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Check out the full review for Booty on Initiative: Tabletop!
Released in 2015 and designed by Alexander Cobian (his first published game), Booty is a pirate-themed “I split, you choose” set collection game, which introduces elements of area majority with a minimalistic stock market mechanic. In this game, players aren’t pirates in the midst of plundering the Caribbean, as we might expect. Instead, the game is set after the plundering, as the pirates seek to divide the titular booty and plan their next round of raids. Players take turns in the Quartermaster role, strategically dividing the booty for others to choose, but secretly hoping to be in position to collect the best share for themselves. So does this game keep its sea legs?
# Players: 3-6
Play Time: ~60 Min
Publisher: Mayfair Games
What's in the Box?
Booty is, at its heart, a card set collecting game that also contains modular boards with area control elements and a small, adjustable stock market that affects the value of some of the cards you’ll be collecting.
In the box, you’ll find:
1 Rule book
1 Rank Board
6 Octagon shaped Player Rank tiles (one in each color)
6 Rank coins (numbered 1 through 6)
1 Commodities Market Board
4 Commodity tiles (Sugar, Cotton, Indigo, and Tobacco)
5 Island tiles
90 Might flags (15 in each color)
1 Quartermaster tile
12 Legacy tiles
108 Booty cards
There are additional tiles that came with my version of the game – an additional Quartermaster tile, and duplicate Monk and Jeweler Legacy tiles. According to the publisher, these are superfluous and should be discarded as they are not a part of the game and are simply a result of the manufacturing process. I’ve seen extra components in games before, but generally they aren’t glaring duplicates, which can lead to some confusion.
How to Play
To begin the game, the players create the game board by taking the modular Island tiles, the Rank Board, and the Commodities Market and placing them on the table in a large circle. Then the players should place the appropriate Commodity tiles in their marked spaces on the Commodities Market board. Each player then chooses a color and collects all of the Might flag tiles for their color. The Legacy tiles are randomly shuffled and two of each are dealt face down to each players. In most games, the colored Player Rank tiles are randomized and placed on the Rank Board. The rule book does allow for you to place more inexperienced players higher on the Rank Board if you’d like as this gives them the advantage of accepting earlier Shares of the Spoils, as we will see. After setting up the Rank Board, the numbered Rank Coins are taken out of the box and placed in the center of the play area. The numbers on these coins should correspond to the number of players in the game, so in a three player game the coins would be numbered 1-3 while in a five player game, they would be numbered 1-5.
Now the players must prepare the Booty deck. In most games, this simply means shuffling the deck and placing it in the center of the table; however, in a five player game this is slightly different. With this count, players must remove two “Doubloons” cards and one “Incan Silver” card from the game, placing them back into the box. This alteration for five players is presumably necessary for balance, but still slightly inconveniencing in a setup process that already seems fiddly. Additionally, in every game, a “Trade Route” card is taken from the deck before shuffling. The deck is then shuffled and the removed “Trade Route” card is then placed on the bottom. The rule book states that this is only done for five player games, but the official errata and clarifications (not included in the box) says that it is to be done for all games. The prepared deck is then placed in the center of the table, and the game is ready to begin.
Each round of the game begins by creating the Spoils. These are the cards from which the Quartermaster will create Shares. To create the Spoils, one player will count out a number of cards equal to three times the number of players (9-18 cards total). I have found that it is generally best to let the Quartermaster handle this task. She will take one card from this pile, look at it, and place it face down in the center (this is important as only the Quartermaster will know what this card is), and all other cards are placed face up in the center of the circular area created by the board. The rule book suggests sorting these cards by color, and that is generally helpful for the first few times you play the game.
If you want to let the Quartermaster set up the Spoils, it is important to know how to decide which player will take that role first. Using the Rank Board, the first player (at the top of the board) has the opportunity to claim the role. If they do not want to be Quartermaster, that role passes down until someone accepts or you have reached the bottom of the board. If it falls to the lowest ranked player on the board, they are required to become the Quartermaster. The Player Rank tile for the player who becomes Quartermaster is removed from the Rank Board and placed on the silver Quartermaster tile. This ritual plays out each round, making it possible for someone to be the Quartermaster for several rounds in a row. This role is central to the game as the Quartermaster is responsible for divvying up the Spoils into Shares that are claimed by the players – generally the importance of this position increases as the game continues, so it is relatively undesirable early-game and can be very powerful in the late-game.
