Euphrat & Tigris

Designed by Reiner Knizia; Published by Hans im Glück, 1997
This review copyright 1997 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated December 10, 1997

Euphrat & Tigris - or Tigris & Euphrates, as we more commonly say in English - is a game of the dawn of civilization. At least it claims to be - it's actually more abstract than that theme would suggest. But it's true that there are more elements of story in this game than in most of Knizia's games. The rivers on the board help the terrain tiles feel more natural, and watching two city-states spread out until they come into conflict gives one some sense of how early border wars must have arisen. But basically, the game doesn't have the same sense of atmosphere that most American gamers tend to like - or that Ursuppe has, for example.

Whew! That's the negative out of the way! The rest of this game is very good stuff, indeed - a game that will take a long time to master. The play is not too complex, but the strategies definitely require a lot of thought. The game is for 2-4 people, but plays much differently at either end of that spectrum. A four-player game might be more accurately called "Let's you and him fight!"

The components are very nice: an attractive board with 176 spaces (almost a quarter of them river), 153 civilization tiles of four different types (settlements, markets, farms, and temples), some catastrophe tiles, 6 wooden three-dimensional monuments, 16 wooden disks representing leaders (four per player), 140 wooden cubes as victory point counters, 4 screens to hide your tiles and victory points, a cloth bag for the tiles, and a few other odds and ends. Most of the components are both attractive and functional - the one exception being the catastrophe tiles. These are too close to civilization tiles in appearance - they need to stand out more. I glued mine to wooden blocks, which does the trick - coloring the borders white might also work.

The game is different from any other I've ever played, so it took a bit of getting used to. For example, your four leader pieces all have the same symbol on them, but come in four different colors (black, blue, red, green). Most games divide players' pieces by color, so it feels strange at first that each player has a red piece, a black piece, etc. Once you've got it, however, it feels easy enough. The four players in the game are the Bull, the Archer, the Potter and the Lion - all drawn from authentic Mesopotamian art. The artwork, by the way, is by Doris Mathäus of Doris & Frank fame, and is quite beautiful.

Each turn, a player gets two actions. An action can be to:

  • place a tile on the board,
  • place a leader,
  • place a catastrophe tile, or
  • get rid of some of your tiles and draw replacements from the bag.
You may repeat the same action twice - lay two tiles, for example - and you chose the order any actions occur in. Everyone starts with six civilization tiles, and you draw back to six at the end of anyone's turn after playing any. Each player has two catastrophe tiles which are not replaced when played.

The object of the game is to score victory points in all four spheres of influence: red, green, blue, and black. The four tile types are color coded (blue farms, green markets, red temples and black settlements), and correspond to the four leaders (blue farmer, green merchant, red priest, black king). The trick is that your final score, used for victory purposes, is how well you did in the color you collected the fewest points of! This means if you are an awesome king, and get 30 black victory points, but a lousy farmer and only get 5 blue victory points, your final score, when comparing to the other players, is 5. You would lose to someone who only got six victory points total in each of the four colors! So the game forces you to be balanced in your outlook.

You score points in five different ways:

  • Placing a tile in a kingdom where you have the appropriate leader scores one point in that color;
  • Having a leader in a kingdom with a monument of the same color scores one point per turn (thus monuments are fought over);
  • Collecting one of the ten treasures that begin on the board, which scores you a "wild card" - you can assign it any color you want at the end of the game;
  • Winning an "internal" conflict: when a leader is placed in a kingdom which already has a leader of the same color, one of them must go, and the other scores a red victory point (because temples - red tiles - are used to resolve such conflicts);
  • Winning an "external" conflict, which is caused by placing a tile which joins two kingdoms, each of which has a leader of the same color. External conflicts score VP of the appropriate color equal to the number of leaders and tiles lost by the loser.
Learning the difference between an internal conflict (caused by placing a leader into an existing kingdom) and an external conflict (caused by placing a tile which joins two existing kingdoms) is important, and seems to be the hardest thing for people to grasp about the game. It took me a while, but I have it down firmly now. Aside from that, the game mechanics are fairly easy and intuitive, and the game flows smoothly. It makes you think a lot, though, so be prepared to be tired after a game, which takes about 1.5 to 2 hours.

Catastrophe tiles, by the way, are used to destroy previously placed civilization tiles. This is usually done to split a leader from part of his kingdom, so you can take over the split-off part, or challenge him in his newly reduced powerbase. You only have two, and the player who uses them too quickly may regret it later ...

I've mentioned "Let's You and Him Fight!" This is because in a multi-player game, it's perfectly legal - and a good tactic - to cause an external conflict between two other players.

For example,

if player A has a kingdom with a black leader and a newly placed red leader, and
player B has a kingdom with a red leader and a newly placed black leader,
it's probably to player C's advantage to link these kingdoms up.

This is because player A probably has a lot of black victory points already, and is just starting to collect red, while the opposite situation is true for player B. If player C can link these kingdoms up, they become one big kingdom - and there can only be one leader of each color in a given kingdom. Therefore, it's likely that player A's established leader (black) will knock off player B's newcomer, and vice versa. This will win a lot of black victory points for player A, and a lot of red victory points for player B, but player C doesn't care about that - they already have a lot of those points, so they don't need them. What player C wants to prevent is both players A and B scoring in their weaker spheres. You win by the least collected color you have, remember.

I like this game a lot, yet it's very different from another recent acquisition, Ursuppe. The latter requires only slightly less thought, but has a much lighter tone and "feels" more like the subject matter. Euphrat & Tigris is an excellent game, but not something to be undertaken lightly. It's a more serious game, with harder choices and less chance (though there is enough chance in the draw of the tiles to keep it fresh). This is a game to play when you want to savor a hard-earned victory, or simply pit yourself against other players, brain power to brain power.

Recommended for serious gamers.

Other games by this designer I've reviewed are:

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