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 Action Point 4, we covered the general Sequence of Play and the Victory Conditions and looked at examples of the different actions players can take by discarding cards. In this Action Point, which is the conclusion to the series, we will take a look at a few examples of things like Naval Movement, Naval Combat, Naval Bombardment and Ground Combat.

Naval Movement

As you may remember from our discussion of the Game Map in our first post in this series, the board consists of fourteen different naval locations made up of nine harbors and five naval patrol zones where the American player may move their Frigates. If the player is playing an Event Card to move, there may be restrictions on where they can move in the text of the Event, but generally the player can move from any naval location to any other naval location on the board. Movement is not an exciting part of the game but is very important, particularly for the American player, so they can get their Frigates into the correct locations to attack their enemies and create a barrier against which the negative effects of piracy can be minimized.

If American Frigates are moved to a friendly harbor, which are colored blue and include Gibraltar, Malta and Alexandria, or any Naval Patrol Zone then no further action is necessary for that Naval Movement. American Gunboats that start their turn in Malta may never be moved to another friendly harbor or a Naval Patrol Zone. These Gunboats can only be moved from a friendly harbor to accompany Frigates on their way to perform a Naval Combat or Naval Bombardment of an enemy harbor. This is key to how these Gunboats are used and you have to plan or your purchase of them will have been wasted.

If American Frigates are moved to a harbor that contains any enemy ships, including the harbors of Tripoli, Algiers, Tangier or Tunis, then a Naval Battle will commence. We will cover Naval Combat in a moment in this post. If American Frigates are moved to a harbor that does not contain enemy ships but the city does contain Tripolitan Infantry, such as Derne and Benghazi, a Naval Bombardment will be initiated and we will also cover this in its own section.

If the American player is moving Frigates to initiate a Naval Bombardment of a Tripolitan city or to engage a Tripolitan fleet or their Allies in a harbor, any Gunboats from Malta may also be moved. It is very important to remember though that these Gunboats do not count against the number of Frigates that are being moved. Remember, by discarding a card to perform Naval Movement, the player can only move 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. If American Frigates are moving to different locations, then the Gunboats available may be allocated among the moving Frigates as the American player wishes.

Naval Movement is kind of the staple action of the American player as they will literally have to move their fleets around the board to try to stamp out the fires of the pirates as they appear. Because your actions are limited by your cards, and the fact that you have only have 6 cards per round to use, you must not waste your movements and have to somewhat be planning ahead to the future. You really need to decide how much you have to move before you commit to moving as if you move your Frigates all the way across the board to take out just 2 Corsairs in a harbor, you then must move that same fleet back to another location to take out the new problem that has arisen. I am not saying that you don’t want to move just for a few Corsairs but you have to think about your plan and what is happening on the board before you commit to too much movement and find that you are strung out and can’t do what really needs to be done. I know that I said movement is not that exciting but it is key and a good player will know when they need to move and when they can hold that movement a bit longer.

Naval Combat

Now let’s get to the good stuff. Naval Combat happens when American ships move into a harbor containing enemy ships. Simple as that. The two exceptions to this are in the neutral harbor of Gibraltar where it is possible for both American Frigates and Tripolitan Corsairs to coexist peacefully under the mighty British fleet or if the American active Event Card is A Show of Force or Tribute Paid. Both of these Event Cards direct the removal of the Algerine, Moroccan or Tunisian Corsairs anchored there.

As mentioned American Gunboats from Malta may join any battle in a harbor if they were moved there for that intent along with the Frigates.
Naval Combat also occurs if the Tripolitan active Event Card is Tripoli Attacks and there are American Frigates located in the Naval Patrol Zone of Tripoli. Any Swedish Frigates in the Naval Patrol Zone of Tripoli at that time will not take part in the Naval Combat. Additionally, Naval Combat occurs if the Tripolitan Active Event Card is any of the Algiers/Morocco/Tunis Declares War Cards and there are American Frigates in the corresponding harbor when the three Algerine/Moroccan/Tunisian Corsairs are placed from the Event. In either of these cases, the American player is not the active player and may not bring Gunboats to participate in the Naval Battle.

There is a simple to follow process for Naval Combat that involves several steps as follows:

First, players will announce if they plan to use any Battle Cards during the battle. The cards that can be used include Preble’s Boys Take Aim for the Americans but only if the battle is in a harbor and The Guns of Tripoli for the Tripolitans if the battle takes place in the harbor of Tripoli, with the American player announcing first as this card is a reaction.

Preble’s Boys Take Aim is a Battle Card that allows the American player to roll three dice for each American Frigate involved in the battle instead of the normal two. It only allows these extra dice to be rolled during the first round of combat though if being used during the Assault on Tripoli.

The Guns of Tripoli is a very powerful card for the Tripolitan player and it can make a huge difference in the outcome of the battle. During a Naval Battle in the harbor of Tripoli, the Tripoli fleet can roll an extra twelve dice. If it is played during the Assault on Tripoli, the twelve extra dice can only be rolled during the first round of combat. The American player must anticipate this card and have some extra ammunition of their own or have a lot of Frigates and Gunboats to be able to stand up against Tripoli at the final assault.

Next, the players will roll their dice with each Frigate involved rolling two dice and each Gunboat or Corsair rolling just one die. The active player, which is simply defined as whoever’s turn it currently is, will roll first and
counts up the number of hits. Then the second player rolls and counts the number of hits. Remember, that hits are scored only on a 6 so it can be a bit anticlimactic if the players are not skilled rollers and cannot generate 6’s at will. I was a bitt miffed by this as I thought that Frigates should hit on either a 5 or a 6 but alas that was not the case.

