ARRR ye ready for a game of plundering and pillaging, brutes and scallywags, curses and daggers? Do ye enjoy sitting around the galley, talking like a pirate? Are ye a fan of the booty (No, not like that)? Well then matey, Libertalia may be the game for you.
I wrote an article about small role playing moments in board games (click HERE to read) where I mentioned Libertalia quite a bit, so it only seems fair to review the game itself.
The Game and Mechanics
Libertalia is a pirate themed card game. You play as a pirate sending a crew member on an excursion. Your crew is a selection of valued cards taken at random from the deck which you play simultaneously with your opponents in an attempt to gain the best booty. Each player has the same deck and, from deckhands to buccaneers, each player in the game draws the same random set of cards to start. This mechanic of knowing exactly what the other player is holding in his hand makes libertalia interesting, especially in 3+ player games.
You play a game as three weeks of six days. A day in Libertalia is one card picking turn. Every player picks a card from their hand and plays in on the central board. You then arrange the cards in descending order and take card actions. Some actions happen strong to weak, others weak to strong, but in the end, the strongest character played picks from that day’s loot options. Each week everyone draws a new set of cards, while also carrying over the unused cards from the previous week. Remember how you know every card in someone’s hand? Well, if the second and third week, if you have not seen those powerful cards from the first round come out yet, know they are still there, waiting for that powerful finish (a strategy commonly and lovingly referred to as sandbagging). Also, there are no ties in Libertalia. When multiple people play cards with the same values there is a second number at the bottom of the card that determines who is stronger. Understanding that your best character is the weakest of his type is very important in determining whether to play it early or late, and all part of the game.
On top of earning you loot, all of your pirate people have their own special abilities. Sometimes that ability earns you gold, sometimes it loses you gold, and sometimes it has an actions that affects other characters. Every day, when the looting is done, your characters head to your den where even more actions take place. Timing your placement to ensure the best combinations is one of the biggest mechanics of Libertalia.
All players have the same having the same cards, being able to pick and choose when to play them, and the interactions between them make Libertalia a fairly even, competitive game, which brings me to my next inevitable topic…
Strategy VS Luck
Libertalia has about as much luck as chess. Okay, maybe an exaggeration, but in all fairness, there really isn’t much LUCK at all in it. The cards are drawn randomly, but the same for all players. The cards have secondary values that break ties and you can’t see your opponents secondary number, but they can’t see yours either and you know your general standing. In a 3+ person game there is a lot of interaction that can really hurt a person, but in a 2 person game, it’s pretty balanced.
The one thing you can’t plan for at all is the next weeks cards. Due to the amount of interaction between cards, holding the right cards can drastically affect the outcome of week two and three, but “the right cards” is relative to the next week, and therefore can’t be strategized. Once again though, you know which cards your opponent is holding, so you should be able to work against it.
We Get it, it’s Fair, but is it FUN?
Libertalia is a strategy game, but it’s not a hard thinking game. It’s fun, pretty quick paced, and full of interaction. The booty is not always desirable, so forcing a person to take a curse rather than a jewel or stealing their last treasure map to prevent the win are a couple examples, but there are also assassination tokens, cards that knock them out of a round, and cards that kill the characters in their den.
Not only is there a diplomatic point to be made in waiting to attack another character until after you’ve seen their nastiest cards, but bunch of interaction in a game session with enough people will lead to truces, gang ups, and begging. This will ultimately lead to a group of people laughing or throwing chips, both of which are signs of a successful game night.
I also can’t help but plug my previous post for role playing moments in Libertalia. I’ve still yet to play this game without the pirate in all of us from working its way to the surface. Coming up with new slander for your friends (Scurvy land lover, Saltless Toadfish, etc.) only adds to the excitement of an already enjoyable experience.
Does It Walk the Plank?
Libertalia is a solid game that is fun enough to keep people interested, but complicated enough for anyone who likes to challenge their friends. It can be played entirely casually or competitively. Half the strategy to me is trying to play on what I believe the other player is going to do, and varying my play against what seems to be the obvious choice.
While most of the time I decide to promote a game based on its complexity, originality, and replayability, I promote Libertalia for an entirely different reason. I own a closetful of board games from the popular to obscure. From Aquasphere to Netrunner to Galaxy Trucker, every game holds it’s place for a different reason; Libertalia’s specialty is that is hasn’t disappointed yet. It’s been requested by friends I’ve shown it to the previous game night, and it’s the perfect game to introduce a newcomer to the world outside Milton Bradley.