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June 15, 2003

Favorite Games IX

Two games today that couldn't be more different... a game of random, unpredictable magic and a game of careful, deep strategy.

Wiz War is a classic game by Tom Jolly (another name that will quite probably crop up a couple more times before we're done), sadly currently out of print (though there are rumors it may resurrect soon). The basic game is simple... a dungeon map is build by assembling several square map pieces, and wizards start at a "home" square on each map, after placing two treasure chests on two other, marked, spaces. These wizards are, for reasons of their own, engaged in a contest. The object... to steal two treasures from their opponents and return them to their home base. The basic game, as in Cosmic Encounter, is quite simple. The catch comes from the hand of cards each player has. Most are spell, many are very odd spells. Spells that summon creatures (who usually fight much better than wizards), spells that create traps (which can prevent or slow movement down the hall leading to a treasure), spells that rotate board segments (making even the map itself unpredictable), spells that let you flick a d4 onto the board and whatever it hits stays where it gets moved to (i.e., that are just weird). The game is unpredictable, highly competitive and has a huge "luck" element. But it's a perfect "beer and pretzels" style game, just great for blowing off an hour or two trying to trap your friends in a giant thorny rose bush while you run off with his treasure.

Tigris & Euphrates is the opposite extreme, is one of Renier Knizia's best. This is a deeply complex tile-placement game, starting with a map that is roughly based on the historical "fertile crescent" (modern day Iraq, but don't hold that against this brilliant game). Nominally, the game is about building civilization out of four basic building blocks (tiles representing Settlements, Temples, Farms and Markets), but as is often the case with Knizia, the theme is far in the background of the game's brilliant mechanics. This time, play is a complex series of tile and Leader placements (you normally place two a turn, in any combination you choose). Leaders are critical, as they are what allows the scoring of points. Each player has one leader for each type of tile (and you may pick one up and move it if the location has become less than optimal). When a tile is placed adjacent to a kingdom (that is, to any group of tiles containing at least one leader), the player controlling that kingdom's leader of the same type as the tile gets one victory point. Yes, you can get a point based on my play... and yes, there are times when it is worth-while for me to intentionally give that to you (usually in order to set up a second move that gets me far more). When Kingdoms merge, there is an instant conflict between any matching leaders, so at any time there will only be one to score. Group enough tiles of one color together and you can build a Monument, generating even more points. There are more complexities (leaders must be next to Temples, Farms can only be placed on rivers, catastrophe tiles that let you "destroy" earlier tiles, etc.), but this gives you a good view of the essentials except for one thing... the object of the game. And, in typical Knizia fashion, it isn't what you'd expect. Rather than trying to score the most points overall, the object is to score the most points in your worst color. This means, as with Samurai, one must focus on balance. Getting a dozen more Temple points than anyone else doesn't win you anything if you barely scored any Farms. T&E is a great game for 2-4 players, though it plays very differently with each number... it is intensely strategic at 2 players, but the fact that 6 pieces will be added/moved between your turns makes it less predictable at 4. People who like games where thought is rewarded will love this one, because each tile placement can prove critical. Settle down for 90-120 minutes of intense fun (if it's taking longer, you may want to consider a chess clock or egg timer to limit over-analysis of each move). This one is an absolute treasure. And don't let the fairly steep price scare you... this is a quality game with quality pieces, of wood (for the leaders, monuments, and victory point pieces) and very thick cardboard (for the tiles... plus there's a bag to draw from so it's easier to store and randomize them), so you get your money's worth.

Funagain Purchase Links
Tigris & Euphrates

Posted by ghoul at June 15, 2003 06:19 AM

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Great games, both. WizWar can get downright silly at times!

Knizia is a master, isn't he?

Posted by: Scott at June 16, 2003 08:08 AM

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