The incredibly prolific game designer Reiner Knizia has designed a staggering 500 board games. His catalogue includes some very well-respected titles in the board game community. Arguably his best, and his highest-rated on “Board Game Geek”, is Tigris & Euphrates. The game pits 2-4 players against each other as warring factions fighting over kingdoms and temples in ancient Mesopotamia. As the game advances, various kingdoms will rise to great size, only to crumble into mere shadows of their former glory.
Tigris & Euphrates is truly a gamer’s game. It’s a deep, strategic game that has elements of area control, blind bidding, tile placement, and hand management. Players fight for control over kingdoms and temples through tactically placing and moving their leaders next to various kingdoms around the board. Players attempt to control these kingdoms to score victory point cubes that ultimately determine the winner of the game. The “kingdoms” are comprised of contiguously connected tiles that the players place on the board. Tiles, leaders, and victory point cubes are one of four different colors: blue, red, green, or red. These respectively represent trade, religion, agriculture, and government. The tiles are drawn blindly from a bag at the end of a player’s turn to ensure they always have a full “hand” of six tiles. During a player’s turn they are placed on the board to build kingdoms and slowly score victory point cubes. These tiles are also used for extra support in the real meat of the game, the conflicts. Conflict erupts when two players have leaders of the same color in one kingdom. Deciding when to initiate conflicts is pivotal to a player’s success and leads to a lot of palm-sweating tension.
The blind draw of tiles from the bag means there is an element of luck, but it certainly isn’t decisive in victory. All tiles serve a very important function and are useful in certain situations. The red, or temple, tiles are perhaps the most important, and can be used in aggressive coups for leadership of kingdoms. This doesn’t mean that only drawing red tiles will lead a player to victory over his opponents. Screens allow players to keep their usable tiles secret from their opponents. This hidden information means players won’t know exactly how the conflicts will resolve and how various kingdoms will degrade due to the effects of war. It’s not uncommon for one kingdom to be very desirable one turn and then, after a conflict on the next turn, nothing more than a few scattered tiles on the board.
One can see that it is important for players to be methodical when growing their kingdoms and planning warfare. If a player focuses too much on slow moving advances and collecting the perfect hand of tiles, they will miss out on a very valuable game resource: treasure! Various wild, brown cubes are placed on the board when the game begins and are used as victory points when the game ends. Players must rush to collect these resources before others swoop in and take them for themselves.
Tigris & Euphrates was the first game to implement what is known as “Knizia Scoring.” Amongst board game aficionados, this is a strange type of end game scoring, quite different from the typical win conditions. Most games determine a winner by the player who has scored the most victory points, collected the most money, or was the first to reach a specific accomplishment. The scoring system in Tigris & Euphrates is quite different. Players “score their least.” As mentioned earlier, victory point cubes come in four different colors. A player’s final score is the color of which he has the fewest cubes. This may be hard to wrap your head around at first, but essentially it means players cannot specialize too much in any strategy or type of conflict. They must be dynamic and balanced, and this leads to even more competition and player interaction throughout the game.
Tigris & Euphrates is certainly a modern-day classic. It was released in 1997, at the beginning of the modern board game renaissance but still finds its way onto the shelves of many board game players and collectors. Fantasy Flight Games has just announced they will be reprinting the game with new artwork and components. Very few modern games get this type of love from various publishers and gamers alike. I definitely recommend a few rounds of Tigris & Euphrates to see why people are still in love with this eighteen-year-old masterpiece.