Why 'The Shores of Tripoli' Should Be On Your Family's Game Shelf

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The Battle of Derna. (National Museum of the Marine Corps)

In 1805, a ragtag force of eight United States Marines led by Lt. Presley O'Bannon, along with 500 mercenaries under the command of Army veteran William Eaton, marched across the Sahara Desert. Their objective was to capture the port city of Derna along North Africa's Barbary Coast.

The Tripolitans were ready for an attack, but they were looking to the ocean, not the desert in their rear. When the Marines and mercenaries hit Derna, it was a rout and the United States was victorious.

Now, you can not only relive the struggle to win America's first foreign war, but learn a little about the history of it with Fort Circle Games' "The Shores of Tripoli" tabletop strategy game.

"The Shores of Tripoli" is a painstakingly detailed duel, a recreation of the four-year conflict between the United States and North Africa.

Complete with individual battles, events and the personalities that shaped them, it pits an American player versus a Tripolitan player -- a red vs. blue game of wits. But instead of a single objective, either player must meet certain victory conditions to win the game.

The Americans must hold out until 1805, capture Derna and clear port cities of enemy frigates.

Tripolitan players have an easier time of it in the game. They must do one of three things: acquire all the gold held by the U.S., sink four American frigates or eliminate the overland army.

"The Shores of Tripoli" can be remarkably historically accurate -- if the American player literally plays their cards right.

"The Shores of Tripoli" ready for gameplay.

For centuries, pirates and raiders from the Barbary states of Tripoli (today known as Libya), Algiers, Tunis and Morocco plundered foreign shipping in the Mediterranean Sea.

The only way merchants could sail free from worry was to pay the governments of the Barbary Coast an annual tribute that provided freedom of navigation.

Merchants from the nascent United States were subject to constant harassment from these state-sanctioned pirates. When a ship was taken, the cargo was seized and its crew sold into slavery or held hostage for a ransom.

President John Adams paid the tribute until a real Naval force could be built to protect American merchantmen. When Thomas Jefferson ascended to the presidency, he had the firepower to refuse the North African tribute demands, which he promptly did.

The Barbary states responded by declaring war. The war that followed tested the resolve of the newly-independent United States and shaped many of the historical and cultural traditions of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

The fall of Derna led to the release of 300 American hostages held in Tripoli. For a time, it would force Barbary pirates to think twice before attacking U.S. shipping. Eventually, the North African states took to piracy once again while the U.S. was busy with the War of 1812.

When the Navy returned for the Second Barbary War in 1815, they were battle-hardened veterans from fighting the Royal Navy. Most of the Barbary states renounced piracy immediately. Algiers refused -- but were subdued by the Americans in just two days.

No one paid the Barbary pirates a tribute ever again.

Pre-order "The Shores of Tripoli" from Fort Circle Games right now. It even comes with a booklet detailing the history of the War with the Barbary Pirates.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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