November Spotlight - Libertalia
Every month at For The Win Board Game Cafe we'll be spotlighting a game of our choice. We'll give an in-depth look at either a new release or a game we feel very passionate about.
This month, we plunder for dubloons and walk the plank in colourful world of Libertalia. From the Conquista to the Queen's Fancy, players voyage the deep blue seas in hopes to collect a fortune large enough to make "Libertalia", a utopian pirate colony, a reality.
Libertalia is a role selection card game, played over the course of three Campaigns (rounds). Each player is given their own deck of Character cards numbered 1 through 30. Of the 30 cards, 9 will be randomly selected for each player to use in the first Campaign of the game. Each campaign lasts 6 days (turns), and each day has its own set of randomly drawn Booty tokens to claim. The highest valued Characters played each day select their Booty first and then Characters are placed in their respective player Dens. Booty tokens and Character cards can award Dubloons (points) to the players. The player who collects the most Dubloons over three Campaigns is proclaimed the winner of the game.
Unlike other role selection games, the players all have access to the available Characters. In games like Citadels, there is a strong emphasis on bluffing and deduction. Libertalia shares those traits, while putting more focus on planning and engine-building. Because everyone's Den is reset after each campaign, it's like playing three short rounds of a game like Race for the Galaxy. And while everyone begins the game with the same 9 Characters, because there are only 6 days in a Campaign, there are at least 3 Characters who will carry over into the next one - diversifying the range of combinations each player can play.
There is one glaring flaw, but it only comes to light after enough plays to memorize particular cards. In order to break ties, each deck of cards has its own individual tie-break values from 1 to 6 on each Character. They are supposed to be balanced so that while certain decks perform well with some Characters, they do poorly on others. However, because not all Characters are selected in every game it leaves room for situations where a tiebreaker can greatly impact the outcome of a Campaign. It's rare, but it definitely spotlights the flaws in the tiebreak system. It just feels like there should have been a more elegant solution.
Upon perusing the wares of the box, one word immediately jumps to mind - rich. Nearly every physical component is uniquely crafted specifically for the game. Custom flag tokens, carefully laser-cut player mats, a board fit for a true pirate captain. No detail is overlooked or under-done.
Each individual character's design is photo-like in realism and quality. I can honestly say I don't think I've ever seen character art as true-to-life as the ones found in Libertalia. This is especially apparent when examining the "Waitress" character card, who is not-so-subtly inspired by Canada's own Elisha Cuthbert. The resemblance is uncanny. Huge props to both Ben Carre and Stéphane Gantiez for their work.
Artistic design is always a two-fold challenge. Incredible visual design in games requires not only beautiful images, but also the ability to be easily deconstructed and processed by the human mind interpreting it. Plenty of card games have beautiful visuals, at the cost of sacrificing legibility. Libertalia is able to mesh its gorgeous designs with unique, thematic card templates that are easy to understand and speed up the learning process.
Libertalia is one of those games where a little taste invokes the curiosity of the player's mind. The more you play, the more you begin to learn powerful interactions between Characters, and building these combinations feels rewarding. As the strategies become more apparent, the player's mind unfolds to the possibilities of the game. Things may not always go the way you planned, but each step contributes to the learning process.
The tempo of the game is kept up by the simultaneous turns, and encourages higher player counts for the style of game. Libertalia isn't a great 2 or even 3 player affair, but from 4 to 6 it really finds its footing. Few games have given me the level of laugh-out-loud, as seeing a ship full of Brutes, and trying to visualize how that day plays out in your head.
It's a shame we never got an expansion. There's so much room for additional Characters or even Booty tokens. Paolo Mori completed one, but it wasn't approved for production. Still, what Libertalia offers out-of-the-box is a complete experience. Over dozens of plays, it still delivers diversity and intriguing strategic opportunities. Libertalia is one of the first games added to my collection, and it still holds up. It's a joy to playthrough with newcomers and veterans alike.