Tigris & Euphrates
Considered by many to be one of the best games of all time!
Tigris & Euphrates is one of Knizia's "Tile-Laying Trilogy", (the others being Through the Desert and Samurai, ignoring for now the recent release of the Lord of the Rings card game, which is very similar in "feel" to Samurai...). While Through the Desert doesn't always get the acclaim I think it deserves, Tigris & Euphrates does. It has been ranked number 1 on the Internet Top 100 Games list for as long as I've been reading that list, and reviews of this game are almost entirely positive. In T&E, you are attempting to build kingdoms in the Tigris and Euphrates valley, gaining influence in the rise of civilization. The player who is able to gain the most balanced influences wins.
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The game consists of an 11 x 16 grid showing the area around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Scattered across the board are 10 "treasure squares". Each player has 4 "leaders", representing their King (black), Priest (red), Trader (green), and Farmer (blue). In addition there are a great many tiles in these same colors. As is the case with many Knizia game designs, the theme is somewhat pasted on, as what these represent are nearly irrelevant to the gameplay.
To start the game, a red tile, (temple), is placed on each of the treasure squares, and a small white "treasure cube" is placed on the tile. Each player draws a hand of six tiles, and the game begins.
On your turn, you must perform two actions. These consist of either placing a tile, placing a leader, or discarding from your hand and redrawing tiles. Seems pretty simple doesn't it. Makes you wonder how this game could get such rave reviews. Here's why...
As the game progresses, players will be gaining cubes of the four colors. The treasure cubes count as wildcards. The game is won by the player having the highest number of cubes in his/her color that has the fewest cubes, (hence the earlier reference to having balanced influences). If this doesn't make sense, here's another way to describe it. Your score is the number of sets of cubes of all four colors you have. Perhaps an example: At the end of the game, you have 6 red cubes, 8 blacks, 11 greens and 12 blues. Your score would be 6. So how does one get these cubes? Read on...
When a tile, or group of adjacent tiles has a leader next to it, that group is called a kingdom. Tiles do not have to be played into existing kingdoms, although they generally are, because when a tile is placed into a kingdom, if there is a leader of that tile's color in the kindom, the owner of that leader gets a cube in that color. The black leader, (being the King), is special in that if any color tile is placed into the King's kingdom, the owner of the king gets a cube of that color, unless there is already a leader of the tile's color in the kingdom. Due to this fact, the opening move of most players is to place their black leader with their first action. Then whatever color tile they place, they will get a cube in that color.
Treasure cubes can be picked up whenever a kingdom contains two or more tresures AND there is a green leader in the kingdom. If this occurs, then all but one of the treasures in the kingdom are given to the player whose green leader is there.
Finally, there are monuments which can give a player cubes. If four tiles of the same color are placed in a 2 x 2 square, the player placing the fourth tile has the option to build a monument. All four tiles are turned over, and a big wooden monument is placed on the tiles. The monuments are assembled from colored pieces of wood, and one of colors of the monument chosen must match the color of the tiles just flipped over. At the end of each of your turns, if you have a leader in a kingdom that matches the color of a monument in the kingdom, you recieve a cube of that color. Monuments can wrack up huge numbers of cubes for a player, but they are not without their drawbacks...
But this is not all just peaceful co-existence. Because there can only be one leader of any given color within a kingdom. If a tile or leader is played such that there will be two leaders of a color in a kingdom, a conflict occurs. If the two leaders exist in the same kingdom then an "internal conflict" occurs. If two kingdoms are being joined together, each containing a leader of the same color, then an "external conflict" occurs. The two types of conflict are resolved in different ways, so pay attention!
Internal conflicts are all about red tiles. First each player counts up the number of red tiles adjacent to their leader in question. The attacker then can play red tiles from their hand to add to this total. The defender then can add red tiles from their hand as well. Ties go to the defender. The loser must remove his/her leader from the board. The winner gets to take one red cube. All tiles played are discarded out of the game.
