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Subject: Tortuga 1667 In-depth Review — Plus House Rules for the Dutch rss

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Mark P
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Games played: ~10
Playing time: ~45 minutes
Players in those games: 5, 9, and everything in between. Technically plays 2–9, but I wouldn’t play with anything below 5. The more the better!

You’re a pirate on the coast of Tortuga, secretly sanctioned by the British, French, or Dutch. Launch ship-to-ship attacks, mutiny against your captain, or vie for control of the gold on Tortuga before the Spanish Armada arrives.

Tortuga 1667 is a fast-paced, quick-to-learn, satisfying team vs team strategy game, with just the right mix of deception and luck to keep players on their toes. While the game has some flaws, they’re easy to mend with a few house rules (see end of review). Game groups of five or more players will find this a fantastic addition to their collections.

The Goal

Each player receives a Loyalty card secretly aligning them with the British, French, or Dutch. Most players serve the British or French, while a single player owes allegiance to the Dutch. Throughout the game, players can move gold pieces on the two pirate ships and on Tortuga to either the French hold or British hold at each location. The game ends when the Spanish Armada card is revealed. If all the British holds together have more gold than the French holds, the British win. If the opposite is true, the French win. If it’s a tie, the single Dutch player wins.

The Basics

After receiving Loyalty cards, each player is randomly placed in a starting position on one of the two ships: The Flying Dutchman or the Jolly Roger. Players can move themselves (and sometimes, other players) throughout the game, and several positions bestow a special action a player can take.

The player at the front of each ship is the Captain of that ship, and can call for an attack, which if successful moves a gold piece from the neutral Spanish Galleon to whichever hold the Captain chooses on their ship (or if the Spanish Galleon is depleted of gold, from the other pirate ship). The Captain can also maroon any member of their crew — essentially forcing a suspected enemy to walk the plank.

The next player in line on the ship is the ship’s First Mate, who can call for a mutiny against the Captain. If a mutiny succeeds, the Captain is marooned to Tortuga, and the First Mate steps forward to become the Captain.

The player at the back of the line on either ship serves as the Cabin Boy, who can move a gold piece on their ship from one of its holds to the other (in a lowly populated ship, one player may serve simultaneously as the Captain and Cabin Boy or First Mate and Cabin Boy, in which case both roles’ special actions are available).

And lastly, the first person in line on Tortuga is the governor of Tortuga, who can call for a brawl, which determines the distribution of the gold on Tortuga.

Or instead of those role-specific actions, any player can do one of the following as their single action for their turn:

Move to or from a rowboat
Look at two action cards
Reveal an action card (and resolve the effects of it)
Force another player to choose one of two action cards (and resolve the effects of it)

Action cards include those that maroon the revealer, allow the revealer to maroon a player of their choice, allow the revealer to move a player to the back of a ship, and more. Several of the cards force the revealer to choose another player to get a beneficial card, so players will be keeping an eye on who’s furthering their team’s goals in order to decide who to help and who to hinder.


Votes

Above, I mentioned attacks, mutinies, and brawls. Those are the three types of “Votes” in the game. When someone calls for a vote, relevant players choose one of three vote cards from their hand to play, and one random vote card is added from the deck. Then you shuffle and flip them over, and see what happens next.

Attack
Initiator: Captain
Participants: Everyone on the ship
Options: Cannon, Torch, Bucket of Water
Success: If there’s at least one cannon, and at least one more torch than there are buckets of water, then the attack succeeds. The captain takes one piece of gold from the Spanish Galleon — or if the galleon is out of gold, from either hold on the other pirate ship — and places it in either the French or British hold on their ship.
Failure: If there are no cannons, or the number of buckets is greater than or equal to the number of torches, the attack fails. Nothing happens.

Typically during an attack, the goal is to ask one player you trust (including yourself) who has a cannon to play it, and everyone else to play a torch if they have one. That way, even if the random card is a water bucket or if someone plays a bucket, you can aim to have more torches than buckets. If a player sees that the Captain has been putting gold in the other team’s hold, they may try to throw buckets of water to sabotage the attack.

Brawl
Initiator: Governor of Tortuga
Participants: Everyone on Tortuga
Options: French Flag, British Flag
Result: If there are more French flags than British flags, both gold pieces on Tortuga move to the French hold on Tortuga. If there are more British flags, both pieces move to the British hold. If there are an equal number of French and British flags, the gold is split, with one piece of gold in the French hold and one in the British hold.

