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Subject: Tigris & Euphrates, A Wargamer's Review rss

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Jeff K
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Garner
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At first glance it may seem to a wargamer that, outside of the word "conflict" in the rules, T&E has little to do with wargaming. Clearly, T&E contains the element of "conflict," which firmly puts the game into slightly unfamiliar and possibly uncomfortable territory for many eurogamers. And yet, most would assert in the strongest possible terms that this game is a tried and true euro.

This concept has no doubt been hashed over quite a bit here at BGG. However, most reviews which touch on this subject fail to define key elements in this game which may well appeal to wargamers in general, and thus show where the crossover points between these two great genres exist. This review presupposes that you know something of the mechanics of the game, information which is so hugely abundant here at BGG that I will not repeat it.

First, T&E is very abstract. Some may say painfully abstract. Incidentally, much of the reason I like this game is due to the fact that it is so abstract, because I believe that I am an abstract thinker. So let's get the bias out of the way now, nonetheless I shall try to remain objective. Nor would I presume to speak for wargamers in general, simply from my own observations. Caveats completed, I return to my point. Because this game is abstract, the concepts underlying the activities which you find yourself partaking in during the course of the game are decidedly "wargame-ish." Let's look at a few:

Terrain: at first glance, the board seems pretty feature-less. Aside from the river spaces (which, like every other clever element of this game, play a huge part in your strategy), there are not terrain-advantageous features. However, consider the game at mid-play when the board is populated with tiles. T&E is a tile laying game first and foremost, however the tiles really are not just pieces which represent "units", but they can very much influence the placement of new tiles. Not just in a "Ha! I blocked you!" sort of way (the least interesting way to my mind), but in a much more subtle way in which the "landscape" of tiles can influence the game much in the same way terrain does. For instance, the "landscape" can provide avenues of attack upon your opponent's units, or allow you to attempt an internal "coup d'etat" or even a resource grab, all of which are legitimate wargame activities (mostly because they come at the expense of your opponents). You can in fact use tiles to effectively block your opponents, as I already mentioned, but it is much more effective to use them offensively, to gain you territory, positional advantage (when joining territories) or even simple numerical advantage. While these concepts are nearly universal to tile-laying games, T&E may be unique in the aspect that your end goal is going to be to bring down your opponents nascent civilization, or least deal them a little damage while earning yourself a few VPs. This, above all, makes these activities much like warfare at the strategic level. Which brings me to...

Scale: T&E forces you to play in both tactical and strategic arenas simultaneously. You overarching strategy is to take territory (and, by extension, VPs) from your opponents, but you must work through smaller and more immediate tactical means to achieve this goal. You are limited to 2 actions a round. The decision tree is agonizing and the tension is palpable, both are qualities of a good wargame. If you simply play with an eye toward "what can I get right now?" you will almost certainly lose the game. It is only with large swings that the game will be won, and large swings require leverage, which in turn requires lots of forethought and planning. Lots of little tactical victories will not win you the game, unless they are linked together in an effective way to achieve a much larger goal.

Leaders: which are exactly what they represent, individuals which are capable of special actions. Leaders are used in a strictly wargame sense and also as "special forces" capable of infiltration (there's a good wargame term for you, by the way). They activate units for certain special actions (such as conflict), but they can also be used in a more undercover role, infiltrating your opponent's camp and fomenting unrest. Judicious play with your leaders is key to success in this game, much as effective use of leaders is key to military victory. This aspect cannot be overlooked during play.

Conflict: the most basic of warfare themes. This is probably the least abstracted element in the game. There is very little luck factor, as the outcome is deterministic. But it is based on odds, and furthermore each conflict can be "reinforced" by playing tiles representing the proper units from behind your screen. I would venture to say that the only luck factor is drawing said tiles for the reinforcement of conflict actions. Indeed, the more wargamey amongst you may be in the habit of counting the tiles played to assess the likelihood of conflict outcome towards the end of the game when the tile bag is relatively light. I have indicated that the tiles themselves can represent a "landscape" when arranged on the board, however for the purposes of conflict there are distinct unit types, and each can take advantage of one of the abstracted elements of the game. This is directly analogous to military units. Each different type has some special aspect, and they answer to the like-colored leader. At the end of an outright combat, the losing force must (usually) withdraw its units and leaders, which is of course parallel to a military withdraw or route.

It is hard to design a civilization-building type game that is not at least somewhat reminiscent of a wargame, however I maintain that T&E is exceptional amongst games of this type. The abstract quality of this game allows one to think like a grognard. I like to think that of abstract games (of which there are many, including even wargames), the degree to which they are abstract is proportional to how easily the units/pieces are replaced by fruit. Take the example of two abstract games: chess and checkers. Checkers is more abstract a strategy game than chess (which has "specialized units"), and of course checkers are much more easily (and deliciously) played with apples and oranges, just stick a toothpick in your King (and don't forget to eat your winnings!). Chess, on the other hand, may be difficult to do thus, unless you could get all yellow fruit types on one side and red fruit types on another. It may be easier to do types of fruit on one side and types of nuts on the other (yes, I realize this analogy is in fact nuts, but it is equally delicious!), thus demonstrating that it is more difficult to do than checkers, with its totally nondescript pieces. T&E could almost be substituted thus, however it would be surpassingly difficult to draw fruit out of a bag without at least some foreknowledge of what piece it may be! I suppose you could do it with a barrel which dispenses fruit pieces, although your opponents may be able to ascertain what is behind your screen by using their sense of smell.

