Welcome to the second step of my journey into the world of hobby boardgames.
If the initial draw for purchasing Machi Koro was the path of least resistance when faced with the combined might of pester power, end of shopping day exhaustion and an extremely enthusiastic salesperson; then the reasons for picking up Tsuro of the Seas were twofold: Wil Wheaton and my inherent tendency towards being a cheapskate.
Wil Wheaton because, in my fervour to select another family game that wouldn’t bore me to tears, I watched him play both Tsuro and its successor Tsuro of the Seas on his internet programme, Tabletop.
They caught my eye for the simplicity of play, elegance of design, the beautiful, beautiful art work, the short game time and sheer amount of fun he and his guests seemed to be having.
I loved the idea of both games, playing as a dragon soaring through the air in the original Tsuro or merchant ships crossing sea monster infested waters in the follow up. Watching these games being played captured my imagination like few others did in these initial tentative stages of the hobby.
Cheapness because, well, hobby games can be expensive and Tsuro of the Seas allows you the option to also play a version of the original Tsuro. Two for the price of one. Bargain!
However, nothing about the production of this game is cheap. The whole package screams quality and care. The gameboard and tiles are thick and well made. The art is gorgeous to look at. There is even a semi-transparent art print in the style of ‘The Great Wave’ included for apparently no purpose other than because it looks lovely.
Even the Calliope Games catalogue is put together with more loving attention to detail than most mass-market ‘toy shop’ games seem able to muster for the actual game inside the box let alone the advert for other games. There are no less than eight model ships included for use as player markers. Eight!
So, what do we do with these components?
The basics of both variations are identical:
Lay a tile to create a path, move the ship along the path, take another tile.
The purpose of the game: stay on the board longer than everyone else. How is this done? By avoiding other players ships and the edges of the board. If you collide with another ship or the path takes your ship off the board: game over for you. Last ship on the board wins the game.
To all intents and purposes that is the entire rule set for the original Tsuro variant included here. This is an extremely simple game, even for the younger members of the family.
There is though, an element of gentle strategy here that keeps things interesting. While luck does play a part in the draw of the tiles, each player has a hand of three tiles to mitigate this.
Turns are quick and the excitement builds as the board fills with tiles and there are fewer and fewer options available to place a safe path. If the path you place connects to another then you sail the full length of that path. It’s not long before the plot thickens as players manoeuvre to create not only a safe path for themselves but also one that will send an opponent off the board.
Tsuro of the Seas kicks things up a notch by adding sea monsters, known as ‘Daikaiju’, a pair of dice and a whole host of unpredictability.
The basic game is the same, however, each player now rolls dice before placing a tile. On a roll of 6,7 or 8 the Daikaiju, randomly placed at the start of the game, move, eating ships, paths and each other with abandon. The move is determined by a second die roll with each daikaiju moving in the direction of the corresponding number printed on the tile.
This is fun; certain doom is avoided as paths are removed and schemes are thwarted…and this is also where the frustration starts to set in.
Adding in the luck element appears to do two things. Firstly, it removes much of the limited amount of strategic play available. Secondly, it makes the game last far longer. Or shorter, if your ship is eaten on the second turn. For some, this may not be an issue, however, for my gaming group (otherwise known as my wife and kids) this is unfortunate.
You see the original Tsuro variant is just, just, complex enough to elevate this above a purely children’s game for my wife and I, however, for reasons I cannot pinpoint it fails to capture the kids’ imaginations.
The increased luck element of Tsuro of the Seas meanwhile renders strategy irrelevant for the most part as you are likely to be out of the game at any moment and the increased turn time makes for fidgety children.
The art, glorious though it is, doesn’t help. The tiles are blue with the paths also being blue. This makes following the paths needlessly difficult for the younger members of the family, particularly when there are many tiles on the board.
For my wife and I the two-player game, in either variation, seems to take a surprising amount of time to actually ‘get going’. Then the end can be very rapid indeed, especially with the diakaiju variation.
We tend to play Tsuro in any form only when the children ask, which is rare. It’s a shame because it is a well-crafted game and I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who love it; that want either a quick strategy game or an amusingly chaotic luck-fest.
Perhaps in time it will grow in popularity in our household. For now, it mainly looks very nice sat on our shelf.