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Subject: Games for the Newbs: Letter of Marque rss

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Greg H.
United States
Beachwood
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...is a set of steak knives. Third place is you're fired.
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The category of "filler" is a funny thing. Good fillers are hard to find. On one hand, some fillers tend to lose steam after a number of plays and become repetitive (for me, No Thanks! Comes to mind). Others have longevity and a rich game play but have a higher learning curve that make them harder to teach to newbies or nongamers (Fairy Tale comes to mind).

Letter of Marque is a filler game, but the difficulty is that it straddles the fence between a light and accessible filler and "gamer’s filler" without really pleasing both crowds.

The (Incomplete and Brief) Game Summary
Letter of Marque is a pure bluffing game. Each player gets five treasure cards in their color (values ranging from 3 to 7), three cannon cards, and five plastic ships. Two ships have a cannon symbol on the bottom that is hidden from other players. On a turn, a player can do one of the following:

1. "Float out" a ship in the middle of the table, placing it on a treasure card.
2. Bring back a ship from the middle of the table, scoring the treasure card.
3. Play a cannon card to shoot at an opponent’s ship "out at sea" in the middle of the table.

The value of all treasure cards are viewed by every player, but the ships are hidden regarding whether or not they are armed with a cannon symbol, or unarmed and blank. This is the bluffing component. Players try to determine whether or not treasures are protected by armed ships, shooting their cannon cards at only unarmed treasure cards. Players score points for treasures they bring back safely, as well as cannons shot by other players at their armed and protected treasure cards.

The Components
All components come in a Fantasy Flight "silver line" small box, similar to the box size of Citadels and Red November. The cards are sturdy, attractive, and well illustrated. The plastic ships are very nice in theory but a bit botched in execution. My game arrived with the sails of two ships badly bent, and the design is surprisingly flimsy. This would not be so important except for the fact that ships function as a bluffing device! A damaged ship component is essentially a "marked card" that disrupts its use as a bluffing device. To their credit, Fantasy Flight was incredibly responsive and shipped replacement components.

The Rulebook
The rulebook is very straightforward and well-written, requiring a surprising amount of info for a relatively simple game. There’s nothing about it that detracts from learning the game.

The Teachability Factor
The game is not terribly difficult, but there are some unintuitive elements to it. Players kept forgetting their three options on a turn, and it’s a bit awkward once your own treasure cards, and other player’s cannon cards start to mingle. It’s not terribly complicated, but it’s also not, uh, shall we say "elegantly simple" as some other fillers.

The Gameplay Experience
As a bluffing game, the gameplay is all about reading other people. Did the player arm their most valuable treasure? Or, are they anticipating that I’m assuming it’s armed and instead trying to sneak it by me? In the first few plays, most players used their cannon cards too early, allowing other players to float out their expensive treasure with little or no risk. Here’s the catch--I can imagine a group playing this game with enough frequency that they can develop a smooth ebb and flow, much like poker. However, because it is a light game, it requires some dedication to achieve enough plays to learn the nuances. The initial audiences I’ve tried were not interested enough to make that dedication.

The Profile for Enjoyment
I was really excited about the prospect of a bluffing game, and the first few plays have been rather innocuous. The reaction from others has been relatively the same. "Not bad... so what do you want to play next?" This game has largely been forgotten on my game shelf, taking a seat to many other fillers that we’ve discovered. It requires more plays than my casual or nongaming friends are willing to commit in order to learn its subtleties, but it’s a bluffing game that is too light for the more hardcore gamers. Designing a topnotch filler cannot be easy, and maybe in an alternate universe we’d give this game the attention it deserves, but for now I’m afraid it’s not happening.

OK, so did you want to start off with No Thanks!, For Sale, Fairy Tale, or Incan Gold?
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Vinicius Yuiti Takaki
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I liked your review very much, and share most of the coments you laid out. The game is interesting, but as your friend said, "what are we going to play next?"
I think this can be played sometimes, but not more often than once a month.
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Greg H.
United States
Beachwood
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...is a set of steak knives. Third place is you're fired.
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Jackshoku wrote:
I liked your review very much, and share most of the coments you laid out. The game is interesting, but as your friend said, "what are we going to play next?"
I think this can be played sometimes, but not more often than once a month.


Thank you for the kind commments.

As time has gone by, my feelings have stayed pretty much the same. I'm likely going to give the game to some friends for some thrifted parts to Liar's Dice.
 
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