When I first played Tsuro, I missed the unpacking. I’ll come back to this in a moment, but I say it now to explain why my first impression of the game seems so odd. Without having heard the rules, I was struck by the fact that there were eight player pieces. The board is rather small, and I thought the game would be crowded with five players, let alone eight; but I was impressed that the game was designed from the beginning to accommodate eight players.
With no expansion pack.
In minutes we were playing, and I got caught up in the intricate patterns that our pieces had to navigate. The game sucked me in, and it wasn’t until I got home that I carefully examined the elements of the game. That right there is the mark of a good game. It engaged me so completely that I didn’t fiddle around with the pieces in order to evaluate their quality. They are good, durable, lovely even, but the game itself is the major attraction.
Tsuro is a strategic tiling game in which players take turns laying down a square tile and then moving their game piece along one of the 4 paths that criss-cross each tile. After a player lays down a tile (adjacent to her marker), she moves her marker to the end of the path, and any other player whose path connects with that tile also moves their marker. If the paths on the new tile connect to yet other paths on other tiles, the players must continue following their paths to the very end. As the board fills with tiles (thirty-six total in a six by six grid), paths connect, and players whose markers are on paths that connect to an edge of the board are eliminated. After all the moves have been made, and all survivors acknowledged, the player who placed the tile then draws another and play proceeds clockwise. The object is to be the last player whose marker remains on the board.
The reason that so many players can stay engaged, even though players do have to wait for their turns, is that there’s always the possibility that a new tile placement will connect their markers to a new path segment. Regardless of whose move it is, all players have to move their markers if the path they are on is extended after a tile is placed. So, each new tile builds a lot of suspense, and everyone who is still playing stays involved.
Elimination games can be tricky things because the defeated players have to sit out while the others finish. This is true of Tsuro but the game is quick to play. Death is mercifully sudden. And down-time is minimal.
I said I’d come back to the unpacking. On top of being a fun game (Major Fun, by the way, if you missed the medal hanging over there on the left) Tsuro is a beautiful game. The heavy cardboard tiles have a Japanese water-color image on the back and the paths look as if they were engraved on a surface of polished limestone. The instructions fit on one side of one sheet of paper, the other side resembling a screen-print image of bamboo and Japanese characters. The board is a painting of a phoenix in warm reds, ochres, and oranges.
Ray Wehrs of Calliope Games notes: “…The 35 path tiles all unique; there is not a duplicate in the deck. The more you play, the more you understand their relevance in regards to the many true levels of strategy in Tsuro. You’ll also learn that Tsuro plays very differently with 2 players than 8… and everywhere in between. The number of players participating will directly affect the strategies of the players.”
In design, playability, and elegance, Tsuro exemplifies what makes a Major Fun major.
Tsuro was designed by Tom McMurchie. Artistic design by Shane Small, Cathy Brigg, and Sarah Phelps. © 2009 by Calliope Games.
William Bain, Games Taster