Players then will allocate those hits, starting with the active player who gets to choose which of their participating Frigates or Gunboats take hits. A Gunboat or Corsair takes just one hit to sink while a Frigate takes two hits to sink. Any sunk Gunboats and Corsairs are returned to the Supply and can be built again with future activations. If a Frigate has only one hit allocated to it, it is considered to be damaged and will be removed from the board and placed on the following year of the Year Turn Track. An important thing to note is that is it is 1806, then the Frigate is returned to the Supply
and is not considered to be sunk for purposes of meeting the Tripolitan Victory Condition of 4 Sunk Frigates.

If a Frigate has two hits allocated to it during Naval Combat, the Frigate is sunk. Sunk Tripolitan Frigates are returned to the Supply, but sunk American Frigates are collected by the Tripolitan player and if it is the fourth American Frigate sunk the game ends immediately in a Tripolitan

After a Naval Combat is finished, any surviving American Gunboats and
undamaged Frigates are moved to Malta. If the Naval Combat occurred in the Naval Patrol Zone of Tripoli, the surviving Tripolitan Corsairs and
undamaged Frigates return to the harbor of Tripoli.

I did like that the players each get to choose how their own fleets are damaged and which units are destroyed. If this were not the way it was it would become much simpler for the Tripolitan player to win as they could simply go around trying to attack the American fleets and inflicting all damage to Frigates. In my mind, this assignment process is more a condition of a commander choosing how they are using their fleets in Naval Combat and protecting or screening their large Frigates with their Gunboats of Corsairs.

Naval Bombardment

Naval Bombardment occurs when American ships move into a harbor containing no enemy ships, but the city has Tripolitan Infantry located there. This typically occurs in the cities of Derne and Benghazi, but on rare occasions can occur in Tripoli. This tactic is really used to soften up the defenders to make it a bit simpler for the attacking American Infantry to accomplish taking out the cities on the ground as they approach Tripoli.

Naval Bombardment lasts just one round and each Frigate participating will
roll two dice and each Gunboat one die. Each roll of a 6 is considered a hit. For each hit, a Tripolitan Infantry is eliminated and returned to the Supply. It is possible for a Naval Bombardment to eliminate all of the Infantry in a
city, but the city is still considered to be Tripolitan-controlled until the American player moves Hamet’s Army into the city. After the Bombardment is over, all of the American Frigates and Gunboats are moved back to Malta.

This Naval Bombardment is not an action that you will use a lot and it is also something that typically happens as a part of an Event Card that has been played such as General Eaton Attacks Benghazi and General Eaton Attacks Derne. If the American player has the right cards in their hand, including Lieutenant O’Bannon Leads the Charge (one Marine Infantry unit rolls three dice instead of one during each round of combat) or Marine Sharpshooters (all Marine Infantry units hit on a roll of 5 or 6 each round of combat) and has been able to build up their forces appropriately with reinforcements through the play of Hamet Recruits Bedouins (place two additional Arab Infantry with Hamet’s Army, the Tripolitan Infantry don’t really stand a chance as there will only be from between 2-4 of them defending and Hamet’s Army is made up of at least 6 Infantry (5 Arab Infantry and a Marine) plus possibly a few more. 6-10 dice to just 2 or 4 dice, seems to be favorable odds for the American and I hate to see this action used as I consider it somewhat of a waste.

Ground Combat

Ground Combat occurs when the American player moves Hamet’s Army to invade the cities of Derne, Benghazi or Tripoli or if the American player plays Assault on Tripoli and attacks Tripoli with only the three Marine Infantry from the Event Card Send in the Marines. Unlike Naval Combat though, Ground Combat lasts until one force has been totally eliminated.

There is a simple to follow process for Ground Combat that involves several steps as follows:

First, the American player may perform Naval Bombard with any Frigates and Gunboats that have joined the attack. After the Bombardment, the Frigates and Gunboats are moved back to Malta.

Next, players will announce if any Battle Cards will be played, starting with the American player. The cards that are available that can be played include Lieutenant O’Bannon Leads the Charge, Marine Sharpshooters and if the battle is in Tripoli, Send in the Marines for the Americans and Mercenaries Desert for the Tripolitans.

Following cards, the players each roll dice, starting with the American player. Each infantry unit rolls one die and scores a hit on a 6. Players then allocate hits and the American player has the choice of removing an Arab unit or a Marine unit with each hit suffered. Eliminated units are then removed to the Supply.

The players then check the battle to see if one force has been eliminated. If not, then the process is simply repeated until one side is eliminated. If the Tripolitan forces in the city have been eliminated, the Americans are considered to have captured the city. If the city captured is Tripoli, then the American player immediately wins the game. If the American forces in the
city have been eliminated, the Tripolitan player immediately wins the game. If both forces are eliminated on the same roll, which can happen as rolls are simultaneous and not effected by losses, it is considered a Tripolitan victory.

We have truly enjoyed our plays of The Shores of Tripoli and appreciate the slick and tight design that it is. From just the first play, I could see that there was something well made here that involves lots of thought and strategy to be competitive. In fact, our first play ended in a crushing defeat for the Tripolitan player but after we found that now that we knew the card and the strategies, the game was very even and almost always comes down to the very end. I also really love the history of the battle and how it has been painstakingly inserted into the game through its many cards. It just makes for a very enjoyable and interesting experience and I also have to remind myself that this is a game from a new company and a first time designer. Imagine what can be made in the future. I really look forward to playing their next game called The Halls of Montezuma.

Here is a look at our video review for the game: