Ruthless Review

Ruthless Board Game Review

Avast me hearties! Assemble your rag tag bunch of inexperienced pirates and measly handful of coins, it is time to become the most notorious pirate of your time. Think it will be plain sailing on the high seas and plundering treasure? Guess again, as there are other pirates competing for your plunder and will do anything to become the fiercest pirate on the high seas. Plunder treasure, recruit more experienced ship mates and become the most notorious pirate in history.

Ruthless is a 2-4 player, pirate-themed deck-builder from designer Roland MacDonald. It has players building up their deck of pirates to form poker hands based on the cards bought and played. Each Pirate has a rank (number 1-7, quarter and captain) and a suit. Players can use the cards in their hand to plunder for treasure, fight other players and perform additional actions/bonuses. At the end of the round the pirate with the strongest poker combination gains the most notoriety. Ruthless is a fun, small box deck builder that offers some interesting gameplay.

Ruthless Gameplay


The Treasure Deck and Pirate Decks are formed by separately shuffling the corresponding cards and placing them face-down in the play area. Five pirates are revealed from the Pirate Deck to form the Tavern Row. The coins and achievement tokens are placed on the table to form a common supply. Two Legendary Achievements (act as end game scoring objectives) are placed on the table. The prize tokens are set up based on the number of players and contain combinations of Port Tokens and Piracy Tokens (with Notoriety Points of varying values)

The players starting Ship Deck consist of six Powder Monkeys and four Doubloon Cards (two-player game) or four Powder Monkeys and four Doubloon Cards (3/4 player game). These are shuffled to form the players starting hand. All players receive two coins, one face-up Parley token and a player aid.

Round Structure

Ruthless consists of five rounds (or six rounds with two players). Each round consists of the following four phases:

  • Draw Cards
  • Take Turns
  • Assemble Raiding Parties
  • End of round.

Draw Cards

At the start of the round everyone draws five cards from their Ship Deck.

Once per game players can use their Parley Token after they have drawn their five cards to discard any number of cards and redraw the number of cards discarded. If a player activates this ability, they flip their Parley Token over. At the end of the game if a player has not used their Parley Token it is worth one Notoriety Point.

Take Turns

On a player’s turn, assuming they have cards in their hand, they must perform exactly one Command Action. There are five Command Actions available and these include:

  • Trade – A player can use one or more Treasure cards from their hand to gains coins from the supply. If any of the Treasure cards have white Power actions these are performed immediately. Once played the Treasure cards are placed in the discard pile.
  • Brawl – A player can lay one Powder Monkey from their hand and then choose one Pirate from the Tavern Row and discard it. A new Pirate is immediately revealed from the Pirate Deck to replace it. The Powder Monkey is then discarded.
  • Bury – A player can lay one Powder Monkey from their hand to “bury” a card from either their hand or discard pile. Burying a card permanently removes it from the game. When a card is buried it is placed under the players Parley Token, face-down. The Powder Monkey is then discarded.
  • Plunder – Players can use two Powder Monkeys to reveal the top card of the Treasure Deck. Players can either keep the card or sell it. If they sell the card, they take coins from the supply equal to the black Trade icons on the card. If the Treasure card has a black Power icon, they perform this action immediately. If players decide to keep the Treasure card, they put it on their discard pile. In future turns when the Treasure card is played the player performs the action described by the white Power icons.
  • Board – Players can lay one Pirate card from their hand in to the Ship Area then perform the actions described on the card. Any Pirates placed in the Ship Area are left here as they are used in the “Assembly Raiding Parties” phase later on.


After players perform a Command Action, as detailed above, they may take one Recruit Action. The cost of recruiting a pirate is shown on the Pirate Cards displayed in the Tavern Row. Players can only Recruit one Pirate per turn and only a maximum of three Pirates per round. Players pay the number of coins and take the Pirate and place it in their New Recruit Area above their Ship Area. Any white Power actions displayed on the card are performed immediately.

Play now continues to the next player and keeps going until all players have no cards left in their hand at which point players assemble their raiding party.

Assembling Raiding Parties

Everyone uses their Pirates in their Ship and New Recruit Areas to assemble a raiding party. In rounds one and two all players who assemble a raiding party of strength four or more gains a Port Token (these are worth one Notoriety Point). In later rounds the player who has the strongest raiding party scores the most valuable Notoriety Point Token. Then, the next strongest scores the second most valuable and so on. If a player does not assemble a Raiding Part of strength four or more, they do not take any Notoriety Tokens.

A Raiding Party can be made up of a number of different sets of Pirates, but each Pirate can only be used in one set. The sets that a player can assemble are based on poker hands. i.e. a pair, three of a kind, four of a kind, straight, flush, straight flush and a full ship (which is a card from every rank). So, a player can make a pair and a flush or any other combination of the above sets. Each set formed is worth a number of strength and the total combined strength is used to determine who has the strongest Raiding Party.

End of Round

All cards used in the Raiding Party, unused cards in the New Recruit Area and Ship Areas are discarded. All coins are kept for the next round and any unclaimed Notoriety Tokens for that round are discarded. The start player token is passed to the next player and a new round begins.

End Game

The game ends after five rounds (six in a two-player game) and players count how many Notoriety Points they have scored. Points are scored based on the Legendary Achievements, Notoriety Tokens, all Quarter and Captains cards that are in a player’s deck, discard pile or are buried and unused Parley Token.

Shiver Me Timbers - Final Thoughts on Ruthless

Shiver me timbers indeed, Ruthless is a great game. It is a neat deck-builder with some great mechanics. The poker system of assembling your raiding party is interesting as it really makes you think about which Pirates to buy. Also, the limit of only buying three Pirates makes the importance of the Recruit phase critical. The actions on the Pirate cards are fun and can really mix up the game, forcing your opponents to discard cards or coins, or allowing you to draw extras cards.

The take that in the game is strong, especially at two players, and can be punishing if played at the right time. I know as I was the victim to this on several occasions. I imagine that this will be less punishing at the higher player counts as it only affects 1 other player. I played Ruthless back to back the first time it hit the table, something that I do not do often with games.

Ruthless – a great, fast playing, deck builder, with high player interaction covered with some plundering and brawling pirate goodness. Heave ho and pick up a copy now.

You Might Like

  • The Pirate theme.
  • Deck-building mechanic.
  • Quick game time (30-40 minutes).

You Might Not Like

  • There can be a lot of take that, especially at lower player count.
  • Theme not to everyone’s taste.

You Might Like
The Pirate theme.
Deck-building mechanic.
Quick game time (30-40 minutes).

You Might Not Like
There can be a lot of take that, especially at lower player count.
Theme not to everyone’s taste.