Well this is something you don’t see on my review list every day. An abstract game and not only that, but one designed by Reina Knizia, who as much as I respect for being a long running legend in the board gaming world, hasn’t usually sat well with me due to his usual style of putting theme on the back bench in place of mechanics. Much like Stefan Feld although he tends to stick solely to your stereotypical Euro style game and has his own trait of “point salad” associated with his work.
But contrary to evidence, I do actually enjoy abstract games from time to time. I was a long running Chess champion in my primary school years and during secondary school I played for Taunton in a local league. Loved the game and enjoyed every difficult challenge I faced. It’s been many, many years since I picked up a chess board so that’s probably a thing of the past now, but who knows? Some skills you don’t easily forget! And many abstract games these days are doing well and have simple, yet engaging designs. Pentago and The Duke are great examples, Hexagony did well at the UK Games Expo this year and other games that are considered abstract such as Through The Desert still rank highly on the BGG listings.
Tigris And Euphrates is a game I heard spoken only in foreshadowing whispers like something from a Lord of the Rings trailer. Highly ranked and highly popular among older Euro fans, it was inevitable that this would get a re-print, but by Fantasy Flight Games of all people, that was unexpected! An odd pairing of designer and publisher, but I felt this was the perfect time to find out for myself whether this deserved its ranking on BGG or whether it was another over-rated oldie?
Designer: – Reiner Knizia (1997 / 2015)
Publisher: – Fantasy Flight Games
# of Players: – 2-4
Ages: – 12+
Playing Time: – 60-90 Minutes
Kingdom Builder . . . . . Except This Is Done Properly!
Tigris And Euphrates involves players building civilizations through tile placement. Players are given four different coloured leaders that represent farming, trading, religion, and government. The leaders are used to collect victory points in these same categories by placing similar coloured tiles in their kingdoms. However, your score at the end of the game is the number of points in your weakest category, which encourages players not to get overly specialized and thus strike a balance among all four types.
Conflict arises when civilizations connect on the board, i.e., wars (or external conflicts as they were once known), with only one leader of each type surviving. Leaders can also be replaced within a civilization through revolts (internal conflicts).
Additionally, players can build their kingdoms in such a way so that they can build monuments, advanced buildings and even a World Wonder to gain further victory points. This involves laying out tiles of the same colour in various patterns, which is not always an easy task and you can bet that once you’ve built it, other players are going to want a piece of that cake.
When Fantasy Flight Games publishes a product, you know the components will be of decent quality and this is no exception. The tiles and board are a significant step up from their old counterparts. OK, this is an abstract game so we’re not talking stellar artwork here, but they are much more appealing to look at.
The rest depends on whether you prefer wood or plastic. The buildings and leaders are represented by very chunky plastic models which are certainly preferable to a simple token, however the old game used wooden counters and I must admit I’m partial to a bit of . . . . . . rephrase, I think wooden components when done right look great, just look at Caverna/Agricola! So I as well as Tigris And Euphrates players of old would probably have preferred wooden counters, but the plastic ones here are still solid and of high quality. The only minor niggle is that the tops of the monument pieces don’t always fit in easily without some forcing or minor knife shaving work before hand.
Putting An End To Spam Tactics!
The cleverest part of this game is the scoring system. Only the score in your weakest category matters at the end of the game, which forces you to balance your strategy out and completely eradicates the concept of spam tactics. This requires a different style of thinking that most gamers probably aren’t used to currently. It even took me a few rounds in my first game to let it sink in that being able to grab a ton of points in one category isn’t as great a turn as it normally would be.
And so the strategic depth of the game opens up as to how you’re going to get those points. Simply placing matching tiles in a kingdom will get you some points, but it uses up a whole turn each time. Special buildings will make this more efficient, but usually only for one colour at a time. Monuments/wonders are the next step up being able to generate points at the end of a players turn constantly (essentially “drip points”). But your opponents aren’t going to let you hog the monuments for ever and that’s where wars and revolts come in.
Wars and revolts are what Tigris And Euphrates used to call external and internal conflicts. I approve highly of the name change as this makes a lot more sense to people straight away when I teach the game, though they can be a little fiddly to grasp so have the rulebook to hand. But they both essentially boil down to having two different leaders of the same colour occupying a kingdom, whether by leader placement (revolt) or by the joining of two kingdoms (war). There is no dice here, instead players count the relevant tiles on the board and committ further tiles from behind their screen with the highest total winning.