I do not have anything other than anecdotal evidence, but it seems that of the crossover gamers I know, T&E is one of the more easily grasped and often one of the euros at which the wargame-inclined do well. Perhaps it is because the concepts are so intuitively grasped for those who have trained themselves to think the way wargamers do.
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Neil
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While my experience is limited, I agree with Jeff's thesis. This month, in the space of 7 days I played my first wargame (a light one, apparently -- Manoeuvre) and my first couple games of Tigris & Euphrates. The basic elements of gaming in Manoeuvre (positioning, exploiting terrain, weighing one's chances in conflicts) were new to me and I found myself immediately captivated by them. When I played T&E for the first time a week later, I was totally blown away. I found the game incredibly gripping and I am completely enamoured by it. While these games are very different, my interest in one game does feel very connected to my interest in the other. This might be because both games are conflict driven, but abstract. Either way, weighing one's chances in conflicts, angling for the right conflicts, and then taking the risk makes for a *very* fun and dramatic gaming experience (this, added with the climactic endgame of T&E makes me want to scream in delight). By the way, Viktory II appears to be a very different abstracted wargame but one that I hope will scratch the same or a similar gaming itch, which is one of the main reasons why I just ordered it.

A comment on the question of theming. I think that since dynamics of conflict and resolution are central to so much human experience and history, games that are conflict-driven have a near universal applicability. And this is especially so, in my view, when the conflict and resolution occur between autonomous or semi-autonomous bodies, and when the terms of this conflict and resolution are fluid, dynamic and shifting -- as in T&E. In my view at least, conflict like that reaches deeply into us, and is *inherently* thematic.


edit: grammar; added 'as in T&E' in second last sentence
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Lou Moratti
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As the above posts indicate, you have both become enamored of T&E. I highly recommend playing it by email from right here on the Geek. It's a great rendition of the game, you can play at your own pace, and there are all levels of expertise to be found. Please feel free to contact me and I'll join you in a game with 1 or 2 others. I prefer playing it here to playing on a real board!
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Richard Young
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I quite agree with the "abstract" label here, and I don't think even the designer would try to argue very strenuously that the "theme" is anything but cosmetic. Not being a particular fan of abstract games, I find the game interesting from a mechanical point of view but not one I enjoy very much nor would I recommend it with so many other better games (for my taste) out there. It ends up being much of a sterile exercise, not unlike El Grande, despite the admittedly elegant design elements.

For tile laying with a strong theme, I much prefer Martin Wallace's Brass, or any other of his games. I'm originally a war gamer and while I appreciate some of the innovations Euros have brought to the hobby, I don't find many that are thematically strong enough to hold my interest for long...
 
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Alexander Zhang
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Nothing in the world is clearly cut and dry (unless it's an acre of forest in Oregon.)

Is T&E "thematic?" Yes. Study the rise and fall of city states in the T&E basin and you'll find the game is very rich in theme.

Is T&E "abstract?" Most definitely. But not to the extent that Chess or Checkers is.. but definitely more abstract than, say, Schotten Totten is. Perhaps, as an abstract, it is on par with Carcassonne.

Come to think of it, T&E and Carc have a very similar theme.
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Richard Young
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Chrysophylax wrote:
Nothing in the world is clearly cut and dry (unless it's an acre of forest in Oregon.)

Is T&E "thematic?" Yes. Study the rise and fall of city states in the T&E basin and you'll find the game is very rich in theme.

Is T&E "abstract?" Most definitely. But not to the extent that Chess or Checkers is.. but definitely more abstract than, say, Schotten Totten is. Perhaps, as an abstract, it is on par with Carcassonne.

Come to think of it, T&E and Carc have a very similar theme.


Perhaps the rise and fall of city states in the T&E basin is mirrored somewhat in the progress of a game but the means by which this occurs and the other "bits" in the game gives me no sense that this is what I'm consciously doing. I'm far more focused on the means by which vp cubes are obtained and nothing more. That's what I mean by sterile.

Contrast with Brass where you are laying tiles (representing various industrial components) and building a communications network in a thematically consistent way. Are there "game-ish" elements you need to be aware of? Of course, but they are behind the theme instead of in front of it. It's a subtle distinction, but one I'm very sensitive to and will go a long way to make or break a game for me.

Oh, and I entirely agree with the similarities between T&E and Carc and I have a similar opinion of both (with a slight nod in the direction of Carc if I'm in the mood for that sort of game)...
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