External conflicts are a bit more intense. When two kingdoms are joined, there can be conflicts in more than one color, and these conflicts can be between different sets of players, (sometimes the player that places the tile isn't even involved in the conflicts that are fought!). The attacker gets to decide the order in which the colors are resolved. In external conflicts, each player counts up the number of tiles of the color being contested that exist in "their" kingdom. The attacker can then play tiles of that color from their hand, as can the defender, just like in internal conflicts. The results though are a bit more spectacular. The loser must remove all of the tiles of the color from "their" kingdom, as well as the losing leader. The attacker gets one cube of the color for each tile and leader removed. This can be a very large number of cubes. Also, after resolving the conflict, leaders which were in conflict are no longer, as the removal of tiles may have broken them up from their original kingdom. Thus the order that external conflicts are resolved in can be very important.
Players continue taking turns until there are either no tiles left in the bag for players to refresh their hands to 6 tiles, or when there are only two treasures left on the board. All players then reveal their cubes, and the player with the most in thier weakest color wins.
In spite of the incredibly long explanation above, the game is very simple. You have two actions, with limited possibilities for those actions. Yet in spite of the simplicity, the game is very deep. While I am of the opinion that T&E is far more of a tactical game than a strategic one, the subtlety of those tactics is delicious. The mechanisms of the game all intertwine in many not so obvious ways. Monuments, for example, can return huge numbers of cubes to their owners, and getting leaders of all four colors into monument kingdoms can be a game winner. But when you create a monument, you are taking four support tiles out of your kingdom in a color to create the monument. Can you say, "external conflict"? I knew you could. Even common tile placement has tactical elements to it, as you need to be concerned with "what will happen to this kingdom should I lose an external conflict"? Many times an external conflict will blow apart your carefully built kingdom, allowing the other players to swoop in and usurp your kingdom. Many times in these cases, playing a tile in a slightly different place would have prevented such a dire situation.
And in spite of the depth of the game, it is a relatively quick game. As in many Knizia designs, the variable ending conditions give some control to the players. Think you are in the lead? Start trying to clear out the remaining treasures or do mass discards from your hand. Think you are trailing? Play catastrophe tiles to split up kingdoms that are on the verge of combining treasures.
The game also has great replayability. Even though many of the first few turns are similar in nature, (play a black leader, play a red tile above or below that leader), and often will occur in the same spots on the board, from there each game seems very different. Some games will seem to be over before they even get started, while others will go for a long time. some games will see lots of monuments, others may not see any.
The hidden scoring creates suspense, leaving you always unsure as to how you are really doing. I've never played this with anyone who has claimed to be able to keep track of everyone's scoring, (although I suppose it is possible), but even someone who could do that wouldn't have too much of an unfair advantage.
Finally, I think it's just a really fun game, in terms of the fun/depth ratio. There are many deep games, (think Chess and Go), that tend to feel more like mental exercise rather than fun. T&E has many fun moments, such as fending off an attack where you are down 5-1 in support, only to pull 4 tiles out from behind your screen!
As mentioned above, Tigris & Euphrates has been number one on the Internet top 100 games list for as long as I have been reading that list, so the people that don't agree are few in number. If there are any complaints about T&E they tend to be that the game is too luck-oriented or that the theme is too grafted on. While the luck of the draw does have an impact, (some games it seems you can't get a certain color of tile for the life of you), the fact that there are other ways to get points in a color even without that color's tiles, (think taking over a monument with an internal conflict), mitigates this a bit. Some will claim that if you can't get enough red tiles you're going to lose, and certainly the red tiles are important. There are a lot more of them than the other colors, and the fact that you can use your turn to discard tiles means that if you really need certain tiles, you can get them.
While the theme is a bit thin, (as the game doesn't really feel like a civilization-building game a la Civilization or Vinci), seeing the board with it's kingdoms, and the 3-D monuments rising from the board gives it enough theme for me.
The biggest diference between the German and English versions is that of the board. The English version has a very "busy" board,
while the German version is very subdued.
However, in addition to gussying up the look of the board, the artist at Mayfair made a mistake. On one square the artist added a small river tributary. THIS IS NOT A RIVER SQUARE! Blue tiles may not be placed here. Compunding this error, the picture on the back of the box shows this square with a blue tile placed on it! The tiles in the Mayfair version are actually a bit nicer than the German ones, having a bit more solid feel, and a nice colored border. The player screens are all in German in the Hans im Gluck version, English in the Mayfair version. Not really an issue once you've played a few times.
Buy/Read about Tigris & Euphrates now at Funagain
Buy/Read about Euphrat & Tigris now at Funagain
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