Designers: Shane Steely & Jared Tinney  |   Players: 3-5   |   Playtime: 20 minutes

Pirating on the high seas is hard work fraught with dangers from within as much as without. On the other hand, it’s good to be a giant kraken in the vicinity of a worthless company of shady seamen.

Walk the Plank! is our second programming game spotlight where players take on the role of a worthless band of pirates who have earned the ire of their captain due to their ineptitude and general unpiratey-ness. As such, the crew is sentenced to walk the ship’s plank in a game of player elimination to find out who’s worthy to keep their job and who’s kraken lunch.

MECHANISMS

Players begin the game with 3 meeple pirates of their color grouped together with everyone else’s meeple pirates on the main ship tile. Each round everyone simultaneously picks three cards from identical decks and plays them in front of them in their desired order. The objective is to push pirates from other teams off the end of the plank and into the maw of Davy Jones’ Locker. The cards resolve in turn order (everyone’s first card is played in turn order, followed by everyone’s second, then third) and involve pushing player pieces, shortening/extending the plank, or mindlessly running around.

This is an entire game built on take-that.

As each card is revealed, players must take the card’s action from the position of one of their surviving pirates. Dragging someone out to sea would involve one of your meeples pulling along another meeple from the same tile one space closer to the end of the plank. Like most programming games, these choices are compulsory even if the results are harmful to or unintended by the activating player. By the time you get to drag someone to sea it may be that two of your pirates are the only two on the tile, thus one is dragging the other toward their doom!

After each round, the first player token moves and a new round begins.

THEME AND COMPONENTS

I have yet to find a pirate-themed game that really satisfies my desire to play in the age of sail. In this case, the pirate and ship theme are very light and act as an environment for our five-way tug-o’-war. That being said, it is the first in a trilogy of games produced by Mayday Games that used the same theme within a kind of game anthology (which I find pretty cool). But while the theme is not an essential integration, I’m all for the ridiculous scenario in which the players find themselves.

Success in this game requires very little text dependency. Most of the actions need little by way of clarification beyond the name of the card and the little graphic at the bottom. There are additional icons on a few of the more powerful cards that need brief explanations, but they are fairly simple caveats to the standard rules.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’ve enjoyed getting Walk the Plank out for game fillers and casual gaming on a few occasions. It does require the right group dynamic to go beyond the mediocre fun provided by the game itself. I feel the spirit of this game is a kind of chaotic bumbling about and that has been realized in a game or two while other times it has felt dry and a bit awkward. While this can be a problem with any game syncing with a group, I’ve noticed that the best place to bring this out is with a group that feeds on Take-That!

  • Take That! – This is an entire game built on take-that. There is no way to avoid pushing or being pushed around while you jostle for an advantageous position and secure your safety. The whole premise of the game is to shove people off the end of the track, so you’re obviously engaging in a fairly aggressive competition. Some people are not comfortable with this kind of direct confrontation; it can be alleviated if there are two or three really silly players that soak up the attention and play as the comedic targets, but that ends up serving as a save-move rather than a total gaming experience.
  • Player elimination – I’m usually pretty easy on player elimination games, but I have to say it is my least favorite part of this game. While I don’t feel the elimination is any longer than King of Tokyo or Coup, the eliminated players have very little to do or enjoy during that time. In its defense, it is a short game. But if play continues beyond two rounds after a player is eliminated, there’s a feeling of non-participation and an urge to go wander around until it’s over.
  • Programming – I don’t feel like analytical programming is super heavy in Walk the Plank and can be enjoyed by even the meagerest of planners. While some programming games are notorious for producing the dreaded analysis paralysis (AP), I have never felt it an issue with Walk the Plank. This is largely due to the linear nature of the game coupled with a very limited number of spaces. Picking three actions in a one-dimensional system versus a two-dimensional system (like say, Robo Rally) cuts decisions by fifty percent, alone. Limit the playing field down to a mere 2 – 4 spaces and you really don’t have a lot of min-maxing going on.

Some games are played for the mechanics and theme, and some are good for creating an atmosphere for play. I’d place this game in the later where the group and the moment really feeds into the experience. There is a lot of interaction between players and it’s a bit rough-and-tumble. I can think of several occasions where that is appropriate, but it’s so dependent on the group and the moment. So I’m leaving this in the Play-It category while still left to searching the seas for the perfect pirate game to satisfy my imagination.