You’ve got to wonder when board games are fully going to enter their phase where instead of designers creating games that are drastically different from others for difference sake, that they just do what films and television do, which is to take a old loved out of print game and just give it a reboot with a shiny new cast and makeover. We’ve seen the magic that Restoration games have brought to the table in the form of a couple of old and adored tabletop darlings but if you had asked me to bet good money on what designer would bring Libertalia to the table after its out of print absence, you would have won a crisp ten, because Stonemaier is the last company I would expect to go down this route. After some aggressive negotiations from Captain Jamey ‘The Stone’ Maier and Paolo Mori. It’s time to cast off to find out if this is recently dug up buried treasure, or some scurvy knave is taking off with your much earned doubloons.
Libertalia is a hand management interactive simultaneous play card game. Players will all be playing from the same deck and same cards every round with the aim to gather loot and earn doubloons.
You know those cookery shows where the contestants are given the same ingredients and have to come up with their own tasty dish based on those restrictions? Well Libertalia is all about players choosing from the same hand of cards they’re dealt with at the beginning of the round, and then playing them on a track based on rank and player reputation. Activation of the cards will then happen from left to right and then right to left as you play through Daytime to Dusk with the chance that some players will be kicked from the island back to the ship during these timely activations. During dusk players will have the chance to pick up loot tokens that will grant additional one off powers that can then be used when the game switches to Night time. Otherwise you’ll be removing any character you have left onto the ship for the rest of the voyage. Depending on what round you’re in the voyage may continue for a couple more rounds until the end of the last day, where you’ll be cashing in the doubloons you’ve earned for reputation and activate anchor abilities gained during the round, and potentially holding on to cards for future rounds that other players don’t have. After the end of the third voyage everyone packs up their sails and heads home to a life of grog and retiring up the seaman’s arms. There’s a double sided board with a more complicated set of abilities on the stormy side of the board and a very serviceable two player version and the very much expected solo mode as with all Stonemaier games.
Once you hit the third round then the player who has banked the most doubloons and therefore gained the most reputation is declared the winner and has to make pirate impressions otherwise they have to go away.
It’s a Stonemaier so this isn’t the maiden voyage for either the game or the designer and the quality of the components, artwork and graphical design are nothing short of brilliant. the loot tiles are chunky and edible looking. The character art is full of character and fits the bill perfectly. The board is designed to inform and keep your right. The whole thing screams a confidence of someone who has been doing this a long time now and it shows. It definitely shows.
There’s a decent amount of simultaneous play on offer here and it’s not going to be unusual to be clear of a game within an hour if not slightly longer. Make sure that you put the cards back in order when you tidy up as one of the parts of the game that might take a bit of time is the set up of the first draft, making sure everyone has the correct cards and they are ready to go. There’s not a huge set up and tear down apart from that.
Coming from someone who didn’t play the original game, I’m not in a position to discuss whether Stonemaier has kept within the spirit of the game or has made enough changes to warrant a re-release on what could technically done just fine with a reprint. Jamey talks about the changes they have made to the original game in the rulebook and on first sight it appears to be a rework that has ironed out some of the potential niggles from the original. What you do have here as I alluded to above is a game of guessing, strategy and mitigation, where in most rounds there’s an obvious card that makes sense to play and more often than not, the other three people you are playing with have exactly the same idea. It takes a little bit of self discipline to realise that the game actually extends beyond the laying of that first card and often picking up the loot tokens can be just as important. In fact having people on your ship with night abilities is important. Gaining doubloons is important. There’s several different things here that will make slight changes to how the game plays out. As the game progresses into the second and especially the third round, the cards you might be playing are likely to be different from others as they keep back cards from previous rounds and even though you all start off at the same base line it can end up all so different. Get a bad run and you can feel like the game is kicking your ass, especially if you fall foul of a series of repeat cards plays where you are further down the reputation track. A couple of them are enough to put at least one person I played with from wanting to play the game again. Whereas in other games the same cards prompted players to aim to change their reputation in order to mitigate that from happening and instead see what they could do with the loot and night actions. Libertalia is potentially going to grate against those who prefer to be in control of their games, the type who look at their opening hand and crank out all the possibilities before the starting gun is fired. There are ways to plan, but you almost always end spending some rounds having to plot a new course and sail against the wind. If you’re like me, constantly winging things to come in at an acceptable third place, then Libertalia is going to sit well with your play style. It’s a high quality production with wonderful art and presentation and it will draw the eyes when you play it at the local club. It is one of the stronger titles in Stonemaier’s portfolio, a potential treasure for those willing just to let the wind take them where it will.
It’s not always the best idea to try to play first at every day time as you will end up missing out on loot opportunities.
This review is based on the retail version of the game provided to us by the designer and publisher. We were not paid for this review. We give a general overview of the gameplay and so not all of the mechanical aspects of the game may be mentioned.
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