Tsuro Review – The Game of the Path
As board gamers, we play games for so many reasons. Sometimes it is to share in a communal creative experience. Other times it is to satisfy our competitive sides or to push our own strategic thinking to the limit. Another reason is to simply relax.
Today, dear reader, we are going to look at a very simple game that kind of does all four of those. This is a game that is known for being basic and easy to pick up, and yet it is a game that is so beautifully fluid that it can lead to play-throughs that are both lots of fun and truly engaging. This game, the one we are going to look at today, is one that has been in our collection forever, and it is a crime that we have not reviewed it before. The game we are talking about, dear reader, is Tsuro.
What is Tsuro? How is Tsuro played?
It’s hard to describe what Tsuro is in a concise way. At its core, breaking through what the gameplay is like, Tsuro is an abstract network or route building game, designed around a tile playing element. In fact its name literally translates as “route”. Tsuro is a game for 2 to 8 players, and takes around 15 minutes to play, although this is dependant on the players. It was designed by Tom McMurchie, with artwork by Cathy Brigg, Shane Small, Imelda Vohwinkel, and Franz Vohwinkel. That is the basic information.
All that doesn’t really tell us what Tsuro is though, and this is where it gets really interesting.
The subtitle to Tsuro is “the game of the path” and that is an apt way of describing it. You control a pawn, looking to work its way onto a board. Your pawn can start at any of 48 lines around the edge of a 6×6 grid (two lines entering on each outside edge of the grid). The aim of the game is to be the last pawn standing.
So, how is it played? Well, each player gets a hand of tiles – three at any one time. You place a tile from your hand on the board, in front of your piece. Each tile has 8 entry points, 2 on each side, and those are connected by lines – meaning there are four squiggly, curved or straight lines on the tile. You follow the line you are currently on to its conclusion. Most of the time that will mean coming to rest on that tile, however, it can lead you onto other player’s tiles or routes.
This is part of the game – there is a strategy to not only trying to keep yourself on the board but in trying to lead your opponents off the board with your placements. In games with a lower player count this can be difficult to do, but as there are more and more players the game can easily become one that looks at steering players off the board as a primary tactic. If, however, you don’t plan it correctly, then you can end up on the same route as your opponent to crash into them. That takes them both out of the game.
Contrary to that, if you plan it perfectly, you can get your opponents to crash into one another, taking each other out.
The last player standing is the winner, and it is that simplicity that makes Tsuro so special.
What is Tsuro like to play?
For a game that is so simple, what Tsuro is like to play can vary a fair amount across various different player counts. It always takes around 15-30 minutes, depending on the players involved; however, it can become more and more chaotic as you play when there are more players. At lower player counts you control more of the board, able to keep away from your opponent as long as possible. At higher player counts, you don’t have that luxury. You could start right next to an opponent and, as they try to lead you away, you fight to regain your footing or come back. It could be that you all converge in the centre and become a mess of tangled lines before catapulting away again.
All-in-all, this means that Tsuro can offer various different experiences depending on who is playing the game and how many players there are.
For me though, Tsuro‘s real opportunity to shine comes in games with a lower player count. Yes, the higher player counts are fun; however, with a lower player count it can become a game that is as relaxing as it is challenging. Tsuro can be a chilled game to play, towing the line between being a game that you want to win but also that you want to savour. There is a fluidity to Tsuro that makes it something truly enjoyable to just kick back with.
In its mechanics, Tsuro is a tight knit game, however, in my opinion it is better with lower player counts as it becomes a game where you can get lost in the nature of the turns. At lower player counts, it can be a game about finding a certain order on the board, and that can be nice to relax into.
With regards to planning, and depending on the kind of game you want to play, Tsuro is a game of short term strategy. Due to the moving parts, due to the other players also defining the board, it becomes a game that is as much out of your control as it is something you can plan and strategise. Instead, you can only get to your turn and choose out of the three tiles you have which one you want to play. Each tile can be rotated one of four ways, leading to most turns becoming a choice about which one of twelve options will lead to the best outcome.
Now, it is because of this that Tsuro can be a beautiful game to pull off the shelf on a Sunday afternoon. It can be the perfect opening game to a games day, as much as it can be the perfect wind down game to end the day. Although abstract it has a theme that helps hold the game together, and thus it can be perfect for themed days too.
That said, there is a criticism. Due to drawing tiles there is a randomness to the game that can strike at the wrong moment. This is a small gripe, but it can mean that you could prematurely end your game without meaning to. It’s rare, as having three tiles does offer you a choice, but the randomness is still there.
That being said, personally, I really like Tsuro. As mentioned before, it is a mechanically neat game, and one that I am glad we have in our collection. It has a decent player count and can give a different experience depending on the number of players around the table.
TL;DR: The Good, The Bad, and The Way of the Path
Like with all games we can now break Tsuro down into points that we find good, bad, and neutral about the game.
- Tsuro is a game with tight mechanics that work well. It is incredibly simple and easy to learn, whilst also being engaging to play.
- Tsuro is a game that can play in a relaxed way with fewer players, whilst being more chaotic with a larger player count. This offers different experiences depending on the players you have around the table.
- Tsuro can be incredibly fluid to play, as well as quick to play, taking only 15-30 minutes. This means it can be played several times in a row, or it can be a good sorbet game in a games day.
- Tsuro can be played in both a relaxed way and a highly competitive way. Personally, I believe it shines better as a relaxed game with fewer players; however, it can offer more competitive gameplay if required.
- Tsuro is a game of short term strategy rather than long term strategy. Where this isn’t a negative, it is something that may put some players off.
- There is a fair portion of randomness to Tsuro, especially towards the end of the game. Drawing the wrong few tiles can make the game challenging.
Tsuro Review: The Game of the Path
Tsuro is an enjoyable game and one that deserves a look. Relying on short term strategy, it won’t necessarily be for everyone, but if you like games you can relax into, this might be the game for you. Tsuro lets you control the board the best that you can, but in the end you just need to follow the right path to win the game.
There’s something poetic in that.
So, what are your thoughts? Have you played Tsuro? Do you enjoy it? If you have played any of the alternatives (there are a few variations) what are your thoughts on those? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.