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Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest Review

Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest Review

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Libertalia Overview

Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest is a remake of Libertalia, which came out back in 2012. I’ve never played the original, but this version doesn’t simply feature updated components. It adds more crew cards, a solo mode, and several updated balance tweaks.

You can find a video version of this review on my YouTube Channel

Libertalia is a game about stealing treasure using the crew of an airship. Players send crew members to an island of riches every round, and that simple choice is at the heart of the game. Higher ranking crew members get the first pick of the treasure, while lower ranking ones get to activate their abilities first. The trick is, that these abilities can intertwine and muck up everyone’s plans. The player with the most doubloons at the end of the game wins.

Doubloon tokens and the container that stores them

Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest is a simple game that’s not only fast to set up, but each game flies by quickly. It presents you with just a handful of decisions to make, but each one carries a massive amount of weight for you to strategize over.

Gideon’s BiasLibertalia: Winds of Galecrest Information
Review Copy Used: YesPublisher: Stonemaier Games
Number of Plays: 10+Designer: Paolo Mori
Player Counts Played: 1, 2, 4, and 5Player Count: 1-6
Fan of Genre: YesGenre: Hand Management
Fan of Weight: NoWeight: Light
Gaming Groups Thoughts: Enjoyed ItPrice: $60.00

Presentation

Truth be told. I would have definitely preferred the more realistic pirate setting of the original Libertalia, as opposed to cartoony anthropomorphic animals in Winds of Galecrest. However, I have a strong affinity for brightly colored board games, and Libertalia certainly delivers on that front. The artwork on the cards is well done, and the board is bright and crisp. The visual highlight for me, however, is easily the loot tokens.

They are brightly colored and hefty plastic square tokens that have a great tactile feel, but also draw your eyes to them when they are on the board. Loot tokens represent the treasure your crew is after, and the tokens themselves highlight their importance.

Loot tokens spilled from the bag

The reputation tokens are less fancy but equally colorful, and the score dials are shaped like treasure chests, which is an excellent touch. The component quality is in ship shape between the hefty tokens, solid board, thick loot tiles, well-made score dials, and quality cards.

My biggest complaint is that thematically the ships are airships, which is one of my favorite concepts. But it’s just window dressing. There is no mechanical connection to the airship theme. It only serves to distance itself from the original, which is fine, but a bit of a bummer nonetheless. The game looks great regardless.

Gameplay

The core of Libertalia rests with the crew cards. Most rounds will only require you to make two decisions. Which crew card to play, and which loot token to take. This makes Libertalia fast to learn and easy to teach. The depth comes from the intersecting mechanisms behind those decisions.

Every voyage has a limited number of days, and each day has a limited number of loot tokens. Crew cards have abilities, but so do loot tokens. The board is double-sided, which dictates the abilities of each loot token. The calm side is less aggressive, while the stormy side is more competitive and will appeal to fans of “take that” style games. I fall into the latter, but it’s great that the choice exists.

Libertalia Gameplay example

All players secretly pick a crew card to play and reveal them, aligning them from left to right from lowest rank to highest. Day abilities, marked by a Sun are activated from left to right, then dusk abilities from right to left, at which point each player in that order also chooses a loot token. Then night abilities activate simultaneously for any characters present on a ship. At the end of a voyage, anchor abilities are also simultaneously activated by loot tokens and characters on your ship.

Crewed & Unusual

The key to the game is predicting what card your opponents will play while choosing the card that will give you the best short-term or longtime benefit.

Playing a high-ranking card such as Infantry would give you the first pick of the loot. You could grab that shiny treasure chest, or maybe a map. Not to mention snagging a nice 5 doubloon bonus if he ends up being the rightmost character. However, if someone else chooses to play the Brute, you would get nothing, as your Infantry would be discarded before the dusk phase.

Smuggler, Infantry and Brute Cards

If you play a low-ranking character, you might not have much of a choice when it comes to loot. Some loot tokens are detrimental, the Hook, for example, could make you discard the character you used, meaning they wouldn’t go to your ship.

