When people think of dragons, they tend to think of fire breathing monsters going on a rampage and being fought off by brave and noble adventurers. You know, slaying dragons and whatnot.
But did you ever think that sometimes dragons just like to take flight and soar, high up in the skies, peacefully and freely? Well, it happens. Now you know. And you can take control of a dragon doing that exact thing in the board game Tsuro. And it’s better than it sounds.
How It Plays
The goal of Tsuro is to be the last dragon standing, by placing tiles to create a flight path that avoids running you into other players or flying off the edge of the board.
Players start by placing their dragons on any starting path around the edge of the board. Then, they take turns playing tiles.
Each tile has 8 entryways/exits, 2 on each side, but the way those connect are different on each tile. When placing a tile, players can only place directly in front of their own dragon. Then, they must move their dragon along the path they just created until they reach the end of it. If this end is at the edge of the board, they are eliminated. If it runs into another dragon, both are eliminated. In addition, any other dragons whose path was extended by this tile placement must move to the end of their new path.
Players have a hand of 3 tiles to choose from when placing their tiles. Play continues until only 1 dragon remains (or until the last 2 dragons eliminate each other.)
Graceful Flight or Collision Course?
The first thing you’ll notice about Tsuro when you open the box is that it is beautiful. It’s beautiful in a serene sort of way, colorized by warm reds and yellows, simple japanese-style art, and a rulebook made to look like a tri-fold parchment.
The rules, as you may have noticed, are simple and learned in seconds. Place your dragon, draw 3 tiles, place one in front of you, I say, and take the first turn to demonstrate.
It’s not a particularly deep game. “The game of the path” is the tag line, and that’s really all their is, a path. But for a quick time waster, a filler game, something worth playing in the 10 minute breaks between games, it’s got value. Decisions are interesting enough in the early game, as you start to plan your path and think where you might end up. Do you want to approach other dragons, or stay far away? Do you attempt to plan an escape route as the game end draws near, or simply head for the biggest open space there is? They aren’t heavy decisions, and since you can only place directly in front of your dragon, analysis paralysis is avoided.
It’s a great game for younger kids as well. My 6 year old nephew loves “the dragon game” and he could easily have played it as young as 4 (although likely with much less success than he plays with today). The dragon pieces, while not miniatures, have a wonderful tactile sense to them. The path is simple and visually clean and it is entirely possible for a child to see a path just enough to make their own choice of how to place a tile and survive long enough to feel like they are making good choices.
In the end, the game likely comes down more to luck than anything; who drew the right tile that allowed an escape route into the most open area, who swung to the left instead of the right a turn or two ago. It doesn’t matter, the game only lasts about 10 minutes, and in the meantime it is enjoyable to make your path as twisty and turny as you can so you can imagine your dragon spiraling and circling through the air. “If you must go out, go out with style,” I say and encourage my friends who have no choice but to send their dragon off the board that at least they can spiral acrobatically away, which makes losing a bit more palatable.
I’m not much for player elimination, but it is okay if the game ends very quickly after the first elimination. The game ends very quickly anyways, and even more so as it gets nearer to the end and the first player is eliminated. There are, after all, only so many spaces on the board.
The game also plays with up to 8, which is good for a quick fix for a bigger group. It works as an easy tabletop party game, or when you have a large group waiting to start another large group game (or split off into 2 groups). It works equally well with 2 players or 6 or 8, although more players will change the flow of the game; in a crowded space, more players will be playing tiles that affect other dragons. Fewer players gives you more opportunity to try and set yourself up for an escape route. Either way, it’s not a deep strategy game and it’s not trying to be, and it doesn’t need to be.
For a quick fix, a filler game, a box and components that will catch the eye and have people asking “what is this?” and wanting to join the next game (and be able to, since it’s so short and easy to explain), Tsuro is highly recommended. It’s light and peaceful and enjoyable.