The “Altar Meta”
After another game where the Altar of the Loa UT affected various plays and strategy, I think there’s even a chance that if Pirates saw competitive play on a large scale again, an “Altar Meta” could emerge based on the UT. Through a combination of treasure trading, spying/Maps of Alexandria, and extremely fast ships with explorers, one player can optimize their fleet for finding or using the Altar first. They can also put other UT’s into the distribution that result in additional sacrifices, such as Abandoned Crew and Castaway.
In the multiplayer games this year where it saw usage, neither fleet that used it the most ended up winning the game. It helped their prospects of winning, but mostly by hindering a few opponents (only 1/5 enemy fleets) rather than directly helping themselves.
However, in a 1v1 setting it becomes far more brutal, and monumental in importance. If a player can begin an “Altar Loop” where they sac crew to control the enemy, the first turn of control makes it more likely that they can then get more crew to the island to continue the mind control on subsequent turns. I would estimate that in a 1v1 game, two turns of consecutive control early in the game would be nearly impossible to come back from, simply due to the sheer amount of logistics and enemy sabotage the controlling player can pull off. Two rounds of full control would essentially amount to 5 consecutive player turns for the controller.
Building a fort on the Altar island is a high-level trolling move. It prevents the opponent(s) from docking at the island, effectively meaning the player with the fort is the only one that can use the Altar. When combined with the potential to build forts extremely early in the game, this could be a devastating double whammy for an opponent – not only are they locked out of any Altar shenanigans, the other gold on the island gets protected and the fort player has bought themselves likely another turn or two of Altar “security” they can use to ferry sacrifices to the island while the fort soaks up hits.
Multiplayer introduces additional Altar dynamics that can make for a confusing strategic landscape. If eliminated players are skipped, it changes which player the Altar would grant control over. This could affect alliances, suicide plays, and players racing to the Altar as fast as possible. The Altar can be used as a weapon for making threats against other players, such as “do what we say or we’ll run your ships into reefs”.
However, perhaps recent examples of Altar usage not resulting in wins should be a cautionary tale. Getting tunnel vision on using the Altar might distract a player from getting enough gold to win, or cause them to control a player that was not contending in the first place.