Note added February 11, 2002: I'm not changing
anything in the rest of this review - I'll leave it as it was first
posted some years ago. This is just an update to say two things:
Ta Yü is a beautiful game, both to look and to
play. Although a theme is mentioned in the rules (draining a flood in
the center of the board by creating rivers to the edges), it is only
weakly implemented - this is very much an abstract game, but an
excellent one. While primarily aimed at two players, it works very
well with four in a partnership game. In fact, I think I like the
partnership game better than the two-player. There are also rules
included for a three-player variant which sound interesting, but I
haven't tried yet. I'm not sure why the designer didn't include a
six-player variant also - the three-player version with partners. I
think this would be an excellent game, and am looking forward to
trying it. It may be too long between turns, but I'll find out on my
The rest of this article was written in June of 1999.
- This game has withstood the test of time far better than I had
even hoped. I play it regularly with hardcore gamers, and also
have played it with many non-gamers. It has been extremely
well-received by all who have tried it with me. A superb game for
introducing new people to German games!
- We now don't bother to stack the tiles. We just spread them
facedown around the board on the table. This actually increases the
skill slightly, in that you always have the choice between a tile
with or without a circle. It has another advantage over the rules as
written: set-up time is greatly reduced!
The game uses a board, attractively decorated with Chinese dragons,
consisting of 19x19 small squares. The center square is marked, and
three of the spaces along each edge are also marked as special. While
the board is attractive, the real beauty is in the 112 tiles - they
are both visually and tactilely appealing. From the back they
resemble slightly elongated dominoes. On the front, they have blue
lines ("rivers") in various patterns which are very attractive against
the ivory-colored background. The feel of them is elegant, cool, and
soothing - the game is a joy to play.
It's a game of the "connect one side of the board with the other side
of the board" type. This one is slightly different from other games of
this ilk, however. Each piece covers, in a straight line, three squares
on the board. Each piece has exactly three places where the single,
connected river on it comes the edge of the tile. These can be in any
center of any of the thirds of the piece, so there are a few different
types of pieces - 28, to be exact. Of those 28 different types of pieces,
12 have a river that touches three different edges, 15 have a river that
touches two different edges, and 1 has a river that touches only one edge
(but in three places along that edge). The 28 tiles are duplicated four
times in the set to make up the 112 tiles.
Since each piece (after the first, which is played in the middle of
the board) must connect a river with an existing river end already
placed, there is the potential to have two new river ends coming out
of the maze with each tile placement. The reality is, of course, that
some tiles will connect two or even three rivers as they are placed,
so they actually reduce the number of river ends available to play
Thus the number of river ends available to play on can grow or shrink
each turn, and cannot, in fact, remain the same after a tile play
unless playing one river to a board edge. This is because it's
illegal to place a tile so that a river touches a blank tile side -
rivers must either connect to each other, to blank spaces, or to the
edge of the board.
The edge of the board - yes, that's important. One player (or team)
is playing North-South, and the other East-West. Your final score is
the number of river ends running off one of your edges times
the number of river ends running off the opposite edge. So if you get
lucky and get ten rivers off one edge, they don't do you any good at
all if you never connect to the other edge! The three special edge
spaces on each side, by the way, grant two points each if you can get a
river to drain into them.
The game begins with the tiles stacked in two rows, seven tiles high.
Each turn you may choose one of the front two tiles. The backs of the
48 tiles with rivers running to three edges are faintly marked with a
circle, so you can tell whether you are getting one of those or one
that runs to only two or one edge. (By the way, the only flaw in the
production of the game is in these circles. They're very hard to see,
as they're not inked. Quite an eyestrain. I've found that rubbing a
crayon or grease pencil over them, then rubbing off the excess wax
fills in the circles just enough to see them without ruining the tiles.
If they get stained from this procedure, you can wipe it off with one
of those sheets of dryer fabric softener.)
Each turn you draw one tile, then place it. (There is a variant where
you always have a choice between two tiles, but I haven't felt
compelled to try it yet.) It's true that there's some luck involved
in drawing only one tile and having to live with that one, but so far
luck has played a minor part in our games. There's always
something you can do with almost any draw - either to help
yourself or hinder your opponents, or both at the same time. Having
to find a best spot for one tile as opposed to two also reduces the
time for each move - you have less options to consider.
The game ends when someone draws a tile that can't be played. This is
a very satisfying sudden-death ending - you never know exactly when the
game will end, because there may still be a number of potentially
playable spaces left when a tile is drawn that doesn't fit any of them.
This creates some endgame tension: do I take advantage of a good draw
to get a last scoring chance, or use it to block a potentially strong
score for the opponents?
The three-player game requires players already familiar with the two-
or four-player game. Each player bids for the right to play the flood
- someone who ultimately wants no rivers to exit the board! A
bid states that you think neither of the other players will score that
high. Players take turns bidding until two of them drop out - low bid
takes it. Keep track of players' running scores - if someone reaches
the bid level, the third player has lost and must drop out. The game
is then won by the player scoring the highest. But if neither player
scores as high as the third player bid, he/she wins. As I wrote
above, I'd love to try this with six people playing two-player
The game then plays very well, but I haven't played with a very
deliberate player. I imagine this could slow the game down
considerably. The solution, aside from not playing with deliberate
players, is to use a timer if this becomes a problem.
All in all, a satisfying game, both from the intellectual and
aesthetic perspectives. The ebb and flow of the flood usually allows
for multiple connections to each of the four edges, making for some
close games. One of my best purchases so far this year.
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