Is it possible to fall in love with a game before even playing it? It all started when I casually browsed around the Boardgamegeek top list one day.
I had no intentions to find a new game - I already had more games than time. Besides, reading the negative critics
(which is a best way to judge a game, second only to actually play it), they all seemed to be too much of something.
Agricola was too solitaire, Through the Ages was too long, Terra Mystica was too much of a counting
exercise, Puerto Rico had too little interaction, Eclipse was too random and so on.
But then I found a game that seemed to balance everything. Here was an element of go, where you woud place tile to create kingdoms and score points from them.
Here was an element from chess, where you would maneuver your pieces for attack and/or defense. Here was an element of the classical civilization building, where
you would improve your kingdom through monuments and buildings.
However, this was not a peaceful game without player interaction. Conflicts came in two interesting shapes. In internal conflicts you would plant your dynasty members in your opponents' kingdoms with the objective of overthrowing them and reap the benefits for yourself. In external conflicts the clashes of expanding borders might form one stronger kingdom for a winner or leave the two kingdoms weaker after the fierce strife.
But it did not end there. There was no such thing as "your" kingdom, they were only there to serve your dynasty's interests (i.e. generate victory points) and might (should!) be abandoned when they no longer served any purpose.
Finally, in this chaos of rising and falling civilizations you would need to find a balanced growth because it was not your strongest area that awarded you the victory, it was your weakest area. The game seemed to be so simple and yet the depth of the gameplay so immense.
I am of course talking about Tigris & Euphrates.
But let us start with an overview of the rules. You are a leader of a dynasty in the Ancient Fertile Crescent. At your disposal, you have a king (black),
a priest (red), a trader (green) and a farmer (blue). The land is represented by a checkered map and the kingdoms by adjacent tiles in the same colors as your
leaders. The objective of the game is to score victory points, again in the same colors as your leaders.
You start with six tiles (which are replenished at the end of each turn) and may carry out two of the following actions:
Place, move or remove a leader. Leaders are necessary to earn victory points
Place a tile. Placed tiles earn victory points to the leader in the same kingdom
Place a catastrophe tile. Catastrophe tiles permanently destroys a square.
Swap up to six tiles.
This is the peaceful part of the game where you build kingdoms. The aggressive part is when leaders of the same color end up in the same kingdom.
Leaders of different colors can co-exist in a kingdom, even if belonging to different players, but leaders of the same color results in a conflict.
Internal conflicts take place when leaders are placed and are fought with red tiles. The leaders gain strength from adjacent red tiles and may add
tiles from their hand. External conflicts take place when tiles are placed so that kingdoms merge. The leaders gain strength from tiles of their
color in their "half" of the kingdom and may add tiles from their hand. The loser is removed (and, in the external conflict, all supporting tiles), and
the winner gets victory points for each removed leader and tile.
Each of the four colors have special abilities:
The black leader earns victory points for placing tiles of all colors if the leader of the tile's color is not present
Leaders must be placed adjacent to red tiles and red tiles are also used in internal conflicts
The green leader can earn treasury ("wild card" victory points) if a kingdom connects two or more tiles with treasury
The blue tile is the only tile that may be placed on rivers (and nowhere else)
Victory points may also be earned from monuments (and, in the advanced rules, from buildings and the ziggurat). Those can be built when tiles of the
same colors are grouped in certain ways (in a square of four to build monuments etc.) and earn points to the leader or leaders of that color. At the end
of the game, the player with the most victory points in his or her worst color (i.e. the player with the most balanced score) wins!
Let us now continue to see how those rules make Tigris & Euphrates so special. (The list is based on the criteria for a fun game listed by
Wolfgang Kramer, designer of El Grande among others.)
Originality: To my knowledge, there is no game that combine tile-laying and civilization building with internal and external conflicts the way Tigris & Euphrates does
Replayability: The possible combinations of kingdoms and conflicts are unlimited, making each game unique
Surprise: The available actions may be few but their effects may overturn the entire board
Equal opportunity: The players start with equal and symmetric conditions and although the first-mover may have an early benefit, her kingdom will also attract early enemies
Winning chances: The unique balanced scoring prevents players from racing to victory as victory points of all four colors are required
No "kingmaker" effect: The limit of one leader of each color in a kingdom makes it difficult to cooperate with the winner and weak attacks may even benefit the runner-up
No early elimination: Leaders never die, they may re-enter the game board next turn
Reasonable waiting times: With two actions per turn, the downtime is short and often a player's action affect other players as well (positively or negatively)
Creative control: Everything that happens in the game is because of the players' actions
Uniformity: The theme may be pasted on but the story of rising and falling kingdoms fits very well in the Ancient Fertile Crescent and, as other reviewers have said, the game looks almost like it was dug out from an old ziggurat
Quality of components: My edition (Mayfair revised 2-sided board edition) come with linen-textured board and tiles and the sturdy wooden monuments give a nice 3D-feeling to the rising and falling kingdoms
Consistency of elements: Tigris & Euphrates is tactical and although tiles are randomly drawn, tactics is required to use them well
Tension: The fact that leaders may move freely and kingdoms expand rapidly makes conflicts a constant threat
Learning and mastering: Tigris & Euphrates is quickly learnt and mastering the game is about assessing the open board, not memorizing hidden cards with special abilities
Complexity and influence: Tigris & Euphrates is not complex and the players have full influence on the course of the game
Some reviewers warn that Tigris & Euphrates require some sessions to reveal its secrets but either my first session proves the opposite or there is much more
to discover. The session started quietly with the Lion settling in the Northeast corner and the Archer in the Northwest while the Potter and the Bull got into
an early fight for the South. The Lion took advantage of the fight and built a serpent-like kingdom in the East, claiming two treasures and building the
first temple. So far, it was a standard civilization game with a first- mover advantage. But then came a series of conflicts, culminating in devastating
external conflicts that stretched from the Northeast to the Southwest, swept away three leaders and left the Lion kingdom scattered and the monument abandoned
in a desolated land. Never before in my gaming experience have I seen such a turn of events. Survivors fled to the prospering Arrow kingdom in the Northwest
and dynasties replaced each other but in the end, the Arrow dynasty emerged as the winner.
Note that the end position contains a newbie error - can you spot it?
To sum up, Tigris & Euphrates satisfies all criteria for a fun game. Each session is unique as tiles are placed and removed on the game board.
Leaders will come and go and kingdoms will carefully expand until the time is ripe for a confrontation. Players will be veering between hope and despair as the
kingdoms rise and fall in the Ancient Fertile Crescent. There are few games that give such a complete gaming experience like Tigris & Euphrates and in my
opinion it is truly the perfect game.
The Quest for the Perfect Game is an endeavour to play a variety of games
and review them to extract the essence of each game. What you typically will
find in the reviews include:
What does the game want to be?
How does the player perceive the game?
What does the game do well and why?
What does the game do less well and why?
Is it fun?
What you typically will NOT find in the reviews include:
A detailed explanation of the rules.
An assessment of art, miniatures etc. with no impact on gameplay.
Unfounded statements like "dripping with theme" and "tons of replayability".
Unless stated otherwise, all the reviews are independent
and not preceded by any contacts with the game's stakeholders.
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