself, instead you have to pass them on to the player after you. I felt this really amped up the co-operative nature of Dead Men and would welcome this more in other games, I feel it's not something that's represented often. Add to that the ability to exchange those key items you carry and the team-work aspect shines.

The variety is based on the random map layouts and the characters available, each of which has a unique special ability, none of which I would consider to be bad, they're all pretty useful and don't require a great deal of expertise to wield. On top of that, the starting items are random as well so there's many combinations to try out. Thankfully if you get blown up you're not eliminated from the game, instead you spawn back in as a different character with a different item, but the previous ones are lost forever. Makes sense and means you won't be stuck doing nothing.



But. . . Why's The Rum Gone?


The rules of Dead Men are not that complex, although you may find things go a little slow for your first game while you get the hang of some of the more fiddly aspects like managing the dice and placing the deckhands which are particularly unwieldly. The latter requires you to remember what the spawn rules are for two different types of location and then also do them in a specified order so that "chain reactions" are handled correctly. Until you're fully comfortable with it, expect this to take a little longer while learning, but it's not bad enough to bog the game down. I probably would be hesitant to call this a gateway game because of the multiple threats you have to contend with, but it's comfortable as a "next-step" entry.

It scales fairly well for 2-5 players, though maybe 5 players is that tinsy winsy bit too long in length just from having that many players debate how to beat the game on each turn. However we all know that 5 is that dreaded number for a game group when you're trying to decide on a game to play that isn't either a party type or some form of social deduction so it's nice to have an avenue for it. Dead Men doesn't really change a great deal even at the extremes between 2 and 5 players - the mechanic of the fire spreading and enemies moving scales with the player count nicely. And even though it doesn't mention a solo mode, all you have to do is take control of multiple characters and Bob's your pirate!



Verdict


Dead Men was a nice surprise actually. I wasn't expecting a great deal, but I enjoyed each of the games I played both solo and with friends. Dead Men looks the business and carries the pirate theme despite the dark palette it portrays, so just be warned if you're playing in low light conditions.

Dead Men contains familiar mechanics of staple games such as Pandemic, Flashpoint and Forbidden Island without feeling like a direct rip-off of any of them. The rules aren't that complex despite some potential fiddliness in places and with experience a typical game should not last more than 60-75 minutes with 3-4 players and 5 is not too long, but not my recommended starting point.

With some interesting twists on the action point mechanic and tight, challenging gameplay, this is a nice addition to the genre, which in my opinion feels a little under-rated so close to the 1,000 border on BoardGameGeek and flying under the radar currently. A little bit of extra polish couldn't have hurt, but if you like Co-Op's I reccomend seeking this one out and giving it a try, preferably with a "Yo Ho Ho" and a bottle of Rum!




BROKEN RATING - 7 Sharpened Cutlasses Out Of 10! 




YOU WILL LIKE DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES IF:



You enjoy the pirate theme, it comes out very well in the artwork and gameplay.


You like each game to feel different based on map layout.


You want a tight challenge.




YOU WILL NOT LIKE DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES IF:



You don't want the randomness to have an impact on your chances of success.


You feel it's too similar to Pandemic and Flashpoint.


You feel it's a little long with a full player count.

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