Before i played Dead Reckoning, i would have told you that Merchants & Marauders was the best pirate board game on the market. Enter a new challenger!

(click to view transcript)

I’ve suffered a minor… injury … since we last spoke. It’s embarrassing. i don’t want to talk about it. So AEG, who sponsored this video, sent along this prototype copy of Dead Reckoning, an open sandbox deck-building, pirate game, with the unique card-crafting system you might recognize from the designer John D. Clair’s earlier effort, Mystic Vale. If you’d like to see how setup goes, skip to the end of the video. Otherwise, stick around and let me show you how to play!

You and your friends each command a ship in an old-timey period when every day was brought to you by the letter “ARR.” You’ll sail the seas discovering islands, taking them over, building stuff on them, gaining cargo, stashing gold, and upgrading your ship. Your crew cards are transparent envelopes that you can customize with different abilities that you gain at sea. You’ll also level up one of your crew members each round to make them more and more mighty. But is there fighting? Of course there’s fighting! You’ll be dropping cubes into this ship-shaped cube tower to duke it out with merchants, enemy buildings, and player-controlled pirates. There are all kinds of different achievements to earn and strategies to explore. At the end of the game, you rack up coins for every cool thing you did, and whoever has the biggest booty (significant look) wins!

Here are your starting digs: you’ve got a ship at port, equipped with two sails and a cannon. It can carry 7 units of cargo and/or coins – 3 here, and 4 here. You’ve got a treasure chest filled with 15 coins, and a deck of starting crew cards, with everyone cutting their gold teeth at level 1. This remote harbour tile is the same as the harbour spot in your ship colour – it’s just portable so you don’t have to keep reaching across the table. You start with a certain amount of cargo in your harbour depending on your spot in turn order.

The ocean map is a 4×3 array of tiles. These ones start flipped over, and each tile gets a randomly drawn advancement or encounter on it.

You’re gonna be sailing around doing cool stuff, and trying to knock off these various achievements. The first player to finish 4 achievements triggers the end of the game. Everyone else gets one last turn, and then you rake in gold for a bunch of different things to get your final score. I think that if we go over these achievements, you may not fully understand everything i’m talking about, but it’ll give you a great idea of what goes on in the game, and maybe you’ll get a vague sense of what to shoot for. (point at camera) Hhhhey!


You’ll earn this one for exploring x different ocean tiles, where x depends on the number of players in the game.

To get the Master Merchant achievement, you have to cash in 12 barrels of cargo in one go.

You can become a Capitalist by stuffing 30 coins in your chest. The coins in your chest stay secret throughout the game, but you gotta let everyone know you’re filthy rich and show your coins to take this achievement once you reach 30.

The Builder achievement goes to any player who owns 5 or more buildings at one moment in time. If you lose control of an island with a building on it dropping you below 5 buildings, you still keep the achievement.

Get the Expert Sailors achievement by upgrading three of your crew cards to level 4.

The Elite Vessel achievement means you’ve gussied up your ship with 4 upgrade tiles.

If you get 6 or more permanent cubes on various islands, you can claim the Settler achievement.

To become the Terror of the Sea, you have to sink another player’s ship.

And you earn the Legendary achievement for winning 4 battles against anything other than a building.

So grab any four of those achievements to trigger endgame. But the triggerer is not necessarily the winner, as we’ll see later when we talk about scoring.


Your turn is split into two phases: doing stuff, and cleaning up. When you’re doing stuff, you’ve got a bunch of stuff you can do, and you can do that stuff in any order, as often as you want to or can afford to. Here’s what that stuff is:

You can load, unload, or rejig your cargo and coins. There are a few different places where you can stash your goods: cargo and coins can go on your ship, cargo can go on your dock, and coins can go in your treasure chest. You can also move cargo and coins to or from islands that you control, but it’s a little riskier to do that, because pirates. These icons with the little anchor mean you get cargo or a coin on your dock, these ones mean that stuff goes on your ship, these ones mean the stuff goes on an island, and these ones mean the stuff can go anywhere. Then if you see the same icons with a slash through them, that means you LOSE the stuff from those locations.

