Looking for a swash-buckling adventure? If for any reason you’d rather go alone, Libertalia has got you covered. Libertalia (designed by Paolo Mori) is becoming one of my favourite games of all time, it’s so simple but with so many opportunities to try and create synergy with your shipmates and loot. You also have additional tactics as you know your opponents’ cards as well (not that has ever benefited me because that’s a lot of things to think about). I also love the artwork, I know it’s been polarising compared with the original 2012 edition, but I think the character cards shine and it has a very clear and cute aesthetic. Understandably, a lot of people prefer the gritty graphics of the original but I think the new aesthetic is cohesive and captures the imagination well.
With the recent reprint of Libertalia, Stonemaier Games has also provided a new Automa for solo play, which is what this review will cover. I’m quite new to the concept of solo board games but I’m really enjoying it. It's great for when I’m desperate to play a game but can’t gather enough people.
Before Setting Sail
You place the Automa tiles at the bottom (the hook and saber have been replaced here, it’s a bit different for the stormy side of the board, where there’s a specific Automa tile for Barrel and Amulet). The reputation tokens are randomly placed with yours and the Automa’s tokens placed in the third and fourth spot. The loot tiles are randomly selected as usual but with three tiles. One is for the Pilferer who is separate to the Automa.
I’ve laid out the tiles in a specific way based on the priority the Automa and Pilferer take loot. This is shown on the Player Aid, with Chest being the best and Relic being the worst. You learn the order very quickly and what is classified as ‘good’ and ‘average’ loot. The loot for each day determines what card the Automa will play.
Then there’s the Automa/Pilferer deck, where you reveal six cards from the deck and you take the matching six cards from your hand (like in a regular game). There are a number of symbols and numbers on the back of the Automa/Pilferer deck (below shows the Pilferer orientation, when upside down it’s Automa) which looks confusing but also makes sense quickly. The symbols refer to the current day’s loot, for example, if there are two bad (relic) loot tokens then Automa would play the second card from the left with a canon symbol. If there was a good (hook/map/chest) loot token and a bad token, Automa would play the third card from the right.
The Pilferer is simpler. During a game of Libertalia, you flip over the top card of the Pilferer deck and play it on the island. This adds an element of uncertainty as any of the other ranks can come up. However Pilferer doesn’t gain coins, use abilities or gain loot tokens, it simply removes a loot from the day’s findings. You and the Automa can’t impact it either, it’s just there to remove loot (and make it less likely for you to get what you want). The Pilferer gives a bit of variety to the loot you can take and adds an element of randomness as it can play any other rank card in the deck and you have to be prepared for your carefully laid plans to potentially go awry.
So a turn would go:
- You choose your character and place it on the island
- You flip the top card of the Pilferer deck and place it on the island
- Based on the loot tiles and newly revealed back of the top card of the deck, Automa plays their card
- After ordering the cards by rank you resolve day time abilities left to right. For some characters, if Automa’s ability doesn’t trigger, it can move to a new rank. For example, if the Bandit’s ability doesn’t trigger it moves from rank 6 to rank 21.
- Resolve dusk abilities right to left with characters being placed on ships and receiving loot. The Pilferer card and loot is discarded. Loot is taken based on the priority list (unless stated otherwise).
- Night time abilities are resolved
This is repeated with each voyage and coins are earned and stashed in the treasure chest. Each voyage lasts a day longer than the previous and six more character cards are added (and combine with characters not played in the previous voyage) until the end of the final voyage.
Admittedly the instruction manual for the Automa is a bit confusing (maybe just me). An instant solution would be to have more images in the booklet but once you figure out how it’s supposed to work, it’s very intuitive, just like the regular game. If all characters survive the day phase (and no other shenanigans happen) then the loot is collected from right to left. In the below example, I’d get the chest, the Pilferer would throw the amulet away and the Automa would get the relic.
Like with the regular game of Libertalia, there are lots of ways to strategise how you’re going to get the best loot and if getting the best loot is even worth it. Should you instead prioritise getting shipmates with night time or anchor abilities? Will that score more in the end? There is no set answer to those questions in this game, but there’s definitely plenty to think about.
Something to be aware of about the Automa in Libertalia, is that it’ll normally play it’s highest ranking cards (which makes sense), I thought I could get away with using my lower ranking cards to win when the Automa had already used a lot of their higher ranking cards but it was a no. Reputation doesn’t matter as much here as ties are uncommon, sometimes I think it’s better to plummet your reputation as it gives you more coins each round.
Another note about Automa is that it likes money and will gain a boatload of money throughout the game. A lot of the regular character abilities are translated into gaining coins (which makes sense given that this is the likely outcome when playing against other people), which definitely makes the game more challenging. I was only playing on the regular difficulty (Automa starts on 0 coins) and I’ve only beat it twice (once sunny, once stormy).
This is what Automa’s ship will look like at the end of a voyage. Like the Automa abilities, the loot tokens will generally give Automa a lot of money (not as much on the stormy side) as it will always choose the money option (rather than saving a character with a hook or discarding a character with a saber). Then you score regularly from anchor abilities and loot. I think your strategy playing against Automa is different than other people as you have to be aware than Automa will gain a lot of money and is likely to pick a high ranking card. But it’s a great way to learn to play Libertalia in this style.
My ratings are higher for the multiplayer game as something I love about Libertalia is the player interaction and conflict created, which naturally there is less of in a solo mode. But the core gameplay (which works so well) is there and this mode is great for learning the characters and finding synergy between shipmates. For me, Libertalia is absolutely worth owning for many reasons (as it appeals to my tabletop preferences) and this Automa only adds value to the whole package.