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In the eastern Mediterranean area, in the ancient city of Tyros, lies the origin of the Phoenician people, who lived 4000 years ago. In the course of their history the Phoenicians founded trade colonies in North Africa, Sardinia, Sicily and Spain. Following in the footsteps of these people, the players explore the seacoasts with their ships. They establish trading posts and develop these into cities in order to be able to open new trading routes from there. In order to build and sail their ships and to establish cities, there are certain goods required. Whoever trades most skillfully and places trading posts in the best locations, will be the worthy successor of the Phoenicians.
This is a neat little game.
The Mediterranean is the home for several growing empires, but the players are in the postion of trading with them, not running them. Starting at Tyre, on the right hand side of the board, the players build galleys, sail them across the map, and found cities where they have gained, um, naval supremacy. There is no combat in this game, but there is a similar effect where players shadow each other's galleys to prevent them founding cities. No more than two galleys can share the same undeveloped space, so if you can get two of your own galleys into position you have staked an unstoppable claim to that site. Galleys are built in Tyre, but once you have built a city you can build more galleys there, proabably costing less to build and in a more central position than Tyre
All this activity is restricted by the availability of cards. You have to play cards of the corresopding empire to sail to that empire, found cities there or build ships there. The players take it in turns to perform an action, spending or trading cards, or pass, and if all the players pass in succession the round ends and a new hand is dealt. There is a limited ability to hold cards between rounds, but for the most part you use or lose what you have.
At the game start, faced with long voyages to reach the infant empires, you are likely to find some of your cards are useless, but by the middle game there is almost always ~something~ useful to do with all of them.
While its possible to trade cards with other players or from the draw pile (which rapidly becomes exhausted each round), in practice it this doesn't happen much. You might be able to tweak the hand you were dealt, but you won't be able to change it significantly.
The players control the growth of empires by placing terrain tiles. When the map fills up, the game is over. Victory points are gained for each city you found, with cities in bigger empires scoring more. Failing that, naval control scores fewer points. This comes down to building lots of ships, getting them to the right places and gathering enough cards of the right empires. Tricky.
It took quite a while, but Martin Wallace has finally got himself noticed by German game publishers, first with Volldampf and now Tyros. He's mostly known for producing quite heavy games, such as Libert and Der Weisse Lotus, as well as umpteen rail games. In contrast, Tyros is one of the lighter games in his repertoire, but it is by no means fluff. But interestingly (and I think undeservedly), this light-heavy game generated barely a blip on gaming radar when it was released in 2002.
The game is one of Kosmos' new half-box 'Spiele fr Viele' series, all games which pack quite a bit into a reasonably small space. Tyros manages to squeeze in a four-fold board, depicting the Mediterranean, as well as a deck of cards and various sundry player pieces including very cute plastic galley ships.
The theme of this game is that of the Phoenician diaspora about 3000 years ago, from the city of Tyre across the entire Mediterranean. The Phoenicians were regarded as the premier seafaring race of the time, and this is borne out in this game. While you are building cities across the board, you are reaching these cities by sea, using ships that you have built. (Actually, the theme makes more sense if you think of the cities as trading posts instead.) Having cities (and to a lesser extent, ships) is how you earn victory points, and thus what you need to do to win the game.
There are four neutral empires (colours) on the board, which begin in four rectangular grid spaces (into which the map is divided) and grow as the game progresses. These empires have matching cards, and it is from this deck of cards that players get their action points. You spend cards to perform actions, and usually the cards' type must match the empire you're working with.
With cards you can build extra galleys, move galleys to grid spaces and build cities in grid spaces. But these require sets of cards, all of which are the same colour. Thus there is a need to trade, which fits in well with the whole Phoenician theme. You can trade cards with other players or the bank. Of course, the trouble with trading cards is that it takes a turn, so you might find that the thing you were saving up for gets taken before you were ready. It's a clever mechanism that introduces tension and increases player interaction.
The four-empire division also introduces a wrinkle in scoring. Not only is the first city built in each of the empires given bonus points, but there's more points to be had for owning more cities in an empire than anyone else. This element of competition balances against an equally-necessary element of cooperation: the larger empires garner more points, so two players who both have a stake in an empire will both want that empire to grow at the expense of smaller empires. The end result is that it's very difficult to be certain who is ahead at any point.
When the empires have occupied all of the Mediterranean, the game ends, and players score for spaces they control: more for cities, less for galleys. Usually the eventual winner is something of a surprise.
While there's no brand-new machanism in this game that stands out, all of the systems in Tyros work well together: the set-collecting aspect makes for a degree of cooperation between players as they trade cards; the empire-growing system allows players to have a small amount of control over how the map develops; the occasional need to block another player surfaces, but the game never gets vindictive.
Tyros is a polished game that feels like part Acquire, part Andromeda. It certainly deserves more attention than it got when it was first released.
