Down to the River to Pray--A Double-Take Review of Tigris & Euphrates

TigrisCover.jpg

Only a handful of games carry the designation "classic." Today we review one of them: Tigris & Euphrates, a tile-laying game for 2-4 players from the master himself, Reiner Knizia. Fantasy Flight games recently reprinted the game, as part of their new Euro Classics line. I (Firestone) have a copy of the original Hans im Gluck version of the game, so in addition to reviewing it, we'll be comparing the new version to the old one. Let's step into the waters...

The Objective

Each player is the leader of a dynasty, trying to develop the four "key spheres of civilization": Settlements, Temples, Farms, and Markets. To do this, you'll position Leaders, and modify Kingdoms, to gain VPs in each of the spheres. The winner is the player with the most VPs in their lowest sphere. 

 New board on the left, and old one on the right

New board on the left, and old one on the right

The Components

  • 1 double-sided game board
  • 153 Civilization tiles (57 red Temples, 30 green Markets, 30 black Settlements, and 36 blue Farms)
  • 4 Unification tiles
  • 8 Catastrophe tiles
  • 4 player screens
  • 140 VP tokens
  • 14 Treasure tokens
  • 16 plastic Leaders (4 of each color)
  • 6 plastic Monuments
  • 1 cloth bag

This edition also comes with components for optional variants.

  • 4 plastic Civilization buildings
  • 1 Wonder tile
  • 1 plastic Shedu idol
 old screen on the top, and new one on the bottom

old screen on the top, and new one on the bottom

The Setup

Decide which side of the board you'll be using (the standard game board or the advanced game board), and place that up on the table. 

Place a Temple tile on each of the spaces on the board with the Shedu image on it, and place a Treasure token on each Temple.

Each player chooses a dynasty to play--the archer, the bull, the pot, or the lion--and takes the player screen and four Leaders of his dynasty. This is one of the most confusing things for new players to wrap their heads around. In T&E you don't play as a color; you play as a symbol. Every player has a green, red, blue, and black Leader in his or her symbol. 

Put the rest of the tiles into the cloth bag, shuffle them, and each player draws out six tiles and places them secretly behind his player screen. Each player also grabs a Unification tile and two Catastrophe tiles and places them in front of his or her player screens. 

Choose a start player. 

 

The Game Terms

There are a few game terms to clarify before we jump in here. 

Region: A Region is a grouping of one or more linked tiles that does not contain any Leaders. At the start of the game, there are 10 distinct, one-tile Regions on the board. 

Kingdom: A Kingdom is a grouping of one or more linked tiles that does contain at least one Leader. A Kingdom can contain several Leaders. 

Linked: Tiles and Leaders with a common edge are adjacent, and Linked if they're connected through a chain of adjacent tiles and Leaders. I know that's also somewhat confusing, but it'll soon be clear why this is an important distinction. 

 

The Gameplay

On a payer's turn, he has two Actions, where he can do one of four things:

  • Position a Leader
  • Place a tile.
  • Play a Catastrophe tile. 
  • Replace up to six tiles from his hand.

He can choose two different Actions, or the same Action twice. 

 new Leaders on the bottom

new Leaders on the bottom

Position a Leader

Each player has four Leaders: a red Priest, a Black King, a Blue Farmer, and a Green Leader. You can place a Leader from outside the board, or repositioned from somewhere already on the board. There are restrictions for placing Leaders.

  • A Leader must be placed on an empty space.
  • A Leader can only be placed adjacent to a Temple. 
  • A Leader can't be placed such that his placement would unite Kingdoms.
  • A Leader can't be placed on a river space. 

If the last Temple adjacent to a Leader is removed from the board, or turned over, the Leader is removed and returned to the owner. 

 new tiles on the bottom

new tiles on the bottom

Place a tile.

A player takes a tile from behind his screen and places it onto the board. There are rules for this placement, as well. 

  • A tile must be placed onto an empty space. 
  • Only Farms can go on a river space. 
  • A tile can't be placed where it would unite more than two Kingdoms. 

Players will often collect a VP when placing a tile (and never when placing a Leader).  

If the tile is placed in a Kingdom, and that Kingdom contains a Leader of the same color as the just-placed tile, the owner of that Leader gets a VP of that color.

If there's no Leader of that color in the Kingdom, but there is a King in that Kingdom, then the owner of that King gets the corresponding VP. 

You don't get a VP if the tile isn't placed in a Kingdom, if there's no matching Leader or King in the Kingdom, or if the placed tile connects two Kingdoms--even if there's no Conflict. (We'll get to Conflicts in a minute.)

