On the high seas, everyone gets their fair share!
At least if they’re savvy. And you are. You know when it’s advantageous to be the quartermaster and when it’s advantageous to bestow that honor on someone else. You know the high-seas legacy you wish to leave, and you know the clearest path to victory.
But will your crewmates agree with you? It will take take a savvy buccaneer indeed to haggle, negotiate, divide the plunder, and backstab to an early retirement in the Caribbean. Are you clever enough to get your share of the booty?
How It Works
Booty is an “I divide, you decide” set collection game for three to six players. Players are pirates dividing the spoils of their campaigns, and the player with the most valuable haul at the end of the game wins.
Each player takes the flag markers of one color. The islands are laid in the center of the table, and each player is dealt two Legacy tiles. Next, cards are dealt to the center of the table (one face-down, and three cards for each player in the game). Randomly assign player order.
Each round, in turn order, players decide whether they want to be the quartermaster. The first player to accept the role (or the last player in turn order) takes on the role of quartermaster, which is creating “shares.” Each share must include a turn-order button for the next round and can include any number of cards. In turn order, each other player decides whether they want the share or they want to pass. If all other players pass, the quartermaster takes the share, and a new quartermaster is chosen and makes a new share. Otherwise, the quartermaster continues to make shares until all other players have taken shares; the remaining cards go to the quartermaster, and a new round begins.
Cards score in different ways. Gold cards are worth straight points. Relic cards value novelty, so only the first of each type of relic scores points for each player. Might cards allow players to place flags at various ports on the islands, but there is one fewer might card than flag spaces on the board, meaning one of the islands won’t score. Flag cards score 1 point apiece, and Letters of Marque are worth points based on which flags you have. Commodity cards give points based on a fluctuating commodity market, and way of life cards (Bibles & rum) score whichever you have more of and not the other.
The game ends after the final round of division. Players tally the points on the cards they have and choose one of their Legacy tiles to score. The player with the most points wins.
Fair Share, or Despoiled?
I love the classic problem of dividing something in such a way that, even when everyone else chooses what they want, you still get what you want in the end. Booty takes this problem, adds variable scoring methods and personal goals, and includes a good amount of reading other players to make a compelling splitting game.
What makes Booty worth playing is that there are many different–and interesting–ways to score. There are the solid points, like flags and gold pieces, that are always worth a straight number of victory points. And then there are lots and lots of items that are worth variable points. Attacking ports can be worthwhile–but one island in the game will not score, and the later ports on each island aren’t worth any points, so players have to remain on their toes. Relics are worth points so long as they are novel. One monkey is worth 3 points–the same as two monkeys, or three monkeys, etc. Way of life cards–Bibles and rum– are worth 2 points apiece, but you only get to score one or the other at the end of the game. And then there is the commodity market with fluctuating values and the cards that adjust the values within the market.
Added to this are the Letters of Marque–government documents giving permission to plunder–that are worth 1 point per non-matching flag…and -4 points for every matching flag! (Spain doesn’t give you permission to plunder its own ships.) These cards can be powerful motivators in swaying would-be treasure seekers away from a stash of booty.
I love the way these various scoring methods work together because they complicate the valuation process. If I have a stash of Bibles, a rum card probably isn’t worth anything to me. If I already have a parrot, the parrot in the share is worthless to me. If all the remaining ports are zeros and my flags are already secure, the might cards might not be my best bet. And so on.
Of course, the secret legacy tiles that each player holds can add a lot of flavor to the game. Each player gets two at the start of the game and will score one. These tiles offer points for accomplishing certain goals–for example, allowing a player to score duplicate relics, or score all his or her ports on an island that didn’t score, or guaranteeing the prices of commodities, or ignoring the penalty of one letter of Marque, and so on. It’s not always easy to guess what legacy tiles the other players have, but they can and often do disrupt the valuation process that takes place. I love this aspect of the game.
