Buried Treasure

HIGH Easy to play, wide variety.

LOW Forced choices that hinder progress.

WTF The curse of “Wetness”

Build, test, die, repeat — this is the mantra of many roguelikes, and it’s especially true in deckbuilding titles. I relish the feeling of creating strategies and seeing how they come together, and in a game like Pirates Outlaws, I get to flex those muscles in addition to the twist of doing it with different characters.

Pirates Outlaws is a deckbuilding roguelike where players choose a character and sail through a procedurally generated map, gathering items and cards along the way. Each voyage has combat encounters, random events that contain treasure or curses, and shops where players can buy cards or additional resources. Each voyage is also broken up into three sections, each one ending with a boss fight.

Each island players visit costs action points, and players have a chance to sink and fail a voyage if the ship ever drops to zero action points. Completing voyages will unlock new cards and abilities for future runs, while also gaining repute which unlocks additional characters, maps, and bonus items.

Cards in combat are split into three categories – Melee cards hit the first enemy in front of the character, and it doesn’t cost any ammo to play them. Ranged cards can hit any enemy, but cost ammo to play. Finally, Skill cards may or may not have a cost to play. As a deck grows, management is key — take cards that synergize with the current strategy while also knowing when to slim the deck down in order to get good cards more often.

The real meat of Pirates Outlaws comes via the characters — a deck’s build is important, but more strategy comes from the crew and their unique abilities as each one has a gimmick that makes them play distinctly, often with a downside associated. For example, the sword master can’t ever get armor, but steals life with melee attacks. The curse captain starts out with three curses that put him at a disadvantage, but he gains bonus skills for each additional curse in the deck.

While Pirates Outlaws spoils players with choices of cards that can appear, I would have liked an option to choose none. In most deckbuilders, it’s common to have the option to skip picking up a card in order to avoid diluting the ratio. Not here — every time I won a fight, I had to pick up a card, which meant that I had to either hope it was something that wouldn’t gum up my deck, or I’d have to route myself toward a shop where I could sell off any excess cards. I often lost because of this inability to decline — either my deck balance would be thrown off by the forced additions, or my ship would sink because I had to spend too many action points to get to shops.

Pirates Outlaws also has slow pacing. The starting characters aren’t the most exciting to use, and it takes a while to unlock more interesting characters and cards. Also, there’s not a lot in the way of leaderboards or challenge modes to keep the game fresh. Once a player’s gone through the voyages with each character, that’s all there is to it.

In the end, Pirates Outlaws is a hidden gem of a game. It’s easy to pick up, has a wide variety of characters and strategies, and also offers enough depth for deckbuilding players players who really like to dig in. Strongly recommended!

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Fabled Game.  It is currently available on PC and Mobile. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 20 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E 10+. All weapons are represented by cards, and attacks look like puffs of smoke or dust clouds for hitting enemies. There’s no gore, and everything is stylized. Definitely approved for all ages.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Audio is with background music only.  Text is fairly large, but not resizable.

Remappable Controls: Controls are not remappable, and there is no control diagram in the game. On PC, the mouse controls everything — Click and drag cards to intended targets and click on cards to select and confirm choices.

Eugene Sax
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