DEAD MAN'S DRAW from Mayday Games. Designed by: Derek Paxton, Leo Li and Chris Bray and impressively illustrated by Leo Li.
When we started to read the rules for DEAD MAN'S DRAW our first thoughts were that it was just another game themed around the Greed mechanic, you know the sort of game I mean. On your turn you can keep drawing cards until you choose to stop, then you score the cards you have flipped up, or you flip over a card and it is the same as one you have already drawn; then you lose all you would have scored on the turn. In DEAD MAN'S DRAW you are one of 2-4 Pirates ready to press your luck to score the highest amount of Loot.
There are 60 Loot cards in 10 suits. Nine of the suits have cards numbered 2 through to 7 and the tenth suit are the Mermaids who also have a 2 and a 3 but for the main game the value range is 4 to 9 - there is a separate card of rules for the Mermaids. The other main cards in the game are the Trait cards of which there are 17, each with an illustration of a Pirate and a Gem.
There are six cards in the boxed set I received that are not mentioned in the Rules. These are "All Hands on Deck" "Strange Lands" "Pile O' Treasure" "Beneath the Waves" "Thieves Island" and "Sudden Death". They appear to be events, one of which we assume is randomly chosen prior to starting to affect the game. If you know better please share.
The game setup has been cleverly thought through and successfully and sufficiently changes the "Greed" mechanic so that this becomes a totally different game but with a familiar feel to it. The lowest value Loot cards are taken from their suits and shuffled into a discard pile which is placed face down next to the draw pile which is made up of the remaining Loot cards. Players are dealt two of the Trait cards each of which they keep one and return the other to the box - out of the game - Trait cards are then displayed face up in front of their owners.
Every Loot card has a Suit-Ability, a special action that automatically activates when the card is played into the Play Area (this is what the table space where you place cards as you draw them is called). There is an exception to this rule, the Key and the Chest cards do not activate when drawn but they do when they are collected. So on your turn the first thing you do is draw a card from the Loot card draw pile and flip it face up on the table. Then you activate its Suitability" action - each player has a handy reference card to explain these actions but after a few rounds you quickly pick up on them. Once you have activated the flipped card you have the opportunity to collect it and thus end your turn or flip the next card, activate it and then do the same - draw another or keep the cards already drawn. As you collect cards you need to separate them into their different suits ensuring that the highest value card is alweays visible on the top of each deck. You will need enough space in front of each player to have up to ten different Loot stacks, one for each suit. If you continue to draw you might bust, draw a card the same as one already drawn in the turn, and then all of the cards drawn are discarded. However, one of the Suits is an Anchor which has the special ability that allows you to collect all the cards drawn prior to drawing the anchor even if you Bust.
If you collect the Key and the Chest in the same turn they activate to let you draw Bonus cards from the discard pile - you draw the same number of discards as you collected from the Play Area. The various abilities of the Loot cards ensure that the game is ever-changing until it finally ends when the draw pile runs out. You may be wondering about the pre-discarded Loot stack? I know I was, well when you flip over the Map Loot card it allows you to draw three of the discards and place one of these into the Play Area as if it had been drawn and flipped as normal. The interaction between the Loot cards makes for some interesting combinations and generally determines that a player's turn is more than just drawing and flipping cards.
The Traits give each player a unique ability but they must be activated if and when possible. These Traits can be quite powerful and generally work to the advantage of the player who owns them. I could list the Loot and Trait cards here to buffer this piece a bit but they are so well presented in the Rules Booklet there is no need, just know that there are no useless Traits and that none of them are over-powerful to the point of unbalancing what is essentially a very well designed and equally playable game. When the game ends the players score the uppermost card on each Suit they have collected, thus the reason for ensuring the highest value card for each Suit is the top card is two-fold; it is the care value that will score for you at the end game, but they are also the most vulnerable cards and can be "attacked" by the other players when they flip over and activate the appropriate card (Sword for example) into the Play Area.
MAYDAY GAMES have published some very interesting games which are always good clean family fun, extremely well produced with good quality components, and I have been lucky enough to play many of them. I can say therefore with some confidence that DEAD MAN'S DRAW is one of the best games they have produced.