Ship Shape: Smuggling and Succeeding

Ship Shape game

Be the savviest captain of cargo…

Fill your hold with gold, contraband, and cannons (to fight off pirates). Try to get exactly the crates you want, and layer them in your hold to your best advantage.

Ship Shape combines a 3D puzzle with bidding. This six-player game was designed by Rob Daviau and is published by Calliope Games.

How to Play

Every player starts with a randomly-selected “hold” (player board) and a set of crew cards, numbered 1-10. Select several Crates (three per player), then shuffle and rotate them to mix them up. Stack the Crates where all the players can see them.

The Crates are 1/8″ thick foam core. Players can examine the stack of Crates (without touching them); even getting out of their chairs and moving around the table. Different angles provide different perspectives on what is otherwise hidden in the depths. Then players bid on the stack.

Central stack of 2d crates, with four hold boards and a stack of cardboard coins
Each player starts with a hold and 10 bidding cards.

Each player selects a card from their hand. Then everyone reveals their choice simultaneously.

Discard any cards with identical numbers. Then, starting with the highest remaining number and working down to the lowest, players take Crates off the top of the stack. After this, players who were previously tied can play a new card and also take Crates in the same way.

Each player places the Crate onto their hold, flipping and rotating as needed to position its three tiles for maximum benefit.

Ship Shape - placing a crate
Placing the first Crate on a hold

Note: Players discard the card(s) used for bidding this round, and only get them back when they are down to a single card in hand.

After three sets of bidding and placing Crates, it’s time to score the first Voyage!


Every player gets coins based on the visible contents of their hold. They receive the full value of their gold and the value of their cannons MINUS the lowest amount of cannons (the player with the fewest cannons gets nothing). The player with the highest amount of contraband gets caught by the Royal Navy! They score no points, but all other players get the full value of their contraband. Lastly, players subtract coins for any rats still showing in their hold.

There’s a special 8 coin bonus for any player who can completely fill their hold with cargo (by covering all nine spaces of the hold).

Completed hold showing 8 contraband, 4 gold, 11 cannons
4 Gold + 8 Contraband + (11 Cannons – 2 Cannons from lowest player) = 21 coins this round

Next Voyage

Prepare for the next Voyage by creating a stack of new Crate tiles and assigning new holds. Now the player with the most coins gets the highest numbered hold, and the lowest numbered hold goes to the player with the least. Lower numbered holds give benefits for Voyages 2 and 3, and higher numbered holds make it a little harder, handicapping the best player(s).

After three Voyages, the game ends. Everyone counts up their coins and determines a winner.

Player Count Variations

Two people can play Ship Shape by using a dummy player, “Cap’n Happenstance”. Playing with six people would make for a Crate stack that is too tall, so make two equal stacks and create two groups of three players (different groups each Voyage) for bidding.


Ship Shape is like no other game we’ve seen before. The bidding feels familiar, but the 3D puzzle nature of the Crates is something completely new. Often, it’s not possible to see more than three layers into the stack, adding an additional layer (hah!) of uncertainty.

Ship Shape bidding for Crates
Bidding for Crates: 7 takes the top layer, then 5, then 4.

Simple to Understand

Bidding is an tricky business. Try to pinpoint exactly the position you want in player order, without going too high or too low. And woe to you if your bid matches another player! The two (or more) of you will bid again, but now for the new Crates revealed after everyone else has taken their choice.

Much like our family favorite, Go Nuts for Donuts, the strategy here is easy to understand, but hard to predict.

And don’t forget the puzzle aspect of the game! No matter what Crate you get, you want to place it for your best advantage. You’ll need to pay attention to other’s holds too – you don’t want to end up with the fewest cannons or the most contraband when your third Crate is placed. Calliope has smartly made the tiles two-sided, so you can flip and rotate them to fit your hold perfectly.

There’s a catch-up mechanism in play, too. At the end of a Voyage, new holds are distributed. Player(s) in the lead get holds with more rats (and maybe even contraband). But if you were doing poorly, you’ll get a boost – fewer rats, and maybe some gold or cannons! This is a great way to equalize the playing field and help weaker players bounce back into contention.

Hold 5 has 5 rats, valued from -2 to -5, and a contraband square valued 5. Hold 1 has a single rat, a gold square and a cannon square.
High and low numbered holds for the third Voyage

Art and Graphic Design

We love the graphic design for Ship Shape. The holds and Crates fit well in the “cargo ship” aesthetic while keeping the numbers nice and clear. There’s even a player aid for scoring on every hold.

The Crates themselves could be made out of cardboard, but the thick foam core is satisfying to pick up and move around – and stays where you put it even in relatively high stacks.

The bidding cards have a nice mix of characters represented. The art here isn’t quite the same style though, and it feels a little odd that this is the only place you see people in the game.

Ship Shape bidding cards 1-10

Shaping Up

Ship Shape is a family-friendly romp. It’s the kind of game that easily allows player conversation, and even empathy. The flow of play is bite-sized, so even though a player may be lagging in total score, they can still celebrate a small win by getting exactly the tile they wanted, or snugly fitting their new cargo around the other elements in their hold.

Simply put, Ship Shape will likely never leave our collection. The 3D puzzle offers something completely new, while employing simple enough gameplay for the youngest gamers in our family to understand. There is no text to speak of, so any child who can count to ten can play. Granted, they may not fully understand the strategy of how to get the tile they want, but everyone can be involved and the whole family can laugh together. Ship Shape shapes up to be a winner for us.

Find Ship Shape at Amazon, directly from Calliope Games, or ask for it at your local game store. You’ll be glad you did!

The Family Gamers received a copy of Ship Shape from Calliope Games for this review.

This post contains affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.

Ship Shape
  • 7.5/10
    Art - 7.5/10
  • 10/10
    Mechanics - 10/10
  • 9/10
    Family Fun - 9/10


Number of Players: 2-6

Age Range: 8+

Playtime: 30-45 minutes