Always keep VPs hidden behind player screens. 

Conflicts

There are two types of Conflicts in T&E, and this happens when, after the placement of a tile or Leader, there are two Leaders of the same color in a Kingdom. 

Revolt: This only occurs when a Leader is positioned in a Kingdom that already has a leader of that color in it. The person placing the new Leader is considered the attacker, and the owner of the Leader who was already in the Kingdom is considered the defender.

Both draw their strength from Temples, so you'll count up the number of Temples adjacent to each Leader involved in the Conflict. Then each player, starting with the attacker, gets one chance to add Temple tiles from behind his player screen. Whoever has the highest total strength wins, and ties go to the defender. 

The loser withdraws his Leader from the board, and the winner gets one red VP (because the Conflict was fought with Temples). 

War: This only occurs when someone places a tile that unites two Kingdoms into one larger Kingdom, and that new Kingdom has Leaders of the same color. There might be Wars between more than one set of Leaders through the uniting of these two Kingdoms. (For instance, each Kingdom might have had a Farmer and a King it, so the new Kingdom has two Kings and two Priests, so there might be two Wars.) You place a Unification tile on the tile you placed that connected the Kingdoms. This will be removed once the Conflict(s) are resolved. 

The active player chooses which War is resolved first. This is an important decision, and can greatly affect the whole Conflict because the outcome of the first War might affect the connection between the other Leaders.  

If the active player resolves a War involving his Leader, then he's the attacker. If he decides to resolve a War involving two other players, then the next player in clockwise order from the active player is considered the attacker. 

For Wars, you count the strength from all like-colored tiles on your side of the Unification tile. The tiles don't have to be adjacent to the Leader--just somewhere in the Kingdom. Then each player, starting with the attacker, gets one chance to add tiles of that color to their total strength. Whoever has the highest total strength wins, and ties go to the defender.

The loser removes his Leader and all supporter tiles from the Kingdom. The winner gets VPs in the color that the Conflict was fought with--one VP for the removed Leader and one VP for each supporter tile that was removed. All removed tiles, and tiles used to augment the strengths of the players, are removed from the game. 

If the conflict is fought with Priests, and one of the Temples has a Treasure token on it, then that Temple is not removed from the game, and the victor doesn't get a VP, because that tile wasn't removed from the board. 

Due to all those tiles getting removed, it might be that there's no longer a Conflict in that Kingdom. If there's still a Conflict, repeat those steps for the new Conflict. 

At the end of the active player's turn, all other players who committed tiles from their hands refresh to six tiles. 

 new monuments on the bottom

new monuments on the bottom

Monuments

There are six Monuments in the game, and each one consists of two different colors. If a player places a tile that creates a 2 X 2 square of four like-colored tiles, he can choose to flip them over and place a Monument on top of them. One color of the placed Monument has to match the color of the flipped tiles. If the tile placement creates a War, that's resolved first, and if there are still those tiles on the board, the active player can create a Monument. If the active player chooses not to build a Monument, you can't later build one on that spot. 

The tiles still count when it comes to linking Leaders and tiles into Regions and Kingdoms, but they're no longer counted as supporters in Conflicts. 

When Temples are flipped facedown, if there's a Treasure on one, it stays on that flipped tile. That Temple is no longer adjacent to any Leaders, so if they're not connected to another Temple, the Leader is removed from the board. 

At the end of a player's turn, for each of his Leaders in a Kingdom that matches the color of a Monument in that Kingdom, he gets a VP of that color. 

Treasure

I've mentioned the Treasure tokens a number of times, so I'm finally going to tell you how to get one. If, after placing a Leader or a tile, a Kingdom has more than one Treasure in it, the Trader Leader takes all but one of them. If there's no Trader, the Treasures remain until there is one. 

Treasures are very valuable, because they count as a wild VP at end-game scoring. 

Placing a Catastrophe Tile

Each player starts the game with two Catastrophe tiles, and you can play one as one of your Actions. You place the tile on top of another one, and it permanently negates a space on the board. This can be used to break up a Kingdom, cut off a Leader from supporters, or any number of other reasons. 

The only restrictions are that you can't place one on a Leader or a tile bearing a Monument. 

Replacing Tiles

The last Action you can do is removing from the game up to six tiles from your hand, and refreshing your hand back up to six. 

 

The game ends when there are one or two Treasures left on the board, or when the tile bag is empty. 

