Rattle Battle: Review

“Avast ye, mateys! Hoist the main sails! Ready the cannons and bring her about!” Okay, Fairway isn’t a pirate. And coming up with those phrases alone stretched his pirate-speak knowledge. But today, he picks up Rattle Battle: Grab the Loot the dice-filled, pirate game from Portal Games.

Rattle Battle: Grab the Loot is a two- to five-player dice-throwing, tableau-building adventure game in which players are command competing pirate ships trying to make off with the most loot and, ultimately points.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. These components are incredible. The game includes two types of engraved metal coins. The ships are constructed of card board cutouts and are expandable and upgrade-able with other cardboard cutouts. There is a ton of tiny dice too (38 to exact).
  2. The art and characters are fantastic. There’s a wide variety of archetypes, genders, and ethnicities present in this game. Well done, Portal!
  3. The dice-dropping onto the “sea map” (the box lid) is a very clever use of components and pretty nifty mechanism
  4. The various included scenarios make for some really interesting game play changes.

Game play ^

Grab the Loot is played over a series of quests defined by the scenario.  Each quest is defined by one or more different adventures of varying degrees of difficulty and a port visit.  The game ends when all the quests have been completed. The winner is the player with the most points. So, how do you actually play?

At the start, each player is given a captain and a starting ship (called a Galleon made of a mast, bow and stern) and matching dice.  Depending on the player count, players add some starting components of their starting ship, for example adding sails (movement), hold (storage) or cannon (attack opportunity).

Near the edge of the table, a port city is constructed. The port includes various locations players will visit after each round in order to trade loot, sell loot, expand their ships, buy new upgrades, hire crew, and exchange money for points. The non-player dice, coins and other bits are placed near the port.

In the middle of the table, the box lid forms the “sea.”

Players then select a scenario. The three colors of “Adventure” cards are are shuffled separately and placed in face down piles.  During the game, the scenario card indicates which Adventure card to use for each new adventure during in each round. This creates a huge amount of variety.

Now, you’re ready to play.  The game is played over a series of quests defined by the scenario.  Each quest is made up of adventures and a port visit.  At the start of each adventure in a quest, a player (called the Baron) draws the top card of the appropriate Adventure deck and reads it aloud.  In most cases, the Adventure card shows some special rules as well as which non-player dice are involved.  The Baron collects those non-player dice.

Then, each player decides how many of his or her own “ships” to send into battle.  The player then provides the Baron with that many of his or her matching dice.  The Baron shakes all the dice together in his or her hand and then “drops” them all onto the “sea map” (i.e., the lid).  The dice are not “rolled” because position and location and distance all matter.

So long as all the dice land in the box lid, the Baron then searches for the locations and value shown on top of all the non-player dice.  If any of the non-player dice show a symbol, the Baron resolves those special actions first. In most Adventures, the symbols trigger a special action and indicate a strength like “volley 4,” which sinks the nearest player ship and is otherwise treated a roll of four. The Baron then goes around resolving those actions, starting with the dice that are the closest together.

Once all of the special actions are resolved, players take turns resolving their own dice. Starting with the baron and proceeding clockwise, players take turns taking one of two actions: move (if you have sails ready) or fire (if you have a cannon ready).

Movement is governed by your sails. If you have a sail ready, you can move any one of your ships (your colored die) the length of your captain card (long side) in a straight line. This can help your ship get out of range of another ship or put you in range.  Once you move, you turn the used sail face down–it’s now exhausted.

When you fire, you’re attempting to sink another ship within cannon range.  Like movement distance, Cannon range is determined by a card length (long or short range).  To fire, you must have two cannons ready. This means, that you can use one of your ships that turned up a cannon and one from your ship, or two ready cannons on your ship.  Using cannons on your ship “exhaust” them, and won’t be usable again until they’re refreshed.

After the player actions are resolved, the real battle begins. And this is where most of the magic happens. Battles are resolved between non-player and player ships in distance order, starting with the closest pair. The rules go into somewhat excruciating detail about how to resolve conflicts regarding distance. Whether a ship is sunk is determined merely by the value on the die of the attacking and target ships. The lower value ship will sink or, in the case of the tie, both ships sink. Any ships that you sunk are added to your captain card.   The game also contemplates what happens if a player and non-player ship are touching, but this never happened for us.

Once the battle is resolved, you’ll collect coins for each opposing ship you sink and take the amount of loot specified on the Adventure Card.  Adventure cards can also vary how loot is gathered too.

Players then have a chance to use their crew powers and make repairs to ships. Any sunk ships are repaired by discarding one piece of loot — if you have no more loot, they’re automatically repaired.

