Paul: Now Quinns, I know you’re still obsessed with Mage Wars-
Quinns: WIZARD! Oh my God did you read the part where your spells-
Paul: But if you don’t mind, I want to INTERJECT with an alternative game people could buy this week. Something sleeker and easier, that I think anyone can play, not just the people who wanted to be manticores when they grew up.
Quinns: I don’t understand. Are you still coming over tonight? I wove you a beard to wear out of my armp-
Paul: I’m SAYING I’m coming over, but I’m bringing Libertalia instead. I want to recommend this one to everyone. I think it’s really quite special.
Libertalia is a game of pirates, plunder and pissing people off. It’s mostly a card game, mostly, but it does have a tiny pirate board and some tiny booty tokens for you to play with, though these aren’t even equivalent in weight to a standard reference pear.
Quinns: Thanks reference pear.
Paul: Thanks reference pear. Each player squeezes into the ill-fitting, saline short shorts of a privateer and tries their very best to fill their hook hands with bounty.
Quinns: That’s racist.
Paul: At each player’s disposal is a deck of 30 cards that represents their mismatched crew, who’ll they’ll be using to scoop up this treasure.
Quinns: A game of Libertalia, which takes just 45 minutes, is comprised of three acts of waterlogged burglary. Each act is made up of six ships which sail into the middle of the table, and every player gets a chance to snatch a single token. Jewels, rum, even maps are all up for grabs… except in Libertalia, grabbing these things is a terrible art.
Everyone around the table has nine crewmen. Each turn, everyone secretly volunteers one of them to help raid each ship that passes. We’re almost done with the rules. Pay attention to this next bit if you want to come home with any booty besides a black eye.
Every one of your crewmen has a rank, in the top left. That determines whether you get first pick of the goods, or last pick. Every crewmen also has a power. The Brute happens to kill the highest-ranked character. The chef manages to grab two things when it’s his time to pick, leaving someone else empty-handed.
Which is a fun enough game already. We’ve hit our fun quota! But it gets better, because you don’t draw a hand of crewmen at random. Every player draws the same cards.
Paul: The same nine cards, chosen at random by one player. Once you’ve plucked out your first pirates and you’re getting ready to push them toward the ship, you know that every other player is staring at the same fan of crewmates, so ideas immediately start bouncing around your head like balls inside a squash court: What powers is everyone is going to try and use? Which of these cards can undermine each other, or which are the best to play early or late in the act? And most importantly, what are your opponents going to play?
You might all be staring at that Brute, that big, big man who will punch the highest ranked crewmate clean off the ship, and each of you will be thinking “I don’t want to play anything of a higher rank than him first, in case I’m the guy who takes a trip seaward. I’ll save my higher ranked cards until everyone else has played their Brutes.”
While lower ranked crewmates like that Brute will pick from the booty later, they mix up the game in all sorts of nasty new ways. The Beggar forces the highest-ranked player to pay you, the Parrot gets swapped out for any other card in your hand, letting you take a second shot at placement. The Barkeep earns you money every turn, as once each crewmate is played they’re then placed in your Den, where their powers might still come into play. Assuming they’re not killed, making part of Libertalia just bringing your boys home.
From the second Libertalia begins, you’re concocting plot after plot. What do you want to do now? What do you want to do next? What cards do you want in play by the end of the act and, since you’ll only be playing six cards in that act, which three do you want to carry over to the next act? Ah, yes, you need to think about that too.
Quinns: And this is my favourite part. After act one, one player draws six new crewmen and you all fish them out of your deck, adding them to the three you chose not to play. This means the game enters ever-stormier waters, until finally the table collapses into groans when someone plays a Preacher in act 3. “What?! I thought we got rid of those already! Noooo–”
Paul: Plots, all is plots. But still not quite done yet, pal. Forcing you to become still more verminous is the fact that not all of these tokens you’re scrabbling for are treasure.
Quinns: There are the maps we mentioned before. They’re actually worthless unless you can get three in one act, cutting players into two camps: those who’ll fight and die for them, and players who’ll treat them like toilet paper. The “Spanish officer” token is properly worthless, except it kills whoever’s forced to pick it. The cursed relics are worth negative three money.
Paul: Which might not be a problem.
Quinns: It might not be a problem.
Paul: You might have a Monkey, and the moment you release that Monkey, it’s going to scuttle off with all your cursed relics and plop them into the lap of the player to your left, something that can be so financially harmful you might as well have cut out the bottom of their purse.
Quinns: Libertalia definitely makes the most of its theme, in that it makes cutthroats of you all, but in a nice way, if that sounds possible. A game of Libertalia usually has at least one ship that collapses the table into hysterics. Like this one-
Our friend controlling the captain all but screamed when this was revealed. A horde of beggars, each of whom demanded 3 gold. The game was lost for him in a chorus of rattling cups.
But for all of Paul and my chatter about how ingenious and dark Libertalia is, I’d argue it’s greatest strength is its accessibility. Wouldn’t you?
Paul: It’s funny that you say that, as I would, I would indeed. The concept behind Libertalia can be learned in ten minutes and, since every crewmate’s special ability is written on their card, you can learn them as you go. You all start that first round with the same faces staring out at you, so you all start on the same footing and immediately get to see what sort of nonsense unfolds when these pirates start climbing onto ships together.
You’re busy thinking about the possibilities in front of you, not the rules, and adding more players to the game doesn’t make anything any more complicated, it just creates more potential for punching and Parrots and picking up treasure.
Quinns: Yeah. It’s so great to find a game that scales all the way up to 6 players without taking on so much as a single excess minute of playtime. Game is watertight.
Paul: No it’s perfect SU&SD recommends everybody buy Lib-
Quinns: No because see, I love this game, but I do have a problem that the puzzle of the thing is more mathy than I’d like.
I love the predicting and pre-emptying other players, but so many characters in the deck relate to the private puzzle of your home port. Combos like the Mutineer killing off your returned crew, then playing the Voodoo Witch to earn 2 doubloons for each of your dead characters. So, is that worth more money than keeping your priest alive for the 5 doubloons he earns you at the end of an act, when you consider he’ll be denying everyone else treasure? Answers on the back of a postcard.
Paul: That’s obviously all completely incorrect and the game isn’t so much mathsy as it is about being devious, about setting up little domino chains of pirate powers, or about poking your wooden leg into someone else’s affairs and tripping up the little moneymaker they’ve got goin’ on.
Because you only play six cards a turn, there’s not a great deal of potential for you to build something complex and game-breaking, and there’s enough disruptive cards in the deck that you can always stamp on somebody else’s carefully-constructed plans.
Quinns: Well that’s just it. Those six cards give you perfect information, so I always have to spend a couple of minutes working out the most profitable order for them to come out in, like I’m running a sodding fashion show.
Paul: But you can’t. Admit it. You can never predict what the other players of Libertalia will throw at you. Shutupandsitdownrecommends this a great deal. This is an excellent game.
Quinns: It is, but-
Paul: And every time you play you’ll be playing with different cards that open up different possibilities.
Quinns: I just wish the risk/reward of it could have been elevated! You’re pirates, not investment bankers, worrying about your moneymaking affairs.
Paul: You’re a moneymaking affair.