The HMS Dolores has just been raided – by you, the players (pirates!) – and now you’re dividing the spoils. But, being pirates, not everyone is going to be entirely honest about it…
The game is made up of a big deck of cards that show different types of loot the players want to collect in sets. There are also a few special cards shuffled in that can give you an advantage during play. Players begin the game with two cards in front of them (the start of their haul) and play continues through a series of rounds that move clockwise around the table.
In each round, two neighboring players are dealt four cards, two in front of each player. They now have to decide how to split the cards between them in classic Prisoner’s Dilemma fashion. Simultaneously (after a count of three) each player selects a hand gesture to signify their choice: war (clenched fist), peace (flat palm), or pick-first (thumbs-up).
If both players select peace, they each take their own 2 cards and add them to their haul. But if one player selects war and the other selects peace, the warlike player gets everything!
If one player selects pick-first, they get the first card from any of the four. The other player will either get everything else (if they chose war) or whatever is left of their own cards (if they chose peace).
If both players selected either war or pick-first, neither player gets anything.
Before selecting, players can discuss their choices. But obviously in piracy nobody is obliged to keep their word, so having been convinced to keep the peace you may find all your cards stolen! After the current round is resolved, the negotiation and back-stabbing moves one space to the left, so the left-seated current player will be involved in the next round, before things move on clockwise again.
The game continues until the sunrise card is revealed, which will be near the bottom of the deck. Players compare their hauls, scoring only their most and least valuable. If you have multiple sets of most (or least) valuable, you score them all!
Neat, compact, clever. For me personally, it’s almost too spiteful, bringing back painful memories of playing Diplomacy with its integrated duplicity and potential for cheesed-off players. It’s definitely not for the easily-offended. But if you have a bunch of people who enjoy the palpable tension of being screwed over at any moment, HMS Dolores will be a big hit.
High! You could play the game peacefully throughout, but there wouldn't be much point to it. The fun in HMS Dolores is the tension of knowing someone, at some point, is going to lie through their teeth to get what they want. Maybe you.
Reasonably low. In fact, inactive players can join in the table talk, instilling doubt and suspicion in others...
The rules for HMS Dolores won't confuse anyone; so the challenge (once you've got your head around what your hands should be doing) is to guess whether your pirate buddies are about to sting you or not.
Gameplay is always the same, but the cards come out randomly and obviously you can't be sure what anyone will do!