May 13

Tigris and Euphrates: Description and Review

Tigris and Euphrates, by Reiner Knizia, is a game in which 2-4 players compete to be the “all around” most successful dynasty, as primitive society emerges in the cradle of civilization.  This is accomplished by having the best score at the end of the game, but unlike most games wherein the winner accumulates the highest over all point total, in Tigris and Euphrates players are judged by their lowest category.  This unusual twist forces players to make difficult decisions about how and when to pursue certain goals and when to abandon others.  It is only through awareness and careful management of these often conflicting short and long-term goals that a player will have the best chance of being victorious.

At the start of Tigris and Euphrates each player is assigned one of four dynasties:  Archer, Potter, Lion, or Bull.  Each dynasty consists of four leaders that are represented by their color:


King:  is a player’s black piece.

Priest:  is a player’s red piece.

Farmer:  is a player’s blue piece.

Trader:   is a player’s green piece.

Players are also given six random civilization tiles, two catastrophe tiles, one unification tile, and a screen to conceal their tiles and victory point cubes.

Civilization tiles are four colors and correspond with the leader of the same color.  The tiles are as follows:

Settlements:  Are black tiles that score points when added to a kingdom containing a king, add to a king’s power base of supporters, and may be discarded to increase a king’s strength in external conflicts.  Settlements may be played on any open square that is not a water space.

Temples:  Are red tiles that score points when added to a kingdom containing a priest, add to a priest’s power base of supporters, may be discarded to increase a priest’s strength in external conflicts, and may be discarded to increase any leader’s strength during an internal conflict.  Temples may be placed on any open square that is not a water space.

Farms:  Are blue tiles that score points when added to a kingdom containing a farmer,  add to a farmer’s power base of supporters, and may be discarded to increase a farmer’s strength in external conflicts.  Farms may only be placed on water spaces.

Markets:  Are green tiles that score points when added to a kingdom containing a trader, add to a trader’s power base of supporters, and may be discarded to increase a trader’s strength in external conflicts.


Players also receive the following:

Catastrophe:  Are tiles that may be played on top of a civilization tile to remove it from the game and create a dead space on the board that may not be played in for the remainder of the game.  Each player has two catastrophe tiles that may be played during the game.

Unification:  Is a tile that a player adds to the board on top of a tile that was just played if it caused two kingdoms to merge.  This is to aid in resolving external conflicts.  Once all external conflicts are resolved, the unification tile is removed from the board.

20130513_200409The board begins empty, except for the initial 10 temples and their accompanying treasure cubes.  Once the starting player is determined, play proceeds in a clockwise order for the remainder of the game.  On a player’s turn he may perform two actions from among the following choices:

1:   A player may use one action to position (place, move, or remove) a leader.  Anytime that a leader is placed in a new position on the board it must be next to at least one temple, and must not result in the merging of two or more kingdoms (a group of civilization tiles already containing a leader).   If the leader is placed in a kingdom where there is already a leader of that type, an internal conflict occurs.  To resolve the conflict, each player with a leader involved adds up the number of temples adjacent to their leader to calculate his strength.  Then, starting with the active player, each player involved in the conflict may add temples from their hand to increase the strength of their leader.  The leader with the highest strength remains and that player receives one red victory cube, while the losing leader is removed from the board.  In the event of a tie, the defending player (non-active) wins.

2:  A player may place a civilization tile and if possible distribute a victory point.  A civilization tile may be placed on any empty space with the exceptions:  that only farms may be place on river spaces, farms may only be placed on river spaces, and the tile may not merge more than two kingdoms.  When the tile is placed a few things may occur:

If it is placed in an existing kingdom the player with the matching leader present scores one victory cube of that color, if the appropriate leader is not present, but a king is, that player receives a victory cube of the tile’s color.

If the tile is placed in isolation or in a kingdom without a matching leader or king, no victory points are scored.

If the tile merges two kingdoms, no victory point is scored, the unification tile is placed upon it, and an external conflict occurs if there are now more than one type of the same leader present in the kingdom.  This is conflict is resolved by counting up the number of a leader’s type of tiles on its side of the unification tile and comparing that to the opposing leaders total.  Each player may add the same type of tiles from their hand one time to increase the leader’s strength with the highest total winning and the defending (non-active) player winning ties.  The losing side must remove its leader and all of the matching civilization tiles on its side of the unification tile.  The victor then scores one point for the removed leader and for each removed civilization tile of the same color.  If this results in a broken kingdom then no other conflicts occur.  If there are still multiple leaders of the same type present in the kingdom the active player chooses the next conflict to resolve in the same manner until no conflicts remain.

If the played tile forms a square of four of the same type, they are flipped over and a monument is constructed.  The monuments are all two colors and the chosen monument must share one color with the four tiles.  At the end of a player’s turn, any of his leaders in a kingdom with a monument of the same color earns one victory cube of the same color for each matching monument.

t&g6If the played tile connects two temples with treasure cubes on them and any player has a trader in the kingdom that player chooses one of the treasure cubes to take.  If the tile causes a conflict among leaders, they must all be resolved before the treasure can be claimed.  If the conflict results in a break in the kingdom from the two treasures, then neither may be taken.  The treasures are highly desirable because they are used as wild points at the end of the game raise a players total in his weakest color.

