Liberty means freedom, and Libertalia means spending a lot of time getting booty, of the gold sort, because you’re a pirate trying to build up your equivalent of a pension fund. At least I think that’s what the story was about, when it comes to board games I’m a little bit like Penny from Big Bang Theory – blonde, erm, yes, that’s about it. I really did start to read the story behind the game, but then I might have seen something shiny or perhaps it was a dream? Anyway, where was I, before the Game of Thrones ‘Littlefinger’ pin on my jacket grabbed my attention? What I can say with certainty is that I found out what the aim of the game is, and in this case it’s… ooh, my new John Snow figure has such nice hair. So, you have to get as much loot as you can in Libertalia, and be as much of a bastard as you can to stop other people (in this case, my work place’s board game club) getting loot – a game strategy that falls right into my wheelhouse.
If you do start playing Libertalia, I recommend spending more time learning the rules than I did, because I only really got what you were meant to be doing half way through. But in the end I did come second out of five players, but if I had fully grasped the rules earlier in the game, I could have come first, dammit! Although the person who won did accuse me of playing stupid because I did much better than a novice should have. I won’t be letting him read this review to protect that illusion. The game is quite tactical, the amount of booty, loot (or more accurately) points you get depends on where you are on the main game board when you put your cards down. Your cards are basically crew members with titles, so you can call them Roger the Cabin Boy or Seaman Staines in your head if you like. There are piles of booty on the table (if you listen carefully, Nicki Minaj is composing a song about them at this very moment) and sometimes you get the gems, but other times you can get guard or a cursed artifact. Bitch, you don’t wanna be twerking no cursed anaconda, y’hear me!
In a less “The Curse of Monkey Island” vein, I did also end up shooting the governor’s daughter in the face, which at least makes me more LeChuck than Threepwood.
Everyone around the table has the same nine crewmen, of which you play six in a round, representing a full week of pirating; meaning that by the third round, because players hold back different cards, the decks become slightly asymmetric, testing your memory. Each turn, everyone secretly picks one of their crew to help loot the ship (loot is randomly drawn from a bag, one piece per pirate). The higher your crew member’s number, the higher your chance of picking good booty (dyamn!) because you get to choose first. Find yourself at the bottom of the bitch pile, and you have to choose between nasty guards (though I do like a uniform) or a curse. However card abilities trigger lowest first, which means you can effect the game state before players get to pick. Once the treasure has been taken, cards return in front of a player to their ‘den’, where some of them can potentially score more points. The beauty of the game is the many complicated ways the cards can interact. When I was playing it, however, I seemed like the most novice of novices, because it wasn’t too long before I had three cursed items, but I had the Ron Gilbert edge when it comes to pirate games and curses: I had the monkey card, which allows you to pass your cursed artifacts to the left. I waited until the last round, played the monkey card and completely screwed over the person to my left with three cursed cards when there was nothing they could do about it. Arrr, tactics matey!
In a less “The Curse of Monkey Island” vein, I did also end up shooting the governor’s daughter in the face, which at least makes me more LeChuck than Threepwood. Yes, it was a card that I pulled called the Gunner, which let me shoot someone’s crew member… in the face…l ike a boss… for 3 coins. I chose to pop a cap in the bitch’s ass because if there is only one governor’s daughter left in the game, then you get extra doubloons at the end of the game! Mine was then the only one left! See what I did there?
There are a lot of cool cards in Libertalia, but with other card based games like Fluxx, you can fluke yourself to a good position and accidentally win the game (or come second place), but it becomes a lot better if you know what the cards actually do. Unfortunately, a game of Libertalia isn’t over as quickly as a game of Fluxx (the box says a round will take about an hour, but it took us three – read into that what you will), which means that you have to really play the game a few times before you get good at it. That said, there is still a large element of chance with the cards when you draw them at the very start of the game (although everyone does get the same cards), which means that novices and experienced players alike can still enjoy the game, but the odds are that the experienced players will enjoy it more.
The game, like all things pirate based, is a lot more authentic and fun with stupid pirate faces and rum (which might explain the three hours it took to play a round). Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun game, full of strategy, and made entertaining if your play time is filled with as many pirate puns as possible. I have never had so many people in my board games club accidentally commenting on my booty, for example: “Fran, your booty is much bigger than I thought it would be for a girl at this stage in the game, especially considering that it’s cursed” wasn’t actually said, but it could have been (and if people who played this game are reading this, will definitely be said the next time we play this game). Overall, it is great fun and I really enjoyed playing it, so I will give it eight pieces of eight out of ten.
Designer: Paolo Mori
Mechanic: Set Collection, Strategy, Hand Management
Players: 2 to 6 (best with 4)
Game length: 45-60 minutes (or playing with me, up to 3 hours)