So when you’re docked at the harbour, you can unload any number of cargo barrels from your ship to your dock tile, and vice versa, if you can fit it. You can offload coins from your ship to your treasure chest. These spots on your ship can hold cargo and/or coins, and the limit is written here. Later, you can upgrade your ship to carry more stuff.

If there’s a jerk pirate at an island you control, you can’t load and unload there. You’ll have to defeat that pirate first before you can access the island. And if there are multiple jerk pirates, you’ll have to defeat all of them!

You can always move the stuff around on your ship at any time, even when it’s not your turn, and even when you’re about to be attacked – so you can just dump your booty into the ocean before a fight and let it float away back to the general supply. Once the battle starts though, you can’t touch your stuff – you have to wait til the fight is over.

You’ll have drawn a hand of cards, and you play as many of them out in front of you as you like at any point during your turn. On your turn, you can use the abilities on your cards now or later during your turn, or you can just let a crew member sit there. We’ll see why you might do that in a second. And we’ll take a closer look at what the cards do shortly.

You can also set your sails. This is the only action that you can take only once on your turn, because sails are the finite movement points that you’ll use to travel around the map, and once they’re gone, that means the wind has died down, and you won’t get them back until your next turn – even if you play a card that has more sails on it.

You count up the sail icons you have on your ship and your cards, and move the token to that number. So that’s how many movement points you get. Your ship has two sail icons to start, but the catch is that if you’ve got any coins or cargo blocking up either of these two sections, you can’t hoist those sails, so you don’t get those movement points. BUT, if you’re docked at the harbour or at an island you control with no enemy pirates around, you can technically offload all your stuff, hoist your sails, and then load it all back on. So the shorthand for this is that you get to hoist these ship sails whether they’re blocked or not, as long as you’re at harbour or at an island you control that isn’t infested with pirates.

If you’re at an island you don’t control, you could always unload your stuff there in order to hoist more sails, but you can’t load that stuff back onto your ship, since it’s not your island. Alternatively, you could rearrange your stuff to free up a sail… or dump it in the ocean, if you really need sails this turn.

Your ship can move orthogonally around the map, but never diagonally. It costs one sail point per tile to move. Every dock is just one movement point away from any of the first row of tiles, so this player can move down here with a single movement point.

If you stop on an undiscovered tile, you have to flip that tile over. There’s a numbered box of enhancement and encounter cards for each of the four rows – take one out of the box and stick it on the new island. You can move through an undiscovered tile to a discovered one… but you can only discover one tile on your turn, so if you’ve flipped a tile and you still have movement points, you can’t sail onto an undiscovered tile and end your turn there. Whenever you discover a tile, remember to put one of your cubes on the Navigator achievement. Once you place x cubes depending on player count, you can put your marker there and claim the achievement.

You’re allowed to move through or stop on tiles with other players’ ships on them, because they’re peaceful merchants and it’s all cool. But some players are in pirate mode, which means they’re jerks. You can move through a tile with one or more players who are in pirate mode, but if you stop there, you’ll start a fight. If more than one pirate is there, you’ll start a fight with absolutely everybody.

If you’re on a tile that has an advancement or encounter card there, you can buy or resolve it. You can acquire up to two of these advancements on your turn. The cost is here, so with this one, you gotta pay 4 barrels of cargo from your ship. You take the card and put it next to you on the table for now. Encounters are a tiny bit different, because they give you a choice: you can buy them just like advancement cards, or you can flip them over and resolve them.

All of the encounter cards in the base game are merchant ships. When you flip the card, you’ll usually end up fighting the ship, and different things happen depending on whether you win or lose. I’ll cover combat rules shortly, so sit tight!

The cards get juicier and more powerful the farther out to sea you sail. If you buy an advancement card, the tile stays card-less until the end of your turn, because that section of sea has nothing more to teach you… for now.