This one is straightforward. French players will throw a French flag if they have one, and British players will throw a British flag if they have one. Early in the game, it’s common for the first marooned player (who becomes Governor on a deserted Tortuga) to call for a brawl while alone, throwing a flag of their loyalty and taking the 50-50 shot that the random card will be the same flag, and get both of Tortuga’s gold pieces in their team’s hold. Later in the game, especially if several people have been marooned to Tortuga, these votes can get pretty wild — and the power to call for a brawl can often swing the game.

Mutiny
Initiator: First Mate
Participants: Everyone on that ship except for the Captain
Options: Skull, Wheel
Success: If there are more skulls than wheels, the mutiny succeeds. The captain is marooned to Tortuga and everyone on the ship takes one step forward, making the former First Mate the new Captain.
Failure: If the number of wheels is greater than or equal to the number of skulls, the mutiny fails. Nothing happens (though the first mate can probably expect some retaliation when it’s the Captain’s turn).

Mutinies can be hard to pull off if you don’t have a numbers advantage, since you need more than half the symbols to be skulls in order to succeed. But that’s somewhat outweighed by the Captain not having a vote. The random card often makes the difference between a success and a failure. The Captain is always under threat of a mutiny — and thus, it’s essential that they have someone they trust as their First Mate.


Votes are a big part of the game, and a big part of what makes the game work. A lot of boardgames with large numbers of players struggle to engage the players because each player has to go so long between their turns. Tortuga’s voting system gives players something to do when it isn’t actually their turn — something to do that feels meaningful and exciting.

Uncertainty about who played what, and the inclusion of a random card, also leads to a lot of intrigue. Let’s say the Captain calls for an attack, and two buckets end up on the table. Is it a single saboteur and a random bucket — or do you have two saboteurs among your crew? There’s always a chance someone’s lying.

And the vote cards also enable a lot of strategic thinking. Your vote choices are limited to what’s in your hand. If you’re British, but all of your vote cards’ “Brawl” fields are the French flag, you want to avoid Tortuga like the plague until you can cycle some of those cards out in an attack or mutiny vote. Because if you’re unfortunate enough to be on Tortuga when the Governor calls for a brawl, you have no choice but to throw a French card as your vote. Or, you may be stuck voting to mutiny against a Captain who’s on your team because you threw your only wheel card earlier during an attack. The cards in your hand make up one factor among several to weigh when considering how to position yourself.


Action Cards

At the start of the game, you’ll shuffle in the standard action cards along with three of eight possible “special” action cards. You’ll place the Spanish Armada card — which ends the game when revealed — at the bottom of the deck. Then you’ll set out the first five action cards face-down, lined up with the game maps’ numbers of 1 through 5. Those five cards are the ones you’ll have chances to look at and reveal, and a new card from the deck will take the place of any card that’s revealed. When the Spanish Armada card comes onto the field, the final 5 cards are shuffled and put randomly into the 1 through 5 positions.

Some action cards are good, some are bad, and most are situation-dependent. As their action for a turn, any player can do one of the following things:

Look at two action cards
Reveal an action card
Force a player to reveal one of two action cards of your choice

You can navigate these cards strategically by spending turns to look at cards, then encouraging presumed teammates to reveal helpful cards or force suspected enemies to choose between two damaging cards. Or, you can reveal cards randomly, which is a gamble that can either pay off handsomely or cause some big problems for your team.

Action cards make the game both strategic and interesting, but they can easily become a frustrating memory game unless each player writes down what card they see and which number it was, and one player keeps track of who’s seen which cards (and resets the tracking for a particular number whenever a card is revealed). See more details on this suggestion in the “Suggestions and House Rules” section at the end of this review.

You’ll pick up on the standard cards pretty quickly, but the special cards can make a huge difference in a game, and they also add some big replay value, since games with different special action cards can produce substantially different situations and strategies.



Here’s a quick rundown of the standard cards, with the effect that happens to the revealer:

3x Black Spot
You are marooned.

3x Albatross
Keep this card. If two albatross cards are ever on one ship together, everyone on that ship is instantly marooned.

3x Pistol
Maroon another player of your choice.

