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Skullduggery: A Swashbuckling Pirate Adventure Game Review by Deborah Burt

Outset Media
106-4226 Commerce Circle,
Victoria, BC, Canada, V8Z 6N6
250-592-7374 (Canada)

With the current pirate craze sweeping the nation, one must pause and consider whether pirates were men to be celebrated. This thought crossed my mind as I watched my children pretending to be pirates in the board game Skullduggery.

Most of us would agree that real pirates should not be celebrated or emulated. However, with the passage of time, realistic pirates have given way to kinder, gentler versions. The game of Skullduggery involves mild pirates of the comical and purely-for-fun variety. If you can allow yourself the logical leap from realistic and dangerous to pretend and harmless, Skullduggery may be the pirate game for you.

Skullduggery is a gorgeous, well-made game. Outset Media pays great attention to detail. We were delighted to find that even the box is splashed with vibrant color, featuring artwork of a beautiful island scene with friendly pirates uncovering buried treasure. The game box is much sturdier than that of an average board game. I don't think this one will ever require tape to hold the corners together!

Inside we discovered 31 island tiles and 16 map pieces that make up the revolving paths of the board game, an elegant red velvet bag full of "gems," 4 legend tiles, 1 treasure tile, 4 boat tiles, and 1 specially-made Jolly Roger die. There are 12 well-fashioned plastic playing pieces (4 "good" and 8 enemy pirates), similar in craftsmanship to what you would find in an excellent set of plastic soldiers.

Skullduggery is for 2 to 4 players and recommended for ages 8 and up. We played the game a few times with players ages 4, 7, 9, 11, and 33. There was definitely a learning curve involved in figuring out the rules of the game. It is a bit more complicated than your average board game, but the instruction booklet is descriptive and cleared up each of the confusions we had. Once we had the hang of the game, we really had fun moving our little pirates around and racing to see who would reach the treasure first.

We first placed boat tiles in the center of our kitchen table. (A large playing area is needed for this game.) We divvied up the island tiles and map pieces and created a unique island with paths that would continue to rotate throughout the game. Enemy pirates were divided among players and placed on empty squares to guard landmarks. We each took gemstones from the velvet pouch to place randomly around the island.

Now it was time for each of to receive the first installment of our treasure map! The landmark on the map pieces revealed our first objectives. Each player's turn of Skullduggery consisted of 3 steps: move our own pirate, move an island tile, and move an enemy pirate. If we landed on a gem, we got to keep it. If we landed on an enemy pirate we had the choice to pay him 2 gems or go back to our boat.

Once a player reached the landmark he had been directed to, that map piece became officially his. Play continued until one player obtained all four of his map pieces. This person was then able to add the treasure tile to the spot of his choice on the island. Now all the pirates raced toward that finish!

Skullduggery can be adapted to the ages and skill levels of your children, as long as you aren't afraid to change the rules to fit your family. We discovered we could make it a quicker game by skipping the second and third parts of each person's turn, moving only our own player pirates. Making it a straightforward race made it much less complicated for the younger children and gave the older children a chance to understand the basics before moving on to the elements of greater strategy.

Although the word "skullduggery" means "a devious device or trick" in pirate lingo, the game involves nothing more devious than a typical game of Monopoly. As far as pirate products go, you won't find a much more gentle variety than in Skullduggery. The actual game play offers nothing truly novel, but the quality of the workmanship that went into the product is remarkable. If you have a pirate nut in your family, Skullduggery may be just the game for you. I just hope the pirate craze lasts awhile in your house because this game is built to last.

Product review by Deborah Burt, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, June 2007