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Here you can show your qualities as a strategic clever architect on multiple levels! Through the thoughtful placement of your building pieces, you construct castles and bring your knights to the desired top positions -- because castles without knights are like measuring sticks without marks. In order to ascend to the throne, you must use your meager action points carefully. Whoever wants to reach the heights has to pay for it!
Players: 2 - 4
Time: 60 minutes
Ages: 12 and up
Est. time to learn: 10-20 minutes
Weight: 1,110 grams
Language Requirements: Game components are language-independent. An English translation of the rules is provided.
- 1 game board
- 92 tower blocks
- 24 knights
- 4 scoring markers
- 1 king
- 40 action cards
- 4 codex cards
- 3 phases cards
- 8 master cards
Average Rating: 4.3 in 26 reviews
I am an experienced gamer (20+ years) and I bought this game recently. My first time out, I said, nice game, big deal. Then I really tried the game again, delving into the strategy and gameplay. It is fantastic, it makes Settlers, Tikal, Mexica, Carcassone, all seem like child's play. The game is simple, but the strategy is beautiful. Very few board games work both on a 2 player and a 4 player model as beautiful as this game. There are traces of Acquire and Chess that blend together to offer almost zero chance (random cards give chance) and loads the game with pure strategy. I went against two players who thought they had me beat, they shut me down, but through some clever building, I won by 269 points, they came in at 268 and 267, they were amazed, it was an incredible comeback! How many games with a scoring table in the upper 200s allow for such tight and exciting play.
A description doesn't do justice and in all honesty the setting is irrelevant, but if you like the games I mentioned above, you must get this game! No joke! Give a few tries, since the rules and strategy must be well understood to truly appreciate the concept.
Good Gaming! -JDM
I reviewed this game in April of 2001. After a year and a half and 100+ games later, here's an update. If you want a great 2 player strategy game with no luck involved, BUY THIS GAME! (I have no idea how this game plays with more than 2 since I've never tried it)
Here's how we play it.
Hand out all the action cards. You have to try to remember which ones your opponent has played and not played, and you really won't be any good until you're familiar with all 10 cards and know exactly what their potential is for helping you win.
We play a best of 7 game tournament using our 6 favorite Mastercards, and, if we're tied at 3-3 we flip a coin to decide who gets the choice of the tiebreaker Mastercard. The losing player decides who goes first. (we've discovered that going 2nd is a distinct advantage because of the ability to place the king and we alternate until or if we play a 7th game)
Use a chess clock. Try 30 to 40 minutes each. We've had some games decided by flag drops. It also just adds a lot of tension to the game.
Here's some of the games I like, so you'll know where I'm coming from...chess, go, Big Boggle, Oh Hell the card game, mit list und tucke. Here's a few I hate...Yahtzee, monopoly, or any game with 50000 small punchout cardboard pieces, cards and coins.
I was initially drawn to Torres by a snapshot picture of the board with its castles of varying heights and knights perched on top of them. Not only was it uniquely beautiful among the games Ive seen (how many board games develop skywards as well as across the board? Not too many and this one does it darn well), but it begged for an explanation how did the game board come to appear that way? I was hooked.
And then I was confounded. The instructions were extremely simple to grasp. Im an avid strategy games player, so a game like Villa Paletti isnt going to win my vote for SDJ. I didnt see much strategy to this game. I kept reading reviews. Then I decided I had to buy it. And it wasnt until I tried playing it that the strategy became evident.
With four players, one will see right from the start that each player takes off in different directions (I play by the version where everyone gets their own pile of action cards and each card must be bought for 1 AP no player may hold more than 3 cards in their hand at a time). One person may go on a building spree, one person may throw knights onto their board as fast as possible, one person may buy action cards early, one person may go for the balanced approach, etc. And the structures emerge.
I admit the building pieces dont really resembles bricks and the knights dont really look like knights, but this wont detract from the gameplay one bit.
The gameplay is impressively smooth, mainly due to the limitation of 5 AP per turn. Its enough to do damage, but not enough to complete your strategy in one shot. For such an intense game, the downtime is very quick (from what Ive seen) and the total playing time is a brisk 45-55 minutes. This game rolls along at a steady clip, so Im a little suspicious of the patience of those who say it takes too long between turns.
What I really appreciate about Torres is that as the game develops there is plenty of opportunity to play offensive and/or defensive. Youre always wary of surprise attacks, but then youre also planning some of your own. Its a thrill ride planning and executing a sneak attack.
