I finished my first game of Tigris and Euphrates (a/k/a, “Euphrat & Tigris”) yesterday. Came in third out of four, which isn’t great, but I didn’t do too badly for my first time (though I had help). My opponents were mdp4828 (who won), xandryyte, and jmilum. The reason their names are weird is because we played using BoardGameGeek’s online game system, which offers T&E as one of the options. (I’m currently playing Auf Heller und Pfennig — a/k/a Kingdoms — on there as well.)
Tigris and Euphrates is considered something of a masterpiece in board gaming circles. Created by famous (to boardgame geeks) designer Reiner Knizia, it’s considered his magnum opus. As its name implies, its set in the dawn of civilization, in the fertile crescent. Each player controls a dynasty trying to exert its influence in the region. You build, scheme, and fight for power. It’s also been proposed as one of the few games of recent development that still may be quite popular in 100 years, ranking up there with the likes of Chess, Backgammon, Go, Parcheesi, and Mancala. Once I started hitting BoardGameGeek (BGG) pretty regularly, I knew I had to try this out.
A couple of weeks ago I went over to Dan’s to play some games. Dan’s got him a copy of T&E, which he had never played. He’s been understandably intimidated by the rules, which are notoriously difficult (consensus is that the game isn’t hard to play, just tough to teach and learn.) I offered to borrow it and learn the rules so we could finally play this thing. He agreed, and I instantly revealed that our “friendship” was actually just a two-year long ruse to get my own copy of T&E.
Beebomancer: man, I only listed it last night but already your copy of T&E is up to $20 on ebay
Riggy469: get cracking on those rules, biznatch!
Beebomancer: I started reading them. you roll the dice to see who goes first
Beebomancer: every time you pass start you get extra armies to put on your battleships
Riggy469: I must have missed that
Beebomancer: if you land on another player you can send them back to start or put them in jail or try to guess who killed Mr. Boddy
Beebomancer: combat is done by making your opponent guess secret words by giving hints, but you can’t use any words in your hint that contain the letter E
Riggy469: maybe you should throw it on Ebay
Riggy469: it sounds hard
So I hunkered down, read the rules, printed out some player aids, and got to the point where I thought I had a pretty good grip on the game. I downloaded a copy of a Java program that plays the game and found I didn’t quite have everything down, so I read more. At last I was ready for a real game, and that’s where mdp4828 and friends came in. He set up a teaching game on BGG and they showed me the ropes. By halfway through I was making decisions on my own (for good or ill) and when I played poorly, at least knew why the move wasn’t so good (albeit after the fact).
The difficulty in Tigris and Euphrates is that it uses a lot of familiar mechanics in unfamiliar ways. For example, there are four colors on the board: red, green, black, and blue. Yet no player controls any particular color. In fact, you will play tiles and markers of all the colors. Also, you don’t own anything on the board except your leaders. You play tiles to the board, and you score off of them, but they’re not yours, they get added to the map and others may be able to take advantage of them. Your kingdoms aren’t your own, either — it’s very probable that you will share control of some kind with another player. The scoring is also atypical (though not so much by Reiner Knizia standards). You’re scored according to the area of influence (temples, settlements, farms, and markets) you did worst in. So if you got 10 temples but only two markets, and your opponent got three of each, you’ll lose. These are tough things to wrap your head around at first, but eventually it all clicks into place.
I now do pretty well against the Java AI and am eager to play the game “for real”, as in, face to face. Becky may have to be a guinea pig for this. I also wouldn’t mind another online game. I now know what all the fuss is about, and I’m fairly certain it’s well-deserved. I’m pretty sure I won’t give Dan his copy back, though; he should have known better.