Booty shows you — and everyone else — the booty

, | Game reviews

Someone has gotten up to make a phone call real quick. Someone else is looking up a rule. Do you need to roll equal to or greater than? He could have sworn it was on this page, but he’s not seeing it. The two guys across the table are talking about the Star Wars movie again. I can’t believe they don’t know what a luggabeast is called, so I get into the conversation. When the guy making the phone call comes back to take his turn, he just sits there and stares at his cards. Why isn’t he taking his turn? I eventually realize that they’re looking at me expectantly.

“Oh, is it my turn?”

A cardinal sin in a boardgame is wasting my time. A $200 game that isn’t very good is one thing. But a game that recreates what I do in line at the supermarket, in my dentist’s office, and when the 405 is jammed up? Indefensible. Games should not be about waiting. Ideally, a game will always keep everyone involved. One of my favorite solutions to the “oh is it my turn?” problem is Booty.

After the jump, Booty call, y’all

Booty is a game about pirates dividing up their loot. The loot is a deck of cards. The game continues until all the cards have been claimed. Every single card will be spoken for. No booty left behind.

Each turn, the current quartermaster — variously an advantage and a liability — will consider a handful of face-up cards in the middle of the table. A pile of loot, if you will. Each type of loot scores a different way. Set collection, filling blanks on little island scoreboards, a fluctuating commodities market, negative points for attacking the wrong countries, the mutually exclusive choice between scoring rum or scoring Bibles (in Sarah Northway’s brilliant Rebuild games, any given character gets a morale boost from a bar or a church, but never both). It’s all very thematic. And, of course, there’s player order for the next turn, represented by bright gold coins thrown in among the loot cards. Everything is split into little piles and put on offer from one player to another in the current turn order. Do you want this one? No. Then do you want it? No. Then do you want it? No. That means the quartermaster has failed to make an attractive share and so he keeps it himself. Which might have been his intention all along. Now someone else takes over as quartermaster for the rest of this turn’s loot.

It’s the same principle as getting two children to share one piece of cake. One child gets to cut the piece of cake in half; the other child gets to choose which half he wants. Apply this to three to six players with a piece of cake that can be cut myriad ways. Booty.

As with any game, Booty will work differently for different groups. But in terms of avoiding the “oh is it my turn?” problem, there’s a right way and a wrong way to play Booty. The initial inclination might be to think of this as a game where everyone should sit patiently and let the quartermaster do his job. Some people might even consider it in their best interest to remain silent, waiting to see what happens. There’s just enough hidden information that math alone won’t tell you who’s winning. And many of the treasures can’t be fully assessed until the game has ended. The price of tobacco might fall. Cuba might not be fully conquered. A carefully placed French letter of marque would mean those French flags deduct points rather than add points. I might round out my treasure collection on the last turn with the fortuitous acquisition of monkeys and ivory because none of you noticed that’s what I really need. And we all have a couple of secret bonus tokens we can cash in at the end. So for many groups, the inclination will be to keep your cards close to your vest, to be careful not to tip your hand and reveal what you want. The hope is that you might claim a share that you really need because no one noticed that you really need it.

But Booty comes alive when players wheel and deal, when they ask for specific loot, when they argue and protest and counter-offer. Booty should be a game of negotiation. When that happens, everyone is always invested. When the quartermaster is just the arbiter and not the master, everyone has a role in what’s going on, in who’s getting what, and who’s getting how much, everyone is involved in the art of the deal. The social dynamic provides an inherent catch-up mechanic, because no one is going to let the guy who’s winning get the biggest share. You don’t win Booty by the rules. You win Booty by tricking the quartermaster, or by your own cunning quartermastery.

Along with its solution to the “oh is it my turn?” problem, what I most appreciate about Booty is that it’s unique. There’s no game in my collection quite like it. It’s not quite a deck builder like Dominion. It’s not quite a bidding game like Ra. It’s not quite a card drafting game like 7 Wonders. It’s not quite a points salad buffet like Trajan. It’s all of these things, but with all the cards on the table, quite literally, to keep everyone’s attention. I never have to wonder if it’s my turn, because it’s always my turn.

  • Booty

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  • Boardgame
  • When you're a pirate, stealing the loot is the easy part. The hard part is sharing it with the other pirates. This is a game about that.