If you like games that involve building and claiming territory, this ones got your name on it. These towers soar.
I've been playing Torres ever since it came out in English and I still love the mechanics and feel of the game. Many reviewers compare it to Tikal either favorably or unfavorably. I fall into the former category, as I feel Tikal is the game that drags. I don't think Torres suffers from down time as long as each player is planning their moves until their turn comes around, and the special action cards make for plenty of surprises and twists as the game progresses.
More distressing than any bad review is the unfair ratings of 1 star. Shouldn't that be reserved for games with serious flaws and extremely poor production value? Torres is a great game that isn't for some people, not a bad game that no one should play.
The first couple times I played Torres I liked the game but wouldn't have put it close to the top of my list. Our group has played it many times now and it is definitely close to the top of our list. Games are close, they move along nicely (I don't have any of the 'dull' issues cited elsewhere in Torres reviews), it's a relatively easy game for newcomers to learn AND to do well at, and many different people have won over time. I like the way players can't really stop each other from doing just about anything, but you can definitely slow them down which, in many cases, is the same thing. The only negative I would give this game is the scoring track is not well done - I'd much rather have larger squares and have to deal with 'wrapping' the track than the tiny little squares zig-zagging back and forth.
I have played Torres several times and I find it to be a great game. The limited action points keeps you on the edge of your seat trying to figure out what to use them for. I also like the fact that you can go into other players castles and get a lot of points from their hard work. And the action cards add a great twist to the game, especially since you have to decide if you even want to waste action points to buy them. This is a great game and I highly suggest you get it. You will not be disappointed!
If you're not put off by the abstract nature of this game, you're in for one heck of a good time. My friends and I have been playing this game for the past two weekends, and we're slowly getting the handle of the subtle strategies that one needs to employ to get ahead in this game. I thoroughly recommend this to a gamer who's looking for something to play with non-gamers and gamers alike. There's enough meat in this game for everybody.
I am very glad to own this game. If only it supported more than four players, however. Perhaps it would be possible to kludge the game and add a fifth, maybe a sixth. Who knows?
At any rate, Torres plays very well with four players, especially the 'Master' version in which players receive a hand of action cards they are free to spend over the course of the 3 game phases. I particularly enjoy the Master challenges, which allow savvy players to rack up lots of bonus points.
Overall, Torres is very enjoyable, providing players attractive game components, an outlet for fairly complex strategy formulation, and a flexible setup system.
Lets cut to the chase.. BUY THIS GAME.
For those of you who are still here, this is a brilliant game that is accessible to not only the hardcore boardgamer, but to the novice alike. I was able to teach someone who doesn't play board games inside of 5 minutes, and he had a great time. I only have one complaint: it is not as deep as some players may like. You can use the master cards for more depth, but they feel more like an add-on than anything else.
- Easy to learn
- Great concept
- Great board and pieces
- Plays in under an hour
- Not as deep as a strategist would like.
Fabulous game. My nephew and I have been addicted to this game for a month now. We've played about a dozen games over the course of the last 4 or 5 weekends. No two games are alike, each has its own special flavor. We quickly got to the master version though since it adds much to the game using the master cards. Interestingly, we draw for who goes first and whoever wins usually asks the other to go first.
It seems almost impossible to think of a strategy beforehand... you constantly have to adjust your strategy as the game progresses, attacking and defending.
I haven't played the 3 or 4 player version of Torres, but I suspect the 2 player version is the more serious and challenging version.
Unlike chess, we drink beer and chat back and forth about the game in progress. It's hard to describe, but the game is deadly serious while at the same time possessing a 'fun' factor that's missing from chess.
If you're a serious game player who thinks Monopoly or any dice game is a waste of time... BUY THIS GAME!
I picked up this game after reading the general overall positive comments from the previous reviews and the fact that Torres won the [page sdj]SdJ for 2000. I wanted something new to play so I took a chance on Torres.
Let me say that I was not disappointed in the least!
I'll try not to be redundant with my brief comments; Torres is an excellent abstract strategy game of agonizing decisions with the luck factor minimized to the draw of special action cards. If you can't stand luck in your games at all, play with the Master rules so that everyone starts with an equal set of resources. Or you can try disregarding the special action cards altogether if you prefer (I enjoy having the special action cards remain; they bring a dash of the unexpected to gameplay).
