Back in 2012, the pirate-themed title Libertalia, from a then little-known designer called Paolo Mori hit the shelves. Its blend of bluffing and hand management with that popular piratical theme made it a minor hit — but after stock sold out it sunk without trace.
As it transpired, it’s a favourite of Stonemaier game’s Jamey Stegmaier, who has now bought the considerable might of his publishing house to issue a new edition. Moving the action from the high seas to the higher skies, Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest (see it at Amazon) adds some new cards and refreshes the components for modern production values.
What’s In The Box
Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest is mostly a card game, with an identical deck for each player, and the cards themselves are something of a letdown. While sturdy enough for play, the art, depicting anthropomorphic pirate animals, is odd. The aim is to emphasise the move from the high seas to high fantasy but the execution is lacking.
Other components are much better. There’s a big bag of chunky plastic loot tiles to draw from, similar to those in Azul, which slide and clack in a most satisfying manner as you rummage around amongst them. Players have score dials to track their booty and there are also coin tokens with a fun little plastic treasure chest to keep them in.
The only other component is a board plus some tiles to place on it to vary the effects of the loot tokens. It’s double-sided, printed with player aids and everything is laid out in a neat and effective manner to help facilitate the gameplay.
Rules and How it Plays
At the start of Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest, one player shuffles their deck of forty crew cards and draws six at random. The other players then go fishing in their own decks and draw out the same, matching cards. So everyone starts with the same cards. You also draw out one loot tile per player to lay on the board for each day of the upcoming voyage. There are three such voyages, starting at four days and then increasing to five and six.
Each day players must choose a card from their hand in secret. The card will have a rank number and one or more special powers. Once all players have chosen, the cards are arranged in rank order and their “day” powers get activated from left to right, in increasing rank. Then, their “dusk” powers get activated in the opposite direction, highest rank first, after which the owning player can choose a loot tile from that day’s selection. These loot tiles sometimes also have a dusk effect which happens as they are picked. Finally, a few cards have a “night” effect which is applied simultaneously.
That’s pretty much all the rules: it’s very easy to learn and teach the basic game flow. But beware, because the devil is in the details. The special powers on both crew and tiles are very varied and spice proceedings up like a tot of rum. At the same time, the information you need to play strategically is printed on the cards and tile effects and makes the game feel more complicated to newcomers than the tiny rule booklet.
Let’s illustrate this with an example. Loot tiles aren’t all equal in value: indeed one, the Relic, costs you points if you collect it. So if there’s a day with a couple of Relic tiles among the loot and you have the rank 5 card Cabin Boy, you might be tempted to play it. The Cabin Boy’s “day” power nets you gold if he’s the leftmost card, which is likely given that he’s rank 5. At “dusk” he stops you from taking any loot which, if it’s a Relic, is quite helpful. So he looks like an easy choice: except all the other players will have a Cabin Boy and they’ll all be thinking the same thing. All of a sudden he’s not likely to be the leftmost card anymore, and you might want to reconsider. Unless all the other players are also thinking that same thing, in which case …
And so the decisions go on, like a galleon spinning in an endless whirlpool, until you’ve tried to out-think all the double-think and come to a conclusion. After the tension of waiting for the other players, you go up the scale and back down again, scrabbling to try and work out what the cascade of powers is going to be and what loot you’re going to secure. It’s a neat mechanic with plenty of scope for excitement, planning and bluff. At the same time, the simultaneous choice of cards means your strategies can and will get torpedoed through no fault of your own, which can be unsatisfying.
At the end of each voyage, some cards and most loot tokens also have an “anchor” power that activates. These mostly net you some bonus gold but there are fun exceptions such as the hook token that lets you keep a card you’ve played in your tableau, which can be handy if it has an ongoing “night” effect. Libertalia: Wind of Galecrest makes full use of the simple day, dusk, night and anchor system to come up with some really engaging effect combos, ensuring there’s plenty of variety among its motley crew. The flip side of the board even has a whole new set of loot token effects to increase player interaction.
Before starting a new voyage, players get six new cards for their hand — and this is where things really start to heat up. Although all players get the same six cards, chances are they played different cards during the preceding voyage which means everyone is now holding different hands. This brings a memory element into the game as you’ll be at an advantage if you can recall what other players are holding; but either way, it opens up more variety in potential effect combos. Despite this fresh blood, the arbitrary nature of simultaneous play does make the hour-odd play time feel a little overlong.
One thing that comes as a particular surprise for a game that thrives off having lots of cards working in opposition to each other is that it works well as both a solo board game and a two-player board game. Played solitaire, there’s a simple AI system to choose cards from an opponent’s hand together with a random “pilferer” card to mix up the order. With two players, there’s a dummy rank 20 card that punishes low play by stealing a loot token if both players have cards that rank below it. These are neat, simple solutions that keep the game fast and fun at every player count.