Tsuro… A Dragon, A Phoenix and Some Green Tea

Base Game Review

Player/s: 2-8

Play Time (Box): 15-20mins

Play Time (Goof): 10-15mins

Producer/s: Calliope Games

Designer/s: Tom McMurchie

A few years ago I got really into green tea. Like in a big way. In one day I downed almost thirty cups of the stuff (and decided I probably needed to go into rehab). There’s something about that little cup of green goodness that I just adore. It keeps me awake when I had to write Uni assignments or when I’ve got to write an article for this site and my brain would rather sleep because I was up so late gaming the night before. At the same time, it’s so soothing and relaxing that I could meditate in a zen garden somewhere (on gaming. It’s never far from my mind). I honestly think that there’s something to the old wise-man-enjoying-green-tea trope.

You might think it’s odd that I’m writing about green tea when the cover of this box has an awesome Chinese Dragon on the front cover. The board even has this badass noble phoenix on it. But I think the part of the title that encapsulates what this game is about the most is the subtitle – The game of the path.

Let me explain.

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Gameplay (8/10)

This game gives you a real sense of tranquility (more on that in a moment) and I don’t believe it would have been possible without the simple, almost intuitive rules. It takes less time to teach this game than literally any other game I own. It’s so simple I’ve played with my six year old sister. I can’t overstate how simple and yet enjoyable this game is. (Have I said simple enough yet?).

What I love is that despite the simplicity, you still have decisions to make. They’re restricted decisions, you can only play one of the three tiles that you get dealt, but it still gives you more than enough freedom to effect the outcome of the game. You look at the positions of the other players, at the paths they’ve made and where on the board is left to be explored. The decisions boil down to such things as playing aggressively by flying alongside another player and going in for the kill when they’re trapped, or playing passively by seeking untouched areas of the map. Maybe you head towards the middle and keep away from the walls that could end your game, or maybe the walls offer you more freedom to move without other players taking up space.

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There is one less tile than there are squares for them to be placed in, and you can traverse the tiles already placed if they happen to match up to your path. This game is about recognizing paths, and being able to visualize paths that aren’t there yet. This is a skill that can develop the more you play, and it’s interesting to watch my younger siblings learn and grow over multiple games.

It’s worth noting this game, despite all of its feelings of peace and relaxation, is actually an elimination game. There can only be one dragon left standing (or none if due to a double elimination), so if you make one false move you’re out of the game for good. The way this game mitigates it is by having really quick rounds. It’s over in about ten to fifteen minutes for players to jump into it all over again.

My only real negative point here is that the game has such a low level of investment that when you’re eliminated you don’t really care about the outcome of the game. In something like King of Tokyo, even when I’m out I want to know who wins (I fought giant tooth and hairy fingernail as I tried to win. I want to know who came out on top) but in Tsuro, I’m more likely to engage in conversations with others at the table or to scroll through social media while I’m waiting. I will say that part of Tsuro’s charm, the whole calming experience of it, probably wouldn’t work if players were heavily invested in it. But if I’m playing a game, the outcome should matter to me.

I find that new players and hardcore gamers alike can sit at a table and enjoy this one. It’s that nice game between games, when you need something without too much competitiveness, or a brilliant one to play with the kids.

Pros: ++Simple Rules, +Important Decisions, +Path Visualisation

Cons: -Lack of investment

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Theme (9/10)

The brief story of this game which is told in the rulebook talks about the paths of destiny and choice. Here – I’ll read it to you (in a manner of speaking).

”Since time began, the Dragon and the Phoenix have guarded over and guided the intertwining paths of life, maintaining the careful balance between the twin forces of choice and destiny. These two powerful beings have the noble task of overseeing the many roads that lead to divine wisdom. Through its masterful blend of strategy and chance, Tsuro represents the classic quest for enlightenment.”

This paragraph perfectly, PERFECTLY captures the feelings I get when I play Tsuro. Destiny is represented by the fact you must play a path tile, you must travel down the path, and you have three paths (tiles) from which you may do the whole CHOICE thing. There’s real feelings of contemplation, which is rare to find in such a simple game.

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The part for me which has always stood out as an example of how thematic the game is, is the whooshing sounds people make as they fly around the board. Sometimes we make it compulsory in my family. And even after the laughter has worn off you still see the appeal of doing so. You can imagine yourselves as dragons, with the wind around you as you fly. It’s pretty cool (or maybe we’re just odd).

Pros: ++Theme Integration, +Contemplative, +Whoosh!

Cons: None

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Production (8/10)

Can I take a moment to praise the rulebook in this game? Sure, the rules are so simple I’ve never taken much notice of the rulebook in general. But it says everything it needs to say, in an order that’s easy enough to read and comprehend. And it comes as a sort of fold out parchment! The rulebook is in keeping with the theme!

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The components in this game are just beautiful. It’s another case of the mastery of simplicity which is encapsulated in this game. The coloured ancient stones with dragon iconography fit perfectly. Admittedly, the colours always make me think of Power Rangers, but I’ve often been told I’m alone in this thinking.

I did a "name the game" bit on this awhile back. Check out our other component trivia games on Instagram!

I did a “name the game” bit on this awhile back. Check out our other component trivia games on Instagram!

The board in the game always reminded me of a Japanese sand garden. You’re sort of making patterns and lines, and it’s really peaceful to do so. I actually love creating little crop circles in the patterns I make, which is probably why I lose a lot more than I really should against my younger siblings (she’s six! I literally obsess about board games and put them on the internet!)

The back of each of the tiles resembles some kind of simple calligraphy, which is in keeping with everything else in this game. It’s this kind of “card art back” (not entirely accurate but it serves the same purpose) which I adore. There’s space on the back of cards and tiles which you absolutely must have artwork on, it might as well look good, and players are guaranteed to see it every game they play.

I really feel like the production in this game mattered to those involved in its creation. Cheaper or lesser quality components would absolutely have detracted from this game. They did well to make it look like it does, and keep the price very reasonable.

Pros: +Clear Rulebook, +Beautiful Components, +Components Support Theme

Cons: None

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Conclusion

I really can’t praise this game enough. All the various pieces fit so well together: they complement each other with a single goal in mind. To create a peaceful yet contemplative game which everyone can enjoy regardless of gaming experience.

I give Tsuro:

8/10

And don’t forget, for the full experience you should always play with a cup of green tea.

If you want to buy a copy of Tsuro (you do, trust me on this) then let me help you out! Good Games Fraser Coast have offered a 5% discount for people who read The Goof Review between now and 25 December 2016. Just tell them that the Goof sent you.

If you enjoyed this then share the joy on social media so others can enjoy it too. And check out our other articles. They’re always good for a laugh.

Please comment, lets get the conversations flowing!

 

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