I first heard about Shores of Tripoli in January 2019 when Kevin Bertram (author of the game) contacted me sharing his idea and concept. From the beginning I was intrigued by a completely new historical subject to me – I will be honest, I never knew that US was fighting on the Mediterranean to repeal the pirates and they were supported by Swedes! Another think which I liked from the start was of course asymmetry plus Card Driven Game concept where you – throughout the game – have access to all of the cards but it is question when and how to use them.

I kept my fifers crossed for Kickstarter campaign and when it finally successfully finished, was awaiting for the actual copy to arrive. The COVID and pandemic situation had some impact on the release schedule but finally the day has come!

The Game

Before sharing more about sessions and impressions, some information about the game. Hope that will build your interest in that title too!

From the end of the American Revolution, commercial vessels of the young United States republic were easy prey for the pirates of the Barbary coast. In 1801, newly inaugurated President Thomas Jefferson was eager to put an end to this threat and sent a “squadron of observation” to the Mediterranean. As the squadron arrived in Gibraltar, they learned that the bashaw of Tripoli had already declared WAR!

The Shores of Tripoli plays out this exciting episode of Early American military history. As the United States, one player will pressure Tripolitania to allow the free movement of American merchant vessels – or face the consequences. As the bashaw of Tripoli, the other player will continue the lucrative piracy of the fearsome corsairs while countering the American threat on land and sea.

Beautiful and informative cards represent historical events and leaders from the First Barbary War. Players can move ships, start battles, go on pirate raids, engage in diplomacy and receive reinforcements. Includes over 80 wooden playing pieces, 24 dice and a premium mounted map.

Session 1

We are still in the semi-lockdown here in Poland so there was no way to play live. Thus two attempts were made by me with really great solo variant. Second time my two sons – 5 & 7 years-old took part as “bots”. They loved the pirates theme and daddy was providing them with couple (usually 2-3) options in particular situation. That proved to be great way to play 🙂

But first things first! Let us see how I coped with the corsairs in my first game:

  • Solitaire game #1 ready to start! Beginning of 1801.
  • Focusing on Derne to make it ready for inevitable assault. Already two small boats built.
  • End of 1803 - frigate in Alexandria to allow for land army forming. New corsairs in Tunisia. 11 (!!!) coins in hands of pirates.
  • 1804 - first, taking care of new threat.
  • 1805 - another obstacle to victory - pirate frigate - will burn thanks to well-played event.
  • End of 1805 - comfortable situation. What can go wrong?
  • Of course new pirates - this time in Algiers - appear! But "Show of Force" will deal with them.
  • End of 1806 - Derne taken, no Troipoli Allies on board, no frigates in Tripoli - VICTORY - Treaty signed!

It went better then expected – but I have a feeling I might play some of the rules incorrectly (mainly when the bot plays particular cards). Still, that was very enjoyable!

Session 2

The second attempt was, as I already hinted, with two young bots. Natan (7 years) took command of Americans while Jakub (5 years) was the leader of pirates. Below how things unfolded:

  • Solitaire game #2 ready to start! Two "bots" - my 5&7 year old sons - will play main role:) This is beginning of 1801.
  • First things first - the blockade of corsairs in Tripoli starts.
  • The pirates try to get out for a raid but a nasty surprise awaits them! Frigates fires with 15 dice!
  • End of 1804 - pirates (Jakub) already sunk one frigate and plundered 8 coins out of 12. Americans (Natan) progress with his land army and also built strong fleet.
  • ...then Morocco...
  • ...and Tunis! All are dealt with but with great difficulty.
  • One more issue to tackle - the pirates frigate in Tripoli. After two bloody attacks success!
  • End of 1806 - a victory for Americans - in last attack they destroyed the corsairs frigate. Boys had a lot of fun from pirates game!

A close and interesting game, where I had a chance to much better understand and learn the mechanics and dependencies between various strategies and events.

First Impressions

Let me share now my thoughts and experiences regarding the game:

  • Another small jewel which you can play quickly, switch sides and play once again. All in one evening!
  • I love the concept that in the end, you will have access to almost all your cards, including the best ones, should the final 1806 year come; it is more a meter of when to play them then count on luck to get them; this is tremendous design advantage and something which makes that game really shine.
  • The asymmetry is very well depicted here, with both sides having similar chance for success.
  • Theme – I love history but never really heard about that war; US Frigates fighting Pirate States in Mediterranean? Thomas Jefferson in charge of American Expedition force in Europe? Swedish (!) Navy accompanying US one in the fight against Tripoli corsairs? That is so unbelievable that it blows your mind! And true at the same time.
  • Very engrossing, designed in a way that keeps both sides engaged and on the ropes almost till the last turn.
  • Great components quality – I really like them! Especially wooden ships are great.

I am really glad I could play such an innovative design – both in the area of mechanics (Card Driven Game with access to all cards in the end) and theme (one of the less known wars with pirates!). The game is thrilling as solo experience, gives your US forces so much challenge. I simply can’t wait (pandemic / lockdown permitting) to play it with the real life opponent. Strongly recommended!

PS. The Shores of Tripoli was published by Fort Circle Games who now is looking for play-testers of the new design – Halls of Montezuma. Should you be interested in assisting, send email to kevin@fortcircle.com.