3x Letter of Marque
Move any player from Tortuga or a rowboat to the back of the line on either ship. You can either do this immediately, or save it and use it as your action on a later turn.

3x “Map” cards
Each of these is unique, but they all have beneficial effects — and you give it to another player instead of keeping it yourself. The three one-time benefits are:
Fountain of Youth: Protection from a single maroon attempt
Atlantis: Jump from one ship to the back of the line on either ship between players’ turns
El Dorado: Play two vote cards instead of one (and until you do so, your vote-card hand size increases by one)

Revealing most cards isn’t very helpful early in the game, because there hasn’t been time for everyone to show their true colors. You may be handing a map card to an opposing player who will later use it against you. Until you see who’s furthering your team’s interests and who’s working against them, you don’t know who to give useful cards to or force damaging cards on. But once you have a sense for your allies and enemies, all of these cards can be immensely helpful.

In addition to revealing helpful cards yourself, you can also “force” a presumed friendly player to choose between cards if it would be more helpful for them to reveal the card than you, and you don’t want to wait until it’s their turn for them to reveal it (or you don’t want to risk an enemy revealing it first). It’s not uncommon to hear someone say to a presumed teammate, “Choose between 1 and 3. And choose 1.”

Quick note on cards that maroon a player: Remember when I said players have three vote cards at all times? Getting marooned on Tortuga makes you lose a vote card — permanently. So your hand size could drop from three to two. That’s the danger of being on Tortuga, and one of the reasons it’s often helpful to maroon someone to Tortuga. But it’s always situational: There are times when marooning a player to Tortuga puts them in a position to swing a brawl vote. And it’s the pros and cons that you have to weigh in each unique situation that give the game’s decision-making a lot of satisfying depth.

How It Plays

Every game of Tortuga plays differently, which gives it a lot of staying power. Players are randomly assigned starting positions — and a big part of the excitement comes from the fluidity of roles. You may start as a ship’s Captain, but if your crew mutinies against you or a player reveals the right card, you may find yourself tossed onto the shores of Tortuga — and your former First Mate at the captain’s wheel.

And each phase of the game takes on a distinct character.

In the early game, you’re figuring out who’s on which team. Each Captain has to place a starting gold piece in either the French or British hold on their ship, and then those captains typically start calling for attacks to try to get their team ahead and figure out how much consensus they have among their crew. Each Captains’ loyalty is quite clear based on where they put gold, and then everyone else starts to show their colors as they work to maroon their captain — or don’t. It’s possible for players to play against their loyalty to trick players into thinking they’re on the other team, but it’s a risky move. At some point the cost of working against your own team’s interests becomes too high, and your actual teammates may end up wasting actions and cards against you instead of against their actual opponents.

Then, each team tries to consolidate power on one or both ships, then use that power to succeed on attacks and get the gold in their team’s hold on the ship. Players who don’t have anything better to do look at action cards and use that information to suggest cards for teammates to reveal, or to force opponents to reveal. Trying to maroon members of the other team to weaken their grip on a ship is common, often combined with cards that move you or your teammates to move to that ship if it means they become First Mate and can mutiny against the Captain.

When one team is in a solid position with more gold in their team’s holds, they’ll try to make the game end more quickly — that means revealing the Spanish Armada card, which is on the bottom of the action card deck and will be one of the final 5 cards revealed. So that means burning through those action cards as quickly as possible. The team that’s behind, too, often needs to use action cards to change the status quo and put themselves in a better position, so the game tends to accelerate quickly toward an exciting end — sometimes with the team that was leading keeping the game in their hands, and sometimes with the action cards giving the team that’s behind a way back into good positions to move gold and swing the game as it’s about to end.

I’ll close this section discussing what really makes this game enjoyable: Teamwork. As people study their current vote cards and look at available action cards, each person has essential information their teammates don’t. Between two teammates’ knowledge, they may totally change the game in their favor with a few moves. But each person only has a few pieces to the puzzle — and have to be careful about how and when they share the information they have.

The rules rightly dictate that players can’t whisper to teammates or pass notes that only certain other players can see. That means that if you tell your teammates to pick a certain action card, your opponents now know that card is helpful, and may pick it themselves if your teammate doesn’t.

