Overview: Tsuro is a game that’s been around for a while but I hadn’t gotten to actually play it until a couple weekends ago at PAX. Formerly published by WizKids, it’s now published by Calliope Games (founded by some of the original WizKids folks). It’s a simple, beautiful, elegant game about making paths and trying to stay on the board.
Ages: 8 and up (though younger kids could certainly play)
Playing Time: 15 to 20 minutes
Rating: Superb. Tsuro excels on several fronts: the pieces are gorgeous, the game is easy to learn but allows for deeper strategy, and is a great option for gamers and non-gamers alike.
Who Will Like It? Just about everyone. I don’t say this for most games, because there are a lot of games that some people love and others hate. While I’m sure there are some players who won’t like Tsuro, I can see that this one will have very broad appeal — it’s not the only game I’ll want to play, but it’s one that very few people will turn down.
The board has an Asian theme, with a phoenix on the board background and little dragons engraved on the pawns. There are Chinese characters throughout that say tong lu (roughly, “access” or “through road”) as well as a “East West South North” in one corner and “Wind Fire Water Earth” in another. All of this, combined with the simple rules and elegant gameplay, give the game a very peaceful zen-like feel, despite what can sometimes be very cutthroat play. There’s even a translucent piece of paper with a bamboo brush painting on it included in the box — entirely unnecessary to the game but adding to the flavor of the whole thing.
The game includes the board, 8 plastic pawns, 35 path tiles, and 1 dragon tile. Everything is very nice quality: the tiles are sturdy cardboard with rounded corners, and the paths look a bit like rope laid on dirt or stone. The artwork and the stone-shaped pawns give the game an earthy feel even though it’s really just glossy cardboard and plastic. While the board is really just a simple 6 x 6 grid, it’s one of the most gorgeous boards you’ll have in your collection.
The tiles are shuffled face down and each player takes three to form their hand. Each player in turn picks a starting spot along the edge of the board. (Each of the squares has two paths per edge.) Then, everyone takes turn playing tiles. The tile you place must extend your own path — you cannot place a tile somewhere else on the board — and then you move your pawn along the path until it ends. If you get routed back to the edge of the board, you are eliminated from the game.
After playing a tile, you draw a new tile. The dragon tile basically is a stand-in: if you need to draw but there are none left, you take the dragon tile. As players are eliminated and their tiles are put back in the draw pile, the player with the dragon tile draws first. It’s a simple solution but the rules for that particular item can be confusing.
When more than one player borders the same empty space, then whoever plays a tile there not only extends their own path but also changes the course of the other players as well. The goal is to be the last player still on the board.
Tsuro is a cinch to teach, but makes for fascinating play. Younger players will simply try to find a tile that doesn’t bump themselves off the board right away, but more experienced players can look for ways to plan ahead, finding routes that will give them access to more space on the board. Ray Wehrs of Calliope Games explained that it really works out to a territorial game — you need to have space to play tiles, or a way to get to more space.
It can be really interesting trying to stay right near other players, because then you can affect the direction they go … but then they can redirect you as well. I also love the fact that the game works from 2 to 8 players. The more players you have, the sooner everyone starts running into each other. You can be fiercely competitive or try to play nice, depending on the gaming group you’re with, but eventually people are going to get run off the board.
Tsuro has been a real crowd-pleaser. I took a pile of games to try out at a recent game night, and after introducing this one we ended up playing it three times. It’s great because it can accommodate a wide number of players and it’s a quick game that you can set up and teach in just a few minutes. It won’t satisfy players wanting a long, heavy-strategy game, but even in those cases it makes for a great appetizer.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.