Finally, for those who are looking for a pure strategy game that two people can play (and plays well) then look no further; unlike other excellent games that don't translate as well (or at all) for two players (Settlers of Catan and El Grande are two that come immediately to mind), Torres does this very well.
In conclusion, if you want to take a chance on a new game as I did, you most certainly won't go wrong with Torres.
After only a few playings, I can understand why TORRES is the 2000 Spiel des Jahres. And we haven't even played with the Master cards yet.
Timely card play is critical, and can overcome earlier errors. I've learned the hard way that buying a card or two each turn to expand your options--and keep your opponents guessing--is a must.
The bits are not first rate, but they are functional, and certainly do not detract from the game.
I don't think we'll tire of this game. I most highly recommend this board game.
I have played Torres with 2, 3, and 4. It is a very different game where 2 people requires more long range thinking and 4 players requires more of being able to change your plans in response to other people's actions.
We have found that we enjoy Torres much more using the Master cards since it changes the game slightly each time and it removes the luck element of someone drawing the 'right' card at the right time. All in all, it is a great game and I highly recommend it.
Torres is my current favorite 'German' game. I really like deep games that play well with any number of players--and trust me, this one plays great with 2, 3 or 4 players. It's another game from the designers of Tikal but this game takes things a bit further. It plays faster than Tikal--down time between turns is reasonable considering the number of things a player can do on a given turn. The game is a bit more abstract than Tikal--but the theme is functional and since I like abstract games, this was hardly a problem for me. I love the difficult decisions each player must face on their turns--so many things to do and so few action points!
For me, this is the best game released last year. This game plays as good as El Grande and Tikal--two other games high on my list. It's faster than Tikal and plays down to 2 players much better than El Grande. This gets a max rating for game play that is outstanding. Pick this one up!
When reviewing a game, I first have to wonder, 'What is it that people want to read in a review, and why are they reading the review?'. Second, I have to temper the review so as not to interject my own personal bias towards what I like. I don't like to give a total rewrite of the rules book. IMHO, A good game shouldn't take longer to read the rules than play the game. This game meets my criteria.
Torres is a great strategy game at heart, with a touch of luck thrown in. For those who want a pure strategy game (one without luck), there are rules included to turn it into such a game. Replayability is guaranteed with the random start (you place the starting pieces) option. The board is a bit bland in color and the art a bit abstract unless you like that kind of design. However, the bits (including the board) are of great quality to be expected from Rio Grande Games. I was particularly happy to discover that the knight and King pieces were made of wood (since they looked like plastic on the back of the box). The rules are fairly well written. The only confusion I initally had was how your pieces are used during a round and how the rounds make up a year (aka 'phase' in the game). Play is well balanced and down time is minimal. You'll be thinking of your next move or paying attention to your opponents. Fun factor is high.
On to the game. You place towers on the board in order to build the biggest and highest castle. The only catch is that your height can't be any greater than the base of your castle. (for example: a castle made of two pieces next to each other can't be more than two pieces high) Next, you place knights on the board to claim castles and eventually give you scores based on the height position of your knight on any given castle. Through the game, each turn is limited to five action points for you to use in any combination of building, moving knights, drawing action cards, adding knights or passing. After each set of turns, there is a scoring phase. The action cards introduce the element of luck. Do you spend one action point on drawing a card, or do you use it to expand a castle? The cards can be very valuable however, allowing you to do things like use 7 action points in a turn, or moving a knight up a level diagonally. The luck of the draw can be eliminated with the Master Rules which give everyone the same set of cards a la El Grande expansion. This was a great touch of genius (or a case of learning from other great game mechanics).
I taught this to my eleven year old son last night in about fifteen minutes, and he picked it right up. Though he lacked some of the strategy, he picked up on the fun factor right away. The game is designed to play different with two, three or four players, and has a card showing the different setup for those number of players (another nice touch). If you like strategy with or without luck, you can't miss with this game.
Personally, I like tons of bits like in Axis and Allies, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, or Big City, and my first look at the box was disheartening. Hmff, a bunch of castle bits all the same size and color. Boy, did I ever prove myself wrong. A great game can have simple bits and still be a winner. This game may very well take the Spiel des Jahres award, or will at least make the nominees (my forecast is in the top three). The theme, or story of this game is truly abstract but it works. I could have just as easily been about the Towered city of San Geminagno in Italy, or building skyscrapers in New York. Either way, taller is better. This game rates a 95db on the Mulder Meter. It loses 5db on a personal level only due to the bland board. Buy it, play it, you won't regret it!