And the final bit of stuff you can do on your turn is to activate an ability on a card you’ve played out in front of you. Some cards give you extra sails, and some get you cargo. Most of the other symbols tie into game mechanics we haven’t discovered yet, so i’ll mention those as we go. At any rate, you can put a cube on a played card to remember that you’ve used its action. The green vertical line means AND/OR – you get what’s on either side of the line, one or both, in any order you like. The red diagonal slash is strictly OR – you have to pick one thing.

After you’re done doing all your stuff, you perform a cleanup phase. Because if there’s one thing i know about pirates, it’s that they’re very tidy.


First, replace any missing cards by drawing cards from the corresponding row boxes. Whenever you deal out a merchant card, make sure it’s face-up, because the other side is a secret.

Then, you can hoist the jolly roger on your ship to go into pirate mode. You might do this if you’re trying to protect an island you just conquered, or to keep another pirate from accessing coins and cargo on his or her own island. Or maybe you’re just doing it to be a jerk. That’s legit. It’s a pirate game. If you’re at the harbour, you’re not allowed to be in pirate mode. They don’t put up with any pirate shenanigans at harbour. If you’re still in pirate mode from a previous turn and you don’t want to be, you can ditch the jolly roger at this point and go back to being an unassuming merchant.

If you have any movement points from sails that you haven’t spent, the wind dies down and you lose them all.

If you gained any advancement cards this turn, you can tuck them into any of the cards that you played out in front of you to teach those crew members new skills – but you can’t sleeve them into crew cards that are still in your hand, or cards in your discard pile. You can sleeve the same played card with multiple advancements if you want to. If the card you want to sleeve isn’t out in front of you, you can hold the advancement in reserve until the crew member you’re looking for shows up in a later draw, and you can sleeve it at the end of that turn, if you play the crew card. But you’re only allowed to keep one advancement card in limbo like this.

Pirates are very organized learners, so the advancement cards will have one or more actions or icons on either the top row, the middle row, or the bottom row, and this little icon helps you see at a glance which row a particular advancement fits. Pirates aren’t great multi-taskers, so you can’t sleeve an advancement into a crew card that already has something in that row.

The crew members you played on your turn are now sleepy, so throw all those played crew cards into your discard pile, and draw 4 new cards up to your hand limit of 6 cards, whichever comes first. Some of the cards you played in your turn may let you draw more than 4 cards at this point – it’s one extra card draw for each of these symbols you activate before discarding your previous turn’s cards. But that increased draw count doesn’t crank up your hand limit.

Controlling certain islands does actually increase your hand limit, so keep your eye on those. If your deck owes you cards, but the draw pile is empty, shuffle your discards. Because you’re sleeving your cards, and some cards may feel thicker than others, to avoid cheating your draw by feels, you can ask another player to cut your deck during a shuffle to keep you honest. Honest like a pirate.

As you play, your pirates gain experience. At any point before your next turn, you get to pick one of the crew cards you just drew and level it up. To crank a level 1 card up to a level 2 card, you rotate it. To go to level 3, you flip it, and then rotate it again to go to level 4. Remember to mark the Expert Sailors achievement if you boost a third card to level 4.

The ability tree for each card type is on this handy little player guide. You may want to wait to level up a card – say, if someone attacks you before your next turn, maybe you want to level up a crew member who gives you more cannons. But if play comes around to you and you still haven’t leveled up any of your crew, do that before you start your turn.


There’s a whole area control game going on with these islands. If your ship is at an island and you activate one of these symbols on a card, you can put one of your cubes on the island on one of these spaces, to stake your claim.

Different islands have different numbers of spaces. If all the spaces are full up, pick someone else’s cube and replace it with your own. Whose island? Your island! You have to treat the actions on your cards as discrete: so a level 3 Buccaneer lets you place 3 cubes on an island… but remember: pirates are lousy multitaskers. So you can’t place 1 of those cubes here, sail next door, and place the other two here. In other words, you can’t split up the actions on that single row.

If you want to know if you control the island, ask yourself two questions: do i have more cubes there than anyone else, and do i have more cubes than there are empty spaces? So here, no – you don’t control this island, because you don’t have more cubes than anyone else. And here, no – it’s not yours because you don’t have more cubes than there are empty spaces. But if you get another cube on there, that island is yours.

