30 August 2022
It’s a pirate’s life for one of us
Ah, history-themed games. That phrase is either a trigger for you to run a mile, or sit down with a nice beverage to read and relish the historical notes compiled by the designer. The Shores of Tripoli is one such game – and if you’re familiar with the story of the USA’s post revolution problems with, er, losing entire merchant ships to pirates – you’ll be able to pick this up with a quick skim of the rules. For the rest of us, it’s a surprisingly simple system of ‘do what the card says’ for event cards, or discard cards for generic actions. Generally the US player is attempting to take Tripoli and keep hold of all their gold without losing too many ships. The Tripolitania and Allies desire the opposite.
This is all handled by generating boats at ports, and moving them into different blockading positions for the US player. Eventually they’ll also mount a land war and the final invasion of Tripoli itself (a battle that has to be resolved to the death). The Tripolitania and co will be attempting pirate raids to gather all twelve of the US player’s coins (this is exactly as fun to pull off as it sounds) or to sink four of the American Frigates. It’s all very simply and deftly managed with port zones (for attacking and recruiting to) and patrol zones (for trying to sink pirates as they head out to the floating Uncle Sam ATM), movement between them is limited by the number of vessels, not distance, making it a very free-flowing game. Had this been an abstract we’d have given it the ‘asymmetrical chess’ nod.
It might be that this reviewer has developed a soft spot for simply resolved dice combat, but there’s oars of it here. Roll sixes to destroy or damage ships (the Frigates roll two dice and have two health) – and if the pirate player sinks one in a single combat round, that gets returned to their side of the board like a little hunting trophy. Is this combat particularly complex or rewarding beyond the fun of randomly bashing against one another – not really – but we cannot deny we had a really good time with it.
The power curve of the game offers interesting choices. It’s very frustrating for the US player early on, but as each year progresses and they get reinforcement frigates, they become more and more powerful. The early race to make protecting the ships unprofitable from the Tripolitania player gives way to attempting to survive, as combat becomes more central to the game. This balance makes for increasingly fraught turns towards the end as one player tries to hold on under the barrage of the other. The (almost always) guaranteed dramatic finale of the game is also welcome.
And with all of that, it’s excellent – a great entry into the world of card-based historical games, even if the subject doesn’t yet interest you, yet.
Christopher John Eggett
PLAY IT? YES
A great way into wargames with an interesting naval twist. For those with an interest in the period this should be an immediate purchase.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED 300: Earth and Water…
If you liked the back and forth of 300: Earth & Water but would like a game six or seven times the size, then The Shores of Tripoli is a great upgrade.
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