Manufacturer Rio Grande Games
Year 1999
Designer Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling
Torres

Torres


Another Action Point game from Kramer and Kiesling, (designers of Tikal, Java, Mexica).

Background

Players represent Spanish princes attempting to impress the King with their knights and castles. Players place knights onto the board, and build up castles playing castle blocks either next to or on top of existing castles. During the scoring rounds players receive points based on the size of the base of the castle multiplied by the height of their highest knight on the castle. The Prince with the most points at the end wins the game and becomes the next King. Winner of the 2000 Spiel des Jahres, and Games Magazine Game of the Year 2000.

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The Gameplay

Torres is played on an 8 x 8 grid of squares, with 8 premarked castle squares. Each player has 5 knight markers. The game consists of three "Turns" of 3 or 4 "Rounds" each, (or maybe that's the other way around, I can never keep the terminology straight). Basically their are three scoring turns, each consisting of 3 or 4 rounds per player, (depending on the number of players). I prefer this terminology, as rounds indicates play moving around the board amongst the players. Before each turn, each player will receive several stacks of castle blocks for use during this turn. The number of blocks and the number of stacks is dependant on the number of players in the game. A castle block is placed onto each of the preprinted starting spaces. If the "Master Version" of the game is being played, a Master card is turned over, (see below). Players then place one knight onto a castle. One player decides on which empty castle the King will be placed, and the game begins.

Each round, a player has 5 action points (AP) to spend. Here's what they can be spent on.

Place a castle block onto the board - 1 AP. Before placing a block, a player must choose one and only one of the stacks in front of him. Once you have used a block from a stack, you cannot use any blocks from any other stack this round. When placing blocks, there are a couple of placement rules. First off, no blocks may be placed that will "merge" two castles. Secondly, no block may be placed on a castle so that the height of that tower exceeds the number of blocks in the "base" of the castle. So if a castle is four blocks in a square, no one can place a fifth block on any of the existing stacks of blocks.

Place a knight onto the board - 2 AP. A player takes one of her kinghts and places it adjacent to one of her knights that is already on the board. The only restrictions are that the knight being placed cannot be placed on a higher level than the original knight, and only one knight can occupy any space on the board.

Move a knight - 1 AP. A player may move a knight that is already on the board. The restrictions to movement are that a knight can not move diagonally, can only move up one level per move, and cannot move into a square with an existing knight. A knight can move down any number of levels. In addition, there is a neat mechanic involving castle "doors". Each castle block has an arch on each side, representing a door into a castle. If a knight moves into a doorway, they may then exit from any other door on the same or lower level in the castle. Thus in a large castle, a knight can move halfway across the board for a cost of one AP. In addition, if a knight is on the second level of a castle, and there is a level three block adjacent, the knight can move into this door as well, and come out any other door on that level or below.

Draw an Action Card - 1 AP. Depending on the version of the game being played, this consists of drawing the top action card from the deck, OR drawing three cards from a player's individual action deck and choosing one card, placing the unchosen cards on either the top or the bottom of their deck. There is also another version, (which I prefer), in which each player has their own deck, and can play any card in that deck on their turn.

Gain Victory Points - 1 AP. A player can choose not to use an AP for a board or card action, and instead, advance their marker on the Victory Point track. Two players may not occupy the same space on the track, and the player scoring jumps over any spaces that are occupied. Thus a player could concievable gain 4 victory points for using an AP in this way. This action tends to be used in the later stages of the game, when there isn't anything you can do to better your position on the board.

Play an Action Card - 0 AP. Each round a player may play one action card. There are 10 different cards, and these cards allow you to break the rules, and range from very generally useful, to some that are nearly worthless, except in very specific tactical situations. Examples are: move a knight diagonally, move a knight up two levels, jump over a knight, place a free tower block from other than your stack, use 6 or 7 APs this turn, etc.

The Scoring

After 4 rounds, players score their positions. Each player may only score one knight per castle. A player gets VPs for the number of blocks in the base of the castle multiplied by the height of the tower their knight is on. So in a castle with a six tile base, having a knight on the fourth level of the castle will yield 24 points. In addition to the knight scoring, there is the King's bonus. On each scoring round, if a player has a knight in the same castle as the King, and that knight is on the level of that castle that corresponds to the turn number, (first scoring turn level 1, second level 2, third level 3), the player will score 5, 10 or 15 points, respectively. The player that is in last place then gets to move the king to an open space on a castle, and the next turn begins.

After the third round, if the Master version is being played, players look to see whether or not they have achieved the conditions on the card turned up before the game started. These generally have to do with having knights in certain postions on the board, or in a certain arrangement. While they can be difficult to achieve, they can yield large numbers of points. The player with the most points wins, and the King passes the crown to them.

Why this game is so great

Torres presents a great strategic challenge. I would describe it as a heavy thinking game. Everyone starts on the same basic footing, and only your play, (when using the Master rules), determines the outcome. There is interesting interplay on the castles, as increasing the height of a tower and moving a knight up costs you two APs, but if there was an enemy knight next to you on a lower level, you've opened up a space for them to move up to which will only cost them 1 AP. The scores therefore, tend to be very close. The timing of action card play is crucial, and there are many interesting tactical decisions that come into play. By placing a tower block or a knight, you can block an opponents movement. Even moving the King can be done in an offensive manner, blocking a player from occupying a particularly juicy spot on a castle. Tower blocks can be placed to impede the growth of castles where others have a height advantage, (due to the "no merging castles" rule), or can be used to increase the value of knights a player already has on the board. I also really like the doorway movement, allowing great surprise moves where a knight shoots across the board through a large castle to grab points that no one expected.

I also really like the look of the game as it's being played, think the castle blocks are cool, and love hearing them rattling around inside the box!

As far as which action card rules to use, I much prefer the version where each player gets all 10 cards. The basic version adds too much "luck of the draw" to the game, because if you spend an action point to draw a card, and get one of the "only useful in specific situations" cards, you are basically screwed. The "each player gets their own deck, draws three and chooses one" version is better than the basic one, (and the ability to return the unused cards to the top or bottom of the deck is a nice feature of this version), but I like the special actions a lot, so why not use them?

The Master cards are also a neat addition, adding a lot of extra considerations to the play. Should you go for a higher spot in the castle you are on, knowing that doing so will make it much harder to achieve the Master condition, or keep the knight in the same place, where it will fulfill the Master condition. Some of these seem insanely difficult, but others, like the requirement that you have an arrangement of a knight on each of the four corners of an imaginary square, or having all your knights along a diagonal, are pretty cool.

Why others don't agree

Much like Tikal, Torres can serious suffer from serious analysis paralysis. While there are only 5 APs to spend per round in Torres as opposed to Tikal's 10, Torres feels much more analytical than Tikal. Torres also has a great deal less theme than Tikal, and many people feel that Torres is too dry, abstract, and boring. Certainly, the fact that all the scoring takes place at the same time, and that you can pretty much calculate the costs/benefits to any given move at any given time lend it this dry feel. And is is a very abstract game.

Recap

Strategy:  9
Complexity:  8
Fun:  6
Overall:  9

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