Friday, October 16, 2020

Scoundrel: random and abstract yet intuitive

 Scoundrel had been on the top of my list of games for the next time I tried a thematic solitaire with a regular deck of cards. It’s not something I do that much but it is nice to add to the library of games that you can play with just a deck of cards in your bag.

Scoundrel is a dungeon crawl that just needs a deck of cards and some way of keeping track of your  hit points. The game consists of you going from room to room and trying to not die. 

Each turn, you create a room by drawing four cards and resolving three of them. Spades and clubs are monsters. Hearts are healing potions. Spades are weapons. Combat consists of subtracting the value of the monsters from your hit points. Weapons subtract from the value of monsters BUT they get blunted. Every monster you fight with a specific weapon has to be lower value than the last. The fourth card remains and is part of the next room. 

You also have the option of running and putting the room at the bottom of the draw pile. If you go through the deck and survive, your hit points are your score. If you die, the remaining monsters in the deck are negative points so you have a way of measuring how badly you did :D

I have very mixed impressions of Scoundrel. 

On the minus side, even though you have choices, luck of the draw is by far the most powerful force in the game. I’ve lost games in two rooms, having run from the first room and then getting overwhelmed in the second since you can’t run twice in a row. The random factor is high and stacked against you. And the game is sufficiently abstract that I never had a narrative sense of being in a dungeon crawl.

On the plus side, the theme does do the very important of making the rules intuitive. I didn’t feel like I was dealing with weapons and monsters and potions but the rules made the interactions between the cards easy to understand. And while chance frequently overrode my choices, I did like the fact that the order I chose to resolve cards mattered and that I could run.

And Scoundrel does benefit in my eyes by being a minimalist game that I can set up just by shuffling the cards (after I’ve taken certain cards out but replay is super quick and easy) It succeeds at being what I am the most interested in a game like this being: a super portable game I can play anywhere with a deck of cards. 

Ultimately, the net positives outweigh the negatives for me. I have had fun with Scoundrel and I’ll play it occasionally. That said, I’d still recommend games like The Bogey or The  Blackjack River over it.

PS I found you can play Scoundrel online at but actually playing with cards is part of the appeal for me.

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