Thursday, May 20, 2004

Tigris and Euphrates

Another Wednesday, another WAGS night. We played Tigris and Euphrates twice, and finished it off with a game of Illuminati CCG (using the "One big deck" rules. I'm not going to do illuminati justice if I try to explain last night's session, so I'll leave it to Shemp. I'll tackle T&E instead.

Tigris and Euphrates came with high expectations, since it ranked #2 on the top boardgames at Boardgamegeek.
Briefly, it's a game involving laying coloured tiles (followers) and matching wooden discs (leaders) to create kingdoms. Points are scored by placing followers in kingdoms where that player has the corresponding leader. Since there are up to four players, conflicts between leaders will arise. These are handled rather abstractedly by counting the number of relevant followers on each side, and the loser is removed from the board (sometimes with his followers). One very original aspect of the game is that the most balanced kingdom wins, not the most powerful. You are judged by your weakest sphere.
To me, it had a very different "feel" than most german games we've played... more like "Chess" or "Go" than "Puerto Rico" or "Settlers of Catan". The whole thing is quite abstract and the game quickly becomes one of strategy over theme (I had heard that about El Grande as well, but T&E is much more so). Of course, that's only a bad thing if you don't like that kind of game. Personally, I love them. Still, many hallmarks of a good german game are here: plays in a reasonable amount of time, not too many rules (although it CAN be hard to get your head around them) and everyone plays until the end.

Our first game was all about exploration. We each built our own little kingdoms and rarely clashed in a big way. We were each on our own personal race to capture the "treasures" and so the game ended rather quickly. i won the game, but only by one point. All players were surpringly close. Although nothing spectacular happened, we were all happy to have a game undr our belts and try again with a better idea how to plan ahead.

The second game was much more aggressive. Although 4 distinct kingdoms were formed by the end, each dominated by a player (okay, mine was more like a village), the road to those kingdoms was quite twisted. Kozure had a powerbase in the center of the board, but was ousted by a large conflict with Shemp. Later int he gameI Kozure came back and booted me out of my little kingdom (just after I had built a water temple!!!). Luch was far more successful with his temple, drawing points from it until the end of the game. In the end, it came down to a very large battle between Shemp and Kozure, involving nearly half the board. Once all was revealed, Kozure won by 1 point, and again the difference between first and last place was just 2 points. I'm getting the feeling that close games will not be uncommon.

Just like the classic games I compared it to, T&E is a kind of "Brain Burner" game. There are always many choices, and your opponent is always trying to catch you off guard with a placement strategy you didn't see coming. Because of this, the game is a little heavy (there's a lot of thinking between turrns) and It will take many plays to really hone a good strategy... I still think El Grande acheived a better balance between abstract strategy and fun. I did like it a lot, though, (more than most, even) and I'm looking forward to seeing if increased familiarity and skill will raise this game to another level or not.

Rating 8


  1. Looking for Rick McCallion

  2. Gee, Betty, sorry, but I don't think that there's anyone here by that name. If he drops by, we'll point him your way.

  3. I quite enjoyed the game, though abstract strategy is never my strong suit. The game involves a lot of "brain burner" strategy as Easy calls it - looking several moves into the future for possible combinations. To me, this tends to create a lot of "turn paralysis" as you can spend a lot of time formulating a strategy, only to see it overturned by the action of another player that you didn't anticipate.

    Thus, in this game, to a lesser degree than many wargames but more than most German games, forces you to spend a lot of time staring at the board figuring out your move while the other players wait on you.

    This downtime will probably decrease as familiarity with the game grows, so it's not a major critique.

    I thought I'd share some initial strategy observations (even as they may assist in my own defeat in the future) because it may lead to better gameplay in general.

    Guard Against Internal War

    Ensure that your leaders, save in the case of the early game, are always positioned next to two or more temples. Three is a reasonable, attainable goal, but four can be extremely powerful. Remember, at the same time, that placing a number of temples around a leader leaves openings for opposing leaders. When possible, place tiles in those diagonally adjacent squares to prevent your opponents from 'leeching' off your hard-earned favour with the gods.
    This is the most basic of strategies, but can be overlooked by quickly expanding empires, often when you are looking to grab a treasure quickly.

    Be Wary of Expanding Kingdoms
    Keep a careful eye on the distance from your own kingdoms to adjacent, opponent-owned kingdoms. Note immediately when any kingdom is within three tiles of your own. Remember that a leader placed first, then a tile next to the leader, can also join two kingdoms and set off external conflict. Ensure that if your kingdom is in danger from the expansion of a nearby kingdom that you have enough supporters (at least one or two more than your opponent) to fend off the inevitable attack. If you are obviously overmatched, and have no chance of winning the war, consider cutting your losses, pulling out your leader, and denying your opponent the points. You can always come back later and cause civil unrest.

    Never Have a Single "Bridge" to another part of your Kingdom

    Sometimes it's because of expedience, sometimes it happens due to a conflict - you're left with a single tile or leader connecting one large part of a kingdom with another. Remove the tile with a catastrophe, or figure out how to eliminate the leader, and your kingdom is severed in two. If you have recently joined a kingdom with a tenuous link, work to cement that link, preferably with tiles of a different colour, so as to avoid calamity in the event of an expected external conflict. As the flipside of this strategy, one could use the "burnt bridge" tactic to cut off part of your own kingdom by demolishing a single tile to prevent complete takeover - counterproductive, possibly, but it may just deny points to your opponent in a critical way.

    Temples can Lead To Your Downfall

    Be certain, if you are considering building a temple, that you will have enough supporters AFTER the temple is built to protect you against hostile takeovers. If you build a temple, you are automatically reducing your support in that colour by four - thus, you should have a minimum of seven to eight (or more) followers (or the number of supporter tiles of your opponent + 4 for the temple and +2 for possible tiles in his hand) in a colour before you build a temple if you think you are in danger of unification.

