I know: the title of this review is probably not making you very enthusiastic about Tournay (another Medieval French Belgian town needs to be rebuilt?!), the leaner younger brother to geek darling Troyes , but hear me out. Tournay is different within the Medieval city-building genre, and it’s significantly different from Troyes. While it’s true that Troyes is more clever and maybe more enjoyable (that’s debatable), Tournay remains in my collection while Troyes passed quietly out–unwept, unhonored, and unsung. Why is that? And why are comparisons to Troyes most likely inappropriate for this game? Check out my comments below!
How It Works
Tournay is a card-drafting, city-building game for two to four players. The winner of the game will be the player with the most prestige points, gained by erecting buildings, combating events, and playing to the special criteria invoked by the prestige buildings at the end of the game.
Players begin the game with six deniers (the currency) and two citizens from each of the city’s three sectors: civil, religious, and military. On a player’s turn, he may play one card in his 3×3 grid (representing his district of the city of Tournay), and then he must perform one action. Cards are either buildings (which provide abilities when citizens activates them), characters (which activate automatically when certain conditions are met, depending on where they are placed in a player’s district), or prestige buildings (which generate points for all players at the end of the game based on certain criteria, with a better bonus going to the builder). Players may play cards on top of previous buildings and characters to restructure their cities, and buried cards score points at the end of the game as well.
- Drawing a card from one of the nine stacks (three levels in the three sectors) by using citizens of that color (one for a level 1 card, two for level 2, etc.)
- Activating a building’s ability by using a citizen of matching color
- Combating events
- Earning deniers
- Resetting your district (calling your workers home)
One of the interesting aspects of Tournay is that if players ever want to use someone else’s citizen, they may pay that player two deniers, and that player may not refuse. (This uses the citizen for the owning player, too, so it can be a point of strategy knowing when to use others’ workers.)
In each of the nine stacks of cards, there is also one town crier, which triggers events (mostly bad) for all players. These events usually involve losing money or using citizens.
The game ends when either one player has built two prestige buildings and at least one town crier has been revealed for each player in the game or two players have built two prestige buildings. Players calculate prestige points on their buildings, characters, and combated events and the bonus points for all prestige buildings, and whoever has the most points is the winner.
I’m surprised Tournay hasn’t received more buzz this year. It was at the top of the Essen buzz list in 2011, but after that, it seems that all enthusiasm for this game has fallen off. Which is a real shame, because this game is great, one of the best I’ve played in 2012.
I think part of the reason Tournay has fallen out of favor is that it is not what people expected: Troyes: The Card Game. While it’s true that Tournay is very different from Troyes, it has just enough similarities to make the games comparable, but not enough to give the “distilled” experience that people expect from “The Card Game” subtitle. For example, Tournay borrows the three types of citizens from Troyes, as well as the ideas of combating events and being able to use others’ pieces as if they were your own (by paying those players). The art is also in the same style (which I love), and at the end of the game there’s a shared bonus system. There, though, the similarities end. Troyes is a much meatier (and, at least for my typical gaming groups, a much more puzzling and mathematical) experience. Tournay isn’t just distilled; it’s a different flavor altogether. Tournay stands on its own and should be judged on its own merits.
And merits it has. There are several aspects of the game that I really like. One is the spatial element. Tournay is essentially a tableau-building game. In this respect, it’s similar to Race for the Galaxy or even 7 Wonders. The cards you add to your district have effects and synergies. But what makes Tournay unique is that these synergies are often spatially related. The character cards, for example, trigger their effects automatically, but only when conditions are met in the same row or column as the character. Thus, a character that triggers when a building is activated in its row or column is best placed near the buildings that will see the most use. I really like this idea.
The card drafting in Tournay is also interesting. Players may spend their turn drawing cards, but they must use citizens to do so–and more citizens to draw better cards. There is another interesting choice for every card drawn: players may either choose the face-up card (if there is one) or draw two face-down cards, choosing one and placing the other one face-up. This offers the twin considerations of not only what is best for you but also what opportunities you might be opening up for an opponent. There is almost an element of press your luck in this as well. Each card stack has a town crier in it. Drawing town criers is what triggers the end game (and triggers events). You may want to choose a different stack than you might otherwise choose just to avoid the potential town criers.
Speaking of the town criers, I really love the event cards in Tournay. Three random ones are dealt out at the beginning of the game, and they get worse and worse as more town criers activate them. (They get activated, more or less, a number of times equal to the number of town criers revealed.) Players can combat the events by using citizens and money, but this can be costly. Of course, defeated events become ramparts, which offer temporary immunity to events in the future (and score points at the end of the game). Most events are bad, but some are good, giving bonuses to whoever has the most of a certain color in their district.
I like the prestige building scoring at the end of the game. Similar to the characters in Troyes, the prestige buildings (level 3 cards in each color) offer points to all players at the end of the game, but the builder receives a bigger bonus. So, for example, a building might offer 1 point for each yellow citizen other players have; it might give the builder 2 points for each yellow citizen. The difference in Tournay over Troyes is that these buildings are public knowledge, at least once they’re built. I like this Puerto Rico-esque notion of all players benefit, but the builder gets the privilege.
The game lasts sixty minutes or less, which is a boon to lunchtime players. (In fact, the game can usually fit in the hour with a rules explanation, at least with otherwise experienced players.) The game moves at a brisk pace that is always interesting because players can only perform one action per turn. Tournay is always interesting because things can affect you on others’ turns. They can buy your citizens or trigger events, or they can copy your building abilities using roads and bridges. Tournay is not “multiplayer solitaire” as other games in this genre are often accused of being. The game plays well with two, three or four players, but I prefer playing with three or four.
The only thing that hinders all these bright comments about Tournay is that it is somewhat hard to teach. Not Troyes hard, mind you, but maybe Race for the Galaxy hard (although I would say it’s a little easier than that because the player aids are very helpful, unlike in Race for the Galaxy). The game is mostly language-independent, so rest assured that there are lots of icons, some easier to discern than others. Add to this the many moving pieces involved in the game, and new players are thrown off right from the get-go. The icons become almost second nature after a game or two, and the game feels like a seamless whole once it’s learned, but you have to make it to that point. (I’ve found that the game-ending conditions are confusing for new players as well, so I try to announce when it looks like the game might be ending soon.)
I should talk briefly about the components. The cardstock in Tournay is fantastic. It has a nice linen finish, and the cards shuffle well. (I still put them in card sleeves, but this isn’t absolutely necessary with this game as it is with some others.) The art in Tournay is among my favorite in any game, though this is clearly subjective. (I know @Futurewolfie, for example, is more excited by dragons and spaceships and ghouls than Medieval architecture.) The wooden and cardboard bits work well. My only complaint is that the 10-coin bits are cards rather than cardboard. This is a very minor complaint in an otherwise fine box of bits.
All told, Tournay is a great game. It easily fits within the lunch hour, has good flavor and bits (even if the theme is a little worn), and it offers compelling decisions. I mentioned at the beginning of this article that Tournay remains in my collection while Troyes moved on. The reason? People will actually play Tournay with me. Yes, it’s a little difficult to parse at the beginning (and it’s certainly not a gateway game), but after a game or two, Tournay just clicks. The pieces of the game mesh well together, and a path to victory is a little more clear. There is also a lot less mental math. Tournay is not as deep as Troyes, but it makes a great lunchtime game: adequate depth, interesting decisions, engaging art, quick pace, and, above all, fun. If you’ve not played it, I highly recommend giving Tournay a try.