You're stupid. You're worthless. And you're pirates. You're stupid, worthless pirates and you aren't worth your weight in potatoes much less rum and booty. If it were up to the captain he'd cast the lot of you into the sea with nary a second thought, but ships don't sail themselves and the captain might need use of you yet. He's agreed to spare two of you pirates while the rest are doomed to Walk the Plank!
Every player has an identical hand of cards which, when played, will dictate how your mindless pirates will behave. Every round, everyone will select three cards and play them face down in front of them. Once everyone has done so, the bloodbath, er, action begins. The cards you select will be the ones that you believe will keep your pirates out of the belly of the kraken and give you a good view (or lend a helping hand) as your opponents' pirates hurl off the end of the plank.
Beginning with the fist player, the first card of the three previously chosen is flipped over and the action on that card is carried out. I might have mentioned it previously, but it's important to remember that your pirates are stupid. They aren't lazy, mind you, just incredibly dimwitted. So whatever command you issue will be carried out by your pirates even if it's to their detriment. And once you select the three action cards in the beginning of the round, they can never be changed or rearranged and they must be carried out if possible.
The actions vary from pushing an opposing pirate forward towards the end of the plank, pulling one of your pirates back towards the ship and extending or retracting the plank. Any pirate that is on the last space of the plank when it is retracted or is pushed forward will end up as kraken-chum. There are a few particularly powerful cards that cannot be used twice in a row. And since everyone has the same cards available to them there is some nice table side psychology as you try to work out what your opponents will play that round.
Why is this happening?
If you think Walk the Plank! is about reaping the rewards of careful planning, you'd only be partially right. Like all good plans, they tend to fall apart when people get involved. And Walk the Plank! is at its best when your plan falls to pieces. Let's take the Charge! action as an example. It allows you to charge forward with one of your pirates and shove another pirate one space further. You play this card and plan to gently push another pirate onto the third plank space and teetering on the edge of his demise while you watch safely from the second space. A simple plan. You've put literally seconds into it's construction and it will work. And then someone retracts the plank and you realize that your charge will result in pushing your opponent into the kraken's gullet. A smile creeps across your face as you try to contain your laughter. Until someone pushes you one space forwards and you now realize you will be charging headlong into the icy cold waters and there's nothing you can do about it.
So, why is this happening?
If you think Walk the Plank! is an exercise in randomness and chaos, you'd only be partially right. While it's certainly true that the best laid plans will often be laid asunder, there's always an element of choice that bestows the player with just enough agency to feel invested. And cleverly, the action cards have tactical element due to the fact that you have multiple pirates under your command. So when it comes to activate one of your action cards you can choose any of your pirates to carry out the command which comes in handy when your initial plan is no longer applicable. Randomness and chaos can often lead to apathy and Walk the Plank! avoids is deftly with it's infusion of choice and, perhaps more importantly, breezy play time. It's hard to be angry over 20 minutes full of yelling and laughter even if you've failed miserably.
Just the two of us
Walk the Plank! is a game of elimination. Last man standing. King of the hill. And if anything has been learned in the recent years of board game design is that it's not much fun to be eliminated and watch everyone else have fun. It's definitely an easier pill to swallow when the play time is so short, but Walk the Plank! does one better. The winner is not just the last pirate standing. The game ends when any two pirates are left and they can be from two different players. Not only does it end the game before a stalemate starts to form, but it introduces the smallest bit of cooperation towards the end of the game. It's very slight, but can lead to some ridiculously memorable moments such as grabbing another pirate and plunging the both you off the edge of the plank.
If you couldn't already tell from it's whimsical art and irreverent theme, Walk the Plank! is not a serious game. But it's incredibly fun. Many strategy games require a lot of effort in order to eek out a bit of progress. It might take three round before your able to gather some tools that you'll use next turn to cut down some wood and build a small hut. It's a lot of effort and not a lot of return, but it can be incredibly rewarding. You earned it. You worked for it. Walk the Plank! is just the opposite. Minimal effort and grand things happen. It's pure spectacle. And it's great. Walk the Plank! is like a spoonful of sugar. You can't have it all the time, but it's always delicious.