Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tsuro: The Path to a Game

Hearing Tsuro mentioned on Tom Vasel's 2012 top games list (actually the people's choice list) got me thinking about the game again. And despite Tom's quick dismissal, there is some meat on Tsuro's bones for the enterprising strategist to pick through like some kind of board gaming hyena.

First, I should probably mention that there is indeed some history behind this game. Boardgamegeek mentions the "squiggle" game was patented back in 1979. And to be honest, this is an incredibly simple mechanic at the heart of Tsuro.

On the plus side, "linking lines together" is pretty easy to explain to just about anyone. The first time I explained the rules to this game, it took less than 5 minutes.

The Grand Tsuro F.A.Q.

1) How many tiles do I get?

Three. Begin your turn by placing a tile and end it by drawing a fresh tile from the supply.

2) Where can I place a tile?

You can only place your tile in one spot, directly ahead of your dragonstone so that your path is extended.

3) How do I move my piece?

After you place your tile, your dragonstone is moved to follow the path in front of it as far as possible, taking it off the board if the path extends that far.

4) How do I win?

The last person with their dragonstone on the board is the winner. As the game progresses and the board fills up with tiles, it will become quite impossible to avoid sliding down a path and off the board.

5) What happens if I run out of tiles?

The last tile at the bottom of the deck is the dragon tile. The person who takes the dragon tile will be the first person to get tiles when a new supply opens up. A new tile supply is created when a player is taken out, their hand becomes the new tile supply.

The game scales from 2 players all the way up to 8 players.  8 players is a chaotic, random down-and-dirty slug-out where the one remaining at the end is often the one that managed to stay the heck away from everyone else the longest. Even at 4 and 5, there is a lot happening each time around and it is not uncommon for 2 or 3 unlucky people to find themselves slammed together by a 4th player who just happens to be in the right place at the right time.

With just two players, Tsuro morphs into something else entirely.

In a way, the game reminds me of the light cycle racers from Tron. Opening strategy is obviously to stay away from each other and try to cut out a larger territory to move in. Once the board starts to fill up, how you laid the tiles behind you means the difference between life and death. More than once I've filled my area with tiles, came in close to my opponent, only to swerve back in on my path and fly across the board to another open area.

My 7-year-old son came up with a piece of low animal cunning I never would have thought about on my own. My father-in-law absent-mindedly started his dragonstone off in the corner of the board. My son plopped his piece down right next to him, and then proceeded to run the poor man's piece off the board using his very first tile. So lesson 1 is definitely "spread the starting pieces out a little bit."

On the box, the Tsuro people (apparently some place called Calliope Games) suggest the game lasts approx. 15 minutes.

I would agree with this assessment, the games are indeed very short. They start out slow, build to a finger-biting conclusion, and then leave you wanting to play again. I haven't played the new Tsuro of the Seas yet, but the increased amount of time it supposedly takes to play is a bit of a turn off.

If you've had different experiences with Tsuro, go ahead and let me know. I'm always interested other opinions.

1 comment:

  1. The person who goes first is supposed to place his piece first, so it should have been the father-in-law to drive the son off the board with the first move... or else he would not have put the piece next to the person going first for that very reason.