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Subject: [Review]A Negotiation Game With No Negotiation rss

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Seth Brown
United States
North Adams
Massachusetts
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OVERVIEW
In Booty, you are all pirates who are sharing the spoils of your successful piracy. Ya-Har! Whoever is appointed Quartermaster must attempt to split the spoils fairly enough to please other pirates, but unfairly enough to try to gain an edge.

COMPONENTS IN BRIEF
108 Booty Cards, 5 islands, 12 legacy tiles, 1 commodity track board, 1 player order track board, 1 Quartermaster coin, 6 rank coins, and 6 player colors who each receive 9 flags and 1 turn order tile. (Cards and cardboard)



GAMEPLAY IN BRIEF

0) To start a round, 3N cards from the deck are placed in the central pool, where N is the number of players.

1) In player order, each player is offered the chance to be the Quartermaster or pass. If all players pass, the last player must be the Quartermaster.

2) The Quartermaster takes any number of cards from the center and nominates them as a share by putting them in a (visible) pile and placing a Rank coin on them. In turn order, each other player is offered the chance to accept the share, or reject it.

3) If a player accepts the share, they receive all offered cards, the rank coin determines their player order for next round, they are removed from the current round. The Quartermaster then offers another share to the remaining players, as per step 2.

4) If all players reject the share, the Quartermaster must accept the share as above. In this case, the Quartermaster is removed from the round, and a new Quartermaster is chosen as per step 1.

Once the final share is given to the final remaining player, a new round begins with step 0. There are 6 types of cards, which are worth varying amounts of VP from 0-4 under varying conditions. When the last cards from the deck have been split into shares and claimed, all players tally their VP and the highest total wins.



GOOD POINTS

*An ingenious central mechanic. There are many other games about negotiation or sharing treasure, but by removing the actual negotiation from these negotiations, Booty prevents domination by aggressive or stubborn talkers. The classic "Solomon solution" on display here (you split, I pick) sidesteps the usual shennanigans, and in the final turn of each round, is a classic Solomon split where the Quartermaster divides out half of the remaining loot and offers the other player the choice of who receives which half. This all gets right to the idea of playing other players. This means you get all of the psychological sizing up of other people's desires, without all wheeling, dealing, and pleading that shows up in most negotiation games. Consequently...

*Plays fairly swiftly. Unless your Quartermaster has a lot of Analysis Paralysis -- which, okay, will probably happen in their first game -- the game proceeds fairly swiftly since everyone else's decisions are simply binary: Take the stuff? Or don't take the stuff! The game runs until the deck runs out, and so the same number of shares will be received whether you're playing 3p or 6p, it's just that the 6p game will have half as many rounds which will each in turn have twice the shares.

*Easy to learn and play. As mentioned above, for anyone who isn't the Quartermaster, all decisions in this game are binary: Take what's offered, or don't. Even the position of Quartermaster itself is offered to be accepted or passed. And if a player for some reason found the idea of being Quartermaster too overwhelming, they could always pass on being Quartermaster or on shares with the last-place rank-coin, and be guaranteed never to be stuck making complicated decisions. Even evaluating a share's value to you isn't too complicated, since all cards are worth 0-4VP, most of them with the value printed right on the card, or at least easily calculable based on the cards in front of you.

*Asymmetrical incentives quickly accumulate. You might think this simplicity would make the choices too obvious, because anyone can see what a "good" or "bad" share is. But as the game continues, cards quickly become worth different amounts to different players. Of the six types of cards, only Yellow cards are static VP. Blue cards score 3VP for your first of a type, while your second Blue card of any type is worthless. Purple cards are 2VP each, but you can only score one of the two types at endgame. Red cards let you place flags on islands for points, but one island will end the game unfilled and all flags there will be worthless. Green cards are commodities, whose value fluctuates from 0-4 VP as the winner of Trade Routes cards determines which values rise and which fall. And White flags are 1VP each, but a Letter of Marque from a country will give you a huge -4VP penalty for that country's flag, but a bonus 1 VP for every other flag.

Consequently, by halfway through the game, a share of a Blue Monkey, a White Spanish flag, and a Purple Bible card may be worth a different amount of VP to every single player. The "Legacy" tiles also offer a hidden asymmetric tiny bonus goal at the beginning of the game.

*Lots of room for the Quartermaster to play mindgames.
The only other game I've seen to use a similar "I split, you pick" mechanic is Piece of Cake, but Booty adds a few important twists. Firstly, a single card is face-down each round, and visible only to the Quartermaster. This bit of hidden information allows a little bluffing. A bigger innovation is the auctioning of rank coins, allowing the Quartermaster to make even a lousy 2-card share attractive by pairing it with the right of first refusal for the following round, or to convince a table full of pirates to pass on a fat 4-card share for fear of picking up the dreaded last-place rank.

But the most important difference may be that rather than splitting up all of the treasure at once, Booty has the Quartermaster shave off one share at a time. This allows a clever Quartermaster to take advantage of all those asymmetric incentives, because they don't have to make a fair split, just a share that will appeal to at least one remaining pirate. Doing this successfully repeatedly will leave the Quartermaster with a good haul at the end worth more to him than the average share parceled out that round.



BAD POINTS

*The Quartermaster can easily make the game much worse. As mentioned above, Booty is all simply binary decisions EXCEPT for the Quartermaster who has to offer the share. But if a Quartermaster -- whether out of stupidity or spite -- picks up the 6 best cards and offers them as a single share, whoever picks first will immediately take that share and almost assuredly win the game. Admittedly this should never happen because anyone playing to win can clearly see this is a bad idea, but the option exists.

More common is the inverse: a Quartermaster who, overwhelmed by a field of 18 cards and 5 opponents each with their own layout of cards, takes far too long to put together a share for offer. If this happens repeatedly, the game can drag.

CONCLUSION

I don't like this game. I think it's a great game. This is why I enjoy writing reviews.

Booty is all about playing your opponents, sussing out how they will value things, pinpointing how weak a share you can offer as Quartermaster without getting stuck with it, and how good a share you can pass on and still expect to be offered a better one this round. It's all about figuring out what your opponents want, and how badly. And I just don't enjoy that type of game.

But you'll notice that the review is fairly positive, aside from "people who don't like this type of game won't like it". This game is really good at what it does, which is providing all the evaluations and carefully calculated offers of a good negotiation game, without all of the annoying overhead (lengthy disputes, domination by orator) that oft accompanies actual negotiation. I'd unhesitatingly recommend this game to people who enjoy "play the players" sorts of games.

IS IT FOR YOU?

Some people simply do not enjoy games that revolve around figuring out how much other people want things. So if you're one of us folks who wants to build engines and actualize a plan, this is a game focused on reading opponents which won't provide that.

But if you enjoy looking at your opponents and figuring our what they might want, Booty is just the kind of thing you'd enjoy. I'd also especially recommend it to people who want to like negotiation games but are turned off by either lengthy dealings or dominant talkers.
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