However, if you plan for it, you can take advantage of the situation. If you play the Smuggler, you get to choose a loot token during the day phase instead, so you could force some other poor sap to take the hook. Or perhaps you just play the Bodyguard and discard all hooks and sabers for money instead. You could play the Scout and replace it once you have seen what cards everyone else chose.

Bodyguard and Scout cards

Libertalia really boils down to two decision points, which card to play and which token to take. But there is so much going on below the deck of those decisions that makes Libertalia scratch a strategical itch and also facilitates a ton of player interaction that isn’t always a direct attack. After all, every card that you play affects them because the order of rank matters, likewise, every card they play affects you.

A side view of the Winds of Galecrest board

Libertalia doesn’t leave with an ocean of paralyzing possibilities, however. You aren’t trying to predict which of the 40 cards the other players will play. Instead, it draws a line in the sand by limiting those possibilities each turn in a way that makes every game feel different. Your hand of cards begins the same as everyone else and then diverges over time.

Nautical Divergence

At the start of each round, one player shuffles their deck and draws six cards, every other player then searches for their own copies of those exact cards. I’m a big fan of asymmetry, so I hated the idea at first. However, Libertalia is clever in the fact that the game only starts symmetrical, it becomes asymmetrical over time. Not only that, but asymmetry is a fundamental part of planning your turn.

Since every other player has the same cards you do, you can use this perfect information to try and weasel your way into the most effective move. With 40 character cards, any combination is going to have a variety of possibilities that are also affected by which loot tokens are present. Loot tokens are randomized every voyage.

A variety of crew cards

After a couple of days, the plot thickens because you and the other players no longer have the same cards. If you keep track of what they played, that could give you an advantage. It allows you to know what ranks could be played in order to have dibs on the loot. It could also mean your abilities are more or less effective.

Maybe you want to play the Collector. The catch is, that his anchor ability only goes off if he is on your ship during the anchoring phase, and the Gunner was a part of everyone’s hand, which discards a rival character from an opposing ship.

Gunner and Collector cards

The Collector would be a prime target. You could wait for the Gunners to be used, or even bait them out with another card. But your opponents will also try to predict what you’re doing, do you think they realize you still have your Collector, if they do, will they hold back the Gunner the entire game just in case?

Libertalia is full of little mind games like that. While the bluffing might not be in your face, it’s still there in satisfyingly subtle ways. This progressive asymmetry becomes more and more pronounced with each round as you never play all your cards during a round. Each player will have leftovers when they add six fresh cards, and they likely aren’t the same leftovers you have.

Reputation

The reputation system is another subtle, but important aspect of Libertalia. If you and another player choose the same cards, the player with the higher reputation is considered the higher rank. Reputation also gives doubloons at the start of each round, the right most giving the least. The reputation system makes for an intuitive tie breaker and an unobtrusive scale to balance alongside the rest of the game.

A close up view of the reputation track and tokens

Several cards and some loot tokens interact with the reputation track. The stormy side of the Amulet tokens grants money for each reputation to the right of yours, for example. A high or low rep can have its own advantages. A high reputation breaks ties in your favor but grants less money. However, gaining a reputation when you’re at the max grants money instead. On the flip side, the lowest reputation gives the most bonus money, but reducing it further costs you money.

It’s a simple elegant system that not only solves potential hiccups but serves as a solid way to reinforce the game’s strategic potential.

Player Count

I played Libertalia at several player counts, and the game feels somewhat different at them all. This can be a pro or con depending on your perspective. I generally prefer games to maintain the same feel throughout, however, Libertalia plays very well at every count I played.

Four and five felt like they held closest to the game’s spirit, and I imagine three and six would feel similar. It’s a chaotic sea of character interactions and botched plans. It becomes much more difficult to keep track of what characters everyone has played as the player count increases, but it increases the potential to try and leverage multiple players to your advantage.

