Pirate-themed games are notoriously addictive, they say once ye lose yer first hand ye get hooked! Groan-worthy pirate jokes aside, Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest is the latest game to be released by Stonemaier Games. As a publisher of such massively popular games as Wingspan, Viticulture and Scythe there is always an air of expectation around any of their releases.
Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest is different to other games hitherto published by Jamey Stegmaier’s company though. It is the first board game that is a reinterpretation of an out of print title, Libertalia. Stonemaier Games have worked their magic on refreshing the game with updated artwork, a revised two player mode and a solo game, as well as a few other tweaks along the way. Having never played the original, I’m not really at liberty to critique these changes. Undoubtedly some will embrace the change and other will love the nostalgia of the old one. Me, I’m just excited to play a game I had only ever heard good things about, but because it was out of print, I couldn’t get hold of! So, without further ado let’s set sail with more information on Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest.
Setup is quite straightforward, the first decision is whether to play on the calm or stormy side of the board. These differ slightly in the amount of take that players will experience throughout the game, both the squally and calm sides of the board pictorially reinforce the storminess of the player interaction. There is also a halfway house that allows for a mix and match middle ground of the two. For two player games an additional overlay is required too.
Once the board is decided, a random selection of tokens is added to days of the voyages, as dictated by player count. All the relevant wooden markers are placed randomly on the reputation track and associated strating coins distributed accordingly. Then player’s get a deck of matching cards, a treasure trove scorer (set to zero) and a graveyard in their player colour. One person shuffles their deck and draws six cards, the other players find the exact same cards in their decks and setup is complete and very quick.
The aim of the game is to have the most buried treasure. Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest is played over three journeys, each journey is divided further into four, five and six days respectively. Each day, players will select one of their cards to play to the ‘island’. The cards all have numbers representing the strength of the character. Player’s choices are laid out on the ship in strength order from low to high. Tiebreaks are settled with a reputation track.
First, day abilities are resolved in rank of lowest to highest. Secondly dusk abilities are resolved from right to left. Alongside any dusk abilities, players will choose a loot token from the matching day on the board too, activating any associated actions with these. Finally night actions are activated, these may be found on recruited characters on each player’s ship in front of them. This process is repeated for each day of the voyage. After the final day of a journey, each player resolves any anchor abilities. They also stash treasure away for safety in their treasure chest scorer and discards characters, coins and loot tokens from their ship.
It’s also important to note that after the first journey, players will be left with cards in their hand that will then probably differ from everyone else’s. This adds asymmetry and further tactics to later journeys. The balancing act of when to play a card to maximise its ability, but also secure the desired loot token, while planning ahead, requires gimbal-thinking!
What it’s like
Firstly, this is a joy to teach. Identifying what each loot does is important, but can be done on a day-by-day basis. There are forty character cards to learn the abilities of. However, as everyone is drawing six of the same cards per turn, there is ample opportunity to talk through the cards before each journey. After that, once you have explained the day, dusk, night and anchor activation you are good to go, even the latter can be reinforced on the first turn, or a dummy run. With the basics mastered, the strategy of optimising when to play cards from your hand and how best to utilise them, really comes to the fore.
Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest is a game of reading your opponents at the table and working out what others might play. With the added spice of varying degrees of take that everyone at the table is invested with a good level of player interaction.
The all play mechanic ensures there is very little down time and days and journeys pass like ships in the night. In fact, Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest excels at scaling up and down between player counts without adding to the overall game time. In that regard it has cemented itself as one of my go-to games for five and six players. It will still see oodles of plays at three and four too.
Every game excels at different player counts, for me at two player this board game doesn’t shine quite so brightly. That’s not to say it isn’t plenty of fun as a duel though. At two, I found that I needed more clarification around what happens to certain cards with the fixed pseudo-third-player overlay and they weren’t necessarily in the rule book. Otherwise the additional character did a nice job of spicing the game up. Would I buy this game if I was only ever going to play it at two? Well, it would be a much more considered decision than if I was going to sporadically play it at higher player counts. Fortunately between family and friends this isn’t a decision I need to wrestle with.
What the noobs thought
I had a rare opportunity to take this game round to some non-board gaming friends to see how it faired. This was probably the first modern board game they had ever played. Three days in to the first journey I was worried I had chosen unwisely. They struggled with the when and how day, dusk and night abilities were activated and resolved. However, about half way through the second journey the game clicked for them and one of them fought back to claim a joint first place. I say joint first, I won on the tiebreak but you have to give some false hope to new players, right? With a couple of sabre fights and retaliations along the way, they both said they enjoyed playing the board game.
