The crows of the Obsidian Wastes are giving off mana, and the mages are rushing to collect it in their magical stones. Can you attract the most crows to your totem?
What Is Tyler Sigman’s Crows?
Tyler Sigman’s Crows is a tile-laying game for 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, and takes about 30–45 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $40 (plus shipping) for a copy of the game, or $65 for a deluxe edition. The game is family-friendly and although it has a gloomy look to it, is not thematically inappropriate for kids, though you may need to explain how a “murder of crows” is different from “murdering crows.” This is a new edition of Crows, which was originally published by Valley Games but is out of print since Valley Games is no longer in business.
Tyler Sigman’s Crows Components
Note: My review is based on a pre-production prototype, which does not reflect final component quality. The crows in this version are 3D-printed plastic, but I imagine the final version will be wooden meeples; the tiles in my copy were hand-cut.
- 63 Tiles
- 32 Crows
- 4 Totems
- 4 Character cards
- 24 Spell cards
- 4 Mana Corruption tokens
- 59 Mana Stone tokens (in denominations of 1, 5, and 20)
The red Queen Crow meeple (along with its corresponding tile) are a Kickstarter stretch goal, as is a metal first player coin.
The illustrations are by Justin Hillgrove, who has done the artwork for other games published by Junk Spirit Games including By Order of the Queen. Players may recognize his style, particularly in the illustrations of the mages, which show up on the player aid cards. The majority of the game uses a black/white/red color palette (other than the player aid cards), which is quite effective.
There are a pile of crow meeples. The totems are (at least in the prototype) small obelisks, and the player colors are yellow, blue, green, and purple, which should be visually distinct for color blind players.
How to Play Tyler Sigman’s Crows
You can read the rulebook from the original version here; the new version has some differences, though, so not everything will line up.
The goal of the game is to score the most points by attracting crows to your totem.
Set aside the Nightfall tile (which triggers the end of the game) and shuffle the rest of the tiles. If playing with fewer than 4 players, you’ll remove a certain number of tiles from the deck without looking at them and put them back into the box. Then, you shuffle the Nightfall tile with 6 others, place this shuffled stack on top of 4 random tiles, and then place the rest of the tiles on top.
Place 13 tiles in a grid as shown in the photo above, a 5×5 checkerboard pattern with gaps. For any tiles that show 1, 2, or 3 crows, place that many crow meeples on the tiles.
Give each player a totem and one tile. Place all the crows, power cards, mana corruption tokens, and point tokens nearby.
All players will have a turn, and then at the end of the round, crows will flock and there’s a scoring phase.
On your turn, you draw a tile, place a tile, place your totem, and optionally play a spell.
When you place a tile, it must be orthogonally adjacent to at least one tile that’s already on the table. If there are crows pictured on the tile, you immediately put that many crows on the tile. The Lava Pool tile is a special one, and may replace an existing tile, as long as it has no crow figures or totems on it.
After you place a tile, you must put your totem on a tile. The tile must not have any crows, totems, lava pools, or mana corruption tokens on it. If you place your totem on a Barrens tile, you immediately draw a spell card.
Then, you may play a spell card if you want.
Here are the available spells:
- Attract – Choose an empty tile and a direction; all crows in that direction will flock toward the chosen tile.
- Teleport – Move up to 2 crows from any tile to an empty tile.
- Populate – Choose an empty 2-crow or 3-crow tile and place new crows on it.
- Disperse – Choose an empty tile; all crows in surrounding tiles move one space away if possible.
- Landfall – Draw another tile, and then place another tile.
- Drain – Ley Lines will not score double this round.
There are several different types of tiles, each of which does different things.
- Crow tiles: Place 1, 2, or 3 crows (as pictured) on the tile when it is placed.
- Lava Pool: May replace an empty tile; crows will stop on a Lava Pool tile when they flock.
- Carrion Paradise: Will spawn a new crow every round.
- Queen’s Totem: Add Queen Crow to the tile—she is worth 3 points instead of 1.
- Barrens: Draw a spell if you place your totem here.
- Ley Lines: Scores double points if you place your totem here.