One of cinema's best moments is in 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'. Early on, they are being tracked, and the two cannot elude the posse. Finally, Newman turns to Redford and says, 'Who ARE these guys...!' Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer are creating a similar image. They collaborate and create 'Tikal', awesome game, great reviews, German game of the year. So, do they rest on their laurels and kick back? NO! They produce 'Torres', a terrific game and sure to be in the running for Game of the Year, 2000.
'Torres' fits more into the 'abstract strategy game' versus the complete mayan theme of 'Tikal', but does create a nice castle & knights theme. Players expand out and up 8 single towers at the onset of the game. Players are limited on what can be done every turn, and there are 'specialty action cards' that can be obtained. Unlike 'Tikal' there are no wertung cards to vary the scoring rounds. Scoring is more like '[page scan/se=0170/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Manhattan' i.e. after a set amount of building is done, everybody tallies up.
The essential strategy though, is not in the building, but use of your knights, to score points and stymie your opponent. A well placed/moved knight will elicit several epithets from your opponents and ensure excellent scoring opportunities.
Finally, a note on the artwork. The outer box and the gameboard artwork are really creative. It's Picasso cubist meets pop art meets medieval. It really does not lend anything to the play of the game, but creates this funky visual effect that makes the game more enjoyable.
Highly addictive, endless playability, and ease of rules for new players, makes 'Torres' highly worthy of anyone's game collection. I'll say it again, 'Who are these guys...!'
I suppose Torres can be described as [page scan/se=0170/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Manhattan meets Tikal. The rounds are set-up very much like Manhattan. You have 3-4 turns between scoring rounds during which a limited amount of castle segments can be placed on the board.
The Tikal-like elements come from the use of Action points. Each turn you have 5 action points to spend in any of the following ways:
- Move a knight - 1 point
- Add a knight - 2 points
- Add a castle segment to the board - 1 point
- Draw an action card - 1 point
- Score 1 point on the score track - 1 point
- Play an action card - 0 points
Knights can move 1 space in any orthogonal direction (i.e. not diagonally). They can drop any number of levels during a move, but may only go up 1 level. Knights may also move through the 'corridors' of the castle. In this manner they may move a distance much greater than 1 square. This last concept is difficult to describe without seeing the castle pieces.
New knights must be placed adjacent to one of your existing knights. The new knight may be at the same or lower level as the existing knight.
A castle segment can be played anywhere on the board with the following restrictions: the height of a castle cannot exceed the area of its base, and the game starts with 8 one-segment castles, these castles cannot be joined.
Action cards allow you to do funky things with castle segment placement or knight movement. For example you can move your knight up two levels during a move.
Every 3rd or 4th turn (depending on the number of players) is a scoring round. Each knight's score is the product of the castle level he is on and the area of the castle base (i.e. its footprint). There is additional scoring each round for having a knight on a specific level of the 'King's Castle.' The King is a pawn which only moves between rounds. Scoring for the King's Castle is as follows:
If your knight is on level 1 of the King's Castle during the first scoring round - score 5 points. If your knight is on level 2 of the King's Castle during the first scoring round - score 10 points. If your knight is on level 3 of the King's Castle during the first scoring round - score 15 points. After the first and second scoring rounds, the player in last place may move the King to a different castle.
Torres has a lot of player interaction. You'll probably hear things like 'You &%!@' and 'I'm gonna get you for that' uttered on a frequent basis. Strategic placement of your Knights and Castle-segments is key. What you do on your turn can severely limit your opponent's scoring opportunities. This is an excellent game which plays very well with 2, 3 or 4 players. To be sure, this is an abstract game, but theme definitely fits the 'feel' of the game.
Torres is a definite winner. I will be shocked and concerned if this game is not nominated for SdJ.
After recently panning Tikal, and reading a few reviews of Torres where it is compared to that 'game', I felt the need to clear the air. While it is true that these two games share some similar play mechanics (limited movement points, tile/castle placement), the fact is they could not be more different in end result.
Torres is a very easily-learned yet deep game, full of surprises and last second victories, while Tikal is the gaming equivalent of an enya song (i.e pretty, but oh-so dull).
