Monday, November 2, 2015

Libertalia Board Game Review

I am a fan of the Wil Wheaton you-tube show Table Top and occasionally come across some game gems I was not aware of prior to watching the show. Libertalia is one such gem, a game that was not only fun to watch on Table Top but has since become a favorite game in my collection. I asked my wife to watch the video simply to get a good laugh at the interplay between Seth Green, his wife Clare Grant, Wil Wheaton, and Karen Gillan of Doctor Who fame. Watching the game play my wife suprised me by asking me to pick up a copy of the game, which she thought looked like a fun game the family would enjoy playing. I jump at the chance to grab games my family will play, so quickly ran out to get a copy for the house. So, what's Libertalia you ask.... continue reading!

What is Libertalia, Who makes it?

Libertalia is a pirate themed board game for 2 - 6 players. Play proceeds over 3 cruises (rounds) with each cruise broken down into 3 day/night segments plus a return to the harbor. Players are dealt identical hands of 9 cards from a deck of 30 possible choices. These cards comprise the choices for the crew looting the islands on the cruise each day. Let's take a look at the basic's of the game before jumping in:

How's it play?

Libertalia starts with laying out the board, having each player choose their pirate captain (technically just choose a color) and then dealing out the hand of cards. One player will shuffle their 30 card deck and draws 9 cards. While this is going on, another player will randomly draw 6 sets of loot tokens from the "Booty Bag", each set equal to the number of players, and place them on the board so everyone can see what booty is available each day. After all this, the player who drew 9 cards will read them out and everyone will build an identical hand of cards. Everyone is now ready to play.

Play proceeds across 4 phases (Sunrise, Day, Dusk, Night) per day, 6 days, then a single return to port. During the Sunrise phase everyone chooses a card and places it on the ship, which are then revealed and ordered from lowest to highest "rank", comprising the ships crew for the day. During the Day phase, each member of the crew will process any Day powers printed on the cards, from lowest to highest rank. Dusk sees the highest rank process dusk powers then choose a booty token from those available on that day of the cruise, proceeding through this step to the lowest rank crew member. Following this players will place their crew member cards into their pirate den and then process Night powers for all crew in their dens. This concludes one of the 6 days on the cruise/campaign and play proceeds to sunrise on the next day.

Following the completion of the Night phase on the 6th day the ship returns to port and players resolve any port powers for crew members in their pirate dens. Den's and graveyards are then discarded, loot is tallied and then returned to the "booty bag",  and end of cruise scoring takes place. New loot is drawn for the next cruise, 6 more cards are drawn to form the next hand, and play proceeds until 3 cruises are complete.

Each player begins each cruise with 10 doubloons, and can earn more doubloons through abilities on their crew members. Scoring comprises adding the total doubloons at the end of a cruise, moving the score tracker, then resetting to the starting 10 doubloons for the next cruise. It's important to note that only 6 new cards are dealt during the second and third cruise, indicating your hand can be comprised of additional cards held back during earlier cruises.   

What's innovative or different? What's fun?

Libetalia is a game of perfect knowledge, where each player is using the same set of cards and resources within the game. This means it becomes a game of remember what your opponents have played, anticipating which card they will play on which day, then bluffing which card you will play when. There is a fair amount of strategy in determining the best time to make use of different crew member powers, contributing to a variety of ways to earn the most doubloons during a cruise. Additionally there is strategy involved in holding back specific crew from earlier cruises when they may be able to benefit you more in later cruises of the game.

There is also some thought and fun in picking specific types of booty at specific times. One piece of booty, the Sabre, allows you to murder one of the crew members in a players den to each side of you. Another, the Spanish Officer, kills off your own crew member before they make it back to your den at the end of the day. These two selections are useful in cases when you pick them up and also when you can force your opponents to choose them by taking an earlier pick of booty during the dusk phase.

Anyone who is a fan of pirates will also enjoy this game. The crew members on each card are a lot of fun to read, and the flavor text is very in theme with a variety of pirate movies and books. My own group and family thoroughly enjoy declaring "AAARRRRR" when revealing our played cards, taken directly from the Table Top play through of the game.

Overall quality of the game

I want to take a moment to talk about "box control" for this game. Box control is what the producer has done to help organize and coordinate the contents of the box and board game components. Libertalia is a game containing 6 decks of 30 cards each, card board money tokens in 3 denominations, a bag of loot tokens, 2 central play boards and 6 individual player boards. Additionally there are flags and player tokens for each of the 6 players to track score and mark out-of-play cards. Asmodee has done an excellent job with forming the interior of the box with a mind toward excellent box control. There are places for each of the decks and all the components, keeping things nicely organized and easy to get out of the box and set-up to play.

The game quality is excellent across the board, with a nice thickness to the card decks, thick cardboard on the booty tokens, and a fairly durable pirate ship board. The rule book is very easy to understand and the layout is excellent, both on the text being easy to read and follow and containing many excellent pictures and diagrams.

Recommendation and thoughts

I love this game, my family loves this game, and 3 game groups I've played with also love this game. What is more interesting, my mother-in-law who only likes a few games (Yahtzee, exploding kittens, Quarriors) really enjoys this game and has requested we bring it on vacations to play. Overall this has enough complexity to keep hard-core games like me entertained and engaged while also having a simple enough game-play that lighter gamers such as my wife can enjoy playing. I am pleased to see how seamlessly the game combines those two play styles allowing both types of players to be involved in the same game sessions without becoming frustrating.

This game has a strong recommendation from me.
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