A Surprisingly Dry Experience with Dead Reckoning
Set sail for the open seas with a loyal crew where discoveries and ship battles are just over the horizon in Dead Reckoning.
Apparently, this is a time of water-based games! I had another game in mind, yet my husband has been asking me to play Dead Reckoning solo for months upon months. Sometimes, I just have a specific game in mind, but it’s also hard to turn down his interest in my solo thoughts. So I lugged this treasure chest of a game box to the table to sail away!
Game Name: Dead Reckoning
Publication Year: 2022
Designer: John D. Clair
Artist: Ian O’Toole
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
Solo Mode: Included in the Base Game
Ships begin in the harbor, then set out to collect coins and cargo. Unexplored islands can be discovered, where influence can help produce even more. Crew members learn new abilities along the way, and there’s always the threat of a sea battle! All sorts of play styles abound here!
September 17, 2022
September 22, 2022
1 Hour & 45 Minutes
44" x 34"
Captains of the Sea
With all the hubbub over my popcorn tricycle lately, a few actual Calico Critters needed to pop by! These fancy rabbits were all set with the nautical theme of the game.
That’s the only mustache I’ve ever seen on a rabbit, and I fully approve. Especially with the gold braid on the jacket!
As I gently moved these tiny creatures out of the ocean, I set to work reading through all the rules. There were a lot, even though it boiled down to a large handful of concepts.
My immediate gripe was with the plastic cards and all the fingerprints. Yikes! Impossible to avoid, unfortunately.
My Old Nemesis
Ah, yes… The cube tower for battles. Colorful cubes from anyone participating in a battle are dropped down and then indicate what happens based on the spaces.
I had to assemble both cube towers upon arrival. Let the record show that my husband nearly destroyed the prow when he played this multiplayer. Not my handiwork! Ha!
That assembly process was agony. And in use, this took up a lot of room and felt a bit flimsy. Neat, but impractical.
However, the open world concept of taking a ship around and using one of many play styles sounded like fun!
A big part of gameplay revolves around the 12 crew members. All begin at level 1, but can be upgraded to level 4 and have up to 3 special abilities added.
In this way, a specific strategy often takes shape. Some upgraded crew are better at battles, influence, production, construction, or more. Plenty of options to move forward!
The card-crafting system is something I’m still on the fence about. It’s the fingerprints on the plastic. No!!!
With my trusty ship ready to go, I set my sights on the waters near the harbor to find out what I wanted to do.
The end game is triggered when enough achievements are earned by a single player. I immediately knew I wanted to explore the uncharted waters! Just 5 tiles to go…
Sails provided the maximum movement per turn, which could be split up over multiple actions. I didn’t see too much in the coastal waters, so into the unknown I went!
Each tile contains either open waters or an island. I wasn’t quite ready to work on influence just yet.
But I could purchase the upgrades if I had enough cargo on board. Trouble was, that cargo blocked other abilities!
When a Full-Fledged Theme Falls Flat
I may not be someone who’s thoroughly into the genre around pirates and sailing the high seas, but one of my favorite movies from the 90s is Cutthroat Island… Me and maybe 17 other people, apparently. Ha ha! But that was what set my general expectations. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue a pirate play style, yet I wanted that sense of adventure.
The first few turns captured a little bit of that spirit, but even my crew members felt pretty dry. There weren’t any clever nicknames sprinkled throughout: I had a bosun. A purser. A first mate. All with their own unique abilities, but that didn’t translate into personalities. I felt like I was playing cards, rather than turning to my actual crew.
As the cube tower finally took its place in the spotlight during some later battles, it all felt entirely random. Even with the most lopsided odds, I could have won just by getting a little lucky. Again, I didn’t feel like there was this dangerous battle with cannons exploding and boarding parties lurking in the smoke. Nope: Just a moment to count up rewards.
These little introspective sections aren’t meant to tear apart a game, and I was glad to see a lot of excellent ratings for the game. I’ll give it another chance as I adjust my expectations a little bit, yet it might not be for me. As always, that doesn’t mean it’s not something for everyone. If you like it or think it might be fun, by all means, play it and enjoy!
Unprepared for Battle
I played a very peaceful and neutral sort of game, but the solo opponent decided to attack at a most inopportune time. My lone cube wasn’t enough to do anything!
My biggest gripe with this was how it felt so random. The solo opponent’s ship moved around, but that could be anywhere. I never felt like I was being chased down.
The noise of the cube tower was fun, but working out the results needed some extra upkeep in moving the cubes.
As gameplay moved closer to the end game, a lot of the elements felt like a lot of work for limited gain.
The Best Crew
My bosun was probably the best member, especially since I could plan ahead to draw extra cards. Everything wasn’t perfectly synergized, but that worked out nicely!
After the solo opponent started attacking, I found myself forced to focus on abilities and upgrades related to battles.
Maybe it was my own issue, but I didn’t feel the theme come through at all. This was very much a case of moving pieces around and collecting resources to trade.
Even the crew members felt very generic with duplicate artwork and titles, rather than unique nicknames.
Play Number: 1
Solo Mode: Included in the Base Game
Play Details: Normal Difficulty Level
Outcome: 108-117 (Loss)
It turned out to be closer than I expected. Focusing on some islands certainly helped out, though! Yet when I saw that hours had passed, I didn’t feel like I had gone through an epic saga on the high seas. I moved around components, fought with some plastic cards, and fixed up my ship after every lost battle. Another play should help me see if this one is for me. It looked fun on the surface!
Price & Value
Challenges & Mechanics
Design & Theme
Components & Rules
Achievement & Enjoyment
Distinctness & Randomness
+ Pros (Positives)
- There is an interesting focus on the crew members, who form most of the options for actions to take each turn.
- Discovering new islands can be a lot of fun, particularly when new influence opportunities pop up right away.
- Many different abilities and upgrades can change the strengths of the crew as a whole, along with ship upgrades.
- Setup allows for a variable assortment of islands mixed in with the open seas, adding a layer of unpredictability.
- Actions cover a wide range of choices that can range from pirate battles to island control through influence.
- The achievement system sets up an overall game timer that helps track how close the end game is.
– Cons (Negatives)
- Play time feels very lengthy for the overall experience, which doesn’t feel like it builds up to an exciting ending.
- Plastic sleeves and cards show fingerprints easily, but also must be separated and shuffled into specific stacks.
- As interesting as the theme could be, gameplay feels rather generic with placing cubes and gathering resources.
- Choosing a neutral or non-violent play style is impossible since the solo opponent will always initiate battles.
Score the Most Points
- Overall Goal Progress 100% 100%
Goals and Milestones
Score at least 100 points.
Win at least 1 game at the normal difficulty level.
Continue the Conversation
What do you like about Dead Reckoning? Perhaps I had the wrong mindset going in, so I hope to play again soon to see if I might be able to capture the fun behind the open world concept. Are there any other nautically inclined solo games that tell stories you enjoy? I’m still hopeful that I might be able to get more enjoyment out of this one. Back to the seas!