Torres, like any game with a scoring system where the players know about the timing of the scoring round in advance, can suffer from board over-evaluation syndrome. However, it never seems to get too out of control since there are really only 2 or 3 options for players.
Tikal, on the other hand, is practically interminable once a scoring round occurs. As players move, and take back moves, and try in vain to decipher the rosetta stone that passes for Tikal's game card, you'll slowly find the game turning into a $25 4 player staring contest...
In the end, Torres and Tikal, while sharing a few similarities, offer two completely different playing experiences.
Pick up Torres now. You won't be sorry.
Torres is indeed a very solid, fun and engaging game with good twists, great decisions and a fun scoring mechanism which, although not original, works better than others of its ilk. This seems to be a real touchstone for W. Kramer, who seems to love to play mix n' match with different games' mechanics and come up with something new. Unfortunately, Torres never really seems new to me, but rather constantly reminds me of other games with the different familiar mechanics. I have not added the game to my want list because, good as it is, I already have Tikal, and to me it would almost be like owning the same game. What?! you cry. Certainly not! This guy hasn't grasped the full complexities of the etc, etc... Well, actually, I think I have. Using action points to move guys to the best scoring spots in time for a scoring round IS Tikal and Torres, any way you slice it, special cards or no. Granted, Torres is a 'purer' game than Tikal, but for me I think If I played one of them one night, it would be a while before I was ready to play the other. They're just too similar to feel very different to me. Sorry, I know many of you may shake your heads at this, but I call 'em as I see 'em.
Particularly disappointing for me, however, much more than the game itself (which I did give four stars to, or an eight on a 1-10 scale), is that a game so similar to last year's SDJ won this year. Now, I ask you, if this had been called 'Return to Tikal' and the castles were Mayan Pyramids, do you think it would have won? My God, I hope not. And yet that theme would have been better than the one they gave it! I hope you can see what I'm getting at here: A new and improved game that was called something different won! How unfair! It's particularly a let-down because there were so many delectable courses at this year's SDJ smorgasbord: Firstly, the two very worthy runners up, both very original, successful and fun to play, one even more abstract than Torres (Carolus Magnus) and the other a beautiful, creative game that has been critically acclaimed. Not to mention the excellent Web of Power and easily worthy Taj Mahal... what is it with these people, do they have something against Reiner Knizia? You got to feel pity for the guy.
But since this is a review for Torres, I will say that it absolutely deserved to be a nominee, maybe even a finalist, although I was a bit sour at even that. I'm just sorry to see that other games were passed over for the SDJ. On the part of the panel of judges, it was a safe decision, a defensible decision, and in my not-very humble opinion, a decision that was typically conservative, politically-correct and very German. Here's hoping that they'll be a little more unpredictable next year.
This game introduces a very great element--the king. My gamers tends to focus on the king rather than building the great castle. Yet building a great castle and placing your knights in it will let you win the game, it seems that the effect of the king sways the game. The action cards in this game seems to be very useful, as you can use action points to pick them up and use them in next turn. However, there seem to be no cards that can affect the position of king. Once there is no place available for a player to place his/her knights into the castle where the king lives, he/she will probably not be the winner of the game. (There is one exception--when I play this game with my friends these days, I find I never have the opportunity to place my knights into the king's castle, but finally I won the game). What does this mean? Is the king really that important? Or just an illusion to players?
Yes, it's an excellent game. The mechanics and strategy are not apparent until after the first game or so. Building a castle will undoubtedly help your opponent--you just have to help them less than you help yourself. Large castles soon become huge as each player attempts to occupy the higher spot, and his score will beat yours by the overall size of the castle if he is one level higher.
The basic game is not very good as the random draw of cards removes a great strategic (when do I play THIS?) element.
I hesitate to give it 5 stars because it seems to miss the mark of straddling full abstract strategy and simulation--there are too many rules to be a good clean strategy game ala Kahuna, which also uses cards, but I feel remains a purer game.
A storm has devastated the royal castle, and as the king clings to life the princes gather to rebuild the palace from the few remaining foundations. Who builds best will become king.
A rather shaky theme greets the gamer in what is essentially an abstract 3-D game. Players must move wooden pawns around an 8x8 board in order to gain control of towers. The towers are placed by the players, who can then move knights into and up the towers to cash in when scoring comes around. Victory points are awarded based on castle area multiplied by the level the knight is sitting on in the castle - thus a knight sitting on the 3rd level of a castle that has an area of 5 squares will pick up 15 points.
