Game Night Blog Carnival: Scallywags

Pictured above is an “inactive” priate, which counts toward a total needed to sail. The pirate also contains the Monkey card, which allows the player to draw an extra card each turn.

Scallywags is a card game for two to four players ages 12 and older, published by Bent Castle Workshops. As the name implies, the game has a pirate flavor; the object of the game is to be the first to assemble a pirate crew from dozens of interchangeable pirate parts; the number pirates required for victory varies with the number of players.

The Scallywags deck contains 120 cards. Ninety of them are, for lack of a better description, pirate parts; 30 heads, 30 torsos, and 30 sets of legs. The remaining 30 “event cards” allow players to make it easier to assemble pirates or more difficult for opponents to do the same.

Each player gets a hand of 10 cards to start with, and nine cards are laid face-up in the center of the table. These nine cards, collectively called “the commons,” may be taken by players during their turn by discarding and exchanging cards from their hands during their turns. Players attempt to build pirates by using cards in their hands, cards drawn at the start of their turns and swapping unwanted cards from their hands with more appealing cards from the commons.

Assembling the Pirates

The combination of most head, torso and leg cards constitutes a pirate. These combinations can often be humorous. Even a mismatched creature containing the Dead Head (a zombie-like creature), the Waitress’ chest and the Dutchman’s Peg Leg has a use in the game.

Generally, each head, torso or leg card is part of a matching three-card set. In total, there are enough parts for 30 matched pirates, called “active characters” in the game.  These active characters include 13 generic crewmen (who can be sorted into sets by numbers printed on the cards), two captains, a first mate, magistrate, waitress, innkeeper, ships’ cook, ship’s surgeon, navigator, and similar characters. Most of the non-generic characters take two or three cards of the set to be considered active, although some cards, such as the monkey or squeeze box, grant advantages just by being part of any pirate. Active characters are generally more resistant to tampering from opponents, so it is preferable to match cards whenever possible.

There is an interesting correlation between certain cards that influences play. For example, any pirate containing the Parrot (a head card) is always drawn to the side with the captain that has been in play the longest; thus, if you’ve had a captain in play and an opponent unthinkingly creates a pirate with the parrot card (without getting rid of your captain first), the opponent’s parrot/pirate joins your side. A similar arrangement exists between the Ship’s Cook and the Monkey, and the First Mate with the squeeze box.

Landlubber Allies

Some of the matched characters cannot sail, and therefore don’t count toward the total number of pirates in one’s crew. They are still worth having on the team, though, as all of them grant special benefits, like allowing players to draw extra cards at the start of their turns and/or nullifying unfavorable event cards (see below). These characters include the Waitress, Magistrate, and Innkeeper.

Bad Combinations

Not all of the matched characters have beneficial attributes. The Mutineer, for example, requires you to have more pirates in your crew above the stated total needed for victory; the Cursed Sailor prevents your crew from sailing as long as he is in play, regardless of how many seaworthy pirates you have in play. Since any player can put a pirate in their or their opponent’s crews, a Cursed Sailor played on an opponent can stall him or her for several turns. It’s also possible to use captains to break apart a pirate crew; by placing a captain on an opponent’s crew that includes the other captain, a mutiny ensues, and half of the opponent’s crew departs with one of the captains. There is even a handful of individual cards that make an otherwise serviceable pirate unseaworthy, such as the Dead Head, the Stab Wound torso, and the No Pants leg card. And worse, for those characters that can be made active with just two cards, a third body part card exists that completely neutralizes the two-card combination, so having the third card for that character is necessary to safeguard it against those cursed body part cards.

Event Cards – Make Your Opponents Miserable

While the rules for obtaining and collecting pirate parts could make for an interesting game all by themselves, Scallywags designers added another layer of complexity by adding event cards, some of which may be played at any time and others on the owner’s turn only. Some event cards enable players to switch body parts between unmatched pirates, bringing them closer to being fully matched and active or making them unseaworthy or ineffective for opponents. There are event cards that enable you to draw extra cards, to have pirates on any crew arrested or impressed into service on a different crew, cards that counter these effects, and cards that counter the counters. In short, everyone can mess with everyone else and nobody knows who can do what to whom – until it has already happened.

Of course, all this sounds much more complicated than it is. the design and instructions on the cards are very intuitive, and after a game or two to become familiar with the rules, a game of Scallywags only takes 20 to 30 minutes.

Next blog in the carnival: Roving Band of Misfits


3 comments on “Game Night Blog Carnival: Scallywags

  1. Hi,

    Apologies for the off-topic comment, but I couldn’t find a contact email for you.

    A while ago I put out an ebook of my writing, called ‘The New Death and others’. It’s mostly short stories, with some obvious gamer-interest material. For example I have a story inspired by OD&D elves, as well as poems which retell Robert E Howard’s King Kull story ‘The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune’ and HP Lovecraft’s ‘Under the Pyramids’.

    I was wondering if you’d be interested in doing a review on your blog (either a normal book review, or a review of its suitability as gaming inspiration).

    If so, please let me know your email, and what file format is easiest for you, and I’ll send you a free copy. You can email me ( or reply to this thread.

    You can download a sample from Smashwords:

    I’ll also link to your review from my blog.


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