One person can’t be alone calling the shots. Because players don’t know what action cards their teammates have looked at or what vote cards are in their hands, each player has to rely on their teammates to make the right decisions with the information they have, and to offer up the information they have if it’s the right time to take advantage of it. This aspect of teamwork keeps the game engaging for everyone, and makes every victory feel like a true team effort.

As great as this game is, it does have a few flaws. Read the final section below to learn what they are and how to play the game in a way that makes for an even better experience.

House Rules and Suggestions

Tracking Card Intel


The strategizing and teamwork that come with action cards relies on everyone knowing which cards they’ve looked at. The game’s rules state that this isn’t a memory game — and in order to ensure it doesn’t become one, and to avoid the frustration of people simply forgetting which cards they’ve looked at and what those cards were, I highly recommend writing things down. Each player should privately write down the cards they see and which number each card was (for their own reference — remember, you can’t pass notes to other players).

But even if a player diligently notes that card 1 was a black spot and card 2 was a pistol, it’s easy to forget if one of those cards is revealed on someone else’s turn, rendering that information out of date. But it would also be a pain to have every player pay attention to the numbers of revealed cards on other players’ turns.

So, I recommend having one player keep track of who’s looked at which cards, and having that information publically visible to everyone. Basically, just make a big chart with numbers 1 through 5 at the top, and write down the names of players under each appropriate number as they look at cards. Then when a card is revealed, cross off that number so people know that if they wrote something down about that card, it’s no longer relevant.

Sure, this is a bit more book-keeping than would be ideal for a game, but it’s necessary to make the game work. It ensures people can be strategic about using the information they gained, and prevents the game from grinding to a halt due to people asking, “wait, which cards have I seen?” and have everyone rack their brains for answers. The rulebook says Tortuga isn’t a memory game, and keeping track of these things helps ensure that.


Dutch in an Even-player Game
This house rule comes from this thread on BoardGameGeek — a fantastic idea from forum user Rikkert Keldermann with input from Scott DeMers.



The Dutch player is an essential part of the game — this player provides a balancing force, since they only win if the gold is even by the time the Spanish come. And perhaps more importantly, they introduce a lot more potential for tricks and backstabbing: You often can’t tell for sure if the people furthering your team’s agenda are actually on your side, or if they’re Dutch. Not to mention that players on one team or the other can pretend to be Dutch to become a lower-priority target for their enemies.

But the rules state that you don’t using a Dutch player if the player count is even. In an 8-person game, for instance, you just have 4 British and 4 French players. Boring. Elsewhere on the BGG forum for this game, people came up with a great house rule that allows a Dutch player in even games while still keeping the British and French sides fairly balanced:

Here’s how it works:

In a game with 6 players, shuffle 7 loyalty cards: three British, three French, and one Dutch. In a game with 8 players, shuffle all 9 loyalty cards: four British, four French, and one Dutch. Distribute one card to each player, with the final card set aside. After players have looked at their loyalty cards, ask everyone to close their eyes. Then, ask the Dutch player to open their eyes. Flip the unused loyalty card so that the Dutch player has a chance to see whether it’s British or French. Then flip the card face-down again, ask the Dutch player to close their eyes, ask everyone to open their eyes, and begin the game.

The Dutch player now knows which team is down a player. In order to bring the game to a tie, the Dutch player is best off acting for the majority of the game like they’re on the side with fewer players, so that makes the power balance close to equal. And since neither team knows which of them has the Dutch player masquerading as one of their own, they never quite know if they can trust everyone who seems to be on their team when they’re nearing the game’s end. That supposedly loyal French player serving as your cabin boy — could they have been Dutch all along, and they’re just lying in wait to bring the gold to a tie at the game’s end? If anything, this variant makes even-numbered games even better than odd-numbered games. There’s so much potential for betrayal, since the Dutch player knows to which team to feign loyalty.


Dutch Final Action


As I mentioned above, the Dutch player is an essential part of the game. But the main drawback of the Dutch player is that, in the base rules, it is nearly impossible for that player to win by bringing the gold to tie before ending the game. The French are only going to flip the Spanish Armada and end the game if they’re ahead, and the British will only do it if they’re ahead. So barring a consolation victory of a player on one team giving the Dutch player the win because they see it’s tied and the the opposing team will have a chance to pull ahead and flip the card before their team has a chance to do anything, the only way the Dutch player wins is if they’re lucky enough for the gold to be exactly tied when it’s their turn, and then they flip the Spanish Armada themselves.