Players are restricted in how much they can accomplish during a precious turn. Action points are spent to place/move knights, build towers as well as purchase action cards. These cards allow the quirky movement/tower rules to be broken in some way, and when used at the right time can be very powerful.
Overall a 'different' game that uses the third dimension very well. I've tried a two player as well as a four player game and found the game to work well with both those numbers. Variant rules, as well as a 'master' version, all add to the package.
Well worth considering.
Maybe I expected way too much out of this game from all the praise it has received. Ive given it several chances now but I just dont enjoy it very much and dont see myself playing again in the foreseeable future. The theme is so weak, it seems like it was slapped on as an afterthought. Game play is excruciatingly slow and tedious. Sure, there is a lot of strategy involved but its not fun strategy. I feel like an accountant, constantly crunching numbers, when playing this game. I guess Im just more a fan of pure abstract strategy games that dont need pages and pages of rules along with tedious scoring systems to make them work.
This game has almost everything I hate in a board game: slow turns, little player interaction, practically non-existant theme, and bland pieces. Those tower pieces really do bother me. They just look terrible. Yes, there's definitely strategy to the game, but it'll be hard to convince anyone I know to play Torres again.
I just don't enjoy this one. We've tried all the various versions of making the special-power cards available, and none of them are satisfying. Any kind of random draw makes luck into an overpowering factor. But when you get away from the luck by giving everybody all ten cards to choose from at the start, the game slows down to where you'd have more fun watching paint dry.
Some games seem too slow while waiting for my turn--this one is too slow when it IS my turn! For whatever reasons of patience or taste in games, I just don't find it entertaining winnowing through those cards time after time.
So, if you're thinking of trying this one, beware! Some players do enjoy it, but for others it is on the 'will never play again' list.
I had very high hopes for this game with all of the glowing reviews. Moreover, I was told that it had mechanics similar to Tikal, a game I have great passion for. Unfortunately, after 12 games of Torres, I can honestly say I have no taste for it. It is true that some of the mechanical flavor for Tikal was borrowed from Torres, it is quite obvious. However, it was used to much greater effect in Tikal than in Torres.
Torres suffers from a serious case of 'analysis paralysis'. The more players you have, the longer down time is between turns. Players seriously overanalyze each move and carefully calculate the appropriate height to make their tower so the opponent cannot enter. While the game is attractive, has nice pieces, and is moderately portable (in comparison to bookshelf games), the game play is excessively slow and tiresome.
I would much rather play Tikal.
After we named it Game of the Year last year, Torres followed up that honor in July 2000 by being selected as Germany's Best! We are still madly in love with this towering achievement by the great Kramer-Kiesling team. You are a Spanish prince hoping to become heir to the throne by building the best castles in difficult but civilized competition with your siblings (the other players). Points are gained by multiplying the surface area of your castles by their height--a charming extension into the third dimension. The judicious use of Action Points for a rich array of choices is a fearfully complex challenge, and the Advanced Variant offers long-term profit for a randomly selected strategic objective. Familiarity will never stale the near perfection of this elegant beauty of a game.
This game appeared at the last minute, unexpectedly introduced at the 1999 Nuremberg Fair in Germany. It was also the last game from Rio Grande to reach us, and what a royal entrance it made! It was love at first sight, instantly eliminating any indecision we had over our choice for Game of the Year.
The Spanish King, weakened by the ravages of war and old age, will choose as his successor the son who can rebuild, in a spirit of peace and cooperation, the largest and tallest castles in the next three years. His sons (the players) may not attack each other or the castles under construction, but their Knights can work together on the same edifice and share the rewards. This is the touching theme of a game full of complex challenges, yet free from bitter battles.
Each player has five Knights, as well as Building Blocks allocated from a common supply at the start of each Year/Phase. Eight Blocks are placed as foundations on the marked spaces of the 8x8 territory. These will spread outward and upward, never getting any higher than their surface area and never combining with another castle. All Action cards are shuffled and everyone in turn puts a Knight on one of the foundations, with the last player placing the King: He must live somewhere, and may even reward the owner.
