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Pirates, bombs, and swords, oh my! It’s been another month so it’s time to talk board and card games again. A quick TL;DR for this article? Libertalia is really, really fun.
Bomb Squad pits you and your friends against one of a number of different game boards where you have to defuse bombs and save hostages. You use cards like the ones pictured above that come in three colors (red, yellow, blue) and multiple actions. A short timer, 16 minutes for the two missions I played, keeps the pace of play moving as the pressure mounts to get the job done.
The kicker is that the cards in your hand are facing away from you. It’s up to your playing partners to give you clues about your cards and it’s up to you to know what cards have been played and what cards you should be playing. Any played card is put face down to be used as the bomb squad robot’s programming. For example, if you know you need to move forward three spaces, turn left, move forward two more, and then defuse a bomb, you’ll need to remember who has played which of those actions before adding your own to the pool. Any player can use their turn to flip over all of the face-down programming cards and move the robot, which costs energy. You can also discard cards and name their color, action, or both to recharge the robot.
It’s such a simple mechanic — flip the cards around so they face everyone else instead of you — but it works so well, especially when combined with the ticking clock. Bomb Squad is a lot of fun that can be played quickly and by anyone.
Once my work lunch group played Libertalia for the first time, we played it each of the next three or four days. Players are pirates going on three six-day raids. The first raid starts off by giving each player the same nine cards from a deck of 30, each representing a character. Each character has a 1-30 value associated with them along with a tiebreaker depending on which color deck you’re using (they are all balanced). For each of the six days, everyone plays a card and places it on the ship. Cards can have day, dusk, night, and end of raid actions.
After playing a card, any daytime actions trigger in ascending order of card value. Then, dusk actions trigger in descending order while players also take a booty tile from that day’s haul. Booty tiles can give you doubloons, take them away, or even discard your character (which might not be a bad thing!). If your character is still standing, it is placed in your ship’s deck and triggers it’s nighttime action along with any other characters in your ship’s deck from prior nights. End of the raid actions trigger one time exactly when you’d expect. After the six days of raiding, the same six new cards are added to everyone’s hand although everyone may not have the same exact hand anymore as you may have played a card that someone else held on to. Three six-day raids later, the pirate with the most doubloons is the victor.
Libertalia is flat out fun, whether you are trying to figure out what cards other people are playing so you can slot yourself into the correct location on the ship or trying to create combinations, like the mutineer who kills cards from your deck combined with the voodoo doctor that scores you two points per discarded character. It takes about an hour to play and while you’ll definitely have your best laid plans destroyed by other players, it’s always fun to get them back. I hope to play Libertalia again real soon.
Samurai Spirit is definitely my least favorite game on this list. It’s essentially a damage control game as you try to defend a village against raiding enemies. The village has a set amount of walls, homes, and villagers that must be defended by fending off enemies. As you draw cards, you decide where to place them. You can place an enemy on the right side of your player card, taking them head on and increase the amount of damage you’ve taken up until your maximum. If you go over your maximum (typically in the eight to 10 range), you’ll take a point of damage and be out of the round. You also have three special slots on the left of your player card for a hat (I don’t know why), a house, and a villager. Any enemy with one of those icons can be placed on the left of your card and negated completely.
At the end of a round, any remaining enemies attack the village, destroying walls/homes and killing villagers in the process. All enemies are shuffled back together while adding the next level to the deck (round one has enemies with values one through four, round two adds value five enemies, round three adds value sixes). Three rounds later, if the village is still standing, everyone wins.
Honestly, I’m not a big fan of Samurai Spirit. There is a bit of strategy involved as each character has a different power, like passing even-valued cards to another player or discarding pairs of enemies with the same value, that can be combined by giving your power to other players, but most of the game is drawing off the top of a deck and hoping you can either fill one of your negation spots or take the damage without dying. I’ll pass on the next play.
Who wouldn’t want to travel through the Japanese countryside in such a beautiful game? Tokaido puts you in the shoes of a traveler with the goal of becoming the most well-versed one in the group. Players advance along the track, stopping to gather art, visit temples, and bathe in hot springs. Each location has a set number of spots, so if a location you want to stop at is full, that’s tough luck for you. Locations all act in different ways, too, whether it be a race to donate the most to a temple or simply drawing off a Monopoly Chance-style deck for possible points.
One of the cooler parts of Tokaido is that players don’t act in seat order but rather in distance order. The player in the back of the pack always goes first, so it’s up to you to decide if you want to go slowly to try and hit more points along the way or to jump out front to hit a location you absolutely need. For example, if you need one more tile to complete your art piece but jumping out to it would essentially lose a turn or two, is it worth it? One thing you should always try to do is have money for food at the hotel. The large red-dotted locations on the map are hotels and act as checkpoints. No one can progress past it until everyone has entered the hotel, where you can buy food for guaranteed victory points if you have the money to do so. When I played Tokaido, I took a different strategy and ended up losing by the amount of points I would have had had I been buying food. Don’t make the same mistake I made!
Tokaido is one of the prettier games I’ve seen in a while with clean, white backgrounds and detailed, colorful cards. Unfortunately, I’ve only played it once but would definitely be down for a second round.