This review should have gone live weeks ago. I couldn’t think of how to start it. Even now I’m tempted to make the whole review be “It’s good. Buy it.”
Which it totally is and you totally should.
Ruthless is a pseudo deck builder for 2 to 4 players. It is best with 2, and I’ll explain my reasons for that later. The game will take around 30 minutes per player and the rulebook is a fairly quick read. The target audience is gamers with experience, but the game is low weight enough to be accessible to anyone that understands Poker.
Oh yes, it uses Poker.
The object of the game is to have the best pirate ship. Every round, you’ll use your treasure to hire crew for your ship. You’ll then compare the strength of your crew to your opponents and score tiered points in order of strongest ship.
Crew cards have abilities that apply when first recruited or played from hands. They also have a rank and suit. Crew strength is gauged based on three-card Poker groups—sets, straights, flushes, etc. The more cards you use in your group, the higher the strength.
All cards on your ship are discarded at the end of the round to be later shuffled into your deck to draw and play again. Total points are counted after 5-6 rounds and those players with the least points must walk the plank.
You know, pirates didn’t actually… you know what? Nevermind. We’d be here all day.
Ruthless follows many deck builder tropes while being fresh in its use of them. You buy crew cards but can only buy three per round and their effect and rank/suit automatically apply. When you acquire money cards you can use an automatic effect for quick cash, or add the card to your discard pile for later.
Balancing your short-term gains with your future potential is the main theme of the game. Taking that 3 now will give you a small straight, but will you be happy to draw it later? Is its immediate use this round worth keeping it? What about the treasure you found, wouldn’t it be great to always have it later rather than harvesting it right now?
Luckily, Ruthless is not a game of stressful calculation. Managing your deck is mostly a game of memory and proper purchasing. Obviously, crew that draw cards have the most potential to help, but those that remove cards from your deck can be powerful if done correctly. There are lots of things to consider.
… Or you could just play from your gut like a true pirate. Arrr!
One ability I didn’t mention is Attack. An attack forces an opponent to discard a card or spend one coin. You don’t gain either of these things.
I am very much against this action, as I am with most targeted Take That mechanics. They aren’t very fun and are the reason I don’t like Ruthless with more than 2 players. Having to pick your target is easy and less biased when you have only one.
Also, what self-respecting pirate doesn’t keep the coins bleeding out of their opponent? It’s highly unthematic.
Outside this action, the only other interaction is the end of round strength check. This confuses me even more because it makes Attack feel tacked on to make the game feel less like multiplayer solitaire. But it is what it is, and Ruthless still plays great with two.
Ruthless is a game of deck management where short-term gains must… okay now I’m just repeating myself. Like I said at the beginning, I’ve found this review particularly hard to write. The prose just won’t come. Ruthless is not the kind of game to fill me with emotions too pure for words, it was just a good game.
A good game that I wholeheartedly recommend.
Review copy provided by publisher. Thank you Alley Cat Games!