Captain Inspire, Cannon Crossfire! Ocean Splashing, Cutlasses Clashing!
|Salt & Bones (December 2020)|
|Designer(s)||David Cairho||Artist(s)||Duski, Saranit Klinklaykun||Publisher||
The Pen & Dragon
Few things in fantasy are as popular as pirates; most people can easily list 5 or more pirates from real-world lore and fantasy such as Blackbeard, Henry Morgan, Captain Hook, Jack Sparrow, or Monkey D. Luffy. There is something almost magical about swashbuckling. It is certainly a form of fighting, but it is almost a dance as well.
Salt & Bones is a pirate themed board game for 2 players dueling to the death by exchanging blows with their cutlasses. Players will not only attack, but they must anticipate what their opponents actions will be to parry and counter attacks. Players will want to gain control of the momentum of battle to chain together attacks leaving their opponent few opportunities to react. After about 20 minutes (2-4 rounds), one opponent will be bleeding out while the winner awaits for their next duel.
Box and Components
This is a game I played on Tabletopia so I can't really say speak about the quality of the box and components, but I can provide thoughts on the current artwork and overall layout of the components. As with all Kickstarters, components are subject to change and could be impacted by potential stretch goals. Once I have a copy after the Kickstarter ships, I will do an another complete review and will be able to provide better details about the box and components.
Based on what I see, the game will come with a single-sided game board, 2 player boards, 3 types of cards, 18 cubes markers, and a momentum token.
The game board depicts the image of two ships cruising side by side allowing the pirates to board each ship to duel with their cutlasses. This is where players will place their attack cards, which will cover two squares. There are some sections of the board that are grayed out and unable to be played upon; other spaces will become unavailable each round due to the damage from the cannon fire.
I really like the artwork of this board; the only issue I have with this component is there is no variability for which spaces start off unavailable. There are the 16 spaces that will become blocked based on field cards drawn each round, so there is variability in that respect. I could see me wanting a second side to this board or maybe a way to make the spaces modular in some way. I think from a design standpoint, a modular setup for this board either via grey transparency squares or some other means would be expensive and complicate an otherwise quick game to setup. Don't get me wrong, I like this a lot and am simply thinking ahead. I hope this game does well and can allow for future expansions, if that is something the team is thinking about.
The only other minor thing I would like to see added is a small symbol at the very center of the board because each round will require the first attack to start in one of the four center squares. So it would be nice to have a quick reference for where those spaces are. Maybe a small faded diamond or crossed cutlass in the intersection of the four squares.
Update 6/23/2020: Within the last 48 hour publisher update on Kickstarter, they announced that a new stretch goal was added to include an additional game board. So if this stretch goal is unlocked, one of my wishes from above will be fulfilled to increase the re-playability of the game.
Each player will receive a player board where they will track their health, place their non-attack cards, and even has a place for the momentum token. I really like the subtle artwork in this component. It is below the deck of the ship where the crew and equipment would be located; to me, this builds the imagery of crew rushing out to attack on the deck of the ship shown on the main game board. I have no idea if this was what they were going for, but I love it.
Health will be tracked with a cube sitting on top of the number representing their health. There are spaces for 6 cards, which will be further discussed in the game mechanics section. I like that they clearly label the card types are revealed and hidden; this will be very useful for new players.
There are three types of cards in the game, each serving a different purpose. I won't go into how each card type functions in this section; for that, see the mechanics section. The artwork is very nice in this game. I really like the art style; it has a hand drawn look like 80/90's anime and western roleplaying video games. The iconology used to distinguish between the different cards is also very nice; equipment cards has metal plates, instinct cards have wax seals, and gambits with their coins. Most cards even come with a unique block of text that is either a pirate saying or building imagery. The text on the cards are very easy to read and shouldn't take very long to understand what each section is for.
The 18 cubes I expect will be the standard wooden cubes, which are completely fine; I don't think I would see much point in anything more elaborate than that. It appears there will be 16 black cubes for field destruction and 2 red cubes for players health.
The one component I couldn't really tell from the Kickstarter or manual is the Momentum token; after asking the designer, I have found the token will be wooden, which is pretty nice. I initially thought it might be punchout token. It would be really nice if it were a metal token (perhaps as a stretch goal), but I think the wooden token will have a nice feel to it.
The draft rules are roughly 20 pages, which includes a few pages of clarification for what certain terms and abilities listed on the cards mean. From my review, all of the rules are in the manual, but I could see a little re-organization and making explainations a little more concise. On the surface, this game is fairly simple to understand so the rules shouldn't be too expansive.
One place that could use a clean up is the Basic Gameplay section. To me, this is just running through a round and should be just one page and allow the Detailed Gameplay to cover the finer details. There is already a Gameplay Loop, which I think is plenty. I could see getting rid of Basic Gameplay from within the manual making a one page summary for the back of the manual as a quick reference. These are draft rules so I imagine the final version will have a little more polish and remove some redundancy to more concise explanations.
The gameplay mechanics are fairly straight forward. The following sections are my understanding of the game based on the current rules; so as with any review, please refer to the official rules for complete details.
- A field card is revealed destroying section(s) of the game board
- Players will alternate drawing from two types of cards until they have a total of seven cards
- Players prepare their player board
- The duel occur with players alternating and playing attack cards to the game board
Each round lasts until a player disengages and then a new round begins. This will continue until just one player has health remaining or until one of the two draw decks are empty. Let's take a closer look at how the game is played.
- Each player will take a player board and a red cube token; place the red cube token on the 20 on their player board representing their full health.
- Shuffle the three decks of cards and place them in a location where both players can reach each.
- Place the black cube tokens nearby.
