In Tortuga 1667, players represent the crew aboard two ships. They each have a loyalty card which is concealed from other players and which shows whether they are loyal to the British or the French. If there is an odd number of players, one player will be a Dutch loyalist. The British or French players win collectively if, when the game ends, their side has control of the most treasure. If there is a Dutch player, he wins if the British and French are tied. Ships each start off with one treasure, there are two treasures on Tortuga and there are four more on the Spanish Galleon. These can be each be taken as the result of a successful attack.
Players start off in random order on the two ships. The player whose pawn is in first position in a ship is that ship’s Captain; the pawn in second position is the First Mate and the pawn at the rear is the Cabin Boy. If there are just two on a ship, the First Mate will also be the Cabin Boy. A Captain alone on a ship will likewise double as the Cabin Boy.
The roles are important because each gives a special action as an alternative to the actions that all players can take. At any one time, five Event cards are laid out on the table. In a player’s turn, he can look at two of the cards and replace them where they were, he can reveal one Event card, he can force another player to choose between two Event cards, or he can move his pawn to or from a rowboat. In addition to these options, a Captain can call on his crew to vote on an attack or he can eject another player’s pawn from the ship and maroon him on Tortuga. The First Mate has the option of calling for a mutiny (another secret ballot vote among the crew) and the Cabin Boy can move a treasure from one hold to the other. The player in first position on Tortuga is the Governor, who can order a ‘brawl’ (another vote) which, if successful, allows him to move the treasures on Tortuga.
At first, you won’t know which of your fellow shipmates to trust. It is through players’ actions and interactions that their loyalties become apparent. A joy of Tortuga is that this can vary widely between plays. In some games, players have a pretty good idea of each other’s loyalties at quite an early stage; in others, they can be left guessing right till the end of the game. The crew may know that one among them has spiked the Captain’s attack by contributing an unhelpful vote card but they won’t be sure which of them is working for the enemy. This is especially the case when Tortuga 1667 is played with an odd number so that there is a Dutch loyalist: his actions may very well alternate between benefiting the French or helping the British.
Event cards often put the cat among the pigeons. Some of the Events are quite literally game changers: including Events that burn a ship’s rowboat and so prevent crew from getting from the Island of Tortuga onto that ship. Surprisingly, there is only one Event that can result in a possible switch of loyalty cards, and even that offers a 50% chance of the player ending up with the card he started with.
Tortuga 1667 is a lively game in the vein of others like Secret Hitler but with a very different play and feel. It is notionally playable with 2 to 9 players, but it is at its best with 5 to 9, and preferably with an odd number (so 5, 7 or 9). Games will take around 30–40 minutes. The rulebook includes some variants – including the option of playing as a purely strategic game with all loyalties displayed face up.
Like Façade’s Salem 1692, Tortuga 1667 is beautifully produced. It too comes in a box that looks like a 17th Century book, and the pawns move on a small neoprene mat. If you like to sleeve your cards – and that’s often desirable for ‘party’ games – then you might just be disappointed that it will be difficult to sleeve them and still fit them into the book box. That’s a small gripe, however, for a clever little game. This is one to treasure…