This leads however to both a good and potentially bad issue. On the positive side, revolts/wars can swing the game in your favour in clever ways allowing for sound strategic ideas to really pay off and change the layout of the board. Also there is a good amount of tension as you try to decide whether the odds are in your favour to win while your opponent may or may not be hiding his true strength. But on the negative side, you will no doubt have guessed that the hidden information aspect of combat can screw a player over at critical moments when they least expect it. I may have the best plan ever to take a kingdom and put myself in a strong position via a war and I clearly have an advantage with tiles on the board. But I could still lose because the opponent just happened to have 5+ blue tiles behind his screen even if he didn’t intend to have them from bag draws.
Now it can be argued that no combat should ever be a foregone conclusion otherwise it would be a dull affair, but if you’re one of these people that gets frustrated when best laid plans go awry then you’re going to have occasional issues with this game. It doesn’t happen often enough to be a big problem and a lot of it is down to the player, but take this as a warning. I’d be lying if I said my brain hasn’t exploded on the inside like an Animaniacs cartoon when I’ve been on the receiving end of such a beating, but I can deal with it because every combat is about risk/reward at the end of the day.
Player Interaction In A Euro Game?
It’s already a bit of a shock to me that a game like this would involve player interaction, but it’s surprisingly strong here. Everyone is out for their own points but you can’t ignore what the others are doing. Only the MENSA candiates among us are going to know exactly what score an opponent is on, but you need to have some idea of whether they are lacking in particular categories and thus block those whenever possible. Remember a score of 15 red, blue and black points means nothing if you’ve only got 3 green points. But if you think you have the lead, you might aim to trigger the game end quickly by drawing out the bag before they can catch up.
The real interaction comes in the war/revolts which are easily my favourite part. You can pull off some moves to be proud of when joining kingdoms and during these conflicts the defender has the advantage so the attacker has to decide for himself how strong the opposing player is. Naturally the defender is going to attempt to goad or bluff the other player as to his strength because the attacker commits first before they do. These conflicts are rarely a dull affair whether you’ve involved in them or not.
Tigris And Euphrates only goes up to four players, but this is a good thing, any higher and it would overstay its welcome. The amount of strategy involved from turn to turn can induce a fair amount of analysis paralysis among many of us, but even with four players suffering on occasion, the game length should be easy to keep below 90 minutes, which is not bad. A 2-3 player game with recurring players can wrap up in an hour potentially.
And best of all it works equally well with all counts. A 2 player duel plays out almost like advanced chess where timing is crucial. 4 players is unsurprisingly a crowded affair with conflicts and revolts springing up all over the place so naturally gameplay is a little more defensive. 3 players I expected to be a weak spot (and I don’t often say that given that 3 players is usually the optimum in Euro’s), but it works here too. You get situations where two players are at each other’s throat while the third has a quiet time building up elsewhere, but that’s not necessarily an advantage for him as you’ll only gain so many points by being a pacifist. Conflict is encouraged and in some ways essential to stand a good chance of victory.
Even though I was intrigued to try this game after hearing a lot of mixed whispers about the old version, I had my doubts mainly because of Knizia’s name on the box. But those doubts were unfounded and I believe I’ve found the first Knizia game that I really like. This is a well designed game with fairly straightforward mechanics, but a lot of strategic depth and yet it doesn’t feel like most brainburners where you need to take a nap or a holiday after playing them due to their high complexity. However take note of my comments about how wars/revolts could hurt you when you least expect it. Your full enjoyment of this game is going to depend on whether this is a potential problem for you or not, it’s definitely going to sting you at some point during your plays.
The components are high quality as always even if you prefer the old wood components to the new plastic ones and the tiles in particular are a big improvement. It works well with any player count and unless you’re suffering with AP which can happen for good reason here, the time length isn’t particularly long either.
I’m a big lover of theme in my board games and my favourites will generally be at a high level of thematic quality, but I can enjoy abstracts as well. It’s taken a long time for this but it’s finally happened. Much like how Biblios showed me that I can really enjoy an auction/bidding game, Tigris And Euphrates has shown me that I can really enjoy a Knizia game.
You Will Like This Game If:
You like deep, strategic games – you need to be on the ball and concentrating with this one.
You don’t want anything too complex – the rules are fairly straightforward with only war/revolts as the fiddly part.
You want something that works equally well with all player counts – it’s fun with 2, 3 or 4.
You Will Not Like This Game If:
You want a strong civilization theme – there are small elements here and there, but this is a Knizia game after all.
You want something more tactical – here it pays to be able to plan ahead strategically, much like if you were playing Chess.
The possibility of getting screwed by bad fortune with the tiles in wars/revolts is a big issue for you.
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I'm known as The Broken Meeple, a blog, podcast and YouTube channel devoted to board and card games. I live in Portsmouth, UK, working as a Chartered Tax Advisor and I enjoy playing games of many genres and varieties with as many people as possible.