One board/card game genre that I have always had mixed feelings about is the press your luck genre. Some press your luck games can be quite good while others can be really bad. What I like about the genre is that it is usually pretty simple and plays quickly. On the negative side though, most press your luck games rely on a lot of luck where you are just making guesses on whether you should continue or stop. I had high hopes for today’s press your luck game though, Dead Man’s Draw, as it is highly rated. Dead Man’s Draw might not be a highly original press your luck game, but it adds enough to make it one of the best games in its genre.
How to Play Dead Man’s Draw
- Remove the lowest valued card of each suit from the loot deck. This includes the four mermaid and the two of the rest of the suits. These cards will form the discard pile. The discard pile is placed face down. Players may not look at the cards in the discard pile unless they have an ability that allows them to.
- Shuffle the rest of the loot cards to form the draw pile. Place the draw pile face down on the table.
- Shuffle the trait cards. Deal two cards to each player. Each player will choose one of the trait cards to keep and will discard the other card. The players will reveal their trait cards to the other players. To see what each trait card does, see the appropriate section below.
- Randomly choose who will start the game.
Playing the Game
A player will begin their turn by drawing the top card from the draw pile and playing it face up on the table (the play area). The player will then take the action corresponding to the suit of the card that was drawn. The action will apply whether the card was drawn from the draw pile, discard pile, or a player’s bank.
The player will then have a decision to make.
First they can choose to stop drawing more cards. They will take all of the cards face up on the table and add them to their bank. A player will place all of these cards face up in front of them. When players have two or more cards of the same suit, the highest valued card of the suit will be placed on top of the other cards of the same suit.
Otherwise the player can choose to draw another card. If the player draws a card whose suit doesn’t match any of the other face up cards in the middle of the table, they will place the card face up on the table and take the corresponding action. The player can then either stop or draw another card.
If the card’s suit matches the suit of one of the other face up cards though, the player will bust. The action of the last card drawn is not activated. All of the face up cards on the table (including the card that was just drawn) will be discarded.
Once a player has either banked or busted, play passes to the next player clockwise.
Each card when it is added to the table, will have a special ability that goes into effect. The only suits whose abilities don’t go into effect right away are the chest and key.
The player will get to collect all of the cards added to the table before the anchor card even if they bust. If the player busts they will lose the anchor and all of the cards added after the anchor.
Choose the top card from any of the suit stacks in your bank and add it to the play area. You must choose a card from your bank even if it forces you to bust. If you end up busting you will lose the card you added to the play area. Once the card is added to the play area, the card’s ability will be activated. If you don’t have any cards in your bank, this suit ability doesn’t do anything.
The player will get to choose the top card from a suit stack in one of the other players’ banks. The chosen card will be added to the discard pile. If no other players have a card in their banks, this ability does nothing.
Key & Chest
The key and chest abilities only go into affect if both are in the play area at the same time and the player banks the cards. If this happens the player will bank the cards in the play area. They will also draw cards from the discard pile equal to the number of cards that were in the play area (including the key and chest) when the player banked the cards. The cards drawn from the discard pile will also be added to the player’s bank.
The player will shuffle the discard pile. They will then reveal three cards from the discard pile. The player must choose one of the three cards and add it to the play area and take the corresponding action. The player must take this action even if it will force them to bust. If there are less than three cards in the discard pile, the player has to choose one of the remaining cards. If there are no cards in the discard pile, the ability is ignored.
When the oracle is played, the player reveals the top card in the draw pile. The player then chooses to either add the revealed card to the play area or return it face down to the draw pile and bank the cards in the play area.
The player chooses the top card from a suit stack in one of the other players’ banks and puts it into the play area. They must choose a suit that they don’t already have in their own bank. The ability on the card then goes into effect.
The mermaid has no special ability outside of the cards being worth more points.
The player will have to add at least two more cards to the play area before they can bank the cards in the play area. The first card you draw will be from the draw pile. If that card forces you to add a card from another pile, other than the draw pile, the second card you add will count as the second card that needs to be added. Otherwise you will have to take another card from the draw pile.
At the beginning of the game each player will choose a trait. This trait will give each player a special ability for the entire game.
If a kraken card is drawn during the game, all opponents will have to add four cards instead of two before they can bank the cards in the play area.
When a hook card is drawn you will have to add two cards from your bank, instead of one, to the play area.
When you draw a mermaid, you will immediately bank it.
