I have never played a historical wargame on the First Barbary War, which if you didn’t know was one of the first major wars the young United States of America participated in that was situated far outside their sphere of influence in North and South America. Shortly after the end of the American Revolutionary War, commercial vessels of the United States were being attacked and raided by the pirates of the Barbary coast in the Mediterranean Sea. In 1801, newly inaugurated President Thomas Jefferson was eager to put an end to this threat and sent a “squadron of observation” to the Mediterranean to deal with the threat. The Shores of Tripoli covers this conflict and does so using a card driven game mechanic that works really well in this instance. The game is a little deceiving, as at first it appears to be pretty introductory with simple rules and mechanics, but the depth for the game lies in the strategy for each side and the fact that their victory conditions are asymmetric.

In Action Point 1, we covered the Game Map and the different locations including harbors, naval patrol zones and the open sea. In this Action Point, we will discuss the differences between the units of the United States and her Allies and Tripolitania and her Allies and how they are used in the game.

The United States and Allies


American Frigates are the main assets of the United States Navy. Each American Frigate will use two dice when rolling in Naval Combat, Bombardment or an Interception attempt. These Frigates are also fairly hardy and will take two hits to sink. The American player will use their Frigates to set up blockades that their adversaries the Corsairs will have to pass through on their way to pirating commercial shipping in the Mediterranean.

At setup, the American player will place three Frigates in the harbor of Gibraltar and will then place one Frigate each on the 1802, 1803, and 1804 spaces on the Year Turn Track. Additional Frigates can be had through the play of various Event cards.


American Gunboats simply provide additional firepower to the American fleet. Each American Gunboat will use only one die in Naval Combat and Bombardment but do not participate in Interception if they are located in the same patrol zone as American Frigates. They are also less hardy than Frigates as they only take one hit to sink. These Gunboats are created by discarding a card to build a single Gunboat in Malta. The American player is limited to a maximum of three Gunboats.

If the American player decides to move Frigates to Bombard a Tripolitan city or engage an enemy fleet in a harbor, any Gunboats that are currently at port in Malta may also be moved with the fleet and they will not count against the number of Frigates being moved that turn. Also, if American Frigates are moving to multiple locations, the American player can allocate the Gunboats in any way that they want.

Swedish Frigates

Swedish Frigates are represented by yellow Frigate pieces and can only patrol the naval patrol zone of Tripoli. The Swedish Frigates act as an American Frigate and roll two dice when rolling an Interception. Swedish Frigates do not move from where they are originally placed and neither do
they participate in Naval Combat.

Swedish Frigates are only gained by the United States player when they play the Swedish Frigates Arrive card for the Event. Once they are placed in the naval patrol zone of Tripoli, they can only patrol those waters and as mentioned offer assistance only in Interception attempts. Once played to bring on the Swedish Frigates, the card is removed from the game and placed in the box.

Hamet’s Army

While the main combatants in the game are naval units, there are ground units as well that must be used to try and take Tripoli to win the game. The American ground units consist of Hamet’s Army, which is a combined force of Arab and American infantry units that are dedicated to the mission of installing the pro-American Hamet Qaramanli on the Tripolitan throne. These ground units consist of white cubes that represent the Arab Infantry and blue cubes that represent American Marines. In Ground Combat, each Infantry unit rolls one die and it takes one hit for them to be eliminated.

Hamet’s Army can only come to be if the United States player plays the card Hamet’s Army Created for the Event. There are several conditions to the card being played though as it must be the Spring of 1804 or later and there has to be at least one American Frigate located in the Alexandria harbor. Once played to bring on Hamet’s Army the card is removed from the game and placed in the box.

Tripolitania and Allies

Tripolitan Corsairs

Tripolitan Corsairs are used by the Tripolitan player to carry out their work of piracy against the commercial shipping of the United States and her Allies. In fact, the Corsairs and their illegal activities was what drew the attention of President Thomas Jefferson who then sent the American Navy to the Mediterranean to deal with these pirates. Each Tripolitan Corsair rolls one die in Naval Combat or when making a Pirate Raid. They are not really warships and don’t have the strength to stand up to much fire so take just one hit to be sunk.

At setup, the Tripolitan player will place two Corsairs in the harbor of Gibraltar and four Corsairs in the harbor of Tripoli. These Corsairs can be created by discarding a card and the new Corsair must be placed in Tripoli.

Tripolitan Frigates

Tripolitan Frigates are mainly used to defend Tripoli and do not participate in Pirate Raids. They are identical in every way to American Frigates. Each Tripolitan Frigate will roll two dice in Naval Combat. Tripolitan Frigates also take two hits to sink.

The only way that the Tripolitan player can actually gain a Frigate is through the play of The Philadelphia Runs Aground card as an Event. The card requires that at least one American Frigate is located in the naval patrol zone of Tripoli in order to be played. The Tripolitan player then rolls a die and if the result is a 5 or 6, they take the American Frigate as sunk (this is one of their victory conditions to sink four American Frigates) and then place one of their two available Frigate pieces in the harbor.

Tripolitan Infantry

Tripolitan Infantry defend the Tripolitan cities of Derne, Benghazi and Tripoli from invasion by Hamet’s Army. Each Tripolitan Infantry rolls one
die in Ground Combat and takes just one hit to be eliminated.

At setup, the Tripolitan player will place four Infantry in Tripoli and two each in Benghazi and Derne. There are a few cards that if played for the Event will create new Infantry units but these are limited to being placed in named cities and only if they have not been captured by Hamet’s Army.

The Allies of Tripolitania – Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia

The Tripolitan player has access to the forces of several of her historical allies in the struggle against the United States of America. These allies include Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia and they may join the war through the play of Event cards at which time they will become active. Their units will be placed into their named harbors of Tangier (Morocco), Algiers (Algeria) and Tunis (Tunisia).

A Tripolitan ally is considered to be active or at war if there are any of their Corsairs located in their harbors. Moroccan, Algerine, and Tunisian Corsairs act the same as Tripolitan Corsairs and will roll just one die when rolling in Naval Combat or making a Pirate Raid. They also take just one hit to be sunk.

There are just three Event cards contained in the Tripolitan player deck that allow the placement of Allied Corsairs into their harbors. When these cards are played for the Event, the cards are removed from the game and placed in the box.

Now that you have an idea about what different units are available to each player, how they are placed and generally what they can do, you can see that this game is not just a one trick pony but there are several different tactics that players can use to carry out their goals in the game. Remember, that the game is designed with each side being asymmetric so they both play differently and have different uses for their units. Finding out how best to use them is part of the fun of the experience.

In Action Point 3, we will cover the cards that drive the action and provide interesting Events that ground the game in history.