Full disclosure: the publisher of the naughtily-named Age of Booty: Tactics sent Cult of Mac a really nice wooden treasure chest with some fun promotional stuff in it. This usually means that we’d give it a skip, as generally, the better the swag, the crappier the game. We were pleasantly surprised, then, when we found Age of Booty‘s first outing on iOS to be a pretty darn great free-to-play game, with only a few caveats for the novice player.
The original Age of Booty was a 2008 downloadable real-time strategy game for Xbox and PlayStation, developed by Certain Affinity and published by Capcom. This time around, Certain Affinity took the concept to iOS with Age of Booty: Tactics, which switches things up, adding some new mechanics to the strategy formula and putting it into an asynchronous multiplayer format.
The graphics are charming enough, the soundtrack is appropriately pirate-themed, and the sea and boat sounds are nicely atmospheric. It’s in the strategic gameplay, though, that Age of Booty: Tactics surely shines.
You’ll get a few ships (each with its own armor/weapon/movement speed ratio) to start, and a captain character to represent you in-game. There’s only one large-bosomed female captain (ugh) and one heavily-bearded male captain to start, but you can purchase new captains along the way using the hard currency (red gems), which can be purchased via in-app purchase.
I get a good “board game” vibe from playing Age of Booty: Tactics, something that scratches a particular itch in my “I want to play a game” personality.
You’ll move your ships around a hexagonally-gridded map to land on treasure chest spaces, which give you your points for the game. New ships can be brought into the game via the card mechanic, which also gives you curses that damage or move your opponents ships. You’ll make your moves around the map, spending all your action points to move your ships, drop curse cards, or bring in new ships. There are also spaces on the map that give your boats extra life points, stronger cannons, and faster sails.
There’s a surprising amount of tactical strategy involved here, which you’ll really only notice after playing a few rounds with either friends or random online matches or via pass and play on the same device. With the online asynchronous play, you’ll make your moves, signal the end of your turn, and then wait for your opponent to do the same. Play turns continue as long as the other person submits their move, so it behooves you to start and accept as many new games as you can handle.
And there’s the rub. As a newbie to the Age of Booty game itself, I had a hard time figuring everything out within the first game, which took some extra time due to the turn-taking system. When I added a few more new games with other opponents, it was tough to really buckle in and figure out the strategies that work best, since I was bouncing between three different games. I’m not advocating for a more than the current bare-bones tutorial — I hate drawn-out instructionals in video games — but the ability to play against a few robotic opponents, even via the internet, would have been a good way to learn the ins and outs of the gameplay.
Finally, though, after quite a few simultaneous games, I started to get the hang of it. I began pulling ahead of other players that were my own level and getting instructively trounced by higher level players. The strategic connection between the type of ships you use, along with the curses available from your customizable card deck is just complicated enough to engage my thinking brain. I get a good “board game” vibe from playing Age of Booty: Tactics, something that scratches a particular itch in my “I want to play a game” personality.
I haven’t really been prompted to spent a dime in the game, yet, which is a refreshing take on the free-to-play business model, for sure. You can buy card packs with variously higher powered cards in them to add to your deck for your domination of the high seas, but most of these things (aside from the Captains) are available with in-game gold as well as hard gems. I’ve not noticed too huge an advantage from ships that I’ve purchased, either; the game feels fairly balanced.
If you’re looking for a fun, thinking person’s game (aside from the bodacious female captain) with charming visuals and a deep strategic current running through it, Age of Booty: Tactics is a likely port of call for your iOS device.
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The good: Deeper strategic thinking is needed to master this highly enjoyable iOS version of a 2008 classic.