7th Sea Collectible Card Game

Reviewed by Andy Fredricksen, Copyright 1999

The 7th Sea Collectible Card Game is the latest effort from Alderac Entertainment. Its first edition basic set, "No Quarter," includes 322 cards and was released in September of 1999. The first expansion set, "Strange Vistas," is currently slated for a December 8th release, and should be roughly half the size of "No Quarter." Next in the release schedule is "Broadsides," a second edition of the basic set, apparently to appear in January of next year. It will include clarified text and some card rotation. What follows is a review and in-depth look at the cards of "No Quarter."

I will start with a detailed overview of the game rules and mechanics, so that you can understand what a game of 7th Sea entails. If you are already familiar with the game itself, you might wish to skip ahead to the card analysis, where I shift focus from game mechanics to what possibilities Alderac chose to include with the original set. For the less patient among you, there is a summary at the end, including my recommendations and opinion of the game. My editors have even been gracious enough to allow room for a sample game following the formal review.

Th' G-"AY!"-me

The objective of 7th Sea: No Quarter is very simple: remain as sole survivor. Each player controls Crew cards, which include a special Crew: the Captain. As Hits (damage) are inflicted, it is absorbed by tacking (that action most people will persist calling "tapping") and then sinking (removing from play) their Crew. Once a player has no choice but to sink his Captain, he has lost. Since tacking Crew is also how you get absolutely anything done (all "costs" are generally paid by tacking Crew), this provides the familiar mechanic of having to balance your need for the resources tacking a card can provide against your need for the defense which having an untacked card confers. This concept is at least as old as Magic: The Gathering, but it's rather more nicely done here--7th's Sea's Crew are Magic's Lands and Creatures combined, compacting resource generation and offensive/defensive capability into a single stratum. But this game bears more debt for comparison to such games as Legend of the Five Rings and Legend of the Burning Sands, also Alderac efforts. Adherents to those games will find themselves reminded of certain aspects--boarding attacks resemble duels, for instance--but there is sufficient variation for a distinct feel, and I think that the majority of changes make for an improvement.

All of a player's Crew are assumed to be on board his Ship. (You start the game with your Ship & Captain in play, plus a few other Crew.) Each player's Ship is "in" one of the five Sea cards, which all players share. (You might wonder, "Five seas? That doesn't fit very well with the name of the game!" According to the FAQ, the seventh sea itself is legendary while the sixth is a sea of flame--and no less legendary, I'll presume.) Because most of the things players can do to affect each other can only be performed while the two players in question share one of the five Seas, players typically spend a great deal of effort skittering about from Sea to Sea, shifting roles between cat and mouse. (The five Seas are arranged linearly, in a set order, so players must often cross each other's path.)

Also in the business of keeping players moving are Adventure cards. While there are simpler Attachment cards which you can "attach" to your Crew to improve their abilities, these Attachments are usually fairly pricey for the modest benefits they provide. Adventures require that a player expend less skill and more time for substantially greater bonuses (often triple). The tradeoff comes from the fact that enjoying an Adventure's benefits usually requires at least triple the time an Attachment does. Adventures must be played in a different Sea than the one presently occupied, moved to, and then actually "completed" before being placed on one of your Crew. In contrast, Attachments are played directly onto Crew.

My favorite thing about 7th Sea is that there is practically no turn sequence. Players go around the table, taking a single action at a time (such as playing one card), until all players pass in succession. Then everyone draws three cards, untacks everything, and it starts over, beginning with the player controlling the highest total Sailing skill. As there are no long waits, this naturally lends itself very well to multi-player games. (This is a very important strength to a Middle-earth card game adherent such as myself, accustomed as I am to multi-player games which quickly bog down into waitfests.) 7th Sea's quickly alternating moves quite capably convey the feeling of pursuit across the oceans, a feeling that would be lost were there were four or five piddly little phases to slog through each round.

Having revealed the rather "free for all" nature of the turn, some attention will now be given to the actions players have available. The most obvious action would be to play a card. There are but four types of cards in your deck: Actions (typically consuming a turn, although there also are "Reacts," which are declared in response to some event and do not comprise a player's turn), and the aforementioned Crew, Attachment, and Adventure cards. Most often, Attachments and Adventures serve to improve Crew's skills or abilities, though on rare occasions (pardon the pun), they'll provide other, more unusual, bonuses. Attachments most often require Influence (the same skill used to play Crew). Adventures use the Adventuring skill as their cost (also useful for certain mischievous Actions). Actions are often free to play, but many list one of the five skills as a cost, and some also list a "cancel cost"--when you play the card, your opponent may pay this cost to cancel your action! All skill costs are paid by tacking Crew so that the total skill rating of the Crew tacked matches the cost. As an action, players may also discard a Crew or an uncompleted Adventure they have in play.

