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 Action Point 2, we discussed 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. In Action Point 3, we covered the cards that drive the action and provide interesting Events that ground the game in history. In this Action Point, we will talk about the general Sequence of Play and the Victory Conditions and cover examples of the different actions players can take by discarding the cards.
Sequence of Play
The game is played over the course of six years stretching from 1801-1806 and each of these year long Turns consists of what is called the Start of Year Phase followed by four Seasonal Rounds.
The four Seasonal Rounds represent Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter and have no other special rules or conditions about them
Start of the Year Phase
At the outset of each year of the game, the Seasonal Marker is reset to the Spring space. The American player will then take any American Frigates from that year on the Year Turn Track and place them in the harbor of Gibraltar ready for their use. The Tripolitan player will also take any Tripolitan Frigates from that year on the Year Turn Track and place
them in the harbor of Tripoli.
Each turn the players will draw 6 total cards from their deck. These decks contain 27 cards so over the course of the 6 turn game, 36 cards will be drawn, with the deck being reshuffled once. The decks will first be exhausted as you go into the 1805 turn as there should be 3 cards left in each of the decks. This means that the player will have to shuffle their
discard pile together to create a new draw pile and then draws six cards.
If you paid attention to our last Action Point, we discussed the cards and how important some of the Events are to each of the strategies for the two sides. In order to make sure that all cards are available to the players throughout the game, there is a special rule for the start of the 1806 Turn.
At the start of 1806, the players will draw all of the cards remaining in their draw deck. But remember, that the hand limit is 8 cards so the players will have to take all of these cards and pair them down to the hand limit making difficult decisions about what is and isn’t needed for the current situation.
Remember though that the Core Cards in front of each player do not count toward the eight card limit.
This is probably the only part of the game that I was disappointed with. Why you might ask? Well, I just feel that one of the most interesting parts of any Card Driven Game is the management of your hand and knowing when to play cards, and when to hold onto them for a later situation (you know that old Kenny Rogers song “known when to hold ’em…). You still have to do this through the first 5 Turns of the game but at the end when you are able to draw all of the cards that takes away from the tension with hand management. You don’t have to guess if that card you really need will be in the final few cards that you are drawing or will remain in your deck as you go down in flames. I think that this actually takes out a bit of what makes the game great but on the other hand, and in the interest of making a game that is playable and provides each player with the same opportunity to win, the draw the rest of your deck rule is included. So, the game is still great, and interesting, but it makes it more about getting what you need when you need it than about planning and making sure you either keep what you need when it gets drawn or risk not drawing it.
Anyways, after the Start of Year Phase, the players will move into the meat of the game called the Seasonal Rounds.
Each Seasonal Round consists of just three steps including the American player playing a single card, for either the printed event or discarding it to take an action, followed by the Tripolitan player doing the same and then the End of Season, which means you will move the Seasonal Marker from the ending season to the next season. These Actions are quite a bit different for both the American player and the Tripolitan player. Let’s take a look at the different Actions that can be taken by discarding a card rather than playing it.
The American player may do any one of the following Actions by discarding one of their cards from hand:
• Discard a card to move up to two Frigates. These Frigates can be located in different spaces and can be moved anywhere on the board and don’t have to end together. This is the main way that the American player can move their Frigates around to put pressure on the Tripolitan Corsairs and protect against Piracy. You might be asking how you move your Gunboats with the Frigates? This is a good question and we will cover this in the Action Point where we cover Naval Movement, Naval Bombardment and Naval Combat.
• Discard a card to build a Gunboat in Malta. Once a card is discarded to build a Gunboat, the Gunboat is always placed in the harbor at Malta. It can only be moved as a part of a Naval Bombardment or Naval Combat. The player can only ever have 3 Gunboats on the board at any given time. If a Gunboat is destroyed, it is removed from the board and placed into the United States Supply Box and can be rebuilt by discarding a card on a future turn.
The Tripolitan player may do any one of the following Actions by discarding one of their cards from hand:
• Discard a card to Pirate Raid with the Corsairs from Tripoli. This is one of the key Actions for the Tripolitan player and will be what a lot of their card discards are typically used for. If you remember from our last Action Point, the Corsairs in their Allies harbors are only activated by an Event Card.
• Discard a card to build a Tripolitan Corsair in Tripoli. As important as the Pirate Raid is for the Tripolitan player, making Corsairs so that they can carry out more numerous Pirate Raids is secondarily important.
Just a few other key points about these Actions is that a player may never pass their turn, unless they are out of cards in their hand. This can happen if a player was holding several Battle Cards and used them all in a previous Battle. A player’s Core Cards may not be discarded to take an Action as they can only be used for their printed events. Once each player has played 4 cards, one in each of the Seasonal Rounds, the current year will come to an end and a new year will begin.
