Cutting across the open sea at flank speed is Letter of Marque
, the latest game from the fertile mind of Bruno Faidutti. Players set sail across dangerous waters in an attempt to bring home as much treasure as possible, all the while staying just out of reach of cannon fire from the other players. It is a brisk and blustery game of treasure and temptation set on the high seas, where bluffing and trickery rule the day. As the game is getting ready for release we’re excited to offer a glimpse at the rules, and offer a few suggestions for mastering the subtle strategy it requires. As with all classic games of bluff, the finer points of play will be revealed in the interplay between opponents as they secretly vie for control of the elements in play without revealing their true motives.
The game is incredibly easy to learn, with mechanics that lend well to both family and casual play. However, don’t be fooled by its simplicity. The stakes are raised significantly the instant everyone’s ships laden with goods and riches first pull away from the dock en route to their final destinations.
Letter of Marque creates an environment where no player is ever entirely sure whether to trust their inner pirate and attack, or to reign the crew back and let the enemy ship pass unharmed. Where are the cannons hiding ready to counterattack? Which ships are unprotected and therefore ripe for pillage and plunder? Players quickly find out that appearances are deceiving...and that’s where the fun begins.
Each player begins with an identical number of treasure cards face down upon the table, a set of ammunition cards to represent cannons, and 5 wonderfully detailed plastic vessels of a unique color. The initial turn has all players revealing their top treasure card and placing it face up in the center of the table, considered to be “at sea.” Everyone then selects one ship from the fleet they hold in reserve, secretly choosing either to use an armed ship (marked with a cannon symbol under its base) or to carry the cargo in a defenseless ship (which is blank). Since the treasure carried in each vessel’s hold remains visible at all times, there are prizes tempting everyone at the table and no matter the number of players each person has only three opportunities to fire on an enemy ship. Play moves clockwise around the table. Each player in turn must focus either on moving treasure cards loaded on their own ships or attacking an opponent’s vessel with a volley of cannon fire by placing a cannon card next to the target.
Every turn you will choose from one of three options: send another ship to sea, return a ship safely to port in order to score, or you will be looking for an opportune moment to try looting cargo from an opponent. You must develop a strategy for how to best determine which ships are the ones to attack or the ones to let pass.
Each time you launch a ship to sea with cargo, you choose whether or not to protect it by playing a ship with a cannon. Remember that of the five vessels in each fleet, only two have armament at the ready to protect their precious goods. If you leave a ship defenseless, you’re hoping that the other players are going to pass over its tantalizing bounty. You’ll want opponents to overlook your stocked cargo holds in order to navigate your defenseless ships back to port without incident and score. However, when you arm a ship with ammunition you’ll try to make it appear a tempting target and lure other players into attacking.
When you attack an unarmed ship, you gain all the booty and claim the treasure card for yourself. However, firing upon a protected ship will gain you nothing except for wasting one of your few attacks and giving up to your opponent one more point for their treasure pile.
Keep your eyes on the other players, especially once they’ve unsuccessfully attacked another ship or lost one of their own. A cunning captain will mercilessly toy with the expectations of these now wary players simply by presenting dangerous targets that are too good to pass up and harmless prey that appear just threatening enough to let by. Even after players have discovered that one of your ships at sea is protected, consider leaving it there and confuse them by flooding the area with even more. You will often find that players quickly forget which ships are armed once they grow worried about keeping their own cargo safe.
Letter of Marque’s clever and elegant design creates a fun but tense environment, where success or failure rests entirely between players who must tease and bluff each other in order to win. You’ll need a canny eye, a healthy dose of intuition, and occasionally sheer good luck to succeed!
Letter of Marque is a card game of treasure, temptation, and trickery on the high seas in which three to six players battle and bluff their way across the ocean to safely deliver their cargo.