Splitting the Treasure: A Review of Dread Curse

Dread Curse

Arrrr, there be treasure! And lots of it — but who gets it after a long day of pillaging? Dread Curse, by Smirk & Dagger Games, is a push-your-luck game for 3 to 8 pirates that is all about civil and fair division of the loot...or not. If you thought a bunch of swashbucklin' pirates could politely share a bunch of treasure, some of which is cursed, guess again.

Gameplay

Dread Curse consists of 8 crew cards (Captain, First Mate, etc.); a bag with 60 coins (57 are valued from 1 to 5, 2 are cursed with a Black Spot, and 1 is a lead slug); 50 pirate's code cards (allowing players to break the rules); and 1 Jacques Pierre (monkey) card. The object of the game is to gain the most valuable treasure and avoid the Black Spot — anyone holding a Black Spot at the end of the game loses. Treasure is gained by drawing from the bag and stealing from other players.

In each round, players take on the role of one of the crew members. The crew position is randomly assigned for the first round, then chosen by players in subsequent rounds. Each crew position has a rank from 1 (Captain) to 8 (Cabin Boy), as well as a unique ability. A round consists of 5 phases:

  • Draw Coins: starting with the Captain and continuing in order of rank, players draw coins from the bag. The number of coins drawn differs by crew position.
  • Steal: in the same order, players steal coins from either the Captain or a player sitting next to them. The number of coins stolen, as well as unique abilities to use during this phase, differ by crew position.
  • Pay Jaques: players can optionally pay a coin valued at 2 or higher to the monkey to draw a pirate's code card, which contains a special action that can be carried out. These cards can be played at any time or during a specific phase, as indicated on the card.
  • Cut & Run: players decide whether to stay in the game and continue pushing their luck for more treasure, or leave with the gold they currently have. A player who holds a Black Spot may not leave the game.
  • All Hands on Deck: players "bid" on who will become captain during the next round by revealing any number of coins and comparing the total value — these coins remain with the player, but being revealed may affect may affect future rounds. The player who revealed the highest amount is captain and the other players choose a crew position in descending order.

Play continues until either the bag is empty or only 1 player remains in the game. If only 1 player remains and he doesn't have the black spot, he may take one final turn as Captain. All players not eliminated by a Black Spot then add up the value of their treasure, including the value shown on any unused pirate's code cards. The lead slug counts as -5. The player with the highest total wins.

Dread Curse components

Review

Almost everyone loves pirates, and Dread Curse doesn't disappoint in terms of theme and artwork. The idea of dividing up treasure is unique and interesting. The artwork looks great, albeit a bit reminiscent of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean.

There are many tough choices to make during the course of the game, including which crew position to go for, how many coins to draw and steal, who to steal from, whether or not to pay for a pirate's code card, and when to play it. Keeping track of who, if anyone, holds a Black Spot is also a challenge. If you have drawn one, getting rid of it is obviously a high priority and may require to abandon or change some of your other plans to do so. One solution is to go for the First Mate position, which allows a player to give a coin instead of stealing one.

Gameplay is cutthroat and confrontational, great for stabbing your friends in the back, as it were. There are many opportunities to target a specific player and unleash your wrath, including stealing coins, using pirate's code cards, and passing along a Black Spot. This is all part of the fun, and certainly to be expected from a group of greedy pirates.

On the downside, we felt that there were perhaps too many choices during each round to keep a steady pace, as all of these decisions take time to make. The fact that pirate's code cards can be played during different phases, some during any phase, slows down the game further as players must continually monitor their hands. In addition, the number of phases during each round seems a bit excessive, requiring players to refer back to the phase order card throughout the game.

Dread Curse is fun overall, especially for more experienced gamers, but for casual players it may take a few plays for a group to really get into it. There are many cards and roles to understand, decisions to make, and phases to keep track of —  this led to a slower pace than we were hoping for, but your mileage may vary.

Pros: nice artwork and theme, unique concept, interesting choices and mechanics

Cons: too many phases and choices to keep a steady pace

Disclosure: we received a complimentary review copy of this game.