I made a mistake of watching a how to play video before the game arrived. That’s not to say the YouTube teach wasn’t good, far from it, but it meant I knew how to play before reading the rules. This highlighted that I am a rulebook person and when I subsequently needed to check something, I didn’t have any point of reference as to where to look. That is very much my issue and not a reflection on the game. I have now read the rulebook. With the majority of the actions and rules on the board or cards the rulebook is on the lighter side because it can be.
Production value of Stonemaier Games is consistently high, little details like linen finish rulebooks make their games feel special. Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest is no exception. Particularly pleasing are the loot tokens that have a nice tactile quality to them. I’m not entirely sure why the loot tokens didn’t arrive in the cloth bag that they will eventually be stored in, but I was pleased that they came in a compostable bag. Certainly a commendable step in the right direction.
The artwork is completely revised and, as I said earlier, I like the two sides of the board reflecting the gameplay. The crew on the cards are anthropomorphic which gives the game a nice vibe. I struggle to differentiate the blue and purple cards from one another and wonder if another colour choice, or differing symbols for each colour would’ve helped. The pirates navigating flying vessels was a surprise for my wife but didn’t bother me at all. The alternate universe provides a nice punctuation mark on piracy of the past.
The cardboard doubloons are fine, I would’ve liked a few more but only because I take the coins for things like Loot tokens as I go which depletes the stash a little. I think having the coins in their own storage tray that can be used during the game is another lovely Stonemaier touch.
Also, let’s be honest here, the metal coin upgrade is going to be top of most people’s wishlist after playing this game. I will certainly be ordering some as I need those metal doubloons in my life! Having enjoyed the Viticulture metal coins since Christmas, I’m delighted that the pirate version is available as an optional accessory.
I always seem to turn the treasure chest scorers the wrong way, but they are terrific. In contrast the loot token bag is a little lack lustre and I did think that this could’ve been printed with a cool design. Finally, the insert to the box is well thought out and it all just stores away nicely.
I’ve not played Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest solo yet, as soon as I do though, I will revisit this review and add my comments here.
What the kids thought
Harrison (13): I really enjoy it. It’s got a lot going on and it fits together perfectly. Card number 19 is a favourite as it has an axolotl on it!
George (11): Its fun! I like the different options in the game. I think the artwork is really good and I look forward to playing it lots more.
Final thoughts on Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest
I’m a big fan of Wingspan and Viticulture and as a result am a bit of a fanboy of Stonemaier Games. I admire their production values and what they do as a smaller publisher in the board game industry. This can set expectations higher than they should be for each release.
I would’ve really liked a further card clarification booklet. It’s not essential, but it would’ve been a “nice to have” especially at two player.
Some would be hunting out negatives with this game to attract clicks to their website. I can’t find them though! It might not shine as brightly at two as it does at three, four, five and six, but that’s not something worthy of dwelling on. Nostalgia or preference for the original might also be a factor for some. Having never played the original version, I cannot comment. What I can say is: the board game that is in front of me is brilliant.
Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest offers oodles of replayability with a great selection of cards, variable board and its ability to scale nicely between player counts.
I really appreciate that this is a fantastically entertaining game that I can play with my two elder sons, or non-gaming enthusiasts, and seasoned board gamers, alike. They will all understand it, and genuinely be able to compete. It’s probably not an entry level game, in the same way as Wingspan isn’t for me, mainly due to learning the game in the first instance. However, it certainly is a gateway-plus game that will remain in most board-gamers’ collection for all the right reasons.
Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest is a fantastic game which I heartily recommend. If you haven’t picked up on the underlying tone of this review, let me spell it out for you. I really do love this game.
Number of players: 1 to 6
Board Game Review Recommended Age: 14+
Publisher’s Recommended Age: 11+
Playing Time: 50 minutes
Setting Up and Take Down Time: 4 minutes
Designers: Paolo Mori
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Few other games play five and six players with as little downtime as Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest outside of the party genre. With plenty of tactics, skulduggery and replayability, this is a fantastic board game. I cannot foresee a day where I will get bored of playing Libertalia: Gales of Windcrest, it really is that good.
Artwork and Components
Value for Money
- Easy to teach
- Minimal downtime regardless of number of players
- Plenty of interaction
- Great for all abilities
- Lovely production
- The little bit of take that
- The loot bag
- You’ll want the metal coin upgrade
- If you will only ever play it two player
For clarity: we don’t get paid for our reviews, however we were kindly gifted this game by Stonemaier Games, this has not affected our review in any way.