Ship of Fools is a beautiful, tough-as-nails roguelike. And while you can play this one solo, it’s designed (and much more preferred) to play co-op. So if you are a fan of this genre and have a friend that’s up for a challenge, this game is right up your alley.

As I mentioned, this is a roguelike, and it’s the epitome of the genre. Each time you die, you start your run all over. Yup, that means even if you beat that level boss, you need to do it again. But, of course, if you did it once, you could do it again, right? Thank goodness the resources you gathered during your run will help you upgrade your ship and weapons. 

The game opens with you waking up on a beach. After a brief comedic introduction to the characters, you embark on your first adventure, a short tutorial that walks you through the basics. The lesson focuses on combat, so it doesn’t explain everything. 

There are two main battle mechanics; cannons, with which you do most of your damage, and your paddle, which comes in handy when intruders board your ship. The challenge comes with balancing the two different styles. Battling with a friend certainly helps, but it’s not necessary.

Cannons are the primary weapon. There are four positions for the cannons, two on each side of the ship. One of these guns will automatically fire when playing solo, although the fire rate is relatively slow. You’ll want to keep an eye on the amount of ammo each cannon has, as restocking them is half the battle. Besides your basic ammo (which is unlimited), you can also fire harpoons to deal damage. Its main purpose is to snag items that the enemy drops. These might include money, resources like wood planks or harpoons, or shields that protect your ship. Unlike the basic cannon ammo, you have a finite amount of harpoons. 

Next, you use your paddle to bat away enemies that have come aboard your ship or those who come close to your boat. You can also deflect projectiles that come hurling at you, but this is much more difficult than how it’s presented in the tutorial, as a lot is happening in the heat of the moment. 

Your ship can only take so much damage, and using wooden planks to repair your boat is essential to keep your run going. Once your vessel takes on too much water, your run is over. Based on the number of kills you got and resources obtained, your total score will grant you tendrils, the chief item used to upgrade your ship. Back at your base, you can use the tendrils to make different kinds of soup. Some examples include increasing your ship’s health, adding more harpoons, or giving you extra money. You also use tendrils to improve your cannons. 

Navigating your ship on the map reminds me a lot of a gameboard. Each space has a symbol on it. Some of the signs are self-explanatory, like wood for repairing your ship. Others will require you to land on the spaces to discover what the picture means. Some of the examples are shops, trinkets (which grant you bonuses), and special ammo, just to name a few. This is where the game could have done a better job explaining the different symbols since a large part of Ship of Fools is determining your strategy and deciding if you will risk trying to get the resources or skip that and go after the boss of the level.

The boss battles are intense and difficult, but possible to do solo. For every three moves you make on the map, the boss “moves” as well, removing spaces on the board. Eventually, you’ll run out of places to move and be forced to take on the boss. The battle is thrilling but true to roguelikes; once you die, even if you beat a boss, you start all over from the beginning.