Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Avast You Landlubbers -- It's Libertalia!

In my last post, I wrote about Augustus, a game designed by Paolo Mori and published by Hurrican Games.  Well, it turns out that it's been a banner year for Mr. Mori because, in addition to receiving a nomination for the coveted Spiels des Jahres for his work on Augustus, this year's jury also gave the nod to another of Mori's games -- Libertalia -- when they placed it on their recommended list for this year's awards.  It's pretty rare for a designer to receive both a nomination and a recommendation in the same year, so I thought it worth while to highlight Libertalia in this post both because it is an excellent game and as a tip-of-the-hat to Mr. Mori for such superlative work.

Libertalia (published by Marabunta Games) is a two-to-six player game that plays in about 45-60 minutes and makes use of simultaneous role selection and hand management as its core mechanics.  Most importantly: it's about pirates!  Mores specifically, it's about dastardly pirates who are squabbling among themselves to get their hands on the most loot possible.  At the start of the game, each player will be given a deck of thirty cards, each of which depicts a particular pirate with a specific ability that triggers when it's played.  It's important to note that each player has the same deck of cards, with the same characters who have the same powers and abilities.  Each character card has two numbers on it.  First of all there is a number (from 1 -- 30) located in the upper left-hand corner which indicates both it's place in the deck and determines when during the turn it will be resolved.  There is an additional number (from 1 -- 6) located towards the bottom left-hand corner and this is the "tie break" number that used to determine resolution order in cases where two or more players play the same card.  At the start of the first round, each player will draw the same nine cards from their deck to form their opening hand.  Then each player will secretly choose a card from their hand and play it face down on the table.  Having done so, those cards will all be simultaneously revealed and have their actions resolved.  To accomplish this, the played cards will be placed in order from the lowest to the highest numbered card (using the tie break numbers in cases where two otherwise identical cards have been played.  The actions of the cards are resolved by proceeding from the lowest to the highest numbers, and then in reverse order, players will receive booty tokens taken from the hold of the ship.  These tokens can be treasures that count for victory points, treasure maps that can be combined to gather tonnes of victory points, captive prisoners that can be ransomed for cash, sabers that can be used to kill off opponent's characters, or even curse tokens that count for minus points during the scoring phase.  At the end of the game, the player who has amassed the greatest amount of cash (VP) will be declared the winner and pirate extraordinaire!

So why is this game worth taking note of?  First of all, it's about pirates -- and pirates are always awesome!  Secondly, it has some of the best artwork of any game that I have ever played.  The cards are beautiful and have been illustrated with pirates who look like they've strolled right out of the hit movie Pirates of the Caribbean.  Further, this is a game that boasts an easy and accessible set of rules, yet requires making some really tough choices.  For instance, if you play a card with a lower number, you'll get to take your action first and perhaps dramatically impact the course of that round.  However, playing a lower numbered card will mean that you'll be the last (or nearly last) person to pick one of the available booty tiles (yes, booty tiles -- take a moment, have your laugh and move on!) and that can mean getting few (or even minus) points  when it comes to scoring.  Further, since everybody starts the game with the same cards in had, there are some real "Princess Bride" moments when you'll think things like this:  "I know that he knows that this is the best time to play this card.  But he knows that I know that he knows that this is the best time to play that card.  So knowing that he knows that I know -- is this the right time to play that card!?"  Finally, as the game goes on you will always know some of the cards in your opponent's hands, nevertheless, as the game progresses and players make different card selections, those hands will become increasingly differentiated from one another -- and the tension of of trying to remember if you're the only one left with a particular card in your hand is just delicious!

Overall, Libertalia is an easily accessible game with outstanding components, that plays quickly and cleanly, while creating opportunities to make tough and tense decisions.  It also rewards frequent play as you begin to see and appreciate the interactions between the various cards in your deck.  Finally, there's a great deal of replayability in Libertalia, in so far as there's an almost infinite number of card combinations that will emerge from game to game.  Again, this is another title that I can highly recommend and I encourage you to hustle down to the store and snap-up a copy while you still can!

Thanks for reading and: Game On!

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