Sunday, October 08, 2006

Guilty Pleasures – Why I hate Tigris and Euphrates

OK, let’s clear this up right away; I don’t actually hate the second-highest ranked boardgame on the Boardgame Geek: Tigris and Euphrates. However, I do mildly dislike it. It may be similar to my hatred of cats. I dote on any specific cat or kitten in my vicinity, including our own very furry house-cat, but in general I adopt a tone of cat-hating simply to try to balance the forces of all those vehement cat-lovers out there. I love so many games out there, that when I come across a game like Tigris and Euphrates where it gets great reviews and I’m mildly unenthused about playing it, I can go the extra mile and pretend I hate it. (Really, I doubt I could truly hate any game unless it would be the cardinal sin of causing me or someone else to hate gaming in general…) I had first thought my hatred was because I didn’t understand the game and perhaps I was a poor player. However, I did play it enough to learn a bit and from analyzing my performances, I’m at least not that bad – winning my fair share of the games. I think it boils down to a game that just does not match my personality type.

To avoid the majority of hate mail I might receive, let me first identify a few of the really great mechanics within the game. One of the most common remarks about the game are the victory conditions. The winner is the player who has the most cubes in whichever color is their particular least common color. This brings a wonderful balance to the game where a player can never specialize too much in one or two colors as obtaining more of anything but your least common color soon begins to be worthless. Secondly, there are multiple ways to obtain cubes, so there is not one best, most viable strategy or tactic that will win the game. Obtaining many treasure cubes or building a lot of temples will typically help a player, but neither tactic will always be the best move. Finally, the game itself is fairly simple to explain and play, while retaining a diverse number of options for any given turn. (True, explaining combat through the joining of two separate domains is a bit tricky, but is typically learned in less than a single game.) These things (and others) combine to give the game its deserved high ranking on the BoardGameGeek scale. However, the game fails to mesh with my personality.

The game creates several problems for me. First and foremost, all the game mechanics combine to convince me that I am losing and will lose the game, right up to where everyone tallies up their score and I found out I won. Why play a game where I spend an hour or two feeling desperate and defeated when I can play one where I have fun at the same time? This defeatism usually comes from the only two sources of hidden information within the game. My hand is always terrible, and I’ve always got fewer cubes than anyone else. Some might play the game with each player’s cubes a known quantity, but (even though it causes me discomfort) I don’t think that’s how the game is “meant” to be played. If all players all know all the colors of cubes, the game becomes even more of a logic puzzle and less of a interactive/political game – “no, don’t attack me, I’ve only got 3 red cubes. Go after Larry, he has 5 blue cubes”. So, once the game gets rolling, I manage to convince myself that everyone has nearly equal ratios of all their colored cubes and I’m surely two or three cubes behind the clear leader. What really gets my goat, though, are those frustrating tiles I’m dealt. I’m actually pretty good at games that reward excellent tactical play. With Tigris and Euphrates, I’m constantly looking at the board and finding excellent plays if only I had a different hand of tiles. I look at a great move, see that I have 2 green tiles on the board and 3 in my hand, while my opponent has 3 green tiles on the board. I’m just CONVINCED that my opponent simply HAS to have 2 green tiles in their hand so what’s the point of my even trying to attack. This may be a latent reaction to early plays of the game where I was burned by poor tile distribution, but I’ll still cling to my ignorant belief. After all, its all those times the odds went against me that I remember. When the odds go in my favor I don’t remember it, because I probably already had the upper hand in the first place. So, I will scan the board and see all these wonderful tactical opportunities, and then estimate that I don’t have the right tiles to take advantage of them. Sure, I could just to toss in my tiles and try to grab a new set, but losing an entire action to do so is a significant penalty to be applied when I’m not even sure I’m going to benefit. In the end, I’m constantly frustrated by what I want to do in the game, and can’t. I instead go with whatever optimal play I can and hopefully earn a cube or two. Meanwhile, my focus shifts to all those cubes earned by my opponents. I’m already frustrated with my tiles, that wouldn’t be bad if I could console myself with

All of the game’s shortcomings could be forgiven if the game had a rich theme. I’m a sucker for a nice theme or story to go along with my game and carry my imagination away. I can play games that are dry and abstract, but my focus will tend to wander unless my creative imagination also comes into play to help visualize the game’s story. With Tigris and Euphrates, the theme is so far removed from the game it could have been tacked on with a glue stick. I smack down my controlling king (Mr. Potts) in my area and then my opponent quickly challenge me with his king (King Leon the Lionhearted) and we duke it out by smacking down tiles in a great, big, square pog-fest. OK, if game REALLY played that way, I would enjoy it more. Putting down my wooden circle next to the black square just doesn’t draw me in.

To conclude, the game simply frustrates me in a manner that doesn’t have anything to do with whether I am actually winning or not. I never feel like I have the tiles I want, and I don’t ever feel like I’m winning, even if I am. These two things combine to make a thoroughly unenjoyable hour or two. There are many games out there that I enjoy so much more. I bet that if I cracked down on myself and played the game over and over again, I might get a better feel for when my hand of tiles are good or bad, and when I’m actually winning or not winning. However, why should I spend time playing a game over and over again I don’t like (currently) when I could play something else. I love just about every other game out there, so I like to have a popular game to slam. I’m sure I could be forced to play enough to eventually enjoy the game, but in public I will continue to swear up and down my distaste for this “great” game.


Jeffrey Henning said...

Thank you so much for writing this. I myself loathe Tigris and Euphrates and feel bad about it. My primary complaint is your tertiary complaint: the theme is just tacked on. Blech.

grey_tinman said...

I like Tigris & Euphrates pretty well. In fact, it's one of my favorite games. However, I understand how you feel because I feel the exact same way about Reef Encounter. Reef Encounter is extremely frustrating to me. I think the scoring at the beginning of the turn is a good mechanic, but I don't like watching everyone else systematically destroy everything I accomplished during my turn. I never feel like I'm getting ahead and the hidden scoring only compounds things. I like the idea of the game, but I’ve never had fun playing it. It just seems like some sort of brain-teaser instead of a game. I’ll try it again, but I’ll probably never like it.

Anonymous said...

I always say that Tigris and Euphrates is a game of chance, that somehow I never win. :)