Libertalia: How to Pirate 101

Written by Briony, Bob, Lizzy.

Brutus Scale: 6/10
Pairs well with: white rum, dark rum, spiced rum. All of the rum!

This week, the team have decided to try their hand at pirating with Libertalia. More like Libert-arrr!-lia, am I right? No.

Spot the theme.
Spot the theme.

If there’s one thing the team have learned from the game, it’s that not one of them makes a good, or indeed effective, pirate. No sir. They did all the right things: dressed in pirate clothing gradually throughout the evening, drank for hours before attempting to win some loot, didn’t listen to the reading of the rules like any true badass pirate would, and yet the cards still did not fall in their favour.

Probably because they were continuously playing the wrong cards.

Is it a board because its a ship, or is it ship because its a board?
Is it a board because its a ship, or is it ship because its a board?

This has been the overriding theme of the game: you will never, ever play a decent card, but everyone around you will. And consistently at that. A majority of the game will be spent playing a card from a hand of 9 against your opponent’s selection much in the top trumps style of ‘highest card picks loot first’. The board has seven sections (representing days of the week), all of which feature a randomly drawn selection of loot.* Loot may include expensive shit like jewels and other shiny things classic pirates like, bad shit like curses, and the ability to murder another player’s card modelled on a particularly shiny scimitar. The player who placed the highest-rated card will pick whichever loot they find most appealing, and the rest will resolve in rank order. Whoever is left at the bottom rungs of the rank will find themselves lumbered with curses (worth negative points) or something else undesirable. Think, the captain’s old socks.

Furthermore, each player will have the same hand of cards as you, which brings out some great ‘will they/won’t they’ scenarios when considering who will play which card, and when. It also makes the fact that everyone always seems to have better cards than you somewhat baffling.

If pirates played cards this is almost certainly what it would look like.
If pirates played cards this is almost certainly what it would look like.

Certainly remembering who has already played which card is what the pros would do – but we are not pros. Instead of simple and logical prediction such as ‘Bob has played the ‘waitress’ card, that means she won’t play that card again this round’, whimsical drunken pirate logic quickly turns that into ‘Bob has played the particularly untrustworthy-looking spaniard** this round, and it’s a Thursday and she had brown rice for dinner last night, therefore she will plat the Captain next’. Lizzy and generic male gaming buddy Pete aren’t falling into this trap at all, leading to most of the loot being split between them.

Misery Pirates.
Misery Pirates.

Fortunately for the Misery Farm, they do know how to ruin a good strategy. Despite many players doing well, winning treasures, and reaping large amounts of doubloons, there are some good back-stabbing abilities present in the game (no, Lizzy, put the knife down.), earning it a decent 6/10 knives in the back for our Brutus Scale. Bob and Briony have quickly taken on board (hey-oh!) that conjuring a good strategy is not for them this evening, and so have been killing off other characters, drinking more, and generally trying to mangle everyone else’s plans. Pirates shouldn’t have plans anyway. But apparently they should have spoons, because that’s the closest thing to a knife lying around.

As the game has progressed the playing field has levelled. The game is played over 3 weeks, which means 3 rounds of working your way through the 7 piles of loot on the board. It must be the Pirate Easter Holiday or something. By week three, Bob and Briony are more or less level with the other more sober players, still somehow consistently playing the least effective cards possible. As the player’s hand of cards change at the beginning of each week new characters and cards are dredged up, making the game more diverse with many possible future variations.

We wonder is she has starfish on her nipples like the Trident's of Smallworld. Doubloon for anyone who can confirm.
We wonder is she has starfish on her nipples like the Trident’s of Smallworld. Doubloon for anyone who can confirm.

In week 3 we encounter ‘Granny Wata’ who is supposed to be some sort of mythical sea sprite, but that matters not, for at the Misery Farm table she will be referred to as what she is portrayed as – ‘watery tart’, ‘Lady of Sea Things’, or indeed ‘that naked blue one’. Now, this card is a tricky one as it requires understanding and predicting your opponent’s strategies – the Granny Wata card only gives a player points when that is the only copy of the card in someone’s den (this is where your pirates go after they’ve been played in the ship, they take their boots off and have a nice sit down and a cuppa). In the final few turns of the game, every single player has managed to think the exact same thing ‘Holy shit, I need to play the naked blue card, cos mega doubloons. Quick, quick, quick!’

This, ladies and gentlemen, has led to an entire ship populated only by watery tarts.

*Slow clapping* well done team, I thought we were good at this board game malarkey. Despite this final mishap every single player has thoroughly enjoyed this game. It’s fast-paced, well-themed, diverse, and really forces you to try and put your dick in other player’s ears***. It turns out if you make the stabbing-in-the-back of your friends pirate themed, it sort out cancels out a lot of the resentment someone would normally feel compared to in other games. In addition this game is excellent to dress up and drink throughout. We recommend a good few play-throughs to anyone. Unless you actually are or have been a pirate, in which case it might just trigger some intense nostalgia and you may need to go to bed early.

The lesser known pirates 'see no evil', 'swish no evil', and 'vegetable peel no evil'.
The lesser known pirates ‘see no evil’, ‘swish no evil’, and ‘vegetable peel no evil’.

*We’d like to point your attention to Shut Up and Sit Down’s review of this game, if you would actually like to know how to play it. We do however take issue with their use of a reference pear in this game, as thematically-speaking some sort of citrus fruit would make more appropriate loot in the context of pirate diseases.**** You can also checkout Tabletop’s play-through, where you actually see it being played. Who knew?

** It turns out that there’s actually quite a lot of ‘era-themed’ racism and sexism in this game. Untrustworthy French people, Spanish spies, serving wenches with their boobs out. As long as you embrace it with a laugh and think ‘oh back in those times…’ we guess that makes it alright?

*** In the fun ‘don’t question this’ sense.

**** Lemons would be best in terms of vitamin C content, but lime would make a tasty daiquiri with all that rum.

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