Whenever you take control of an island, you get to write a page in that island’s history book by putting another cube here in this permanent cube area, and no one can knock that cube out of there for the rest of the game. So it is written! Remember, if you get 6 permanent cubes out onto various islands, you can claim the Settler achievement.

Any time you place a cube and control switches to you, you get another permanent cube. So if you control this one, but someone takes it away from you, but you take it back, you’re back in the books, and you get another permanent cube on it. And if you take control of an island that has buildings on it, the deposed rulers wreck everything as they flee, so those buildings get destroyed.

What can you do with an island you control? Well, if you activate a card with this symbol on it, you can put the people to work, and make one of your islands produce stuff. You technically don’t have to control the island to make it produce goods, but it’s kind of a sketch idea to enrich an island you don’t control, or don’t plan to control very shortly. Pirates can’t thrive on community booty. Look for the icon down here to see what the island generates. If there’s an open sea tile pointing at the island, it gets one additional coin whenever it produces. The clear thematic justification is that the ocean is filled with fish that are stuffed with money like pinatas, and they’re spitting extra coins onto your island.

So goodies show up on the island, and since you control it, you can load cargo and coins from there onto your ship, as long as your ship is at that island, and there’s no enemy pirate blocking you. If you maintain control until the end of the game, you also score this many coins for the island. Second and third place area control winners get these prizes. Different islands have different control contests and prize amounts – the harder it is to control an island, the bigger the reward you get for controlling it.

If you activate this symbol on a card, you can buy a building for your island – either fort, garrison, or outpost – for various prices. An outpost makes the island’s citizens more productive, so it boosts an island’s production by 1 cargo and 1 coin. Since it’s very un-pirate-like to beat up nerds, nobody can attack an outpost.

A fort packed with soldiers and guns protects the place. It locks the island so that only you can interact with it – that means no one can put any cubes there, load stuff, produce, or unload stuff, even if they have a card that says they can, unless the card action says it overrides forts. Forts don’t mess around with the advancement card on that tile – anyone can still buy the card or resolve the encounter on that tile even if there’s a fort on the island. It’s not a floating fort. Other players can choose to fight your fort. More on that later.

Garrisons do the same stuff as forts. They’re a little bit weaker in combat, but the cool thing is that they’ll shoot at any ships just passing by. (HEY!!)


As long as we’re running down what some of the card symbols do, let’s cover off the ones we haven’t seen yet.

Cannons give you more cubes to use in battle. Battle’s coming! i promise!

The saw lets you buy a basic upgrade for your ship, and the saw with a hammer lets you buy an elite upgrade. Pay the cost and put the upgrade on your ship. You can stack the tiles if you want or need to, like when your uncle built that new deck on top of his old deck. Each tile is worth endgame points to you whether it’s covered up or not. Remember, you can earn the Elite Vessel achievement for buying 4 upgrade tiles.

This icon lets you repair damage on your ship. 5 damage tokens will sink you, so you don’t want to let them pile up.

Wheels don’t do anything on their own, but they act as a multiplier when paired with other effects. So for example, this advancement puts a wheel on the card, and gives you a cannon for every wheel on the card. So that’s 1 cannon. But if you add another wheel to the card later, now you’re getting 2 cannons – 1 for each wheel.

This icon lets you attack another player who isn’t already asking for a fight by being in pirate mode.

Some cards have battle effects, which we’ll talk about in a sec. We’re almost at combat! Don’t pop your eyepatch!

Finally, there’s some purple jazz on some of the cards that give you endgame scoring bonuses, like this one, which lets you cash in cargo for coins at the end of the game.



Yoho! We made it to combat! Here’s how you fight in Dead Reckoning.

If you stop on a tile with one or more pirates on it, you fight.

If you choose to battle a merchant card instead of buying it, you fight.

If you want to destroy someone’s building, you fight.

If you pick on a poor innocent ship using yer attack icon, you fight.

