18 November 2019
The premise is grinningly simple: bid for goods, stack goods in your ship’s hold, score points.
Whether it’s as the father of the legacy genre or one of the minds behind Betrayal at House on the Hill, Rob Daviau has made a name for himself as one of the most joyously creative game designers out there. ShipShape continues his reputation for brilliantly playful and inventive games, but in a much lighter form.
The premise is grinningly simple: bid for goods, stack goods in your ship’s hold, score points. The goods are gold, cannons and contraband, and they appear as arrangements on frame-like foam tiles that you literally pile up on your board, squishing (not literally) ship rats with the barrels and booty when you can.
Here’s the Daviau twist: to score, you look down through your three stacked tiles and count the bits you can see. It’s oh-so-simple, but a delightful visual gimmick every time. The 3D trick adds a cunning layer (literally) to each turn’s opening bidding too, as players peer down the stack of tiles, trying to bid just right using their numbered cards to get a particular tile in the tower – and predict what precious goods might lie under the bits blocking their view.
There’s some interesting not-too high, not-too-low objectives in the scoring, with too much contraband voiding one player’s take (it gets confiscated) and too few cannons earning you zilch. New boards with different starting setups are dealt out for each round, keeping things nicely balanced between players – even over three rounds, the light rules mean things wrap up swiftly.
With things kept to a basic, the central gimmick is the thing here, but it’s absolutely enjoyable enough (almost) by itself to make ShipShape a rollicking half-hour or so of light, breezy fun. We just have our fingers crossed that it sees a fuller outing in another Daviau game – though we suspect he’s already thinking up his next clever trick.
PLAY IT? PROBABLY
Designer: Rob Daviau
Artist: Dhaniels Castillo, Andrew Hepworth, Ben Wootten
This review originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.