Age of Booty Review

No, Age of Booty is not a slang term for 'age of consent', nor is it a blue movie knock-off of Pirates of the Caribbean. Rather it's a pirate-themed strategy game with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge title available on Xbox Live Arcade. The double entendres end with the title, though, and the game itself is a wholesome exercise in pillage and plunder in which no one gets hurt. Now that I've burst your bubble by revealing that there's no bootie in Age of Booty, let's move on and have a look at the game.

Age of Booty is played on a hex grid map with ocean and land hexes arranged to form a group of islands in a small sea. Also appearing on each map are a small number of neutral cities, native villages, neutral merchant ships, and a pirate lair for each team of players. There are a number of maps in the game, and a nice little map editor is included so that you can create your own, but they all follow this format.

The goal in the game is to capture a majority of the neutral cities on the map while preventing the other factions from doing the same. To do so you're given control of a single pirate ship that sets sail from your faction's lair. Control of your ship couldn't be simpler just click on the hex you wish to sail to and your ship is on its way. Battles are handled automatically; simply move next to a merchant or enemy ship or any town or village and the shooting ensues. The battle will continue until one ship is sunk, the city is captured, or a ship moves away. Cities and ships have gun and defense ratings that can be upgraded by spending resources generated by the cities you own or by capturing villages or picking up floating crates from the sea. Gun upgrades allow you to cause more damage faster, and defensive upgrades will let you take more total damage. There are also power-ups available that let you do things like set a bomb in a hex that will damage all adjacent ships and cities or create a whirlpool that will whisk an enemy ship to another part of the map. Power-ups are obtained by picking up the crates left behind by sunken merchant ships.

You'll be aided in each battle by a second ship under the control of the computer AI. I use the term 'aided' loosely, though. The AI ship likes to follow its own agenda. Sometimes it comes to your aid and at other times it chases around the map doing its own things. The most annoying thing about your computer-controlled ally is that whenever enough resources have been collected for a ship upgrade it makes a beeline back to your lair to snag the upgrade. There will be games in which you'll be lucky to upgrade your ship once while your ally bounces around the map in a magnificent ship of the line.

Age of Booty can be fun to play, and more so against other games, but it has a fundamental problem in that cities are too easy to capture, even after they've been fully upgraded. You'll often feel like you're spinning your wheels as you get caught in an endless dance of capturing enemy cities while losing yours. It's not uncommon for a single game to last a half hour even though all that is required to end the game is the capture of three cites on a small map. Another issue is that the power-ups are effectively useless. Why spend the time chasing down a merchant ship to obtain a bomb when all that that bomb does when it sinks an enemy ship is to send that ship back to its lair? Especially since you need that time to endlessly capture and recapture the cities.

In The End, This Game Hath Been Rated: 72%. While not devoid of fun moments, overall Age of Booty feels more like an endurance match than a strategy game in which the first one to slip up loses.