Five Action Points are spent per turn placing Blocks orthogonally adjacent to others, adding Knights, or acquiring Action Cards for free use on subsequent moves. If none of those options look useful, you can instead move along the scoring track for one Action Point. When the last Block of the year is played, scores are awarded to players for castles where they have at least one Knight. This is determined by multiplying the surface area by the level of the highest Knight; for instance, a Knight at level three of a castle five spaces in area would gain 15 points. Bonuses are also earned at the end of each year by players whose Knights occupy the Royal castle on an appropriate level. As this is a compassionate Kingdom, the contestant with the lowest score decides where His Majesty will spend the next year.
A variant allows each contestant to select from his own pile of Action Cards, so that all players have access to the same cards. Even more challenging, once you are familiar with the abundant blessings of the Actions, is the Master version. Here, players can freely use one of their Action Cards on a turn. One of eight special cards is also randomly drawn to describe an optional scoring opportunity for players such as getting 50 bonus points at the end if four of your Knights occupy the corners of a square. This adds a bewildering strategic temptation to an already difficult game.
We salute Jay Tummelson and Rio Grande for bringing us this gentle and splendid game.
My first opportunity to play this new Kramer/Kiesling design was at Alan Moon's Gathering of Friends in April 1999. Jay 'Rio Grande Games' Tummelson had just received confirmation that he would be releasing the game in English and was so excited he hastily assembled pieces from Terra Turrium (another Kramer design) and other sources. The board was taped together photo copy and the cards were cut and paste quality. Thus, the 'parakeet' in me (that's the part that squawks with delight at pretty pieces) was already disappointed. My initial response to the game was mediocre, but this was due in large part to rules ambiguities, less than stellar components and the pace of the game, which seemed to drag on and on.
Well, I took a chance and purchased a copy, figuring I owed the game another chance and boy, am I glad I did. With several more playings under my belt, and this time with the 'real' game, I can unabashedly claim that this is a fantastic game, one which will surely compete for 2000 Spiel des Jahres honors. It also certainly doesn't hurt playing with the 'real' pieces, which are nothing to get terribly excited about, but a marked improvement over the drab blocks as used in Terra Turrium.
Kramer has combined elements of several of his past games as well as borrowed from other designers titles, including the 3D design and movement mechanics of Terra Turrium, the limited action points of Tikal, the special action cards of El Grande and the 'leap-frog' scoring track mechanism as used in Doris & Frank's Ursuppe. There's no escaping the fact that the game still has a decidedly abstract feel to it and one gets the distinct impression that Kramer just wanted to continue to tinker with these various mechanics. The theme seems nothing more than an afterthought. Still, the game works. It is a tense, challenging matching of wits with the outcome in doubt until the very end.
The premise is simple enough. Players attempt to maneuver their knights into and up the larger castles, receiving points for each castle in which they they have one of their knights based on a simple mathematical formula: Level of the knight times surface area of the castle. Thus, if a castle has grown to occupy 8 surface squares and you have a knight on the 3rd level of the castle, you receive 24 points (8 x 3 = 24). So, the idea is to maneuver your knights to the higher levels of the larger castles.
The game is played in three scoring turns (called 'phases'), each comprising either 3 or 4 rounds, depending upon the number of players. Each round, a player has 5 action points which he can use to:
- Place a new knight on the board. A new knight must be placed adjacent to one of your existing knights at a level equal to or below the level of that existing knight. This costs 2 action points to execute, whereas all other actions cost 1 point. It is critical to get as many of your knights on the board as possible, though the timely placing of a knight at later stages of the game can spell the difference between victory and defeat. Since the number of knights per player is limited, the timing of their placement can be pivotal and is yet another tough decision to be made.
- Place a new castle piece. This must be placed next to an existing castle piece, or onto it. However, a castle cannot contain more levels than the surface level it occupies. Further, one cannot place a castle piece in such a fashion as to join two or more castles. Thus, certain spaces become 'dead' during the game, and placement can be used strategically to hinder the growth of an opposing castle.
- Pick an action card from the face-down stack. There are several variants for using these action cards, including the basic game wherein all players draw from a combined stack. My favorite method gives each player an identical deck, which is shuffled face down. A player selects three cards and chooses one, replacing the other two either on top or at the bottom of the deck. This method allows a greater degree of control in the use of the cards as a player can 'look ahead' and know which cards will be available on the next round. The Master version allows each player to hold all ten action cards in their hand and play them as they see fit.
- Move a knight. Each space moved costs 1 action point. Knights can jump up one level, but no more, and may descend any number of levels. Knights cannot be moved diagonally without the use of a special action card allowing this maneuver.
