Many families with school-age children are enjoying spring break this week. With the kids at home it’s a perfect time to break out a board game. There are, of course, thousands of terrific games you can choose from, and today we’re recommending Tsuro from Calliope Games.
Dragons that look like decorative soap! Curving, unpredictable roads! Sending your friends and family to their doom! Did I mention the soap? Tsuro: The Game of the Path from Calliope Games (about $30; a little cheaper on Amazon) has all the ingredients of a perfect family game. It’s easy to learn, appeals to all ages and offers great replay-ability. Calliope suggests it’s for 2–8 players, aged 8 years and up, and takes about 20 minutes to play. In my experience, it’s more fun with a larger group, as the twists and turns get really crazy, though three players will still have fun.
Tsuro has a fun Asian theme. You must guide a dragon along the unpredictable path of knowledge, which you create step-by-step as you play. Meanwhile, other dragons are forging their own path, and if two should collide, both are destroyed. The path itself can be confusing, and a mislead dragon will fall off completely, never to be seen again. There’s room for strategy and luck in a game of Tsuro, which makes it a good choice for a variety of players. For example, kids and casual gamers will enjoy the simplicity, while it serves as a good transition game for hard core gamers who are between sessions or waiting for something more complex to be set up.
The theme is set as soon as you open the box. A thin sheet of what looks like rice paper covers the instructions and features the game’s title, a thin “painting” of bamboo and the phrase:
“Build your path through discovery and chance. Quiet your mind. Your journey begins here.”
The rules are printed on a nice trifold document of dark burgundy with silhouetted bamboo and Asian characters. Inside, game play is clearly explained, though the print is really tiny. A smaller, separate pamphlet explains the rules in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, German and French. The board features a bold phoenix with looping feathers, and clearly indicates where the cards are to be placed. There are 35 tile cards and one dragon card. The tile cards feature a bit of the path on one side and art that resembles the rice paper on the back. The dragon card is bright orange, as opposed to the white tile cards, and features “Tsuro” on the back and a snarling dragon on the front. Finally, there are eight dragon tokens which, as I said, resemble decorative soaps. Each is a unique color with a dragon stamped on one side. But honestly, they’ll always remind me of a box labeled “Avon” in my grandmother’s bathroom. My kids and I will always call them “the soaps.” Everything is well made and the soaps are quite scratch resistant. My kids are hard on game pieces, and Tsuro still looks good after many family game nights.
Playing Tsuro: The Game of the Path
To get started, the board is laid out and each player chooses a soap – sorry, “dragon” – and the dragon tile is set aside. Next, everyone is delt three tile cards, face down. The remaining tile cards become the draw pile. Finally, the oldest player goes first. At home, that’s yours truly. Lucky me.
The first player places his dragon on a marker on the outer edge of the board, then the other players do, moving clockwise from the start player. Then everyone starts taking turns. A turn has three parts:
Play a path tile
Move your dragon
Draw a tile
Each tile features two parallel roads, moving from one edge to the other. These line up with indicators that are all around the perimeter of the board. On her turn, a player places a tile, chooses one of the roads and moves her dragon along it until the end of the tile is reached. She then draws a card. Then the next player goes and the steps are repeated. When the game comes back to the start player, she places a tile that lines up with the first tile she put down. Her dragon then moves along the now-extended road. The object is to keep your dragon moving along the road for as long as possible. If its road leads into another dragon or off the board, that player is out. The challenge is to extend your road as long as possible, while trying to direct your dragon away from the others and the edge of the board. Now you see why a larger group makes game play even crazier.
Now a word about the dragon tile. If you play long enough, the draw pile will get low and each player will have fewer than three cards in his hand. At this point, everyone draws a new tile on each turn. When you reach a point there are no tiles for a player to draw, that player receives the dragon tile. He holds on to the dragon tile until more cards become available to the draw pile (your hand returns to the draw pile once you’ve been eliminated). Then, the person with the dragon tile is the first to draw a new card, regardless of whose turn it is. The dragon tile then moves to the next person.
The Tsuro Experience
This game is just plain fun. I enjoy pushing my luck in trying to extend my road, avoiding the competitors while trying to force themselves either off the board or into each other. There’s lots of “Wait, hold on, ummmm..” while people mentally twist and turn tiles, trying to predict the best path. You’ll have a few laughs along the way, too. Since the tiles are shuffled, you’ll create a different path every time.
A couple of caveats. There is a good amount of luck involved. If you draw three tiles that don’t help, well, that’s just tough. A lot of people dislike games with luck as a core mechanic, so keep that in mind. Also, its simplicity might turn some people off. Your turn consists of placing a tile and moving your token a few inches. Those who typically play something more involved will be left wanting. Finally, there is player elimination. If you go out early, you’re sitting there, watching everyone else have fun. Still, Tsuro is a great choice. Break it out with the kids, your family or group of casual gamers.
Super simple to learn
Attractive components support the theme
Appealing to many ages
The emphasis on luck will turn some players off
Can feel a little too simple to more advanced gamers
Now get to it. The soaps are depending on you.