Davy Jones’ Locker
At the beginning of the game you choose one of the other players. If that player busts during the game, you will take the cards in the play area and add them to your bank instead of discarding them.
When you draw a kraken it will be banked immediately. You also don’t have to add the additional two cards to the play area.
The mermaid cards you collect during the game are worth five more points.
Any cards from your bank that get added to the play area due to a hook are safe from a bust. Any hook card you draw is also safe.
Whenever a map card is drawn, you can choose any card from the discard pile to add to the play area.
When you draw a cannon, you will discard the entire suit stack chosen from another player instead of just the highest card.
Other players cannot target you with a cannon. Instead they must take the top card from one of their own bank stacks and add it to the discard pile.
If you draw an oracle card you will get to look at the next three cards instead of just one. You may not change the order of the cards.
Any other player who draws a sword must steal a kraken card. If there aren’t any kraken cards to steal, the sword card is discarded.
When a player banks a key and chest, they will take cards from another player’s bank instead of the discard pile. The player may only take cards from one player. If they don’t have enough cards to fulfill all of the cards you are owned, you lose out on the extra cards.
When a player draws an anchor, the anchor and the next two cards added are protected from a bust. If one of these cards cause the bust though, the player doesn’t get to keep the card that caused the bust.
Whenever the player draws the cannon they will get to add the card they take from an opponent to their bank instead of discarding it.
If you draw a sword you can take any card from another player even if you already have a card from that suit.
If you bank both the chest and key you will take three times the amount of cards you banked from the discard pile. All of these cards are added to your bank.
End of Game
The game ends when the last card is drawn from the draw pile. The current player will finish their turn by either banking or busting based on the last card that was drawn.
Players will then tally their scores. Players will tally up the points from their most valuable card of each suit. The player who scores the most points wins the game. If there is a tie, players count up how many cards they have in their bank. The player with the most cards wins the game. If there is still a tie, the tied players will share the victory.
My Thoughts on Dead Man’s Draw
I am not going to sugarcoat it. Dead Man’s Draw is a pretty typical press your luck game. The entire game revolves around how much risk you want to take. The main mechanic in the game is drawing cards and hoping to not draw two cards of the same suit. The gameplay basically revolves around determining whether or not to draw another card or stop and take the cards you have already drawn. The more you press your luck the more points you can score. You can also bust though and lose everything.
If this sounds familiar it should as there are quite a few press your luck games that use basically the exact same premise. We have even taken a look at one of these games in the past, Duck Duck Bruce. The basic gameplay of Dead Man’s Draw is not going to win any awards as it has been used by many other games in the past. While Dead Man’s Draw does add some unique mechanics to this basic framework, it is not a groundbreaking game.
As a lot of people have already played a similar game in the past, most people will probably have a pretty good idea on whether or not they will like Dead Man’s Draw. If you have played one of these type of press your luck games in the past and didn’t like it, I can’t see Dead Man’s Draw changing your mind. Even if you have never played one of these games before, I know there will be people that will hate Dead Man’s Draw. The game relies heavily on luck. You have to make some decisions in the game, but your fate relies heavily on luck. You could play too aggressively or passively and lose the game. Usually you will either win or lose based on the luck of the draw though. If you don’t like games where your fate is mostly out of your own hands, Dead Man’s Draw is not going to be for you.
So far it might sound like that I didn’t like Dead Man’s Draw, but it is actually the opposite. The reason I like Dead Man’s Draw is due to the inclusion of special abilities on all of the cards. Most of these types of card games have cards that just have numbers and suits on them which are used to determine scoring and whether a player busts. Each suit in Dead Man’s Draw has its own unique ability though. You could make a good argument that a lot of these special abilities add even more luck to the game. Some add more strategy to the game though, and they all make the game more interesting. The card you draw could totally change what you were planning on doing. This makes the game more random, but it also keeps you on your toes.
The thing I liked most about the special abilities on the loot cards is that it actually allows you to make some strategic decisions. In particular some of the card abilities give you some choice over what card you want to add next. For example the hook card makes you play one of the cards from your bank to the play area. This might seem like a punishment at first, but you could use the ability on the card you choose to really benefit you. Sometimes you don’t have a lot of choices, but there is a decent amount of strategy in figuring out how to manipulate the different card abilities.