- Gain one victory point for each AP spent for this purpose.
Each full turn, players receive 3 or 4 stacks of castle pieces, depending upon the number of players and the round being played. Each of these stacks contain 2 or 3 castle pieces. A player must select one of these stacks to use during each particular round of a turn, so the number of pieces he has available each round is sorely limited. This prevents a massive building campaign wherein players are adding 5 castle pieces per round. If a player opts not to use all of his pieces during a round, he can transfer the unused pieces to his remaining stacks provided no stack contains more than three pieces. So, one can 'hoard' pieces for future rounds of that turn or 'phase'. At the end of a turn (er, phase. Damn, I wish Kramer would have just called them turns!), however, all unused pieces are returned to the general supply.
As in many German style games, one is faced with wanting to do more on your turn than allowed by the limited number of action points available. Thus, each turn is one tough decision after another. I've made it no secret that I love this 'limited actions' mechanism in games and the agonizing decisions it forces upon the players. It is used to full effect in Torres.
Each turn/phase is played in 3 to 4 rounds and once a turn is completed, positions are scored. Players get points for the position of their knights (as described above) in addition to a bonus of 5, 10, or 15 points if they have a knight in the same castle as the king. However, the knight must be located in the proper position to earn this bonus: level one following turn one, level two following turn two and level three following turn three.
The Master version introduces special scoring cards which award copious points for achieving certain conditions. These include aligning your knights in a row following certain phases, positioning them on the edges, corners or diagonals of the board, maneuvering them onto different levels of castles, etc. The use of these Master cards adds even more spice and decision making to the game as players must now decide on whether to pursue the traditional scoring methods or seek to obtain these special bonuses. Again, more tough decisions. Delicious.
Scoring is marked on a track which surrounds the edge of the board. Yet another game is borrowed from in this regard, that being Ursuppe. No two scoring markers can occupy the same space, so if a player's marker was moved to a space which is occupied by an opponent, his marker leap-frogs ahead to the next available space. This mechanism does give an incentive to players to use an action point from time to time to move their marker ahead on the scoring track and take advantage of this 'leaping' feature.
At a turn's conclusion, the player currently in last place on the scoring track then has the opportunity to relocate the king to any castle. This is a superb 'equalizing' feature as it allows that player to position the king to a castle which is closer to his knights and further away from his opponents, giving him the edge on capturing the king's scoring bonus for that round. Clever and very effective.
Following the third turn/phase, final scores are tallied to determine the victor.
My games are tending to clock in at about an hour and a half, a bit less with three players, but there is considerable pondering before each move. If you are involved in a match with players who tend to slowly and carefully ponder each and every movement and placement possibility, Torres has the potential to bog down and create interminable 'dead time', a problem many have hurled at Tikal. I have found, however, as in Tikal, a simple advance warning to the players that this potential exists, along with an urging to them to keep things moving along, works quite well. If the problem persists, a timer is always an option.
Contrary to my high praise of the game, a few in our group were not as impressed. I queried them as to why and received several responses.
One claimed he had difficulty grasping the strategy. Admittedly, this is a game which rewards repeated playings, but I don't think that's a reason to dislike a game. The strategy in many, many games only becomes clearer with repeated playings. Heck, I've played many a game wherein I had no idea of what to do until the latter stages. That doesn't make it a bad game, just one in which your understanding and skills improve with further playings.
Another player felt that one's options become more and more limited as the game progresses. I can see that this is definitely the case in the final few rounds of the final turn/phase, but I don't see this as too constricting. Further, I don't think it is present at all in the first two turns. Use of the Master scoring cards, which provide more scoring opportunities and options, certainly helps alleviate this problem.
Is Torres perfect? Well, no... but it comes awfully close. Those who disdain luck in a game would be hard pressed to find fault with it if they opt for the Master version. This is certainly a matching of wits and optimizing the use of one's action points. Another big plus is that it plays splendidly with 3 or 4 players, and I've heard that it is equally enthralling as a 2 player game. One certainly can't argue with this versatility!
I must say that Torres is a big, big, BIG surprise for me. My initial impressions at the Gathering weren't very favorable, but I'll chalk that up to not having a full understanding of the rules and the fact that we were playing with hastily assembled pieces. I now consider this game to be fabulous and can't wait till I play again. Highly recommended.