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Review of Dead Men Tell No Tales

MVIMG_20180422_080821.jpgGame: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Designer: Kane Klenko

Published: Minion Games

Players: 2-5

Playtime: 60-75 Minutes

Play Type: Cooperative


Skelit’s Revenge is ahead of you, set a blaze from the earlier cannon fire. You and your crew know the ship is ripe with treasure and loot. The only problem is the Skelit’s undead crew is not going down  without a fight. Your goal is to board the ship, get the treasure and get back to the skiff before you’re killed by either the fire or the crew.


Each player takes a pirate of their choice. All of the pirates have a special ability to help reach the goal of getting 4-6 pieces of treasure off the ship before it explodes.

MVIMG_20180406_202305.jpgAt the beginning of each player’s turn they explore the ship. When doing this action the player will take a tile off the deck and add it to the ship so that all doors connect or have the ability to connect to doorways from prior tiles. Then, players draw a token from the bag and place it in the room. The tokens normally have a bad guy on one side, and either treasure or a beneficial item on the other. Finally a die is place in the room to represent the fire level in the room.

Each round, players may do five actions from the following list:

  • Walk: Move to an adjacent room. If the room has a higher fire level than the roommvimg_20180422_080900.jpgyou’re leaving, you take the difference in fatigue.
  • Run: Move two rooms (and gain fatigue as normal), gain an extra two fatigue.
  • Fight Fires: Lower the fire level in the room you are in by one.
  • Eliminate a Deckhand: Remove a deckhand token from your room or an adjacent room.  You return this deckhand to the supply.
  • Pick up a Token: Take an item token from the room. In order to take the token, you must first have defeated the enemy.
  • Rest: Reduce your fatigue level by two.
  • Increase Your Battle Strength: Add one to your battle strength. This helps to eliminate enemies so players make take items.
  • Swap Your Item Card: Exchange your item card with a different one from the reserve.

When moving, players must always fight all enemies that they encounter (not including deckhands). This fight happens immediately, and does not cost any actions. Players roll a dice and add their battle strength to the result to determine the result of the fight. If a player rolls higher they kill the enemy. If they roll lower, depending on the difference a variety of effects may happen.

The last phase in a turn, the player draws a Skelit’s Revenge card. A variety of things can happen from these cards, including spawning deck hands and increasing the fire level. These both can have a negative effect on game play as and can trigger losing conditions. If there are two deck hands in a room players are unable to pick up loot. Once there are three deckhands in a room, players may not enter that room. Similarly, fire level has two negative effects. First, the higher the fire level is in a room the more fatigue the player takes moving through rooms. If a player fills their fatigue tracker, they die. Second if a fire level ever reaches about 6, the room explodes. This makes it so the room is inaccessible, and also increasing the surrounding room’s fire levels. If too many explosions happen, players lose the game.

Overall there are six ways to lose:

  • If the explosion marker reaches the skull and crossbones.
  • When a player needs to add deckhands, and none are left.
  • If a room tile cannot be legally added to the ship. There are no doors open that could fit the tile being placed.
  • If too many treasure pieces have exploded, and therefor there are not enough to meet the game’s goal.
  • If a pirate dies once all treasure has been looted and pirates are making their escape.
  • If a player’s pirate dies, and there are none left in the supply to choose from.

and only one way to win: get the allotted amount of treasure and return to the skiff.



The artwork was immediately what drew me into Dead Men Tell No Tales. The components continue to have the same quality throughout as the cover art. The tiles, trackers, tokens and player boards are all high quality. The fatigue tracker is especially nice, and adds a good feel to the player board versus just having tokens that a play may add to their board. There are two types of wooden pieces in this game, the player’s wooden meeples which look like pirates, and the deck hands which are adorable little skulls. Finally there are the dice to represent the fire levels. They are nice dice, but the red dice can sometimes be difficult to read. The art through-out is detailed, and family appropriate.



  • Ways to adjust difficulty
  • Different ways to play with asymmetrical characters
  • Strong use of pirate theme
  • Quality components
  • Interesting Fatigue Mechanic


  • Inconsistent game play due to luck

I have now played this game several times, in hopes that it would be more difficult than MVIMG_20180406_202620.jpgit was the first time I played it. There were times where it was, there were times that it was a breeze. This game is extremely inconsistent because every piece of set-up is randomly determined. Some games will be a huge challenge for players, other times they may waltz through with no real danger at all.

There are some great strategy aspects to this game though. I really enjoy the resource management with the fatigue tracker. I think that it makes a lot of sense thematically with the fires, and can pose a real threat to players if they do not take it into account each turn. I also enjoy the variety of actions players may take each turn, players really have to prioritize what they think is important each turn to be successful.

In my opinion the game  lacks depth, which was disappointing because I love pirate themed games. The absolute randomness of everything in the game (from set up, token draws, tile draws, dice rolls for combat, etc.) is not something I personally enjoy in a game. While I do not mind some random aspects of a game, this entire game hinged on completely random variables. Sure, players have the chance to react to the random outcomes, but it still doesn’t help balance the game. I do not hate this game, but if I had played it a few times before buying it, I  would not have bought it. It is mechanically very similar to Flash Point or Pandemic, but I feel that those games have done a better job with  consistency and difficulty.  However, if you are someone who enjoys a lot randomness in a game, this is probably a good choice for you. It is incredibly thematic, and has a variety of options for players to keep game play engaging.

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