A close up of character cards on the island board

At two players. Libertalia felt like a tight duel of wits, and the Midshipman tile reinforces this fact. The Midshipman is used during two-player games for both players to take advantage of. With only two of you, just two characters get played each day. However, the Midshipman has a rank of 20.5. If a character ends up being directly to the left of it, the other player gets to discard a loot token before they get to choose.

There are only three loot tokens per day in a two-player game. The Midshipman sets the stage to not only battle for what loot you want, but what loot you can potentially force the other player to take, such as the nasty money-consuming cursed relics. The game feels much more combative at two, but that was a plus for me, and I really enjoy it.

The midshipman tile for two player games

In solo play, you fight against a clever automa. The automa is very simple to run, and it’s interesting because it’s entirely predictable. However, there is a second automa thrown in that doesn’t do anything except play a card purely for its rank to keep you from gaming the real automa. It makes Libertalia feel more like an intense puzzle, and a fun one at that.

A Bit of Scurvy

For the most part, Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest is a tight package that’s difficult to pick at. But there are a few things that bother me. Most games of Libertalia are pretty close, and that’s great. However, if you happen to make a couple of really bad plays early on, it feels nearly impossible to catch back up. You really have to be okay with finishing out a game where it’s clear you’re going to lose. Luckily Libertalia is a pretty fast game, so you won’t usually wait long.

A picture of the Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest box

I also had the occasional starting hand of cards where there was no advantageous play to be had due to where I sat on the reputation track and the loot tokens present. The best I could do was mitigate the damage. It didn’t happen often, but it felt really bad when it did.

There are a few references to adjacent players, which sit directly beside you on your right or left for certain effects. Primarily the stormy Saber’s effect to discard a character. This caused situations where I was unable to target a player in the lead because they weren’t seated adjacent to me. Worse yet, at one point I had to kick the player in dead last while they were down because they were the only ones I could target.

The chest shaped score dials

The adjacency restriction feels limiting in a bad way. Maybe it was meant to prevent kingmaking or dogpiling, but it just felt like my agency was being taken away for arbitrary reasons. Especially because it only matters in player counts of four and higher.

Verdict

Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest manages to be a satisfyingly deep game that’s still lightweight. In my experience, the two rarely go hand in hand. But the game puts a lot of potential thought behind the very simple decisions that it asks you to make.

Its highly interactive nature is great, even though much of it is subtle. Since most of the decision-making is simultaneous, the game moves at a quick pace, and it’s very fast to set up and put away. I love the memory component of keeping track of what cards the other players have played. It really adds a lot to the progressing asymmetry of everyone’s hands. It also has the added bonus of keeping everyone glued to the table and off their phones. That’s always a good thing.

A messy pile of character cards

Libertalia’s imperfections are small enough that I have no problem admitting that I’m being nit-picky when I point them out. The game truly is great and one of few light games that has ever managed to win me over.

It’s easy to learn, has an excellent rule book, and has very little fiddly overhead. With the fast setup, quick tear down, short playtime, and pretty components, I think it should be able to hit the table without intimidating anyone. The fact that it provides a satisfying voyage of strategy alongside all of that is nothing short of a brilliant newly christened ship ready to set sail.

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Pros

  • Fast set up, tear down, and playtime
  • Great looking quality components
  • Works great at all player counts
  • Simple to learn
  • Plenty of interaction between players as character cards intertwine
  • Progressive asymmetry is brilliant
  • The reputation system is nifty
  • The double-sided board allowing for a simpler less aggressive game or a more complex more competitive game is nice
  • Simple decisions, but deep decision making

Cons

  • The Skyship theme is simple window dressing
  • Anthromorphic animals and cartoony artwork won’t appeal to everyone
  • If you fall too far behind, there’s not much you can do
  • The adjacency rule feels bad and limits agency
  • The game does feel different between solo play, two players, and higher player counts.