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An intro war game? A Shores of Tripoli review

Now I'm no historian, so I have little to no awareness of the historical context of this game. However, Shores of Tripoli like other Fort Circle games comes with an overwhelming amount of historical background included in a supplementary booklet (side note: I'm 4 beers in after watching a rather disappointing England performance, so who knows how this review will go). Shores of Tripoli is about the Barbary war between the Americans and Pirates of Tripoli .

The game offers a cooperative (solo) experience or the vastly better, head to head. With one player playing as the Pirates and the other the Americans, each player has different goals which means it won't so much be an all out conflict for a central location as the pirates seek to claim gold and sink ships. Whilst America is seeking to almost "impose" peace through eradicating pirate ships and attack central locations, which are determined by the treaty cards. Alternatively the Americans can win by overthrowing Tripoli.

The game takes place over a number of rounds known as years and each year split into seasonal rounds (confusing I know!) - I think I made the same comment about Fort Circles other game, the interchangeable use of the rounds feels puzzling, although the seperation of Years and seasonal rounds definitely helps, the two terms turns and rounds feel almost interchangeably used. Nevertheless each year, is split into seasonal rounds, which works the same way, America play a card, Tripoli play a card. So each year you'll play a total of four cards.

On your turn, you can play a card for the event. And each player has a set of core event cards in front of them, which feels like a way to just ease open the potential of something bigger and give you the tools to maybe just maybe find that opportunity to get that advantage. Although there are only 3 core event cards, each of them feel meaningful. A minor point would be having the core event cards with different card backs, so they are easier to identify.

As the Americans you can also discard a card to move upto two frigates or build a gun boat. The Tripoli actions are similar, play a card for the event or discard a card to Conduct a pirate raid or build a Corsair. Why might you want to discard a card? Not all cards are event cards and are battle specific and some event requires to being only playable in for example 1805. So discarding a card means you know it'll come back, as you'll all cards twice. Unless of course you play the card for the event, then it is removed from the game and not placed in your discard pile. We did find that we did mix up the discard pile and removed pile on more than one occasion, so we've taken to putting events in the box once played as the event.

The game takes place over the Barbary Coast and is split into a mixture of harbours and patrol zones and open sea. And the American player has the ability to move from one location to any other, as the Tripoli player you're seeking to Conduct raids, and hold back the Americans. So after every raid, your corsairs return to their homeport.

There is a real sense here as the Pirates that you're not so much on the back foot, but your game plan is to almost annoy the American player, raid their ships and hope your defenses hold out. It feels like there's a definite cross over point when raiding no longer feels like an option, and you'll need to actively focus on your defences. And this in condensed into a 45 minute experience. Whilst as the American player you are trying to continously eat away and slim down the defenses at the harbour and at Tripoli, so you need to not sit back too much, as much as you want to build your forces, you'll need to be mindful of raids and by applying pressure to the harbours of your opponent. That pressure slowly eases. It's a bit like a gradual build up to a storm, with the odd thunder and lightning before it pours. However, the first few turns as the Americans does feel underwhelming and frustrating; the rulebook even says that early game, the game can be very frustrating for the American player. And I think thats almost a guarantee, as you need to build up your army, whilst being irritated by the peppering of pirate raids.

Which leads us to Combat, and I think in part one of my major grips with the game. Naval Combat and Naval bombardment are a single round, which I guess sort of makes sense thematically, a brief engagement before forces depart, with American forces returning to Malta. Although prolonged Naval Combat is definitely a thing. However, only 6's count as hits and there's little to no mitigation for dice rolls. So if like me your dice rolling is atrocious, you'll find yourself rolling 10 dice or move and not rolling a single 6! Although when conducting a pirate raid, the Tripoli player will capture a merchant ship and push them ever closer to victory.

The game ends either when a player achieves their victory condition or if the game gets to its natural end, the game ends in a bitter stalemate otherwise known as a tie.

The Shores of Tripoli, after my first play felt like a slight tweak of "Votes for Women" and I thought it was the later game. But releasing Votes for Women was released after, almost feels like a slight backwards step in terms of gameplay. Although at their core, they are incredibly similar mechanically. And that's not a bad thing, it just feels like there are minor tweaks, almost like an evolution needed. Take for example the rulebook, there are next to no examples, which make the rules that little bit more difficult to digest. And once again, the very limited mitigation for dice rolls, which can add to frustrations.

But, and there's a big but, once you've got through those initial turns, the escalation of tension and pressure to respond to your opponents plays. As the Americans, if you find yourself subject to successful pirate raids you are very much forced to race for Tripoli, whilst as the Tripoli player, watching a growing sea of ships amass, means you need to shore up those defences. And that build up, is incredibly satisfying, and each game has that same sense of escalation. Although, that's not without saying that the meta game and learning of the game, means that after enough plays to know the decks and to know what events are likely coming, will mean you're in a better position compared to a new player. And that means a bit like Twilight Struggle, you may be best facilitating the game, rather than playing it. But that doesn't take away from how much fun this game is and level of tension that is packed into 45 minutes.

As you know, I rate games on a

- Buy or play

- Wait for sale or play if you like game XYZ

- Avoid

Shores of Tripoli, gets an easy "play" recommendation. Even if you are brand new to wargames, and have never tried one, Shores of Tripoli eases you in and is short enough that you can always come back for a second helping. However, if you are adverse to dice rolling, Shores of Tripoli isn't likely to change your mind on this, so it's probably a solid pass. It's hard to give Shores of Tripoli a "buy" recommendation, at £57+ there's not a mass of stuff here. There's alot of potential and a vast amount of probably very rewarding game play experiences, but fundamentally, I'd suggest a play before you buy. Unless of course you're a keen wargamer and a fan of games like Twilight Struggle, then Shores of Tripoli is likely to be incredibly satisfying. And it's a game that I will happily come back to.

Want to purchase Shores of Tripoli, you can here:

(Note I do not recieve any commission for sales through the above link)

Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of The Shores of Tripoli by Kienda for review. I was not paid for this review and all thoughts remain my own.

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