- Decide who will start with the momentum token (flipping it, app on a phone, some other means).
You are ready to begin.
This phase represents the destruction of the ships that is happening in parallel to the player's duel. This is very thematic and forces the players to change how they attack in future rounds since parts of the board become unaccessable. A single field (green) card is drawn and 1-3 squares on the map will receive black cubes preventing players from laying attack cards there for the remainder of the game.
Starting with the player who has the momentum token, players will alternate drawing cards from either the attack (black) card deck or strategy (red) card deck. The strategy cards will be placed on the players board during the preparation phase, and attack cards will be played to the game board during the combat phase. It is possible that players will have cards left in their hand from the previous round. Once a player has a hand of seven cards, they will no longer draw cards, and the other player will finish drawing until they have seven cards.
The player with the momentum token will select as many strategy cards from their hand to place onto the empty spaces of their player board and then the other player will do the same. Players do not have to play any strategy cards, and they can hold on to those cards for later rounds since cards are typically kept between rounds unless a card says otherwise.
There are three types of strategy cards and will be used in different ways:
- Instinct Cards: These cards will be hidden from your opponent and will give you special reactions to be played during the combat phase. There is an activiation condition and effect on these cards that explain when to use the card and what it will do. These have different effects such as avoiding damage, discarding/redrawing cards, or even dealing damage to your opponent equal to the damage you just received.
- Equipment Cards: These are very similiar to instinct cards except your opponent can see these. Typically, these add damage to attacks or avoid damage.
- Gambit Cards: These are unique and impact the entire round of combat for both players. They force a special rule into that round of combat such as no avoiding damage, no playing instinct cards, or increasing all damage dealt. Again, this impacts both players so be sure you can live with the effects of your own gambit.
There are spaces for three instinct, two equipment, and one gambit cards on each player's player board. These cards will be usuable anytime the activation condition is triggered.
Starting with the player with the momentum, players will alternatve playing their attack cards onto the game board into appropriate spaces. The first attack card played each round must touch one of the four center spaces. From here, attack cards must be played off of an existing attack card similar to the game Dominos. Basically, attack cards must be placed so the Attack Value (sword icon) of the card you have just played must touch Opportunity Value (boot icon) of an exisitng card on the board. You then add the Attack Value of your card with the Opportunity Value(s) of the cards it is touching; it is possible that you find the perfect place where you attack value will touch the Opportunity Value of more than one card, you include all of the Opportunity Values of the touched cards.
The following is an example of 3 cards being placed and the resulting damage.
Note: The Opportunity Value on the card you are playing provides you no benefit while placing the card so you will not add it to your attack total.
That is the basics of combat. There are abilities on some of the attack cards and terms such as Parry and Chain that impact how combat flows, but I won't go into all that here. It provides a bit of strategy without being too difficult to pick up. This mixed with the strategy cards placed during the preparation phase makes the game fun and strategic.
Players will continue playing attack cards until someone disengages either willing, due to having no attack cards remaining, dropping to zero health, or from an effect of a card played.
End of Round
This is not a distinct phase in the manual, but it makes sense to me to explain it as such. You will check for end game conditions:
- Exactly one player is at 0 health
- One of the draw piles became empty during this rounds Draw Phase
If end game is not triggers, players will discard the attack games from the game board ensuring not to move the black cubes. Players will discard the gambit on their player board and any equipment cards that states to discard at the end of the round. Return to the Field Phase and continue.
Whoever was forced to disengage first, whether from hitting zero health or from running out of attack cards first, is the loser. The other player has won the duel and the game.
The Kickstarter is arranged pretty well and provides all the details I need to decide if the game is worth digging into further. The game is priced reasonably and their overall goal was reasonable for a company's first game. I think the time they invested setting up this game on Tabletopia and Tabletop Simulator was very wise; a lot of people are hesitant to jump onto a company's first game with no opportunity to try it. Having the game ready on these platforms allow reviewers to try out the game, review their gameplay, and hopefully drive interested buyers to the platform to try the game for themselves. This was my first time using Tabletopia and everything was setup easy enough for me to start playing within 10 minutes.
The only thing I am not completely sure about is the stretch goals. Better quality boards and cards are great, and make a lot of sense as initial goals. My issue is the fact that both the funding goals and social media achievements provide upgrades for thicker boards and boxes. I see there is a note saying if both sets of goals are unlocked for a component, the highest level will be used. I think the player boards and game boards should be upgraded at the same time since they would be using the same material, and if there were a difference between them, it would be very noticeable.
As mentioned earlier, I would love to see a momentum token upgrade to a metal coin as a stretch goal. I realize the cost increase may be a bit high, but even a simple metal Doubloon would be a neat stretch goal. I have to wonder if the ??? stretch goal listed may be this upgrade.
Update 6/23/2020: Within the last 48 hour publisher update on Kickstarter, they announced that new stretch goals were added to include an additional game board and a linen card upgrade. All previous stretch goals had been unlocked; I think these stretch goals are certainly something to be excited about for this game and will provide additional value to the game moving forward.
Overall, I like the game. Amanda and I play a lot of two player games, and based on the games we have played on Tabletopia, we think this game is good and has some potential for future expansion if the designer is considering that. There are some minor things that I hope are cleaned up before the final product ships, but I think it has a lot of potential to be a quick, fun game for two.
Check out their Kickstarter that is currently live and runs through June 25th around 11:00 AM EST and try the game out on Tabletopia or Tabletop Simulator.
This article was written as a Kickstarter Preview for the product; we will be receiving a copy after the Kickstarter to write an honest review on the final product. All reviews reflect the honest opinions of the writer.