I have found that players should try to play their cards for the Events as they typically offer better benefits than simply discarding a card. But in reality, sometimes the Event Cards that you have in your hand at the time are simply not what you need done. It basically comes down to an Event to discard ratio of about 60/40, meaning that a majority of the time Events are played. But this ratio is not a hard and fast rule as it simply depends upon the situation and what the player needs to accomplish this turn or for the year.
Now that we have looked at the Actions, let’s take a quick look at the how the game is won with the various Victory Conditions.
This game is a very well designed asymmetric game that treats each side differently, with not only how they go about their business of waging this war, but also in how they can win it. The American player wins the game by either forcing the Tripolitan player to sign a peace treaty favorable to the Americans or by capturing Tripoli and installing Hamet Qaramanli on the throne.
These conditions each are accomplished with the skillful play of various cards founds in the American Deck. If the American player is able to meet the conditions of and play the Treaty of Peace and Amity Event Card, the game immediately ends in an American victory. For this card to be played, the American player must meet four requirements, which are clearly listed on the Event Card.
The Treaty of Peace and Amity Event Card reflects the historical result of the conflict. First, it must be the Fall of 1805 or later. Which means that the Tripolitan player has at least 18 turns to achieve their Victory Conditions. The other conditions are that all of the other Barbary States must be at peace with the United States including Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, that the American player must have captured the city of Derne and that Tripoli does not have any Frigates located in the harbor of Tripoli. If these conditions exist it reflects that Tripoli has been painted into a corner and is therefore opting to agree to the terms of the offered treaty.
If all four of these requirements are met, Yusuf Qaramanli will concede and sign the peace treaty.
The other way that the American player may win is by capturing Tripoli, which can be a difficult proposition because it involves a lot of cards and things going their way early on. In order to capture Tripoli, the American player plays the Assault on Tripoli Event Card and must eliminate the Tripolitan Navy in Naval Combat and then eliminate the Tripolitan Army
in Ground Combat. The Assault on Tripoli may not be played prior to the Fall of 1805. Conquering Tripoli actually reflects the “what if” scenario of Eaton’s original plan. Of course, the United States must actually win the battle for the American player to win the game but the American player is able to bring the entire fleet for the Naval Battle and even send in some sharpshooting Marines to assist the Arab/American Army for the ground battle, but the final result will be in the hands of the dice.
The Tripolitan player wins by simply making the cost too high for the United States and forcing them into submitting to Tripolitania and paying tribute. The Tripolitan player can achieve this result in three different ways.
First, if the Tripolitan player acquires twelve gold then the game will end immediately. The Tripolitan player can gain gold by receiving tribute and engaging in acts of piracy. Gold acquired by Tripolitan Allies also counts
towards this goal. Remember that each time the Tripolitan player conducts a Pirate Raid they will roll a die for each Corsair involved and will collect one gold for each roll of 5 or 6. Sometimes the dice are kind and this can happen fairly quickly but sometimes you will have to keep up continual efforts to raid and hope that your luck will change and you start gaining gold. There is also the dastardly Sweden Pays Tribute Event Card that allows the Tripolitan player to send the Swedish Frigates home and force them to pay two gold coins in tribute. This can be used to put the pressure on the American player by getting closer to twelve coins or can be used to push them over the edge and collect the final few coins needed to reach the goal of twelve.
The second way to win is for the Tripolitan player to sink a total of four American Frigates. The moment that this happens, the game will end immediately. The Tripolitan player can sink American Frigates in one of two ways. In Naval Combat and by the play of several Event Cards including Storms and The Philadelphia Runs Aground.
The final way is if the Tripolitan player ever eliminates Hamet’s Army. If this happens the game ends immediately. Because the Tripolitan Infantry is stationary and doesn’t move throughout the game, this can only really happen while they are defending the cities of Derne, Benghazi or Tripoli from attack by Hemet’s Army. This would require some really poor dice rolling and the addition of reinforcements through the play of Event Cards like Troops to Benghazi to make taking these cities as difficult as possible and ultimately whittling down their numbers for that final killing blow.
If after a full game of 6 years, neither the American player nor the Tripolitan player has reached their Victory Conditions, then the game will end in a draw.
This game is really fairly straight forward in how to win and how to play as the rules are fairly simple and intuitive and what each side needs to accomplish is very clear. The game boils down to which player can learn their strategies well, while keeping in mind what their opponent can do and how they are trying to win, and then execute those strategies.
In Action Point 5, which is the final entry in this series, we will take a look at a few examples of things like Naval Movement, Naval Combat, Naval Bombardment and Ground Combat.