Everyone groups VPs together into like colors, and counts each of those colors. Your score is equal to the number of VPs you have in your lowest color. Treasures count as a wild in any color you want. Ties are broken by comparing the second-lowest color. And so on. 

 

The Verdict

Firestone--There's a reason Tigris & Euphrates is considered a classic. It's not just that it's been a popular game for nearly 20 years. (It's currently ranked #33 on Boardgamegeek. The only other game in the Top 50 that's that old is El Grande, another classic.) It's a fantastic, brain-burner that combines tile-laying, tactics, and luck in a near-perfect package.

Jeremiah--Having played it for the first time with this new printing, it's easy to agree. As soon as we finished our first game we wanted another go-round immediately. This game isn't a walk in the park, though. It's deep.

 new VP and treasure tokens on top

new VP and treasure tokens on top

Firestone--The components are the usual high standards we're used to from Fantasy Flight. When it comes to comparing the editions, I'm a fan of both. I love the detailed Monuments of the new edition; they look very cool and more evocative than the wooden ones of earlier editions. And I like the tactile-osity-ness of the plastic Leaders. On the other hand, I prefer the wooden cubes of the older version to to tokens in the new one. 

I want to make clear that everything in the new edition is completely functional, so the only reason to seek out an older version is if you really prefer the wooden bits to the plastic ones. But if you just want to play the game, the FF version is terrific. 

Jeremiah--Yeah, this edition--being the only one I've owned--is great. If I had one change it would be that the player screens were a little bigger; I felt a little cramped with my big manly hands behind it, trying to stack and organize points and tiles. It's a small issue for sure. The game looks great and is extremely pleasing from and aesthetic viewpoint. 

Firestone--Perhaps the most brilliant thing T&E introduced was the scoring mechanism of having the color you have the least of be your score. That's just so awesome and brutal. And it makes the fight for those Treasures so important. 

Firestone--I'm a big fan of T&E, but there's one thing that keeps it from being a 10, and that's the luck of the draw. Because you're drawing tiles from a bag, there's a chance you just won't pull what you need. You might draw and draw and draw, and never see a red, while another player draws two and gets two of them. And that's not a what-if--I've seen this happen to people. The frustration associated with this is exacerbated by the fact that it's a 90-minute thinker and not a 30-minute filler.

But honestly, the rest of the game is so ingenious and clever that I still give it a solid 9. I would play this any time. 

Unless it was with family or nongamers. This is one of the thinkiest Euros out there, and I just can't ever see playing it with anyone but gamers. I feel like this would scare of nongamers forever. 

Jeremiah--You know me, I'll never bemoan luck in a game, and the fact that you don't know what your opponents are drawing keeps you engaged as you try to decide whether going to War is a good idea or not. Plus if you REALLY want those red tiles you can dump all of your tiles and draw for it. Of course, there's a chance you'll still not get them but you can cut the odds down and make them more favorable. 

Firestone--The advanced side of the board is a great addition, and one I usually play with once people have a game or two under their belts. It's not hugely different from the basic side, but it does contain more treasures and a different river configuration, and it just seems to make for even more interesting games. 

The Civilization Buildings variant is nice to have, but I don't think it's necessary. It increases the number of "targets" in the game, which you might like. I didn't like or dislike it. I just felt that I was adding to a nearly perfect game, so it felt...odd? If someone felt strongly that we should play with them, I'd happily add them. I'd also happily leave them out. So how's that for a strong opinion?!

I've tried playing with the Wonder variant, but in order for it to make it on the board, someone has to create five tiles of the same color in the cross configuration, and that just never seems to happen!

Firestone's Final Verdict--T&E is one of Reiner Knizia's crowning achievements. I don't know how he comes up with games like this, but am I ever glad he does. It's a weighty Euro with tough decisions, aggression, tactical maneuvering, clever gameplay, and some luck. I'm so glad Fantasy Flight brought this back into print. It belongs on every gamer's shelf. 

Jeremiah's Final Verdict--T&E is not for the faint of heart. It's a heady Euro game that keeps you engaged, and if you want to win you'll have to keep track of all four of your spheres of influence--and, as much as you can, all four of all of your opponents' spheres. But that's what makes it so good: tough, meaty decisions that ripple across the whole game! Tigris and Euphrates is a classic and should be a staple in any gamer's collection!

We'd like to thank Fantasy Flight Game for providing review copies of Tigris & Euphrates. This in no way affected our opinions of the game. 

Thanks for reading!