The goal in Booty is to be the person who finishes with the most Victory Points, earned by collecting sets of cards throughout the course of the game. The Quartermaster’s job is to divide the Spoils into Shares that are then offered to the other players who can accept or reject the Share in rank order. A Share is created with exactly one Rank Coin and any number of cards from the Spoils. The face down card can be offered, but it is not revealed in this process. The rules say that when a Share is completed, the cards and coins should be separated from the other Spoils, and the Quartermaster should knock on the table – each of my playgroups found the knocking a bit tedious and it was usually quickly forgotten.
After the Quartermaster has created the Share, it must be claimed by an active player. The players whose token remains on the “This Turn” column of the Rank board (remember, the Quartermaster’s token has been removed) are eligible to claim the Share. Beginning with the highest ranking player on the board, the active players, in turn, offer to claim or reject the Share. Once a Share is claimed by one of the players, they must perform a few actions. If the Share included a face down card, they examine it in secret. If it is a Might (red) card or a “Trade Route” (a specific type of green card), they must reveal it to the other players, otherwise they keep it face down in their score pile. Speaking of Might and “Trade Route” cards, after collecting a claimed Share, the player immediately plays all Might cards and “Trade Route” cards.
Might cards allow you to place as many of your Might Flag tokens on the board as you have total might. So if you claimed one “Cutlass” card (one might) and one “Pistol” card (two might), you would have a total of three Might and could play three of your flags anywhere on the Island tiles. They need not be place one the same Island tile and they do not have to be in any order, though generally higher number spaces are more desirable. At the end of the game, players score Victory Points equivalent to the areas they control on completed Islands. A completed Island is one what has all of it’s available spaces filled. There are 25 open spaces on the Island, but only 24 total Might in the deck, so in every game one Island will not score. This is a pretty straight forward process, and unfortunately does not involve much player interaction. Thematically, my play groups thought of this as planning the next set of raids around the Caribbean, and that made it a little easier to stomach.
Like your Might cards, “Trade Route” cards must also be played immediately. These cards are relatively simple. They instruct the player who claimed the card in their Share to adjust the Commodities Market, moving one commodity’s value up and another’s value down. This overly simple process is much stronger in the late-game, as players have more of an idea of what commodities they and their opponents have collected. Sometimes it may even be best to hurt yourself by lowering the value of a commodity you have if it hurts another player even more.
After a player has claimed a Share and played their Might and “Trade Route” cards, they place the rest of their cards in front of them, face up, in their score pile. When laid in front of you, all of the titles of the cards in your score pile must be visible. We’ve tried playing with a hidden information variant, where the cards are kept secret. It’s more thematic, but less strategic. After placing cards on the table, the player who claimed the Share then takes their Rank token from the “This Round” column on the Rank Board and place it in the “Next Round” column in the position that corresponds to the Rank coin they collected in their Share. In the example Share pictured above , the Yellow player claimed a “Pistol, a “Portuguese Letter of Marque,” a “French Flag,” and the #3 Rank coin. This player was previously first on the Rank board, so they would pick up their tile and move it to the third position in the “Next Round” column. After a player has collected a Share, they are finished for the round and may no longer attempt to claim Shares.
But what happens if all of the players choose not to accept a Share? And how does the Quartermaster get her Share of the Spoils? If the first player on the Rank board passes on a Share, the opportunity to claim it moves to the next player, and so on. If all active players pass, the Quartermaster has an opportunity to claim the Share. If they claim the Share, they then lose their position as Quartermaster and a new one must be chosen to complete the round. This new Quartermaster compiles the next share and play continues as normal – however, the new Quartermaster does not have the opportunity to look at any face down Spoils if they have already been claimed.
If the all of the players on the Rank Board decline to claim the Share, and the Quartermaster also declines, then what happens? The rules do not address this situation, and in our early play tests, it wasn’t clear whether the Quartermaster had an opportunity to claim the Share or a responsibility to claim the share. We played as though it were a choice, and if the Quartermaster declined to accept the share, they were required augment the Share by adding additional cards until someone claimed it. This occasionally resulted in the Quartermaster ultimately receiving very little or even nothing. However, the official clarification is that the Quartermaster must take an offered Share if no other player accepts it, and that you then follow the rules for choosing a new Quartermaster. Frankly, I like our house rule better, but feel free to follow the publishers clarification.