Tiles represent numbered board spaces that show a coastal settlement. Randomly draw four, and place a different-colored Empire token on each. Deal everyone five tiles. Start each round by dealing everyone 10 cards, representing the four Empires. Everyone adds a tile to extend an Empire to an adjacent space, and replenishes. Players in turn: (a) Discard cards in an Empire's color to sail a ship to one of its settlements; (b) upgrade a settlement to accommodate their ships, by discarding; or (c) add a ship to one of their cities, or to Tyre. Costs depend on the number of occupying ships. Rounds end when everyone has passed. Discard all but three of your remaining cards. Play ends when one player's tiles have been exhausted. Earn points for each of your cities and vessels in every Empire, depending on the relative size of the Empire. We especially recommend Tyros to devotees of Acquire (GAMES Hall of Fame).
Most empires have been created by the use of military force, but not all. The Phoenicians did it by trading. The foremost sailors and traders of their day, they founded cities all round the Mediterranean, and while some of them, such as Carthage, did go on to become militarily powerful, the original foundations were trading settlements. This is the setting for Kosmos's latest entry in the "half box" series that they launched last year with such games as Bali and Gnadenlos. Four neutral, land-based empires will grow up round the Mediterranean, with their growth being determined partly by the game system and partly by the players. The players themselves are trading dynasties whose ships set out from Tyre with the aim of founding cities in the best locations - the best locations being those in the biggest, and therefore presumably richest, empires.
The components are impressive for a game costing 15 euros: a mounted board which opens out to 22 inches by 10.5, city markers and nice plastic ships for the players, territorial possession markers for the empires, tiles and a deck of cards. The board, which shows the whole of the Mediterranean and its surrounding lands, is split into 35 rectangular areas. One of these is Tyre itself, one is all land and plays no part in the game, one is all sea and the other 32 are coastal. Each of the coastal areas contains a site for a city and each has a tile corresponding to it. The play of the tiles will govern the growth of the four empires. The cards are in the same colours as the four sets of empire markers and are used both for ship movement and for city building.
At the start of the game each empire occupies a single space and the tiles for these spaces are put back in the box. The other tiles are shuffled and 4 dealt to each player. You also receive 10 or 12 cards, depending on the number of players. The game is played in a number of rounds and you will get further cards at the start of each.
The first thing that happens in a round is that players use the tiles in their hand to expand the empires. In a 3-player game you will play two tiles and in a 4-player you will play two in round 1 and one thereafter. The tile(s) you place must correspond to a space adjacent to one of the empires and will expand that empire. If it is adjacent to more than one empire, you choose which it belongs to. This part is rather like tile placement in Acquire, but without the takeovers and your aim here is much as it is there: you want the empires in which you have the greatest interest to grow. At the end of the game each of your cities will be worth victory points and the number you get for a city will depend on the position in the pecking order of the empire which contains it. Having played your tile, you make your hand back up to four.
The main part of the round comes with the card play and here players take turns for as long as they wish to keep going and their card supply holds out. On each turn you do one of six things:
You can build a galley in Tyre or in any place where you have a city. The cost is paid in cards and depends on whether there are already ships in that location. If you are building outside Tyre, at least one of the cards you use must match the colour of the empire counter for the area.
Moving a galley also costs cards - one per area entered - and this time the colour restrictions are more stringent. Your destination has to be part of an empire and all the cards you use must be of the same colour as the empire's tokens. You will also have to pay a card to the owner if your destination is a city belonging to another player and this too must be of the 'right' colour.
To build a city you must have a galley in the location and no other player can have a galley there. You then surrender one of the galleys and pay either 4 or 5 cards of the appropriate empire's colour (5 if you have one galley on site; 4 if you have two).
As the last two paragraphs will have made clear, holding cards of the colours you want has a material effect on whether you can do the things you would like to do and that is something that you can't guarantee. The deal might have been kind to you or it might not. The next two options give you a chance to improve matters. You can trade cards with other players and the only rule is that any trade must be an honest one: the cards you give must be the cards you promised. A trade only counts as your action for the turn if the deal goes through and so you lose nothing by asking. You can also exchange cards, either discarding up to 3 and drawing the same number from the face-down deck or discarding 3 and taking one of your choice from the discard pile. Exchanging remains an option only until the draw deck is exhausted and so is something you tend to do early in the round.
Passing is always an option and doesn't stop you doing something more active later in the round, unless there is a complete round of passes, which is when the round ends. You may carry up to three cards over into the next round, at the start of which new sets of cards will be dealt out as at the beginning of the game.
The game ends when at least one player runs out of tiles. The current round is then played to a completion and at the end of it players score points for each location that they control. An area that contains a city is controlled by the owner of the city. An area can also controlled by a galley if it has no city and if only one player has a galley in it. This all translates into points and there are bonuses for "most cities" in each of the empires and for being the first player to have a city in all four.
Puerto Rico has so dominated the post Nuremberg discussion this year that a number of games that one would have expected to get a lot of attention have found themselves being rather neglected. Tyros is one of them and, as with several of the others, it merits more than it has so far received. It is not going to be a contender for one of the top awards, but I do like it. The idea of a historical game about trading empires and with no armies involved is quite an original one and Martin has come up with a neat game system, where the various parts mesh nicely. I particularly like the appropriate way that he has worked the trading idea into the card play: if you don't have the cards you need, then see if you can do a deal. The people who liked Bali probably won't agree with me, but this is my favourite of the games that have so far appeared in this Kosmos series.