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Subject: Piemaster's Review of Tortuga rss

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Ian Taylor
United Kingdom
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Overview

Tortuga is a pirate-themed, treasure-collecting game, which started life, like many Queen Games projects, on Kickstarter. I knew nothing about it until I played a full three-player game at UK Games Expo 2014 at the Queen Games stand. While I don’t usually review games that I have played only once, there are no other reviews on site at present and so hopefully this will be at least somewhat helpful for anyone considering purchasing Tortuga. Once I have some more plays under my belt, I will add any further information I can offer, or clarify if I have changed my mind on anything. However, if you’re one of those people who consider one-play reviews worthless, then feel free to stop reading at this point.

The goal of Tortuga is to return as much treasure as you can to your home island. You can go out and find this treasure yourself, or you can steal it from your opponents, or (more likely) a combination of both. Every turn, each player rolls their five dice in secret and, depending on what is rolled, they can assign dice to one of five tracks – Expand Fleet, Recruit Crew, Treasure Hunt, Board (attack your opponent's ships to try and steal their treasure) and Raid (attack your opponent’s crew to try and steal their treasure). Players simultaneously reveal their choices, put their dice on the board and then re-roll the remainder and so on. Once all dice have been allocated, then all of the above five actions get resolved in turn. The catch is that only the player who has the highest score in each gets to perform the action in full, while (in the three and four player game anyway) the second highest score gets to perform a lesser, watered-down version of the action. After actions have been resolved, all players get to move their treasure one step ‘closer to home’ - first to their crew, then to the ship, then to home base, returning any they can't carry, before the next turn starts. Once any player has returned six treasures to base, scores are totalled according to what combinations of coloured treasure each player has returned and the winner is determined.


The Good

Looking at this game as I browsed the convention, I didn’t see anything about it that jumped out at me and screamed play me, but I was with my wife and a friend and they talked me into sitting down and playing a game at an open table and I’m glad that they did. There is nothing particularly innovative or ground-breaking about Tortuga, but the mechanics integrate seamlessly with each other and with the theme. After only around ten minutes reading the rulebook and playing a couple of trial turns we had the core mechanics down and only needed to refer to the rules occasionally after that. Three out of the five actions operate on a variation of “first gets two, second gets one” while only boarding and raiding took a bit more time to figure out. Once we started properly, the entire game took about 45 minutes, which really isn’t bad for a first run-through. And it seemed even quicker, because the game is cleverly designed to ensure almost no downtime. All actions are simultaneous and often take literally seconds to resolve for everybody once you are up to speed.

However, while it would be easy to just slap a label of “light, entertaining filler” on Tortuga and be done with it, I feel that would be doing the game a significant disservice. There is actually a good amount of strategic depth here. Choosing which dice to place and which to re-roll on each round is a significant decision that will have important ramifications for the turn. If you are desperate to perform a particular action, you can roll as many as fifteen dice and (with one side being wild) you are likely to be able to put significant resources into that action, but at what cost? The game rewards you for making less rolls in the form of long-term ‘+1’ tokens for certain actions, so you constantly face a balancing act between going for that action you desperately want at whatever cost and ‘taking what the dice give you’ playing higher-numbered dice and reaping the long-term benefits later. Finding the right balance between the two is vital for success and all the time you have to be watching what your opponents are doing with their dice to make sure you are not being out-muscled in an important area. I feel this a great example of dice (which are much maligned by certain segments of the gaming community) being used well.


The Bad

I don’t have any major criticisms of Tortuga, but there are a few things that I feel don’t quite work as well as they could. The different colours of chest adding a set-collection mechanic and the idea of more valuable cargo is a good idea in principle. But in practice it doesn’t seem to add much strategy and just leads to the more valuable chests going round and round between the players, getting repeatedly stolen and re-stolen, until eventually the music stops leaving one lucky player holding it. In fact, combat in general doesn’t really feel quite right. Intuitively it feels like having a big fleet and crew should make you better at boarding and raiding and protect you (at least to a degree) from getting boarded and raided yourself. And while it does allow you to assign more dice to the board and raid actions in future turns, it doesn't actually help in combat and it’s main benefit is allowing you to transport more cargo. Attacking and defending both diminish your fleet and crew and you need to take actions to bolster their numbers again, so they feel more like a currency than actual ‘capital’. Not that this is bad as such, and the mechanic kind of works, but it is counter-intuitive and takes a while to really get your head around.

