Codito is the development group behind Tikal, Puerto Rico, Medici, and Ra, solid offerings but none earning top marks from me. Their latest offering, Reiner Knizia’s Tigris & Euphrates, is their best boardgame app yet, adapting a classic 1997 boardgame from Knizia in an attractive format with a strong tutorial and (I think) very solid AI opponents. It went on sale today for $5.99.
I haven’t played the physical version of the game or reviewed it here, so if you haven’t played it, here’s an overview of the game, ranked 13th overall on Boardgamegeek. Tigris & Euphrates uses an unusual tile system where players are represented on the board by icon rather than color – that is, every player has a red leader, but each player’s red leader has his unique symbol on it. Players build “kingdoms” of adjacent tiles in each of four colors (red, green, blue, black) on a board that includes land spaces and river spaces, the latter along two rivers representing those of the game’s title. Players acquire points by placing leaders on the board and then placing regular tiles in those colors in the same kingdom as their leader(s). For example, if you have a black leader in a kingdom and place a black tile anywhere within that kingdom – contiguous with the leader tile – you earn a point in black. Players earn points in each of the four colors, and the winner is the player with the highest low score. In other words, the score that matters most is your worst score across the four colors.
You can also earn points by making a 2×2 square of tiles of the same color and converting it into a two-color “monument” that produces one point per turn in each of those two colors, awarded to the leaders in the same kingdom. And you can earn “treasures,” wild-card points that can be added to your score in any of the four colors, which the app automatically assigns to your current worst color.
On each turn, a player has two actions, which can include placing a tile, placing a leader, swapping any of the tiles from his hand for new ones, or placing one of two “catastrophe” tiles that destroy the tiles (not leaders) on which they’re placed.
Of course, there’s conflict as players compete to control various kingdoms with their leader tokens. You can place one of your leaders on a kingdom with another player’s leader in that same color, triggering a “revolt” that is resolved by the use of red tiles on the board and from your hand, regardless of the color at stake. Conflicts also arise when kingdoms are merged through tile placement; the leader with the most tiles of the same color currently in its kingdom, supplemented with tiles from that player’s hand, wins the conflict. The loser of either kind of battle removes his leader from the board.
I’ve glossed over a few details, but the key takeaway if you’ve never played the game is that each player has to balance a number of different variables: boost your lowest score, protect your existing leaders, build your hand tiles (you get six at any time) to attack an opponent, watch opponents’ lowest scores and try to sabotage them, and so on. It’s very rich, and once you play a game or two, actually quite simple to play despite the seemingly long list of rules. Knizia’s games are often subtly complex yet very intuitive on the surface, and Tigris & Euphrates qualifies as well.
The app is outstanding. The board is extremely clear and easy to navigate on the iPad; the icons on tiles are very clear, and it’s easy to see what you have available to you at any given time, as well as the percentage of the tile stack remaining. Leaders are labeled with a number indicating their current strength. Conflict resolution is straightforward and the game includes optional confirmation dialog boxes for any move, which prevents you from accidentally tanking the game through an incorrect move. You can undo either or both of your previous moves before you end your turn, unless the move was a conflict that has now been resolved. (One quibble: When playing only AI opponents, you still can’t undo a resolved conflict; since playing AI players is more like training or an extended tutorial, this might be a nice feature to have so you can get a feel for the success rates of conflicts.) Most importantly, your point totals are clear and obvious, with your current low score highlight, and the app handles the treasures for you.
I’ve found the AI players to be strong enough to keep the game challenging. There are five difficulty levels, and after waxing two low-level AIs in my first game I dialed both up to four … and then lost seven straight times. (At least.) The eventual victory, followed by a victory against two level-five AIs, were quite satisfying. There’s some predictability even in the harder AIs, especially early in the game, but their strength is that they don’t miss obvious moves and don’t hesitate to attack via all three methods (revolt, merging kingdoms, catastrophes). I’d like to try this online, but as a standalone app it’s very strong because the AI players are so well-designed. The game also comes with one of the longest, most detailed tutorials I’ve come across, reminiscent of the one in Samurai, which would be my previous gold standard for app tutorials. It takes a while, but it’s worth it.
I’ve ranked boardgame apps without grading them, but I’d say the inner circle of apps – where the underlying game is strong; the app runs well, looks good, and plays easily; the AI players are strong; and online multiplayer works – would now include five games (links go to reviews): Carcassonne, Samurai, Battle Line, Ticket to Ride, and Tigris & Euphrates. This most recent addition is the most complex of the five for those of you looking for a more hardcore experience, but plays reasonably quickly, with three-player games against two AI opponents taking me 15-17 minutes. I highly recommend it if you’re slightly obsessed with these games, as I am.
Full disclosure: I received a free version of this app from the developers prior to its release. Also, would anyone object to me including T&E on the forthcoming updated board game rankings, even though I haven’t played the physical game?