    Never Attack if You Aren't Sure You Can Win

    This is a matter of preference, of course, but unless the opponent you are attempting to oust has just lost a battle and spent a lot of tiles in the process, you should never attack without a four or more tile advantage. This may seem excessive, but overwhelming odds in your favour tend to make victory more certain. The consequences of a failed takeover attempt include points for your opponent, removal of your leader, and in the case of external conflicts, many tiles AND points for your foe. When large kingdoms battle, the spoils of the victor can be tremendous, as well as quite devastating to the loser.

    Kick Your Opponent When He's Down

    Yes, it's extremely unsporting, but if you attack an opponent just after he's spent a mittful of tiles defending himself from someone else, you can be relatively certain of success. Evil? Yes. Profitable? Probably. Of course, keep the meta-game in mind when you do this - never kick a downed opponent if he's the "revenge at any cost" type. Very, very dangerous.

    Treasure Snatching - Think About It!

    When deciding which treasure to take when you have joined kingdoms with a trader, consider which part of the new kingdom is most threated by external conflict. Take the treasure which has the most potential for being snatched by an opponent, regardless of how secure it may seem at the moment. Catastrophes, unexpected internal conflicts and clever tile placements may make seperation or unexpected takeovers unavoidable, but putting distance between the treasure you own and your opponent makes it that much more difficult.

    The Centre Has the Most Opportunity, but it is Also the Most Vulnerable

    Holding the centre has its advantages - you can spread out in any direction and avoid dealing with those pesky rivers. It also tends to be an ideal location for your king, if you have the black tiles to back him up. Remember, however, that any kingdom which can attack anyone is also in the position of possibly being attacked by anyone.

    Never Give Up

    Although it may seem difficult, you can come back from seemingly catastrophic failures like losses of large kingdoms or temples. If you've been effectively kicked off the board, it does give you more room to manoeuvre and possibly foil the plans of others, picking up points for yourself in the process. Nobody expects the underdog and if you play your tiles right, you could usurp the throne of a powerful kingdom!

  4. BTW - a quick review of the Board Game Geek session reports for T & E show that typical winning scores are usually 11-15, with the rest of the players ranging from 7 to 12.

    Some games ranged as high as 18 or 19, but they seemed to be exceptions.

  5. Kozure,
    Interesting review on strategy. For someone who says that he doesn't like abstract strategy games, you seem to have worked out a good chunk of strategy!!!
    I do wonder whether our inclination as architects is blurring our sense of strategy again (as it did in Princes of Florence, where we all tended towards the buildings even though BGG favored jesters). Why? Most of your strategy tips seem to revolve around effective kingdom expansion. However, because the game offers little reward for large kingdoms I wonder if this is really that important. You still only get one point for a coloured tile, there is no benefit in having a lasting presence in a place (for temples, etc) since leaders are so easy to move around. You might make a big winfall on winning a large external conflict, but since your weakest sphere determines your points, even that is debatable.
    I have a sneaking suspicion that a really good player could really cut up a "kingdom bilder" with a nimble strategy built around leaching off of opportunities in other kingdoms.
    Of course, if kingdom building is what they are doing at BoardGameGeek, then there's a very good chance that those are the winning strategies, but I willl need to play more to really know, (I like discussing strategy with players of my caliber, but I don't like reading the "best" strategies which the really good players use since I'd rather discover them myself). I'm just happy that there are so many levels of strategy that I will only uncover them with time. Should make it last quite a while!!!

  6. I'm not sure what the "standard" strategy is, yet, but there are many comments from players who tend toward the "leech" strategy - that is, let other players use their actions and tiles to build up kingdoms, and then you just jump in, placing leaders in a kingdom without a leader of the same colour. Weaselly, but effective, apparently.

    My tendency in "builder" games is to avoid conflict - they tend to eat up precious resources and cause spiraling (and occassionally irrational) revenge cycles.

    In 'pure' wargames, I usually go full-out attack. T & E has an unusual mechanic in that you usually can just sit in your happy little kingdom and build while protecting yourself. I tried that in both games and usually got my keister kicked out by people.

    So of course, I started kicking other people out on their keister. Muahaahahaaaaa!

  7. Ah crap.

    I meant to say CAN'T just sit and build your own little kingdom.

    Stupid no editing comments... *grumble grouse*

  8. So... what does it rate?
    Have you rated the other games yet?

  9. I'm really beginning to dig the depth of this one, especially after giving the Java version a whirl. I would especially second Kozure's strategy comment about not going for an external conflict unless there is a very good chance at sucess. Going for something with only 50/50 or slightly better odds (say being up by one or two tiles) is definitely not worth it unless you feel you are way behind. (Assuming that it is a close game. If one feels they are behind by a fair margin, then more rash strategies would tend to make more sense.)

    Have you guys played w/ the Java version at all? A two player game makes some of these strategy points a lot more obvious, and offers up an opportunity to get a grasp on how certain things play out. My only complaint about the Java is that 1) the AI is a little bit dull and 2) Leaders that have been moved tend to remain in position, resulting in duplication. Also 3) after undoing a move, it seems that the game crashed. Still, it's a fun little bit of practice.

  10. Oh, and a rating. I'll give it a provisional 9, but really think that I need to play more to be sure about it.

  11. Played two full games of the Java version. I had no problems with duplication or crashing, but there were squares I couldn't use because the computer wouldn't let me place anything there!!!(the bottom right 5 squares). Still, I won both by a fair margin so I fear that the AI is a bit easy. It seems there's a network function... anyone care to try it?