I approach a game like The Shores of Tripoli with a bit of trepidation, after all if there’s one thing that some people don’t like, it’s having politics forced into their gaming spaces. So if you are one of those people who want the world full of spaceships and dragons and don’t want to play through the plans, tactics and ramifications based around the intervention of the American Naval forces and their attempts to remove the stranglehold of piracy that was occuring in the early 1800s off the shores of Tripoli, then consider yourself warned. Are you sure I can’t tempt you with some wooden boats and gold coloured coins? How about some hot card event action?
The Shores of Tripoli is a historical events driven card game where you will play cards and add components to the board in order to achieve specific objectives. The game works on a timeline and so certain events will only take place at later points in the game, unlocking further available actions in the game and activating the win conditions for both players.
The Shores of Tripoli works like a live play history lesson, combining a mixture of card play detailing specific events while playing out the action on the map which orchestrates towards a conclusional crescendo. Shores is strictly asymmetrical which means that while both players carry out actions where they either play cards for their immediate effect or discard cards for other actions, the actual actions players carry out vary slightly. The American players will be building frigates or gunboats, while the Tripolitan player will be setting out on a pirate raid, or build a corsair in Tripoli itself. Event cards will sometimes only be able to be activated depending on the year or play the players are in. For most of Shores, you aim is to build up the strength of your forces or the amount of tribute if you are the Tripolitan player. You can be forgiven if you get into the second or even third year and wonder what all the fuss is about as the first few turns seem to bear little resemblance to what is described in the rule book in relation to the forces that you control. There are core event cards that you can bring in during the game and unlike the others they are removed completely when played rather than being shuffled back into the deck. There is an equal chance for either side to win the game, even though there are parts of the game where you feel it is your turn to come under a rain of fire and you are trying to mitigate the damage. One of which being when all of the Tripolitan players have the chance to go on a pirate raid to gain tribute and it certainly gives a huge opportunity for the game to end covered in gold and victory especially since successful dice rolls start at fives. Turns don’t take tool long unless you are engaging in either Naval or Bombardment, where the game pauses for a second while you play with the little wooden ships and throw dice at each other. Just like in the world of miniatures games, a six is a hit and will sink or destroy the opposing forces and have them scurry back to Malta in the case of the Americans. The game continues back and forward through the seasons and the years and ends in a draw unless one of the sides reaches a win condition. The game acts like a metronome through the turns. You play a card for an event or you trade in a card to bolster your forces. In the background though as the events play out, there is the rumble of a storm and all of a sudden an army turns up, or there is a mass raid on Tripoli and then the raids are happening all over the map. Until of course the Tenor stands up, clears their throat and takes a deep breath.
Shores works with differing win conditions for each of the players. The American player wins if they force a peace treaty or by capturing Tripoli and installing Hamet Qaramanli on the throne. These come with their own conditions and timing and you can’t aim for a win within the first couple of rounds. The Tripolitan player wins by acquiring twelve gold through tribute, sinking four American frigates, or by eliminating Hamet’s army. All of which come with their own requirements and potential timeline activations.
Since you are playing to a timeline, most games are going to last around about ninety minutes to play through with little divergence on that unless someone manages to score an unusual plunder victory on the Tripoli side.
The Shores of Tripoli is an interesting twist on what you would expect in a normal asymmetrical game, especially for one that concentrates on head to head. In my experience playing these types of games at a two player count generally results in an unbalanced affair, with one player always on the back foot. Resulting in them trying to play catch up until the game allows for their player powers to mature to a point where they can maintain and potentially supercede their opposition. Shores tackles this by shackling your ability to the year that you are playing within and controls the powers and effects available to each player. The core event cards are there to open up the opportunities to each player, effectively moving the game on to the next major part of the story of Tripoli, without making you feel out of control. Occasionally you will feel that you are just playing cards in order to mark time, but this is a rare occurrence since each of the normal actions helps you to either increase the size of your American fleet, or allow you to claim plunder by heading out on missions as the Tripolitans. Shores comes across as one huge interactive history lesson, with the artwork on the cards serving to help create a solid themed gameplay experience. It’s almost like an on rails shooter that used to gobble up 50 pences at the local arcade. You don’t feel you have a total control over the final destination, just an effect on the places that you pass through as you play through the seasons and the years. Overall Fort Circle is offering an extremely solid and well presented asymmetrical tactical game that I can see being rolled out again and again over an evening. There’s a real passion an interest coming across from the design team here, and you genuinely feel you’re playing a game from someone who fully understood the theme they were trying to achieve. Very good indeed.
As the Americans, it’s worthwhile getting the Swedish navy involved quickly, just to provide some back up. As the Tripolitans, get those plunder raids going as often as you can.
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.
If you would like to support more written pieces on the blog then please consider backing us on Patreon. www.patreon.com/werenotwizards