For the love of sweaty, bearded, backstabbing men – A Libertalia review

When you fall in love you know it. That heady mixture of anxiety, hypoglycemia and indigestion. The mind and body locked in a struggle to see which part of you can exhibit the greatest regression to a less evolved state(unless you’re not a dualist, which I’m not, then the previous sentence is a load of bollocks). Puffs of invisible fragrance on the air fire off a cryptomnesiac reaction that increases your pulse and leaves your skin tingling. Your mood swings between euphoria and debilitating self doubt. When you’re in love you’re alive. Ecstatically, cripplingly alive!

When it is good, love is the simple reason to live. The thing that powers us through that assault course of reek and noise that we euphemistically refer to as a ‘commute’. The thing that justifies all of those shitty hours at that drudge of a job. The thing that drenches all of the grey and dirty brown of life in rich and vibrant colour. Love is the simple affirmation and acme of all that we can be.

This is a piece about love. A love that has lasted. A love that no longer boils in the head swimming confusion of its early life, but a love that has aged and, like the sun in autumn, bathes me in a nourishing, gentle warmth. This is a piece about the Paulo Mori masterpiece Libertalia.

Libertalia Box W.Eric Martin
Gold is the language of love

There are games that just click. The hieroglyphs in the rule book coalesce in the brain into electrical signals that move limbs in a way that generates enjoyment.  Electricity crackles between the players and waves of hilarity and shock smash up against the cliffs of your mind in exhilarating regularity. There are games that don’t fail. There are games that just work.

Libertalia is one of those games.

Cards Marcin Moscicki
Photo by Marci Moscicki

We all play itinerant pirate captains that have made a brief stop in the anarchist paradise of Libertalia and, through a mixture of animal wrangling, arm twisting and outright murder we are trying to leave Madagascar with the most booty stuffed into our holds.

We do this by the astute deployment of members of our crew and local dignitaries who show no compunction in getting their beaks wet. Each notable is represented by a card with a special power and a ranking, sitting in a series of decks that are the same for all of the players.

One player shuffles their deck and draws nine cards. Then the rest of the players draw the same nine cards and the game begins.

Cards do a variety of game-breaking actions. You can knock the highest ranking card out of the round. You can play cards that sit in front of you for the round and pull in money every turn. There are cards that pay out immediately but carry a stern round end penalty if you don’t manage to bump them off before that.  Cards effects combine and bounce off each other in cascades of unintended consequences that that can make your day or piss on your bonfire. What is so clever is that we know what everyone is holding in their hands and from that proceeds a game of bluff and counter bluff in an attempt to play that right card at that right time.

Great games are not just distractions or ways to kill time. Great games are compulsions, they are obsessions. Great games make you impatient for your turn because great games transmute the simple act of laying a card or taking a piece into a reverie. Great games make you feel exceptionally clever or hilariously stupid and great games leave a feeling of wellbeing that bleeds into all other aspects of your life. Great games do all of these things and Libertalia is a great game.

Set up Jeremy Hope
Photo by Jeremy Hope

The real joy in Libertalia lies in timing. When you make a devastating blow or a combination that yields a waterfall of gold. There is also the ever present fear that your beautifully constructed plan could be destroyed by the machinations of those around the table and it is the anticipation of success or failure that accompanies every card play that propels you through the game. Success makes you want to emulate that success in a subsequent play and failure fills you with the determination to get it right the next time.  Great games demand to played regularly and the greatest never fall out of your rotation and as long as I game I will play Libertalia.

Youthful passions can be intense but fleeting but nothing feeds the soul like a deep and resonant love. Although I may wander I will always come back to Libertalia.

-Ben

 

 

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