You could also make the argument that the game is a mechanic or two light. It plays so quickly and easily that I can’t help but feel that another dimension could be added to it, enhancing its longevity and depth, without bogging the game down too much. Maybe players could have cards to play, or there could be universal global events that affect everybody, or you could hide your treasure somehow, or... something. As it stands I feel the game could get stale fairly quickly. There is the core of a great game here, but it is just not quite there and this could result in it being relegated to quick filler. I guess that’s what expansions are for and maybe the designer has held some tricks back in reserve.

One last concern is I haven’t tried the game in two-player mode, but I suspect it would be very bland.


Verdict

I was pleasantly surprised with how well Tortuga played. We all were in fact, and one of our play group decided to buy it the following day. It is fairly cheap, quick and easy to play, entertaining throughout and deceptively strategic. Obviously it is difficult to make too many conclusive statements after only one play, but if you are on the fence and looking for this review to tip you in one direction or the other, then I would recommend taking the plunge. You will be getting a solid filler game and, just maybe, something more.

7/10
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Sen-Foong Lim
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Thanks for the review. We appreciate the feedback!
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Jay Cormier
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Hey thanks for the review Ian! Glad you liked it. We definitely have plans for more depth if we get enough interest to warrant expansions! You're on the right track with some of them too!! With the Kickstarter bonuses you have some extra ways to play the game, which extends its value as well!

Thanks again - you're the first English review for the game!!
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Daniel Theuerkaufer
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I second everything the reviewer said. We were talking on twitter, Sen-Foong and Jay and unfortunately I didn't manage to convince my game group to a multiplayer game as of yet. So the only experience I had was a two player game and like you say, this is pretty lame, since the actions are cut down. The two player game is a compromise and I will never put it on a table again if it is just for the two of us, since there are many better games specifically for two players.

My "main problem" with Tortuga is that it is a four player game. 50% of the weeks I couldn't even suggest to play it because we were 5. As I mentioned on twitter, the game and its mechanics would easily allow a 5th player and Jay/Sen-Foong replied that their original version was intended for five.

Now here is the dilemma: I can't play it with two, because it's no fun. Most of the time I can't play it with the family or friends, because we are 5 people. IF there will ever be an expansion I most likely wouldn't buy it because I never had a chance to play the game often enough to make a decision.

While this sounds like an individual and rare problem I actually hate companies for holding back the 5th player components. We are a family of five and we will always buy those games at first that support 5 players.

Anyway, I am still carrying it in my bag, in a smaller box because the Queen box is ridiculously large, with hope to convince the others during a four-player evening to give it a chance. 'Expansionitis' doesn't always help a game. In this case it slowed down the whole experience for me.
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Tyler Durden
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played it toady first time ever and it was 2p and it was boring and lame as hell. if you are looking for fun, look somewhere else.
i can't imagine that it will be better with more players, but i'll give at a least a try.
maybe there come's something up we don't see right now. i hope so. the look of the game is pretty, especially the treasure tiles around the island.
it's annoying that there are no treasures are placed on the island with 2p. maybe that will make the difference with more than 2.
at least it's quite short.
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Roger Howell
United States
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Thanks Tyler. I kick started this game and haven't received it yet, but I will be playing it exclusively 2 player. I don't think I am even going to unwrap the game when I get it so that maybe I can just sell it off for more money as new. The ratings so far are terrible and I have read some other comments that the 2 player game is really bad. I think I am done with KS forever. From now on I wait and buy games after I see ratings and comments from others first.
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Daniel Theuerkaufer
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rogerramjet3361 wrote:
I will be playing it exclusively 2 player. I don't think I am even going to unwrap the game when I get it so that maybe I can just sell it off for more money as new.

Do yourself a favor and sell it. This is no 2 player game.It should have been 3-5 from the beginning.
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