Boardgame Reviews

Tsuro of the Seas Review – Row, Row Your Boat

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Designed by: Tom McMurchie, Jordan Weisman
Published by: Calliope Games
Players: 2-8
Playtime: 30+ Minutes

Review copy supplied free of charge by Esdevium Games.

In Tsuro you’ll be manning the helm of a Red Seal ship, intent on charting the unknown waters in the name of the Emperor who has decreed that from the edges of the seas to the mountain peaks belongs to him and him alone. Yet rumors persist of monsters lurking over the horizon, their huge forms hanging above the waves and swiftly moving under the surface. They also happen to destroy any boat they come close to. They are the daikaiju, and they’re here to make your life miserable.

Setting the game up is a breeze: you put out the board and then proceed to roll two dice. You then grab a random daikaiju tile and place it on the grid according to the numbers rolled. This process is repeated until you’ll placed enough beasts, as based upon the number of players. Speaking of the players they then draw three wake tiles each to form their hand and then place their ships on any of the white marks surrounding the board.

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From your hand of three tiles you pick one, rotate it however you like and then place it in front of your ship which moves along the newly created path until it reaches the end. If there happens to be another tile connected to the one you just placed then you move along that too, and so on and so on until there is no more path to follow. If your newly placed tile happens to intersect with one that other players occupy then, providing their ship is going in the right direction, they too must follow any new paths. This is where the game’s only truly cutthroat mechanic comes into play as you can force other people off the board with smart tile placement, or simply push them toward a daikaiju.

There are a couple of key rules governing how tiles can and cannot be placed. You can’t put down a tile that would send you off the edge of the board unless you have no choice, nor can you willingly enter into an infinite loop, something that can happen due to the dragons destroying tiles as they move. Ships can pass each other on the same path, but you cannot put down a tile that would put two ships on the same path going in the same direction. It’s all pretty easy stuff to learn, although one or two bits of the rules did make me head to the boardgamegeek forums to double check I was getting it right.

Since you always have a hand of three tiles and the board is going to become increasingly more difficult as time goes on there’s a lot of forward planning and smart reactionary tactics needed to come out on top in Tsuro. The goal is simply to be the last ship sailing the oceans, and as everybody gets closer and closer together, slowly running out of ocean, the game can become very tense indeed. A wrong move can leave you set up for disaster.

However, mixing this up are the daikaiju. On each player’s turn they’ll pick up both dice and roll them. On a result of 6, 7 or 8 the monsters will move, done by rolling a single die and then scooting them about based upon the result and the number shown on their tiles. A three might move one daikaiju left, for example, and rotate another. There’s a system governing which monsters move first, but importantly if they go careening off the edge of the board they are discarded. Likewise, a daikaiju than enters another monster’s space instantly destroys the opposing creature in what I’m sure would be a mighty struggle that would make Godzilla proud. Should there ever be less than three of the scaly blighters occupying the board at any given time then the next player must place new ones, following the same rules as setup, until there is at least three beasts back on the board. The other way daikaiju can appear is if you roll a six during their movement, with the unlucky player having to add a new monster to the board, again following the setup rules for doing. Whenever dragons are added any ship unlucky enough to be on the square gets destroyed, eliminating the player from the game.

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It’s these beasties that will prove to be divisive, some players enjoying the fact that their random movement and placement creates a genuine sense of tension when you’re planning out moves and watching them shift around the board, slowly creeping closer at the whim of fortune. Other players will understandably hate the game because it can be damn infuriating to suddenly be eliminated because a new daikaiju fell out of the sky and wrecked your boat. I’m pretty sure most insurance companies won’t cover that. This is a game where even one or two bad rolls can get someone taken out of the game in the opening turns, forcing them to sit there until the game is finished.

With that said you can always play classic Tsuro by removing the dragons entirely, letting players simply focus on navigating the increasingly tricky board while trying to outmaneuver each other. This also makes Tsuro of the Seas a good purchase for those that don’t already own regular Tsuro as you essentially get two versions of the game for the price of one.

It’s also worth noting that the game supports a whopping eight players, although personally even with the fewer daikaiju moving around at the start I find this to be far too many ships vying for space. I didn’t get the chance to try eight people without the monsters, though, so that may be more enjoyable.

Component quality is generally very nice, although the game comes packaged in a much, much bigger box than it really needs. It’s only the board that requires so much space. The artwork is lovely, the boats are made of a soft plastic and the tiles are thick. It is a bit of a shame that the grid on the board is quite difficult to see thanks to the pale color choice. Aside from bolder lines the only thing I would have liked to have seen is thicker dragon tiles to make moving them around the board when they are surrounded by wake tiles a bit easier.

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Tsuro of the Seas is a tricky one to render a solid opinion on. I can see the appeal of regular Tsuro, the simple pleasure of a puzzle that becomes tighter and tighter as time goes on. Eliminating another player, being eliminated or just having to sail off the board all elicit feelings of excitement or bittersweet pleasure. The dragons are the problem; they are at once exciting and enriching, and yet annoying and troublesome. They’re great fun when they are flying about,  making players panic as they come closer. And it can be exciting later in the game to be running out of space before suddenly getting devoured by a daikaiju that you skirted too close to. However, when one just drops out of the sky and takes someone out of the game or when a bad roll happens in the first few turns they are irritating, their presence taking a lot of the fun out of the experience. Personally, I found the game to be a lot of fun with easy to explain rules, a short playtime of about 30-minutes, solid amounts of tactics and very little table real estate required, making it a reasonable choice for some pub gaming. Just think about those monsters lurking over the horizon before picking it up.

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