Friday, February 11, 2005

Torres - The Review

Torres – The Review

Overview

Torres was the 2000 Spiel des Jahres winner. It’s also the most unusual of the SdJ winners, because behind its excellent theme lurks perhaps the best game to win that prestigious award. The game has more than enough depth to keep gamers interested, while having a theme and colorful presentation to catch the eye of the non-gamer. The rules of Torres are simple, and can be taught and learned in fifteen minutes. The game also comes with several optional rules and variants to keep you playing, even if the base game is so good that it wasn’t really necessary. Torres was designed by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling, who also won the SdJ the year previous for Tikal, which is a cousin of Torres due to some similar mechanisms, notably the Action Point system. Kramer and Kiesling subsequently designed Java, which inherits some of its mechanisms and feel from Torres.

Torres is a beauty of a game, with striking, whimsical art by illustrator Alessandra Cimatoribus. This graphical design must have contributed to the SdJ win, as it gives the feeling that the players are in a fairy tale, and the towers and little portly knights running around are part of the dream landscape. The wooden knight pawns are fat and have a personality that few wooden pawns can impart in this environment. The interlocking tower blocks are made of sturdy plastic, and have a nice, solid feel. The board is just fantastic. The cards are plastic-coated and should withstand a decent amount of handling.

While copies of the original edition of the game are readily available under multiple imprints; those of FX Schmidt, Ravensburger and Rio Grande Games (RGG), RGG is preparing a new edition of Torres for release in 2005. The new edition will have a new graphic design by Franz Vohwinkel, who is best known for magnificent work on Java, Mexica and Tikal. Personally, Torres wouldn’t be the same without the Cimatoribus illustrations transporting the players to a magical land.

The Story (told from the point of view of the player teaching the rules)

"Hello friends, you're in for a treat. Today, I'll be teaching you Torres, a Spiel des Jahres winner from the acclaimed duo of Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling.

Each of us is a prince or princess! Our kingdom has recently been beset by natural disasters, which have ruined the towers that serve as our nation's defense. It is up to us to ensure that the builders are able to reconstruct the towers, and the Knights that serve us must protect the towers as they are built! Whichever of us has the knights guarding the greatest towers at the end of the third day hence garners the most prestige, and our father the King will hold a great festival in his or her honor in addition to making him or her the heir to his throne!

By the way, our father is skittish, as you know, and he will be looking favorably on whichever one of us has a knight guarding the entrance to his tower bedroom at the end of each day. He'll be touring the towers, so it might be a different tower each night!

These are your doughty knights. (Hand them the fat little Knight pawns.) They're all a bit rotund and had one too many feasts - we haven't had a war in a while thanks to the towers - so this little tower-guarding activity should whip them back into tip-top shape! Good luck, and may the best sibling win!"

(Reviewer’s Note: I took out the stupid part about wizards and the depressing part about our father the King dying at the end - wholly unnecessary!)

The Rules

The rules are expressed as simple either commanding a knight (onto the board or on the board) or commanding the Royal Builders. (I try to avoid using the words "Action Points", but that isn't always possible.) Gaining the King's Bonus is simply a reward for guarding the castle where this King is resting at the end of the day, on the floor where the King commands. The Action Cards are feats of strength, dexterity and skill that the well-trained and noble knights can perform in pursuit of their duty. The Master Cards give rewards for disciplined knights who can maintain orderly formations while tending to their normal guard duties. A detailed rundown of the rules can be had from Greg Schloesser’s excellent review on BoardGameGeek here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/33

The Feel

Torres is King of Action Point games because of its simplicity. Therefore, players have a brief menu of choices on their turn – do they order their knights on the board to occupy (a) tower(s), do they order more knights onto the field to do the former, or do they build towers. This is the game’s strategy. How and where these actions are executed is the tactics. There have been two schools of thought – one is to concentrate on one or two towers, build them high and wide, and take the topmost post while preventing other knights from pursuing. The other is to occupy as many towers as possible without necessarily having your knights on the topmost floors. This is all tempered by having to take into account what your rivals are up to. I would submit that a certain amount of opportunism is always good – take what your opponents offer you in terms of scoring off tower they build, while trying to keep all your own work as much as possible for yourself. This mindset seems to be successful much of the time. However, it is always how you plan to achieve this supremacy that the spanner is thrown into the works.

Action Cards are precious things. Since we always play with all ten in the hands of each Prince(ss), this is the variation that I will address. Again, there are two schools of thought. The first demands that a card be used each turn as much as possible, in order to maximize their use. After all, using a card is free, and there are ten cards – exactly one for each turn of Torres. The other is to hold on to all your cards until there is something you need to do on the board that would normally be impossible. Then you try to find a way using the Action Cards. Thus, a game may go by with the use of three, perhaps four of your Action Cards, and mostly in the last day of the game. However, each card use counts for great effect. I subscribe to the latter school, but I have seen the former be very successful so I cannot claim any superiority.

Indeed, Torres does feel like a waking dream when we play. For an hour and a half, you are Princes and Princesses, commanders of a small troop of Knights in service to a King and Country. You try to do your best to discharge the wishes of your Father the King, and in the doing execute curious and clever maneuvers to rebuild your Kingdom’s Towers and man the most prestigious posts in them.

Reviewer’s Tilt

Torres is an excellent game that seems to have been undeservedly overlooked in the years following its SdJ win. It possesses the depth, the looks, the flexibility and the simplicity to charm and hold the interest of players, whether they are gamer or non-gamer. The greatest hurdle seems to be in the teaching of the rules and the orientation of the players towards the game. I feel that if the game is presented with the inherent theme, and the rules to the game are taught using this theme, that Torres will find a greater audience and that audience will gain a greater appreciation for the game. With the 2005 reprint forthcoming, it is hoped that this fantastic game will find new life among German game fans.

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