And you get one crack at fighting each ship, merchant, or building on your turn. There’s no repeat fighting on your turn, whether ye win or lose.

Let’s fight a merchant ship first. Flip the card, and if there’s a fight to be had, the card will tell you how many battle cubes the merchant ship gets. Then, you take battle cubes for yourself based on how many cannons you have on your ship, and for any cannons on cards you decide to play and activate. The cannons are one use per turn, so if you plan on fighting multiple things, you might want to keep a few cannons in reserve for your next battle.

So you get cubes, and the merchant gets cubes, and you drop those cubes into the ship where they scatter out onto the battle board. If a cube lands tilted, it’s considered to be in the space it’s sorta touching. If it lands fully outside of any recess, you re-drop it.

If a cube lands here, that’s an explosive shot. The cube’s owner gets an extra cube, and you drop both back into the ship. Ka-pow!

Then, if you have any battle abilities on your cards, you can activate them now in any order you like.

These are the victory spots that decide the battle. Whoever gets the most victories wins, and in the case of a tie – even at 0-0 – the player whose turn it is wins.

Next, if any cubes land here, their owners gain plunder that’s just randomly floating around in the ocean, probably from exploding those fish pinatas i mentioned earlier. The plunder either goes on your ship, if you can fit it, on the island where the battle is happening, or back into the ocean to feed the fish. Merchant ships don’t get any plunder, so don’t worry about them.

Then, you resolve these spots, which can potentially damage both ships – but if you’re fighting a merchant, only the merchant cubes landing there will damage you. Put these tokens on to track the damage.

Merchant ships have win and loss conditions printed on them. If you lose to a merchant ship, follow the loss conditions and get rid of the card. If you win, you may get to sleeve a merchant ship card for its tasty benefits.

If you stop your movement in pirate-infested waters, or if you use an attack symbol to take on a peaceful ship, you begin a player vs player battle. In the case of multiple pirates, you have to fight every pirate on the tile, but you decide who to point your cannons at first.

There are a few differences between a player vs player and a player vs merchant card battle: If the fight takes place at an island either player controls, that player gets one extra cube per building on the island, because that’s that pirate’s home turf. If you attack a player at the harbour, the harbour guard steps in to help: so the defending player gets four extra battle cubes. After the attacking player counts up cannons and declares how many cubes he or she will drop, the defending player gets to play and activate cards from his or her hand to figure out how many cubes to defend with. Defenders defend with all of their cannons on their in-play cards. And those cards stay in play until the defender’s turn later in the round, so if anyone else attacks that person, those cards can be reactivated in defense. The cannons are only one-use if you’re attacking with them – they’re multi-use if you’re defending against various players before your turn comes up.

After you drop both players’ cubes, and before resolving the battle board, starting with the active player, you have an opportunity to influence the results of the drop: you go back and forth, and activate your cards’ battle abilities. This volley only ends after both players pass consecutively. Battle abilities can sway the fight’s outcome. If cubes land in these spots, both player ships get to collect fish pinata plunder, win or lose.

All of the spots on the battle board resolve according to whose cube lands there, except these damage spots: if your cube lands there, the other player takes the damage.

If a player loses the fight, his or her ship gets one damage token on it. If that player was in pirate mode, the ship gets stripped of its jolly roger, which means you can interact with the island again. If you didn’t defeat every pirate on the tile, the island is blockaded, and you can’t access it.

If the player who wins the fight doesn’t already have the Legendary achievement, he or she gains a cube in that spot. Four wins against anything that isn’t a building gains you that achievement.

Ok – so what if you fight a building? As long as the island isn’t protected by one or more pirates, you can fight either a fort or a garrison. A fort gets 5 cubes, while the weaker garrison gets 2. Outposts can’t be attacked. All the rules are the same, except that only the attacker can use battle abilities, and nobody gets any fish pinata plunder if the cubes land on those spaces. If you win, you knock out the building you fought. If you lose, your ship takes a damage token.