After a Share is claimed, the current Quartermaster creates a new Share and the process begins again until there is only one player left who hasn’t claimed anything. That player receives all remaining Spoils and the last remaining Rank Coin. If the Booty deck still has cards remaining, the tiles on the Rank Board are shifted to “This Turn,” a new quartermaster is chosen, and new Spoils are dealt to the board. This process continues until the Booty deck is empty.
As previously mentioned, the goal of Booty is to be the one who finishes with the most Victory Points. By and large, this is accomplished through collecting the cards doled out in the Shares organized by the Quartermaster. However, each card type scores slightly differently. The yellow Treasure cards are one of the simpler ones. These cards are “Doubloons,” “Aztec Silver,” and “Aztec Gold” and are worth 1, 2, or 3 Victory Points respectively. Flags, one of the two types of white colored cards, represent ships of the various nations that your pirate armada has plundered (Dutch, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese), and score similarly the Treasurer cards being worth exactly 1 Victory Point each. The blue colored Relics earn players 3 Victory Points; however, only the first of each Relic type (“Ivory,” “Monkey,” “Parrot,” “Totem,” “Spices,” “Vase”) is worth points – duplicates are worth zero points at the end of the game. The purple colored Way of Life cards (“Bible” and “Rum”) are worth 2 Victory Points each, but a player may only score one or the other – not both.
The Commodity cards are colored green (“Cotton,” “Indigo,” “Sugar,” and “Tobacco”), and are worth a variable amount of points, ranging from 0 to 4. Their final value is determined by their going rate on the Commodities Market board at the end of the game, so they fluctuate throughout the course of the game when green “Trade Route” cards are played. Letters of Marque, the other type of white colored card, represent your official license from colonial governments to raid the ships of their enemies, and these are the most complex cards to score. Each letter gives -4 Victory Points for each Flag you have collected of the matching nation; however, these cards also score one point for every non-matching flag you’ve collected. For instance, if at the end of the game you have a “Spanish Letter of Marque” in your score pile, it would be worth -4 for each “Spanish Flag” you have collected, but every “Dutch Flag,” “English Flag,” “French Flag,” and “Portuguese Flag” in your scoring pile would increase the value of the Letter of Marque by one. Finally, the previously mentioned Might cards allow you to plan your future raids and place your Flag token on the Islands. As discussed above, these do not score on their own, but score you the value of the ports you control on all completed Island tiles at the end of the game. However, there is a small caveat to the Might cards. During the end game scoring, whoever has the most points in Might (after accounting for Legacy tiles) also scores an additional 4 Victory Points, with ties being split evenly between players.
Wait… What About Those Legacy Tiles?
Yeah. I mentioned these during the setup, and then they mysteriously disappeared until I casually dropped them in a sentence a moment ago. Legacy tiles represent the thinnest bit of narrative for the pirate character whose role you inhabit – adding some sense that you have a history or persona or identity. As previously mentioned, each character is secretly dealt two of these at the beginning of the game, and each tile allows the players to violate one of the scoring rules at the end of the game in some way. Since you have two, you can adjust your strategy depending on how the Spoils are divvied throughout the game, however during the final scoring you must chose only one of your two Legacy tiles to apply.
So if you were dealt “The Collector” and “The Traveler” at the beginning of the game (both Relic based Legacy tiles), you would probably have pursued a Relic based strategy throughout the game and would have to choose which tile to apply during scoring. If you had multiple redundant Relic cards, “The Collector” might be better. If you had several types of Relics, “The Traveler” would be superior. These roles alter your strategy for the game and allow you the try to build a method for which Shares you create as Quartermaster or which you want to claim or pass on when you’re not dividing up the loot. Functionally, these tiles are s variable driver of the game and they can be the difference between winning and losing. However, they are uneven. I have see the Legacy tiles completely alter the outcome of games, yet I have also seen them account for only two or three additional points at the end of the game. In the grand scheme of things, some are clearly better than others and it seems to create an obvious imbalance.