Review – Ruthless


Ruthless is a unique take on deck-building with a pirate theme, in which players will fight to have the strongest crew.

As is the way with deck builders, all players start with the same basic hand of cards which will earn them coins and a few simple abilities. Each round players take it in turns to play a card or set of cards from their hand after which they spend coins to recruit new pirates from the tavern. The pirate cards have more valuable or advanced abilities and add some much needed muscle (strength score) at the end of each round.

Some abilities let you plunder for more valuable loot, which you can sell for an immediate cash boost or add to your deck as an investment to reap the rewards in later rounds.

At the end of each round the pirates you’ve played will battle the crews of other players. To do this you compare strength which is calculated by converting your pirates into poker hands. There are 5 suits in the game numbered 1-7 plus Quartermaster and Captain acting as ‘picture/royal’ cards as well as a cheeky parrot which can be played as a wild. Poker hands include sets of a kind, flushes, straights etc. and you then gain points based on how strong your crew is compared to other crews.

The game lasts five or six rounds depending on player count and you can add new objectives each game to add a new way of scoring points!

Player Count2 – 4 players
Age10 +
Play Time40 – 60 mins
Weight2.33 / 5
PublisherAlley Cat Games

Disclaimer: This game was provided by the publisher, but my reviews are always 100% honest and all photos and opinions are my own!


Ruthless sets itself apart from other deck builders because of the turn structure. Usually in a deck builder, a player will play all their card on their turn, creating lots of combos potentially, but this can get a little boring for the other players! However in Ruthless each player simply plays a card or a set of cards then play moves to the next player, continuing until all players have played all their cards. This really shakes up the genre but it does take some getting used to if, like us, you play a lot of deck builders!

The player interaction is a fun aspect of the game but isn’t too brutal! You can fight a player of your choice who then has to discard a card from their hand or a single coin, an inconvenience but not the end of the world. You can also start a brawl in the tavern to remove a card you think your opponent has their eye on!

The main strategy in Ruthless comes from getting those poker combinations for the end round scoring and it’s really satisfying in the later rounds when you get a lot more pirates played and get some really strong combos!


The art in Ruthless is absolutely stunning! It’s beautifully illustrated and colourful whilst still having clear and concise symbols on the cards. Roland MacDonald is actually the game designer and artist!

If you’re interested in Roland’s work I highly recommend this interview with Ross over at More Games Please!

The cast of pirates is diverse and the use of suits as well as colours means the game is easily playable for those with colour vision deficiencies. The card and token quality is nice, especially for the relatively low price point for this game, which retails at £22.

Please note, the metal coins shown in my photos are not included in the game! These are my favourite pirate coins from Drawlab, which you can find here.


The rulebook is good (the colourful art always helps!) and it’s relatively easy to teach, but as previously mentioned, trying to unlearn how deck builders usually work does take some getting used to and might not be for everyone.

A great addition worth noting is the player aids included in the game, they are really well done. As the person who teaches all the games in our group, I can’t tell you how much I love and appreciate a good player aid!!


I would say the replayability in Ruthless is pretty reasonable. Although it doesn’t have multiple deck combinations like a lot of deck builders, this does also mean there is less set up and pack up as you don’t have to sort through all the cards!

There’s also the extra objectives which can change your strategies a little from game to game, adding some variation.

OVERALL SCORE 30/40 = 7.5


… you’re looking for a unique take on deck building
… you enjoy card drafting and set collection
… you love a good pirate brawl!

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