Five or more damage tokens sink a ship. If you take five or more tokens during a battle, finish the battle and then sink. If you take your fifth token outside of battle – say, by being shot by a garrison – you sink immediately. You lose 5 coins from your ship. If you don’t have 5 on your ship, you lose the coins from your treasure chest instead. Your ship gets warped back to harbour, you ditch all the damage tokens, your sails get deflated to zero, and everybody laughs at you. If you have any coins left on your ship, they go straight into your chest. If another player caused you to sink, the coins you lose go directly to that player’s treasure chest… and that player earns the Terror of the Sea achievement.

Cubes are limited… if you ever run out of them during a battle, you have to pluck them from your islands.


Once a player earns a fourth achievement, that triggers the end of the game. That player finishes up his or her turn, and then everyone else gets one more turn.

Players who are finished their final turn still get to draw cards for a new hand, and they still get to upgrade 1 of their crew cards this round, because they might still be attacked by the players who haven’t finished yet. Players who go out in combat games tend to be sitting ducks for the active players to pick on, but Dead Reckoning has a solution for that: if you want to knock out island cubes owned by a player who’s out of the game, you have to pay two cubes for every 1 you replace. And a player who’s out of the game gets two extra battle cubes to fight with if attacked.


After the last player has taken a final turn, you count up the gold you earned from all kinds of places. First, you get the coin value next to your achievement markers. Partial progress on achievements like The Explorer earn you nothing.

Then, count up your coins in your chest, on your ship… and on islands you control.

You get 1 coin for every building on an island you control.

Every 2 advancements you bought get you 1 coin, whether they’re sleeved or not.

Each basic ship upgrade tile you built gets you a coin, and each advanced tile gets you two coins, even if the tile is covered up by another one.

If you have cards with any purple metascoring bonuses, count those up.

Then, award coins according to the island control contests. If two players tie, they each get the prize for the next level down – so a tie for third place gets you nothing. The weird part is that empty spaces count as another player, presumably because someone already controlled the island before the game began – so here, the empties take first, and the blue player takes second place.

If there’s a tie at the end of the game, it’s decided by fightin’: all tied players count up all the cannons on their ship and their cards, and drop that many cubes into the cube tower. Nobody gets to use any battle abilities on cards, but the exploding shot spaces still count. Battle strength wins it, and if you’re still tied, keep dropping until one pirate comes out on top.


To set up the game, everyone takes a ship and a bunch of cubes. One cube goes here to mark your sails. You get a treasure chest stocked with 15 coins, and a dock token. You can put your ship there or on the harbour board – it doesn’t matter. You get a few achievement markers and a pirate flag. Take a reference card, and a starting deck consisting of a captain, a first mate, a purser, a buccaneer, a bosun, two gunners, two deck hands, and three crew. Shuffle your cards together and draw 4 for a starting hand.

Split the island tiles out from the open ocean tiles. Randomly select 10 islands in a 4-player game, 9 for a 3-player game, or 8 for a 2-player game. Then shuffle those tiles together with these two ocean tiles, and add this one in a 3-player game and this one in a 2-player game. You’ll end up with 12 tiles that you deal out to the table in a 4×3 array. Flip the 3 tiles closest to the harbour.

Shuffle the advancements according to which row they belong to, and stuff each stack in its respective row box, mysterious side out. Put the row boxes near each row. Pop out row-1 cards to the first row.

Stack the ship upgrade tiles by type, and keep them handy.

Put the buildings, coins, cargo, and damage tokens nearby to form a supply.

The first player is whoever most recently studied the ichthyological phenomenon of fish pinatas (i just made that up – you can choose randomly). The first player gets 1 barrel of cargo to start, second player gets 2, third player gets three, and the 4th player gets 2 barrels and one extra card upgrade off the top of the game.

And now, you’re ready to play Dead Reckoning! (So there i was, my novelty plastic cocktail sword in one hand, and….)

Did you just watch that whole thing? Oh – hey! To 100% this video, click the badge to subscribe, then click the bell to get notifications when i’ve got new stuff! [Music – Board Game Boogie by Ryan Henson Creighton]