Tayu is an elegant strategy game in which players take turns laying “river tiles,” competing to build connected waterways from one side of the board to the other. One player attempts to create as many channels as possible from north to the south of the board while the other tries to do the same from the east to the west sides of the board.

Published by Goliath Games, designed by Niek Neuwahl, the game takes its name from the legendary emperor of China, Yu the Great, the founder of the Xia Dynasty, who, according to Wikipedia, taught his subjects how to control flooding along China’s rivers and lakes.

There are 84 rectangular tiles. Each tile is inscribed with a branching line. These two attributes – rectangular tiles and branching lines – help to make the game as unique as it is.

There are three kinds of tiles. On some tiles, the line reaches three different sides. On others, only two. In most versions, players take turns drawing the tiles from a bag and placing each new tile adjacent to one that has already been played. The game continues until all the tiles have been played. Score is then calculated.

To determine the score, count all the tiles whose rivers end on one side of the board, and then multiply that number by the sum of all the tiles whose rivers end on the other (so you score even if your river only reaches one side, but you score much more if your rivers reach both). There are four raised circles on each side of the board. Rivers that connect to those circles count double.

The game is very easy to learn – it takes only a few minutes to understand how to play. The whole game can be played in half an hour or less. Like any good game, understanding how to win is quite another undertaking – one that can keep you intrigued for many, many hours of deep play.

The game is nicely made. The tiles have buttons on the bottom which fit nicely into depressions on the board, though some care has to be taken to prevent yourself from accidentally knocking a tile out of position once its placed on the board. The strong, plastic board comes in two halves that snap securely together. The large, hefty, drawstring bag filled with tiles and the disassembled board fit perfectly into the game box.

Tayu is essentially a two-player game, though the three- and four-player versions are all worth playing. In the four-player version, players work as partners, one team playing East-West, the other North-South. Since all eight of our Tasters were interested in the game, we played it in teams, four on each side, sliding the board back and forth across the table. The board slid easily and the pieces stayed in place. It turned out to be fun and surprisingly absorbing for all players. Considering how many people were involved, it was a testimony to the visual and strategic attraction of the game.

In the three-player version, the third player scores by trying to prevent each of the other players from succeeding. Players determine what constitutes success by a process of bidding, like in contract bridge, trying to guess ahead of time how many points they will score.

There’s an “advanced” variation where tiles are taken out of the bag and placed face down on the table. The tiles whose rivers reach three sides are distinguished by a concentric ring design on the center button on the reverse side. With all the tiles face-down on the table, you can easily see which have river segments that reach three sides, and be a bit more strategic in selecting the kind of tile that you bring into play.

All of these refinements point to a game that has been carefully designed to provide its players with very good reasons to explore the game in depth, to share it with many friends, and to cherish it for many years.

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