Loved my introduction to Tikal, still puzzling over Tigris and Euphrates

One of my gaming friends joked that I’d be blogging about yesterday’s game night. To prove him right, here’s the rundown of what happened:

Tikal Game

Tikal is a solid, fun area control game

J.C. had been talking up Tikal for quite some time now, calling it a solid game and trying to sell me on it by saying that it was a Spiel des Jahres winner from 1999. Now the Spiel des Jahres award carries some weight with me, but it isn’t everything since some of my favorite games aren’t winners. Still, it’s a decent enough signal of quality to make it worth checking out.

So when J.C. pulled out the box, my eyes immediately fell upon two well-known names in the game design community: Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling. While I’ve heard the names spoken by other well-known boardgame reviewers like Richard Ham, I wasn’t really all too familiar with their games (or so I thought). Still, knowing the designers are fairly well-regarded made me eager to dive into Tikal.

The mechanics of the game are simple: draw a tile, place it on the map, and use your allocated 10 action points to explore temples, set up waypoints, dig up treasures, and then corral your workers on high-value temples to collect victory points during scoring phases. As I played it, I pointed out that this game was eerily similar to El Grande in its area control mechanic, and well, I shouldn’t have been surprised since I learned, after playing Tikal, that designer Wolfgang Kramer had worked with Richard Ulrich to create El Grande! No wonder there were similarities to both games!

Anyway, the game’s mechanics were easy to grasp though, in my attempt at learning the game, I did a few lousy moves. For example, I sacrificed my leader a bit too early to claim a temple and got in trouble later on when the other players were able to overwhelm me by using their leaders to hoard the other temples for points. I also had a tough time balancing out setting up logistical waypoints via the research tents versus simply getting guys on the board. Finally, treasures are pretty important in that game and not finding the right treasures ones locked me out of some great scoring opportunities. When the dust settled, I finished 3rd.

On the whole, the game is very engaging and raised a lot of strategic questions. For example, I wondered whether claiming a temple for one’s own by sacrificing your units is worth it as it allows other people to not bother contesting that temple and chase after other ones. And for that matter, just how strong is a treasure strategy? Granted, everyone is probably going to chase after them since a whole 6 points for a complete set each scoring round is hard to turn down, but does their randomness muck things up? Hard to answer now, but when I do make a second go at Tikal, I’d like to try it with the auction system to see just how much it switches things up.

Tigris and Euphrates

I still have no idea how to play Tigris and Euphrates

As the night wound down, we decided to end with a game of Tigris and Euphrates. Now, of all the ways to end a night, it’s curious that we went off on a heavy game, but regardless, the playthrough only demonstrated that I had no idea what I was doing. Not that I was clueless about how to play, but more about how to execute good strategy.

So for those not familiar with the game, you can put leaders down or lay down tiles to get points. Sometimes, the way you lay down a unit or tile will cause a battle to ensue and some battles can become particularly messy in its destructiveness. But for those who manage to win those encounters, you’ve got an opportunity to rake in a whole lot of points.

Now, there’s a way to lay down tiles and leaders, similar to how there’s a way to lay down pieces in a game like Go. What’s not apparent to me is what kinds of patterns are strong and how to defend my territory from other people encroaching on it and how to prosecute wars successfully.

I seem to have the worst luck prosecuting wars too. In this particular game, I decided to attack an adjacent player with the black leader/tiles and going in, I thought I had a pretty strong advantage. I was ahead of his by about 4 black tiles which included the ones I was sacrificing from my hand. Lo and behold, he revealed 4 of his own and handily crushed my assault. I’m not even sure if I can blame luck for that, but it seems to happen to me pretty often.

The game was also strange in that people started gunning for monuments early on. You can think of monuments as a water fountain that just showers players adjacent to it with victory points. Use it well and you can get a pretty strong advantage. And J.C. used those quite well! Our attempts at disarming him or pushing him out were for naught and he was able to reap the rewards by getting pretty much 1 point every round. For Tigris and Euphrates veterans, 1 point is huuuuuge. With that source pumping him onwards, J.C. rode those water fountains handily to victory.

Although the mechanics for Tigris and Euphrates are simple (even if some of the terminology can be annoying to explain to newbies), there’s a lot going on that I still haven’t quite figured out what makes a strong territorial play. I’ll definitely look for more opportunities to play it though, because it’s very much a fascinating game to comb through.

Tell us what you think about the game!