Dead Men Tell No Tales is a 2015 release from Minion Games. It was around for quite a long time before getting its first expansion, via a Kickstarter campaign for Dead Men Tell No Tales: The Kraken in 2018.
Dead Men Tell No Tales is a co-operative game in the 'Pandemic' style. Players have a character with a special ability and on their turn they use a set number of actions to try and minimise chaos on the board, which is the result of a burning ship with spawning enemies. At the end of each turn, the fire worsens based on the flip of a card. The Kraken Expansion introduces some new mechanics, using the fantastic Kraken miniature, with all of its tentacles, as well as introducing a new playable character to the game. Dead Men Tell No Tales was always a challenging co-operative game, so let's find out whether the Kraken adds difficulty or just some new flare to the game.
The Kraken Gameplay
One of the first notable changes with The Kraken Expansion is that every player gets one more action per turn. With a straight power boost to every player you can expect a lot more to deal with in The Kraken.
Before we get to the titular character there are also new deckhands to deal with. Deckhands are added to the map from Skellit's revenge cards just like before, but now they are now drawn blind from a bag with about a third of them being red deckhand captains. Should you draw a captain then you simply draw again, and again, and again until you stop drawing captains! Once on the board they are functionally identical, but killing them puts them back in the bag, so perhaps you want to leave them until last? To help counter the increased flood of deckhands you can now close off the hatches they emerge from, slowing the rate they get added to the board.
After each player has taken one turn the Kraken will surface and starts attacking. Once this has happened, at the end of each player's turn you will draw a Kraken card as well as a Skellit's Revenge card. There are only four Kraken cards, three of which move it around the board while the last one causes it to attack and makes you reshuffle the Kraken deck, so expect an attack once every four turns at best! When the Kraken attacks it actually does you some favours, by splashing the boat and reducing the intensity of fire in every space on the Kraken's column, but it also increases your fatigue should you be hit. After this attack a tentacle is placed upon the ship, and rooms that contain tentacles are more tiring to move through, so it's a priority to try to fight the Kraken back.
The Kraken has two ways to cause the players to lose, either by dragging the ship under or by destroying the ship. The ship is dragged under if you ever need to place a tentacle piece and there is no piece in the supply. The ship is destroyed if the Kraken gains enough strength. The Kraken's strength increases every time it attacks, but decreases every time you attack its body or escape with treasure.
You can fight off the Kraken by chopping off its tentacles, which grants you reward tokens that give one off powers, or attacking it directly. Both work like attacking the skeletal pirates in the base game. The Kraken has tremendous strength, high enough that you can't expect to win a fair fight, fortunately pirates don't fight fair. The players can set up cannons on their ship and use these to blast the Kraken back, using a cannon gets you an extra die to attack with and using more lets you re-roll this dice. With the Kraken included in the game not only do you have to steal all the normal amount of treasure, but also slay the Kraken in order to win the game!
Fiona’s Final Thoughts
I love expansions that make you feel more powerful than you did in the base game. In co-operative games, this can be quite rare, because expansions either add complexity or just make the game harder. With The Kraken Expansion for Dead Men Tell No Tales, I'm really impressed with how they have introduced more complex mechanics, giving you extra choices to make every turn and spreading you more thinly over the mounting problems of fire, deckhands and the Kraken itself. But, at the same time, you have an extra action each turn, some interesting new character abilities and the very powerful one-off bonuses gained by hitting the Kraken or chopping off its tentacles. The difficulty in the game had always been tuneable and I feel like the expansion delicately balances each difficulty level so that they remain consistent with the base game.
It's now not enough to simply escape the ship with all the treasure, you also need to kill the Kraken to win the game. We've found that in a two-player game, one of us will therefore focus on becoming 'the tank' who takes on the strongest skeleton pirates and makes the big hits on the Kraken, whilst the other player chops off tentacles, loads cannons and drags the treasure off the ship. This is a nice machine that encourages good co-operation, whilst allowing each player to make their own decisions, however, I'm slightly concerned that we will fall into a routine and so the game might become a little repetitive.
With the fantastic Kraken miniatures, Dead Men Tell No Tales has definitely stepped up its table presence and has become more of a stand-out game on our shelves. Sadly we can't fit it all in one box, but it's one that I think will still get lots of repeat plays, because it is so thematic and thematically different from other co-operative games we own. I'd definitely recommend The Kraken Expansion and would recommend that co-operative game fans check out both the expansion and the base game if you're looking for a new co-operative puzzle to explore.
Amy’s Final Thoughts
As a lover of miniatures, the first thing I noticed in The Kraken Expansion was the Kraken itself, the gaping maw might be slightly cartoonish, but that makes it no less imposing. I immediately thought of the Sarlacc from Star Wars, only this time instead of laser swords and space wizards all you have are cutlasses and a bad attitude to win the day!
While there are many changes to the rules the main change for me is the split in your purpose. If you don't gather treasure fast enough then the Kraken will be gaining strength quickly, but if you concentrate on taking the Kraken out early you might find you don't have enough time left to get all the treasure out before the deckhands or fire overtake you. Finding the right balance is crucial if you want to become the legends that slew the fabled sea monster, rather than just another one of its snacks.
The additional action point each, along with the rewards from attacking the Kraken's tentacles, actually means that you feel more powerful in this expansion. This helps the game maintain an epic feel, so that the game is not simply harder, it's grander! The Kraken keeps a high level of co-operative play with firefighting, and standard fighting, allowing you to clear paths for the treasure carriers. Setting up cannons helps other players attack the Kraken during their turn, and of course the old mechanic of giving your action points away to other players is even more potent with the extra token each.
Dead Men Tell No Tales has always had a focus on dice rolling for combat, but The Kraken Expansion pushes this up a notch with the higher numbers needed to defeat the Kraken. Using a cannon may grant you an extra dice and a second cannon lets you re-roll the cannon dice, but there is no way to re-roll your basic attack roll. This makes the basic attack dice far more critical in attacks which can be exceedingly painful. Failing an attack not only costs you an action and some fatigue as the Kraken lashed back, but the cannons you used also need to be reloaded, further punishing a single bad roll.
Despite this, the game feels well-tuned, if perhaps a little easier than the base game. Ultimately, The Kraken is a great expansion that does exactly what an expansion should do: it makes the game more epic and impressive, if a little more complex and I highly recommend giving it a go!