Tigris and Euphrates represents one of the most wonderfully balanced strategy games around. It is a game that is well over a decade old, and is the recipient of a number of honours, including the 1997 Meeples’ Choice Award and the 1998 Spiel des Jahres Recommended. Unlike my usual critique of many of the current spate of Reiner Kniza’s games, this one has scope, has depth, and is going to be one of the perennial favourites.
Tigris and Euphrates is a game of territory dominance through tile placement and resource management. You play one of four civilisations, being the Bull, the Archer, the Lion, and the Urn. Each civilisation has four leaders, which reflects the different areas of civilisation. The black leaders are the kings of the civilisation, and relates to urban settlements. The red leaders are the priests, and relate to the temples. The green are traders and the blues are farmers (relating to markets and farms respectively).
Your objective is to have the most balanced civilisation by the end of the game, for your final score is the lowest of your four scores (civic, religious, mercantile, and agriculture). This is perhaps the best aspect of the game’s balance, because while it is really easy to become dominant in one area, it becomes difficult to be really safe in one or even two areas but still balanced across all areas. Typical scores in the end will often reveal more than 20 in your leading areas of development, and perhaps 5-10 in your weakest.
In each turn you have two actions you can take. You can a) place a tile from your hand (including special disaster tiles of which you have a total of two), b) place a leader (either from off the board or relocate a leader on the board), and c) replace tiles from your hand (this is the least desirable move). Much of the game revolves around the placement of the leaders and the kingdoms that are attached to them. Your work is to try and expand at just the right pace, and be prepared for the inevitable conflict. Note: that in placing leaders, you must place a leader adjacent to a red temple. This clearly limits the availability of starting points for any leaders, and will show that red tiles are a key tactical resource for the game.
When it comes to placing tiles, you will have a random assortment of six tiles ranging in the four aforementioned colours. You can place these tiles anywhere on the board, with one exception. Blue tiles can only be placed on river squares, and no other tiles can be placed on those river squares. However, ideally you are trying to build and expand your various kingdoms. The key to understanding this is that a kingdom is one single contiguous area of touching tiles (but not those that touch diagonally). This means that a single tile is a single kingdom. When you place a tile, it will award a victory point of that colour to the appropriate leader within that kingdom. If there is a leader matching the colour of the tile placed, they acquire the point, otherwise it can go to the king.
At certain points, if you are able to create a grid of 2×2 of the same colour, you can immediately build a monument. This removes those four tiles and places a bicoloured monument (one of those colours must be of the coloured tiles that formed the grid). Monuments are key strategic resources for they generate one victory point of those two colours each turn, and will be awarded in the fashion described above (to the leader of same colour or else to a black leader).
The other main source of points is through treasures. The starting set up will begin with a preset layout of temples. Each with a treasure on it. At the end of a turn, if these temples are joined up such that the whole kingdom has more than one treasure within it, the player who owns the trader attached to that kingdom (if any) takes one of those treasures. Treasures count as wild victory points, being added to your lowest score at the end of the game.
One of the ways that the game enjoys a lot of balance is through revolts and through wars. Revolts occur when you challenge the leadership of an existing kingdom by placing a leader on a kingdom that already has a leader of that colour. Revolts are resolved by comparing the number of temples adjacent to the relevant leaders and then throwing in a bunch of temples from your hand. The highest pool wins and the loser is removed from the board (but may be placed again later). Wars occur when a tile is placed such that it joins two existing kingdoms that contain leaders of the same colour. This is resolved similarly, but the strength of each leaders is based on the number of tiles of their colour in the entire kingdom plus whatever tiles you throw in from your hand. The loser’s leader is removed from the kingdom, as well as all the tiles of that colour (of the original kingdom). Defenders win ties.
Naturally, through the removal of leaders and tiles it is possible to cause the break up of kingdoms into many smaller units. For this reason, there is a lot of importance in the order that these wars are resolved. The attacker has the choice of this resolution. It is here that you see where disasters come in handy. Disaster tiles effectively destroy a block of land and severing any connections it may have created. That square is forever useless.
Effectively, everything about this game is exquisite. It is everything I could have hoped for and finally allows me to enjoy the challenge of Tigris and Euphrates at my leisure. The lesson we are learning from Codito is that while they do take their time to get games out, they get them out right. At this point Codito is rising out of obscurity and is readily giving Days of Wonder a run for their money.
There were some initial concerns about the quality of the graphics, but having owned the game personally I can affirm that they are a faithful replication of the original pieces. There is a lovely atmosphere generated by the music, which easily took me off to the mindset for the game (and made me miss my train stop). Most importantly the game has the trifecta of gamer approval. It has online and pass’n’play multiplayer, it has single player AI (with different levels of difficulty), and a tutorial mode that walks you through the game. I even enjoyed the tutorial mode, despite being an old hack at this game. It helped me remember some of the rules for a game that I haven’t played in a long time.
However, unless you own a copy of this game (preferably the Second Edition), what you won’t know is what they have left out. Namely, the expansions and variables. In the game we have we get only the basic map – the physical board can be flipped over to show an advanced map for a bigger challenge. Additionally, we don’t see the civilisation buildings, or the ziggurats (both for advanced games). Hopefully in the not too distant future these will be released as an in-game purchase as they do probably qualify as an expansion.
9/10: Do not doubt that this game is worth your time, money, and investment. It’s deep strategy will not make it the most accessible of games, but it ranks up there as a brilliant game.