Finally, players must stow loot. Each ship can stow one loot token, unless it has an upgrade. Ships used to store loot are not available for the next adventure, unless they discard the loot.

Once, all the adventures in a quest are complete, players return to port.  In location and player order, players have an opportunity to use the port locations: market, tavern, shipyard, workshop, pit, and guild. These let players exchange loot, sell loot, expand ships, buy upgrades, hire crew and earn victory points.  Most locations have a finite number of uses per player, usually one.

Once the port visit is complete, “exhausted” parts are turned over and are ready to use again. A new quest begins and the game continues this way until the final quest is completed.
The winner is the player who scores the most points. These come by summing up victory points, scoring 1 point for each silver coin, five points for each gold coin, and counting points from any other sources (e.g., crew and ship upgrades).  If there’s a tie, the best galleon wins.

On the green ^

There are so many things going on in this game, and Rattle Battle does a bunch of great things.

Components.  The components are amazing. It’s even fun to just construct crazy ships, without playing the game. The cardboard pieces are pretty amazing.  Similarly, the fact the game uses real, engraved metal coins was very surprising. They had a good deal of weight and polish to the game.

The transparent, custom dice were also a nice touch. While they’re not big, this is probably for the best. The Baron needs to be able to have a bunch in his or her hand (and shake them) to make the game work. Plus bigger dice would be more difficult to evaluate.

Art.  Most people notice the amazing cute art right away. The captains, the crew, the port, the ship, and even the rules are well-illustrated. The color palette is bright and the pictures are all family friendly.

Diversity. I mention this because every captain card is double-sided. One side has a female captain, the other side a male captain. None of the captains felt exploitative and were all well-themed for the game.  There’s also a good range of crew members to add to your ship as well.

Game play. This game is quirky, to say the least. There are parts of the game that we just loved: the whole dice dropping into the lid was a nice touch. The mechanisms for moving, firing and resolving battles worked pretty well and gave the game a serious dose of tension at times. The nicely illustrated rulebook also helped with all of the examples.

Replay. The Scenario -> Quest -> Adventure structure provided a lot of variability in the game itself. The individual Adventure cards were also widely varied. It would have been easy for the designer to make every Adventure a fight the non-player ships. They’re not.  Bonus.

Where it comes up short ^

Rattle Battle isn’t all rum punch and booty. We did have some gripes with how the game plays.

Fidgety.  This game is super fidgety. If there’s a dispute about distance, you gotta get the included ruler and start measuring.  But don’t accidentally bump the edge of the box or move a die. In some battles with lots of dice, this gets to be a bit much since some dice are so close.

Even the ship building can get tough to manage. Lots of parts are moved, flipped, adjusted, etc. And while pieces are interlocking, they don’t actually lock into place. So ships get jostled a bunch.

Not as cohesive as it seemed.  We liked much of the game play (mentioned above).  But other aspects really felt tacked on. Things like how the port operated didn’t really provide player the pirate feel of entering the port and throwing loot around. It was mechanical.

Similarly, we weren’t really able to determine when to send fewer ships than “all” available ships.  Even if a ship was carrying loot from an earlier adventure, if a better adventure came along, you could always discard the loot and send it off to battle.

Other parts seemed less balanced. Some of the sailors were definitely much nicer than others. Being able to refresh your cannons at sea is hugely beneficial and almost always guarantees another piece of loot or coin.

Luckity luck luck luck. So luck is everywhere in this game. In an apparent attempt to make people not complain about the luck in the game, it includes the following disclaimer right in the introduction of how to play the game in the rules.

It’s not “wrong,” but I’m not sure that that’s supposed to make people feel all that much better. The entire dice dropping mechanic sets up every part of every battle with luck: your ship’s face up value, your ships location, the non-player ships value, the proximity of those ships, the value of your opponent’s ships, the proximity of those ships, etc.

There are certain mitigation regimes, of course: access to cannons, sails, crew and upgrades. And these go a long way to mitigating the luck. But Rattle Battle takes the dice game luck into whole other dimension of space/location.

In the hole ^

Rattle Battle: Grab the Loot is an interesting dice-dropping, dice-battling pirate game. Filled with great components and pretty unique game play mechanics, Rattle Battle is an intriguing game and would be a nifty addition to a game library. The game isn’t perfect, but by breaking with traditional dice mechanics, it manages to create tense sea battles. I picked this up on sale, and I’d say it was worth it and probably even for more. The game also has serious toy-value in those ships, dice, and coins.

Rattle Battle: Grab the Loot is in the hole for a Par. ^





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