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Posted on Jun 12, 2022 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

From the Halls of Montezuma to “The Shores of Tripoli” Board Game Review

From the Halls of Montezuma to “The Shores of Tripoli” Board Game Review

Rick Martin

The Shores of Tripoli Board Game Review.  Publisher: Fort Circle Games  Designer:  Kevin Bertram  Price $60.00

Passed Inspection:   tense game play; easy to learn; a lovely game; solo or two players; excellent replayability; great value for the price; historical supplement included; very educational

Failed Basic: Absolutely nothing

After the Revolutionary War, American merchant vessels sailed the 7 seas but those merchant ships no longer could rely on the protection of the British navy.  Starting in 1785, the Barbary States (Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli) captured over a dozen American merchant ships and took their crews hostage.  In the late 1790s, the Barbary States “offered” to “control” the pirates if America paid a monetary tribute to their governments.  The US government refused to pay the protection money and Tripoli declared war on the US.  In 1801, Thomas Jefferson ordered the US Navy to send armed frigates to blockade Tripoli.  The war against the Barbary Pirates had begun and would be  a trial by combat for the US Navy and the United States Marine Corp.


Fort Circle Games’ brilliant “The Shores of Tripoli” board game covers from 1801 to 1806.  It is a period that I knew very little about but this game changed all that.

The Shores of Tripoli uses a point to point movement system combined with blocks to represent infantry/US Marines and block ships to represent frigates, gunboats and corsairs.

The box is features a beautiful painting from the Collection of the Maine Historical Society showing ships battling off Tripoli’s shore.  The box is sturdy and will keep all the components in great shape for many decades to come.


The components include:

12 page Rule Book

11   page Historical Supplement and Designer’s Notes

Reproduction of Thomas Jefferson’s letter of May 21st, 1801.

2 decks of cards – one for the USA and one for the Barbary States

2 turn markers

12 gold coins (gold colored wood actually)

12 wooden frigates

21 wooden gunboats and corsairs

34 wooden cubes representing infantry and Marine forces

24 six sided dice

An 11” x 34” mounted game board

A Letter from President Jefferson

The rules are very well written and edited.  They include sections on basic strategy for both the Americans and the Barbary forces.  They also include optional rules and rules for tournament play.  A full solitaire system is also included and is a very challenging opponent.  The solo system has beaten me 50% of the time so it’s definitely not lopsided.  And there are rules for modifying it if it is too easy or too difficult by adjusting the card mix which forms the solo bot.

The units are very abstract.  Each cube is either infantry or US Marine forces of an unspecified number.  Each ship seems to be frigate or several gunboats or corsairs.  There are American ships, Swedish frigates and ships of the Barbary pirates and their allies. Each gold coin represents the economic factor of 1 or more merchant ships.  When the pirates successfully raid, they gain one or more gold coins.  When the US has lost all 12 of its gold coins, the pirates win the game.  In one game I played, I still had 2 gold coins left in my treasury and I was about to stage a final push on Tripoli when the solo bot played a card which caused the Swiss to leave the battle and also forced me to pay two gold coins to the pirates as “tribute”.  I lost my last two gold coins because of that and lost the game as my navy ran into financial and logistical problems.

As I stated before, the game is a point to point game.  You move your units by areas both on land and in the sea.  The board covers the Mediterranean from Tangier and Gibraltar to Alexandria, Egypt. A turn track covers 1801 to 1806.

Each player has a hand of cards and plays the cards for either the event on the cards or discards the cards to move or build ships.

The number of cards you draw is based upon the year of the turn track you are on.

The sequence of play is so easy it becomes second nature after a few minutes of play time.

Combat is fast and abstract and plays almost the same for ship to ship engagements, land combat or naval bombardment.  When enemy ships or troops are in the same area, cards can be played as battle events to augment one’s own forces or disrupt the enemy’s plans.  Then the combat dice are rolled the number of which are based on the unit type, for example, frigates roll two dice, gunboats, corsairs and infantry only roll 1.  Each roll of 6 is a hit.  A frigate can take two hits before sinking while smaller ships and infantry only take one hit to knock them out.

The key to winning for the Americans is to take Tripoli.  The Barbary States win by capturing all 12 gold coins as discussed earlier or by denying the Americans capture of Tripoli by the end of 1806.  To make things easier for the Marines and their Arab allies, try to send frigates to Derne in 1802 or 1803 in order to bombard the city and degrade its military.

A typical game can be played in an hour.

Two Leaders

The  solo system is played with the Barbary States player being controlled by the Tripolitan Bot or the “T-bot” for short.  There are special cards included for the solo game which control the actions of the pirates and their affiliated governments.  In a nutshell, the T-bot uses two pre-selected rows of cards which dictate its actions.  These pre-selected event cards and then augmented with randomly drawn event cards to throw uncertainty into the mix.  There are specific conditions which lead to the T-bot sending ships on pirate raids or building more ships.  The solo system is unique, fast playing and very aggressive.  But it’s not unstoppable and, as I wrote earlier, I found myself winning roughly 50% of the time against it.

The Shores of Tripoli covers a fascinating time of world history and is as perfect of a game as I have seen in years.  It’s simply brilliant.  So sail out to your friendly neighborhood game store, lads and lassies, and capture a copy of this great game today!

Assault on Tripoli

Armchair General Rating:  100% (1% is bad, 100% is perfect)

Solitaire Rating: 5

(1 is not suitable, 5 is excellent solo play)

About the Author

A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer. He designed the games Tiger Leader, The Tiger Leader Expansion and Sherman Leader for DVG and has designed the solo system for Forsage Games’ Age of Dogfights.  Currently Rick is designing T34 Leader for DVG.  In addition, Rick can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!