So here’s our house rule to give a little more hope to the Dutch player that they can pull off a strategic victory, while still having the game be challenging for them:

When the Spanish Armada card is revealed, the Dutch player reveals their Loyalty card and may take one final action, if that action has the potential to bring the gold to a tie.

That last clause ensures that the Dutch player tries to actually make it tie so they win — and not just purposely throw the game from one big team to the other out of spite.

This rule means the Dutch player will want to actualize one of the following game states before the card is revealed:

• Be the cabin boy of a ship if one team is winning by 2 gold, if that ship has gold you can move from one hold to another to bring the gold count to a tie. Move that gold as your final action.

• Be the captain of a ship, and use your final action to call for an attack, if moving that gold from the Spanish Galleon (or the opposing ship, if the Spanish Galleon has no gold left) to one of your holds can bring the game to a tie.

• Reveal the special card “Stormy Seas,” if resetting the gold on the ship the Dutch player is on (or Tortuga) would bring the game to a tie. (“Stormy Seas” resets all the gold on the revealer’s ship to the Spanish Galleon, or if the revealer is on Tortuga, resets the gold on Tortuga to an even split.)

• Be the governor of Tortuga, and use your final action to call for a Brawl, if changing the gold situation on Tortuga can bring the game to a tie.

The last possibility there is the only one where the Dutch player’s final action could swing the win from one big team to the other. If, for instance, the British are up 5-3 overall, and both Tortuga gold pieces are in the British hold, the Dutch player as governor can call for a brawl and hope for a split vote in order to move just one of those gold pieces to the French hold on Tortuga, thus ending in a tie. But if the French managed to play more French flags in that final brawl, they could move both pieces over and win 5-3. But that highly unlikely scenario seems fair game (and such a dramatic climax would probably ease any feelings on the losing side that the game was stolen).

All four of those possible scenarios are hard to pull off, but they introduce possible avenues of success for the Dutch player to pursue. And they present opportunities for counter-strategy from the other players. The team that’s ahead may work to get a suspected Dutch player out of such a position of power before they flip the Armada card. And as a counter-strategy to that, the Dutch player may decide to prioritize hiding their loyalty, so that no one will worry about the position they’re in as the game comes to a close. On every level of play, giving the Dutch player one final action at the game’s end makes for a much more satisfying experience.

Conclusion
All in all, Tortuga 1667 is an immensely fun game of strategy, teamwork, chance, and deception, and each play of it feels unique and exciting. I highly recommend this game for any group of five to nine players.

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Ariel
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Nice Dutch variant!

So, it's posible that the unknow loyalty card were the Dutch one, so no one open his eyes nor look that card, and because of that the session don't have him in the game without players notice it until the end game?
 
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Mark P
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Yes! It actually happened in our most recent game. But since there's an 8/9 chance that someone is Dutch, everyone spends the whole game being paranoid about whether their supposed teammates are really on their side. Makes for fun throughout the game and a funny ending!
 
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Scott DeMers
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Stellar job, Mark... and thanks for the call out. This game sees the table a lot and I think both Dutch house rules make the game so much more fun and interesting. We actually prefer the game at even numbers.
 
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Mark P
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Thank you! I agree — playing with 6 or 8 players is now even better than playing with odd numbers!
 
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Tyler DeLisle
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Great review! Exactly what I was looking for.

I haven't played yet, but I'm wondering on the Card Intel variant you suggest, would it work to just give each person cubes in their color and each time they look at a card, put their cube on top (or next to). Then you could quickly see at a glance who has looked at what and they are allowed to look at the card again if they forget what it was?

Would only need 5 cubes each and seems like less bookkeeping. Of course... you'd have to order some cubes if you don't have them. 9 different colors, some of them are pretty obscure, but I'm a painter, I could color match.

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Barry Miller
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Macbeth n Cheese wrote:
Technically plays 2–9, but I wouldn’t play with anything below 5

You're missing out. This game is just as good at two and three players as it is at higher player counts. Note that I said, just as "good". But it is different. The 2-player game is completely different than the 6-9 player game! Completely different. But still, just as good.

It all depends if you're in the mood for a good game of chess, or for a good party game. That's the difference. You're missing out by refusing to play it at the lower player counts.

 
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