3:  A player may place a catastrophe tile on either a vacant space or on any tile that is not part of a monument and does not have a treasure cube on it.  This space is now considered dead for the remainder of the game.  No tile may be played on it in the future, and any tile currently on it is removed.  If the tile removed is the last temple adjacent to any leaders, then all such leaders are removed from the board.

4:  A player may choose to discard any number of his tiles and replace them with new ones from the supply.

After performing any combination of two of the above actions, the player’s turn is over.  All players then refill their tile supply to six and play proceeds to the left.  In the event that any player cannot refill his hand to six or the turn resulted in two or fewer treasures remaining on the board, the game ends.  Each player then adds up his four colors of victory cubes individually, augments them with any treasure cubes he may possess, and all players then compare their lowest scoring color.  The player with the highest number of points in his lowest category is the winner.  If there is a tie, all players involved in the tie continue scoring their next lowest color until a winner is found.  Should their somehow be multiple players who have scored exactly the same points from lowest to highest, then they share in the victory.

As players add leaders, tiles, and monuments the board begins develop in interesting ways.

As players add leaders, tiles, and monuments the board begins develop in interesting ways.

My Review

I have been aware of Tigris and Euphrates and its impressive reputation for a long while, but I have only recently played it for the first time.  My wife and some of our friends played it at Gen Con 2011 while I went off and played Dune with another group instead.  Despite my immense respect and admiration for the game designing genius of Dr. Knizia and my love for many of his other games:  Ra, Battle Line, Modern Art, etc… for one reason or another I never felt an overwhelming need to play Tigris and Euphrates.  In fact, my dear friends Adam and Courtney Baker, even gave me a brand new copy and yet I still held off because the box said that it supported 3-4 players.  That meant I could not play two player with my wife, and I frequently have had more than four players at my game days since that time.  As you can see, my introduction to Tigris and Euphrates has been a long-delayed experience.  A situation that I am quite pleased to say came to an abrupt end last Saturday night!

Wow,” is the best way to describe my initial, and ongoing reaction to having played Tigris and Euphrates!  By my second turn I was smiling from ear to ear and telling the friends with whom I was playing that, “This game is going to be awesome!”  Right away, I marveled at the austere beauty of its simplistic rules while simultaneously being overwhelmed by the sheer number of strategic options that were apparent, event to my novice eyes!  Tigris and Euphrates is not a new game, having been released in 1997, but it felt even older in a classic sort of way, like Chess or Go.  Honestly, I do not believe that I have ever had such a powerful reaction to a first play of any other game, truly fantastic!

Even with all of that raving, I rate Tigris and Euphrates a 9.0 out of a possible 10.  I must confess, this is merely my reluctance against giving a game with one live play a perfect rating.  I have since played about ten games on the android app against computer opponents, and thus far have no reason to doubt my first impression, but I will have to get a few more live plays under my belt before determining if it has the staying power that I require of a perfect 10!

The only concerns that have about Tigris and Euphrates are the randomness and how it scales with a different number of players.  I worry that the random tile draws could potentially ruin the occasional game, causing luck of the draw to be the deciding factor in a very close match.  There are tactics that can be employed to lessen this impact, but no way to avoid it entirely.   As for the number of players it can support, I was greatly relieved to learn from other sources that it could in fact be played by two players and that many people actually prefer it as a heads up match.  I played a three player game in my live play, and all of my android plays have been four player games.  So far it seems to scale quite well between 3 and 4 players, although I did prefer the three-man game.  I feel as though there may be a bit of disadvantage to the player going last, but how great it is, I am not sure at this time.

While the above are my only personal concerns about Tigris and Euphrates, I would offer a few words of caution to others depending on what sort of gamer they happen to be.  Tigris and Euphrates is full of direct and indirect conflict.  If you dislike games of that sort, I would recommend avoiding Tigris and Euphrates because conflict is rampant and the consequences can be devastating!  I can also see how some players might consider it to be a very dry game, almost devoid of any theme what so ever.  While I would disagree with this assessment, as I find the mechanics to cleverly represent the their real world occurrences (Rebellions, Wars, Monuments, Catastrophes, Developing Society), it does occasionally feel a bit like an abstract.  If you need dragons or zombies to enjoy a game, perhaps this one is not for you.

In conclusion, Tigris and Euphrates is a game for players who enjoy a great deal of conflict combined with a delightfully brain melting experience.  Staring at the empty board prior to the first move reminds me a great deal of a game of Chess or Go about to start.  The immense number of possibilities makes one acutely aware that there is plenty of room for brilliant moves and terrible mistakes to be made, and this can cause feelings of both excitement and one of intimidation.  I, for one, find games such as this to be quite exhilarating as I know that I will be learning its secrets and mysteries for years to come.  The challenge of becoming skilled at a challenging game is an integral part of what I love about gaming, and if you are like me in that regard, you will be hard pressed to find a better game than Tigris and Euphrates!

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