Calliope Games 2-8 Players Ages 8+ 20-40 Minutes COMPETITIVE
The captain stands at the wheel of his ship, casting an eye into the distant waters. A shadow upon the water catches his eye, and he calls to his navigator to identify the island that lays in his path. Suddenly, the shadow shifts. The captain grits his teeth, and reminds himself that he sails for the glory of the Emperor. The waters beside him churn, and the scales of another massive beast, a daikaiju, begin to rise out of the water beside them….
Tsuro of the Seas is a tile laying and pathfinding game, much like it’s predecessor Tsuro. It, like the original, also features gorgeous thematic artwork reminiscent of Japanese woodcuts, and easy to learn gameplay. In the sequel, however, players do not take on the role of the dragon riding on currents of air. Instead, players take on the role of a ship’s captain navigating the ocean waters, following twisting ocean currents. The board is slightly larger than it’s predecessor, laid out in a 7×7 grid, leaving a little more room for players to follow the winding paths laid out.
The players navigate their ship by laying square tiles each marked with 4 paths. Each path connects two of eight points on the edges of the tile in a staggering variety of combinations. Paths can twist, turn, cross and loop back on themselves depending on how they are laid out. Much like in Tsuro, the players must follow the path as laid out until it ends, so the late gameplay can result in some pretty interesting paths to snake along as more tiles are played on the board. As with the original, following a path off the board or into another player results in elimination from the game, and the last player remaining at the end of the game is declared the winner.
Where gameplay starts to differ greatly from Tsuro is in the presence of the dragons (aka daikaiju). Changing the players to ships hasn’t eliminated the dragons from the game entirely, and instead they reemerge in the game as obstacles/dangers in the form of moving tiles. Each player rolls two six-sided dice at the beginning of the turn to determine if the dragons “awaken”. On a roll of 6, 7, or 8 the player then rolls again to determine movement of the dragons. Each tile is clearly marked with indicators for movement/rotation associated with that dragon’s role. If a dragon moves on to a path tile, the path is “eaten” and removed from the game, leading to a much more dynamic and changing game board throughout the game. Additionally (and perhaps more importantly) if a dragon moves onto a player’s ship, or if a player’s path ends at a dragon, the player is eliminated.
The dragons add a randomness to the game not present in the original, which for some players is good and for some is bad. The random element certainly levels the playing field for less strategic players, and makes it much tougher for players to plan their path more than a move or two in advance. In more than half the games I played with our kids, I found myself unexpectedly and prematurely cut off by a dragon, and quickly eliminated. I’m an incredibly strategic and competitive player, and yet found myself first out of the game, while my 5 year old or 8 year old relished in their victory. From my perspective, the randomness makes playing with mixed ages and ability levels easier, but some more strategic gamers may struggle with putting so much of the game’s outcome in the hands of dice rolls.
Final thoughts and family gaming assessment:
Tsuro of the Seas is a gorgeous, fun family game that plays well for a wide variety of ages. The tile laying element is easy enough to teach that our 5 year old was able to pick it up the first game, However, the dragon placement and movement rules added in this sequel are a bit more complex (especially determining proper order of movement), and perhaps needs a parent or older child to lead. The gameplay has some strategic elements, but is not too rules heavy, and it is easy to teach to non-gamers or younger players. For those trying to decide between this game and the original Tsuro, (and it is a choice- other than the gaming completist there is no real reason to own both) this game would be our pick. Price conscious families could certainly pick up the lower priced Tsuro to get a feel for the overall gameplay, but this sequel offers enough different elements to make it the one to pick, even despite the slightly higher price tag. With minor adaptations, the dragons could be removed entirely to allow Tsuro of the Seas to play just like a larger version of Tsuro (or even squares blocked off to reduce the board to the same size and have it play almost exactly the same). This makes the original game redundant, and drives the sequel being the preferred choice.