The interlocking scoring systems in Booty remind me of one of my favorite games, Ra. Ra is a similar game of complicated valuation and trying to read the other players. But where Ra is a game that uses push your luck and auctions to determine what each player receives, Booty uses soft negotiation. No, this isn’t Cosmic Encounter, where players are making ridiculous promises and planning backstabbery in their minds. In Booty, the negotiation is done through cards and offers. If you make a paltry offer to someone else, they’re going to leave that share for you. And sometimes, even if you offer something very beneficial to someone else and not very good for you, they’ll take the less optimal share just to stick you with something you don’t want. (Stupid Letters of Marque…) So there’s still room for spite and backstabbery even in a game where negotiation is controlled. And most of all, there’s still room for players to surprise you with what they will do. There are very few no-brainer moves in Booty, and that’s what keeps it interesting.
But Booty, to me, has one big problem to contend with: it is simply a lot (and possibly too much) to take in at once. There are three cards for each person in the center of the table, and the quartermaster has to evaluate these cards, what each player has, what each player wants, and how not to get stuck with a sub-par share him- or herself. This is done one share at a time–unlike, say, San Marco, another “I divide, you decide” game, where it’s much easier to see what you will be getting both when you divide and when you decide. (Here, because the quartermaster can change, you never know with certainty what the final division of shares will be.) With four players, there are twelve cards in the center of the table, which is already a lot to handle. With six, there are eighteen cards to evaluate each round. Now, all the cards are color coded, and you do get more comfortable with how cards score the more familiar you are with the game, but nothing brings out analysis paralysis in me like being charged with the quartermaster role and trying to divide this mess evenly. Of course, you can play the game intuitively, just doing what “feels” right, but in Booty, a strategy game with very little hidden information, this seems out of place.
I also recognize that not everyone will shut down when they see the booty pool in the center of the table as I do. But the back of the box advertises play for “3-6 casual gamers.” While the rules of the game are simple enough for casual gamers, I can’t imagine bringing Booty out with this group. Further, I’ve played several games with three and four players, and it’s hard for me to imagine the game with five or six. I suppose if everyone at the table has experience with the game, it could work, but I don’t have the fortitude to try it at those counts yet. I’d say while you’re learning, it’s best to play at the lower counts. But I’ll add that it’s worth persevering: this is a game that gets better (and simpler, and therefore faster) the more familiar you are with it. If you like the idea of Booty, you owe it to yourself to push past the initial disorientation of seeing all those cards in the center of the table and to get comfortable with the cards and scoring before casting final judgment.
The components in Booty are nice, for the most part. The cards are good quality with a nice linen finish, and the boards are sturdy. The illustrations are appropriate and clear, and the cards are color coded so you can easily see in which ways a card can score points. The groups I’ve played with were initially divided on the art (I like it quite a bit), but even those who didn’t care for it no longer noticed it when we were in the thick of the game. The players’ individual might flags aren’t great, but they are easy to tally and see, and the symbols on them are different to make them color-blind friendly. The worst thing I can say about the components is that the box is boring. The cover illustration is printed very darkly, making any detail hard to see, which in turn makes for an uninviting package. I’ve brought Booty to four or five consecutive game nights without drumming up any interest to play, simply because the package is unenticing. I’ve been able to get people to play the game by personally advocating for it (and now there is a contingent that requests it at work), but unlike some of the prettier games in our hobby, this one is a bit of a hard sell initially. Splendor this is not.
Booty is a clever game of dividing the spoils, and it opens up lots of space for ingenious play and cutthroat haggling. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and it can induce analysis paralysis, but I’ve enjoyed my plays of this, and it’s definitely a game that gets better the more you play it. If you have a group that already likes this mechanism or who loves to explore games deeply before moving on, Booty is a great choice for you. It takes some getting used to, but it’s rewarding once you know what you’re doing.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Mayfair Games for providing us with a review copy of Booty.