Every ship has some Movement Cost, and by tacking Crew with enough Sailing skill to meet that cost, a player may also, as his action, move to an adjacent Sea. It should be noted here that every Ship has two "React" abilities: one of these abilities is unique to the Ship, but the other is common to all. Any ship may move to an adjacent Sea by tacking itself prior to any other action (but there must be some action to react to!). Therefore, players must be wary of untacked Ships in neighboring Seas. (Such ships could, in one action, tack to enter your Sea and attack you!) Two other choices are also available, which together comprise the real meat of the game: Cannon Attacks and Boarding Attacks.

Cannon Attacks are the simpler notion. You tack one of your Crew and target another Ship in the same Sea. As many Hits as that Crew's Cannon skill are inflicted on the other Ship. Now the other player must tack and/or sink Crew to absorb Hits. A Crew absorbs Hits equal to his Swashbuckling skill each time he tacks or sinks, so in a single turn a Crew with a Swashbuckling of 2 could potentially absorb 4 Hits, but he'd be sleepin' in Davy Jones's locker by then! So if you want to run a Cannon Attack strategy, you'll likely use Adventures which enhance Cannon skill and Actions that boost the attacks. Then some monster Crew makes a dozen-Hit or so Cannon Attack on your behalf, thereby tacking all or most of your opponent's Crew. Now the fact that he's to go next matters little, because everyone's lying down!

For somewhat more of a showdown, players can also make Boardings. These are more difficult to initiate, and potentially more pronounced in effect. As with a Cannon Attack, the two Ships involved must share a Sea. The attacker pays his own ship's Movement Cost by tacking enough Sailing, but the defender may react by paying his movement cost to cancel--in which case it is the next player's turn! If your opponent can't or doesn't cancel, though, the two of you are now engaged in a Boarding. Each player will be given the option to press an attack or pass in sequence, starting with the attacker.

To perform a boarding attack, you indicate one of your untacked Crew and place a card from your hand on the table, face-up. One thing I haven't mentioned about the cards in 7th Sea is that they all have "Boarding Boxes" on the left side of their text area: one "Boarding Attack" and two "Boarding Defense" boxes. Usually we ignore these boxes and pay attention to the rest of the card, but during a Boarding, it's the other way around. Let's say I have indicated someone with a Swashbuckling of 3 (because that's the relevant skill, as you shall see), and play a card with a "D" (Dagger) in the Boarding Attack box. This means his attack will inflict 3 Hits on his opponent's Ship. Either his opponent lies down and takes it, or he indicates one of his own untacked Crew, who presses a counterattack in the exact same fashion, but with one stipulation: that one of his attack card's Boarding Defense boxes shows a "D." If he chooses to do this, the attacker now stands to take Hits equal to the defender's Swashbuckling. The two exchange attacks in this fashion (using the same two Crew) until someone can not or will not defend against an attack, in which case Hits must be absorbed (starting with the opposing Crew member, if one exists).

Afterwards, the player who didn't just initiate an attack (not necessarily the player who just lost the last attack) can choose to attack or pass, and this proceeds until both players pass consecutively, at which time the Boarding (and the lone "action" which initiated it) is ended. Both players draw three cards after each of the "defender's" turns--if both players just passed, the boarding is ended.

And so it goes: indeed, Cannon Attacks and Boarding Attacks are this game's bread and butter. Although one might find a path to victory that passes through side strategies--e.g. cards that inflict Hits on opponents in different Seas--such approaches demand a respectable collection, and are not likely to circumvent the eventual need to dirty one's hands in combat. Nonetheless, these two main strategies are amusing enough, and the balancing of one against the other does make for some fun diversion: should you build a dedicated cannon deck designed to ensure your opponent is always a step behind you? A mounting powerhouse boarding deck that washes over an opponent's ship like a tidal wave late in the game? Or a mixture of the two approaches: an initial cannon attack to tack their disposable creeps, followed by a boarding to wipe out the rest? Not surprisingly, each of these approaches compliments a particular group, or "faction," which you choose to represent. I will next take a look at the cards available in "No Quarter." Now that the game's mechanics are revealed, you and I can share a clearer understanding of the options available to the player of 7th Sea.

1. The Game
2. The Cards
3. The Crew
4. Summary
5. Sample Game