- Gem Caves: Get priority for flocking crows. (See below.)
Once everyone has had a turn, then the crows will flock. Crows will fly in a straight line (orthogonally only) to the nearest totem. If there’s a tie for nearest totem, they will divide as evenly as possible, with the remainder staying put. However, Gem Caves take priority—if they are tied for nearest, then all the crows will go to the Gem Cave instead. Crows will not fly over empty spaces in the board. They will also not fly past Lava Pools but will land there instead. If a crow starts its turn on a Lava Pool, it can fly away from it.
After flocking, players score 1 point (mana stone) for each crow on their space; Ley Line spaces score double.
Murder of Crows
If 6 or more crows have flocked to a single totem, that’s considered a murder of crows, and the crows will scatter. First, remove any Mana Corruption tokens from previous rounds. Then, place a Mana Corruption token on the current tile. Remove two of the crows—they become a mated pair and fly away. The remainder are scattered, one per tile, in a spiral path beginning adjacent to the starting tile.
After scoring and scattering crows, everyone takes their totems back. Add one crow to each Carrion Paradise tile. Then the starting player passes to the left, and a new round begins.
The game end is triggered when somebody draws the Nightfall tile. The tile is discarded and a replacement is drawn, but then the game ends when the current round is over so that everyone has the same number of turns.
Unused spells are worth 2 points each; the highest score wins.
Why You Should Play Tyler Sigman’s Crows
I’ve always been a fan of tile-laying games: Carcassonne was one of my gateway games over a decade ago, and I still play it now (usually on my phone). It has a fairly simple ruleset that allows for a lot of strategic depth.
Crows has that in common, though the game play feels quite different from Carcassonne. Draw a tile, place a tile, place a totem—the core mechanics of the game are very simple. Even the spells aren’t too difficult to master. But figuring out the best place to play your tile and then where to put your totem so that you can attract the most crows? That’s where the fun comes in.
It can feel a bit like a puzzle, particularly when you’re early in the turn order and you don’t know what the other players have up their sleeves. Do you go for the Gem Cave so that you win ties? Or head to the Ley Lines to double your score, hoping that nobody will play a Drain spell this round? Or perhaps it’s time to go to the Barrens, because the spell you draw just might tip the balance in your favor…
As you play, you’ll sometimes have to make a tough choice between trying to attract crows to your totem and foiling somebody else’s plans, even if it doesn’t directly increase your score. For instance, in the photo above, somebody totally should have stopped the blue player from getting that massive pile of crows (including the Queen Crow!) because that’s a whole lot of points. On the other hand, green is sitting pretty on a Ley Line, too. The game has a good amount of “take that” built into it, because even without the spells, you can often split a large bunch of crows between two players if you can get close enough.
The scattering of the crows is a nice mechanic, because of course the crows tend to get clumped up on the totems. Scattering them spreads them around, which has two effects: first, they’re no longer concentrated either in a row or a column, making it hard to pull them all back. Secondly, they restrict where players may place totems on the next round, because you may only place totems where there aren’t any crows. The Mana Corruption token ensures that nobody can grab that same space again for a round.
Tyler Sigman, the designer of Crows, has designed many games, both tabletop games and video games. He may be best known (at least for now) for Darkest Dungeon, a roguelike RPG game released on Steam last year. Crows was first published in 2010 by Valley Games, a company that had some Kickstarter difficulties and is no longer around. David Gerrard of Junk Spirit Games is a fan of Darkest Dungeon, and was excited to work with Sigman to republish Crows with all-new artwork by Justin Hillgrove and some tweaks to the gameplay.
I really dig the black-white-red artwork, and it’s really satisfying to see a big murder of crows flocking to a totem (though I will admit that the size of the meeples can make it hard to fit so many crows on one tile). I was able to teach the rules to my 10-year-old easily, and we had a lot of fun trying to steal each other’s crows from each other.
If you enjoy tile-laying games and a little bit of a puzzle aspect to your games, definitely check this one out. For more information about the game or to make a pledge, visit the Tyler Sigman’s Crows Kickstarter page!
Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.