While all of these abilities have their own benefits if used properly, the key and chest in particular stand out as they have the ability to be by far the most powerful cards in the game. Alone they are not worth anything more than their point values, but together they allow you to double the amount of cards you can bank on your turn. If you can get a key and a chest together on the same turn along with a couple other cards, you are going to have a great chance at winning the game. While I think this is a little overpowered, it is pretty hard to accomplish. Unless you get really lucky you are probably going to have to take a considerable risk in order to get both cards. If you succeed though it pays off immensely as you will be able to add a lot of cards to your bank.
The other area where special abilities come into the game is through the use of trait cards. At the beginning of the game each player is dealt two trait cards. Each player will get to choose which one they will use for the rest of the game. Most of these traits give the players some special ability that applies when one of the suits is drawn. This is an interesting addition to the game as it mixes things up and keeps the game interesting.
I don’t think all of the traits were created equally though. Some are downright rigged where you will have a huge advantage over the other players. Other abilities are only useful in certain situations. Some can even be disadvantageous in some situations. Usually I would hate how the traits add even more luck to the game, but as I will address shortly it is not a huge issue for the game. Dead Man’s Draw is not meant to be taken as a serious game and it is short enough where if you get the short end of the straw you aren’t stuck with it for long.
The final somewhat unique mechanic in Dead Man’s Draw is the idea that you only score points for the most valuable card of each suit. You could end up collecting a bunch of cards, but if they are of the same suit you will only score one of them. With the card’s values differing quite a bit as well, the cards you end up banking truly matter. This adds some draw luck to the game as it rewards players that draw high value cards of different suits. I think it also adds a little strategy as well. The special abilities that allow you to affect cards in front of yourself and other players will be impacted by this fact. In general I like this addition and if you don’t like it you can easily just score the points from all of the cards in your bank.
Regular readers of Geeky Hobbies will know that I am not generally a fan of games that rely heavily on luck. I usually like games where I can have a decent impact on my fate in the game. While Dead Man’s Draw relies on a lot of luck, I didn’t really mind it. I think this is due to a couple things.
First the game is really easy to play. Outside of having to occasionally reference what the different traits and suits do, you can teach the game to new players in just a couple minutes. The game is also simple enough that it won’t overwhelm people that don’t normally play a lot of card/board games. The game has a recommended age of 13+ but I think kids considerably younger should be able to play the game. I don’t know if the high age recommendation is due to the theme or the borderline gambling gameplay, but kids under thirteen should have no trouble playing the game.
The other reason why Dead Man’s Draw overcomes the luck is that the game plays so quickly. Your first game may take a little longer as you get familiar with the game. I would expect most games to only take 10-15 minutes though. With the game being so short you don’t feel so bad if luck is not on your side. The short length also makes Dead Man’s Draw a perfect filler game. Whether you don’t have much time or need a short break to break up two more in-depth games, Dead Man’s Draw is perfect. It also works well if you are traveling as the game is quite small and travels well.
As far as the components are concerned I think the game does a pretty good job. The game only includes cards, but I like the cards for the most part. The artwork is really good and does a good job supporting the theme. The cards are also pretty sturdy so they should last if you take care of them. I kind of wish the cards could have come up with a way to have symbols that explained the ability of the card though.
I began this review by saying that Dead Man’s Draw is not a particularly original game. While this is true, it is still a really fun game. It basically takes the press your luck card game genre and almost perfects it. Of all of the similar press your luck card games that I have played, Dead Man’s Draw is the best of this type of game. If you are looking for a game in this genre I would highly recommend picking up Dead Man’s Draw as I don’t know if there is a better game of this type. Fans of these types of games will probably really enjoy Dead Man’s Draw. If you already have a similar game it may not be worth picking up if you don’t care about the special abilities though.
Should You Buy Dead Man’s Draw?
On the surface I would normally not like a game like Dead Man’s Draw. Most of the game is not particularly original as there are quite a few other press your luck games that share the same main gameplay. The game also relies on a lot of luck as your fate mostly comes down to card draw luck. Despite these facts I enjoyed the game quite a bit. The addition of special abilities adds quite a bit to the game as it introduces some strategy to the game while also keeping things interesting. The game is also really easy to pick up and play with most games only taking 10-15 minutes to play. All of this adds up to Dead Man’s Draw being the best game from this genre that I have ever played.
If you have never been a fan of this genre of press your luck card games, you won’t like Dead Man’s Draw. People who can’t stand games that rely on a lot of luck probably won’t like the game either. If you generally like these type of games though or the premise sounds interesting, I think you will really enjoy Dead Man’s Draw. For this reason I would recommend picking up the game.