Review: Buccaneers, Bounty and Boom!02 May 2017 4
Review: Buccaneers, Bounty and Boom!
Released 09 Mar 2017
In Aristotle's estimation, all drama should possess unity of time. Meaning the action should unfold to its conclusion within a single day’s time. Running counter to this ancient guideline are all sorts of games, new and otherwise, whose sense of drama is only heightened by protraction. From the duel of wits offered by chess notation carried via snail mail to the bloodbath incongruously known as Diplomacy, many games have been played through extended correspondence. Play-by-mail became play-by-email or play-by-forum, and lest you think my praise of this trend is purely psychological, consider its unique strengths.
The slow, long-term format is a love-letter to player diplomacy and interaction. It gives you the breathing room to be diabolical and enough time to be perfect. Many games here offer the same agonizing slow-burn pleasure of the 4X genre: explore, expand, exploit, exterminate. In fact, longform games have enjoyed a bit of a renaissance with the introduction of modern offerings like Neptune's Pride or Subterfuge.
Buccaneers, Bounty and Boom! is the latest in this storied procession of slower games. It comes from Iron Helmet Games, makers of the aforementioned Neptune’s Pride. In Buccaneers, Bounty and Boom, you represent a group of goblin pirates seeking ever-greater glory and riches. Two to twelve players take asynchronous turns with a time-limit of 24 hours per turn. Optional but encouraged email notifications help dedicated players have a faster turnover, with players who fail to submit their moves before the deadline booted as AFK, then replaced by a AI.
The game is played on a hex-based board with two major terrain types. Land tiles consist of mountains, forests and plains. Sea tiles include fishing, open sea, or special resource space. Most of these spaces produce one of the game's nine resource. Three of these resources are commonly used and available: food, wood and metal. The last six are rare resources only produced on special sea spaces. Your towns will collect these resources each turn and can be upgraded several times to increase the yield by one of each space by per upgrade. Towns also make ships, which are the game's bread-and-butter. Ships are indispensable for both expansion and combat. They are cheap to produce and move one space per turn. When a ship moves from the sea onto a plains tile, it crashes and establishes a new town.
When a ship moves onto the same hex as an opponent's ship or town, combat takes place. There are only three stats for combat: attack, health and armor. Each turn, adjacent hostiles engaged in battle will deal their attack value in damage to the other's health. This is reduced by the armor value. Ships reduced to zero health are sunk; towns reduced to zero health are conquered by the attacking player. Ships and towns can upgrade each of their combat stats once per turn. Ships can hire one of fifteen special buccaneers as crew, each of which granting the ship a unique ability. Each costs a combination of two special resources, with the first on a ship costing one of each resource, the second two, and so on. Some abilities enhance movement, while others give combat or resource-collection bonuses. Still others have niche effects, like making the ship invisible to all but directly adjacent enemies. The game's economy allows for open trading between any and all players as well as a central market. Each resource has a buy- and sell-price at this market, with the prices in a 4:1 ratio.
The scoring system in BBB is elegant and inspired. Each turn, three points are up for grabs for the best player in three categories. The categories are taken from the game's title, and help explain the alliteration. In the Buccaneers category, players vie for the highest total of buccaneer units, summed up anywhere they sit on the board. (Keep in mind that ships which become towns do not lose their Buccaneers; the crew are transferred to the town and automatically board any new ships produced here). Bounty goes to the player whose resource production has the highest value, measured in gold prices at the market. Boom goes to the player who has biggest cannon, i.e. the greatest sum of all town and ship attack values. If there is a tie in a category, no player scores its point. First to thirty points wins.
By calling itself a digital board game, BBB has done itself a small disservice. I can directly message a single player to coordinate battle plans or propose a mutually beneficial trade; most tabletop games prevent you from conducting such secret diplomacy through all but the most convoluted means. BBB is also about empire-management and big numbers, which requires much tabulation that has thankfully been automated. Good players will want to review their book-keeping, of course, but it's nice that my figures are prepared for my perusal rather than tabulated manually.
The game has good bones: its number-crunching and efficiency-race elements are complicated by the unavoidable social elements conflict of warfare and diplomacy. While the system seems transparent enough to theorycraft in a vacuum, any ideal build path is bound to be ruined by the collaboration with and competition against other players. Buccaneers are not nearly complex as a proper tech tree, but still manage to genuinely feel difficult and rewarding to acquire. Unfortunately all of these merits are marred by a slapdash, one-size-fits-all interface.
Players create and join games by creating an account, which synchronizes all information across all platforms. It's good that a decent, thoughtful game like BBB is available for play in many formats,from web-browser and Steam to Android and iOS. This game deserves a hearty community and dedicated following. Conversely, users deserve a BBB app without needless fiddliness or complication. I hate using four or more taps to upgrade and move a single ship, especially in a game as micromanagement-intensive as this. Sure, I have a whole day to make my move but that is no excuse. Even fundamental information such as resource production or relative attack totals is hidden away behind several menus, which then compare the player's total to a single enemy's instead of just ranking all players top-down.
The miniscule font on units makes reading their combat stats difficult, and pinching to zoom created weird glitches and tears that made me reboot the app to reset the display. In its current form, it is most pleasurable to play in-browser with a mouse to breeze through the turn's many actions. BBB is not a torture to play on mobile, but it is obvious how much of the interface was cloned from the desktop version thoughtlessly. I have great hopes for the future of this game, given time and an improved interface.