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Barnes on Games: Tigris & Euphrates in Review, Legendary Encounters

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02 Jul 2015 12:00 #205272 by Michael Barnes

I finally review Tigris & Euphrates...and they misspell the Editor-in-Chief's.


Hot on the heels of our interview with Dr. Knizia, my review of FFG's new reprint of Tigris & Euphrates is up on the Review Corner. This is one of the best games ever designed and it is also one I've been playing for almost half my life - and have never lost interest in it. This is the very definition of a timeless classic and it's a great way for FFG to kick off their Eurogames Reclamation Project Euro Classics line. Fortunately, it is also one of the good FFG reprints- respectful, modern and with some new value-adding options. I hate that we're losing the great Doris Matthaus illustrations, but this is a damn fine looking edition of the game and I actually sold my ancient Hans im Gluck printing to make way for it. Seriously folks, it doesn't get any better than this.

It is also, I think, one of the key games that supports my argument that a game does not require pictures, text or nomenclature to be thematic. Because what most people see as theme is actually more appropriately termed setting. This is a richly narrative game with a very distinct perspective on how ancient civilizations rose, expanded, and dealt with conflict. The themes are tied to key concepts of civilization, territory, prosperity, religion and leadership. The theme is not "Mesopotamian empires". That's the setting. The story and its themes are depicted and illustrated by the actions the players take and how these interact with the mechanical structure, not by paragraphs of card text and tons of pictures.  And as such, this game is far more "dripping with theme" than Arkham Horror or similar games ever were.

Another game that has recently been lauded as "dripping with theme" (gag) is Legendary Encounters. I got a hankering to try it based on one of my writer's reviews for it so I picked one up. Before I get into this, I want to state up front that I like it a lot, at least from two solo plays of the Alien scenario.

However, I don't think I've ever seen a license more poorly handled in ANY game. This includes dreck like that awful Batman game that Wizkids did a couple of years ago. And all you've got to do to see this is to look at the title. Legendary Encounters. WTF is this game about? Oh, there's a Marvel game called (for some reason) Legendary...does it have something to do with that? OH HANG ON, there's a subtitle- "an Alien Deckbuilding Game".

Seriously, why would you bother with getting a license- a very popular and woefully underused one in tabletop gaming- and then practically hide the fact that it's an Alien game? It makes no sense at all that this game isn't called effing ALIEN. Or "ALIEN SAGA" or something to that effect that tells the world up front what it is. I hate to break it to you, Upper Deck...but there are exponentially more people in the world that recognize the Alien brand than those that have any idea what Legendary is. Such a misstep. And then on the back of every card- no cool faux-Giger background, just that navy blue with the gold Legendary logo. That looks like 1995. What a pity those are all laid out on a really cool playmat. Guess I can sleeve them just to avoid being reminded that I could mix these cards up and have Daredevil battle Xenos for some idiotic reason.

But then it gets worse. I completely savaged Legendary for having such awful artwork, especially since it was a comics game and there was apparently zero effort to use any actual comics artwork. But this game actually looks WORSE than Legendary! Instead of going the CORRECT GF9 route and using stills from the film, they hired what appear to be the same artists that couldn't fucking draw to draw these cards. And since these cards mostly depict characters portrayed by real people, the results are STAGGERINGLY awful. The aliens, facehuggers and so forth look fine. But the people are so badly drawn that they are almost unrecognizable. There's one card in particular, Sister Ripley, that could not possibly have been drawn by someone who has ever seen Sigourney Weaver. The characters are almost laughably bad, which really spoils the atmosphere when you're playing a game that gets the themes and concepts right in a great setting, but blows it with crude comic art that wouldn't past muster in a D-list DC book.

But I really like it, so there's that too.

More Forbidden Stars, have played a few solo outings, a couple of two player games and a four player. It's really good, but I'm actually thinking about not reviewing it. I just don't really have anything interesting to say about it. It's really good *shrug*. It brings forward ideas from StarCraft *shrug*. It makes good use of the 40k setting and may be the best 40k board game aside from Space Hulk *shrug*. Maybe something significant will come out of all that that's worth writing about, I dunno. There are a few things I _love_ about it, especially how the objectives work. I also really like how streamlined it is for the type of game it is. I think I'd still likely choose Hyperborea, Kemet or Cylcades over it for more than three players. It's especially good with two, which those games aren't.

The following user(s) said Thank You: ChristopherMD

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02 Jul 2015 12:17 #205273 by Legomancer
I haven't seen the Legendary Aliens artwork, but the idea that a picture of Ellen Ripley has to look like Sigourney Weaver is weird to me. Ripley is a character, who was played by Weaver. She's not Weaver herself. Just as I get tired of Star Wars art that is just "look how well I can draw Harrison Ford" I don't need an artist to faithfully capture the look of an actor, I want the artist to capture the spirit of the character. Nobody ever insists that any artwork of Paul Atreides must look like Kyle MacLachlan or that Dorothy Gale must always look like Judy Garland.

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02 Jul 2015 12:24 - 02 Jul 2015 12:27 #205274 by Mr. White
Maybe because in the above example the latter characters were originally literary characters, whereas (unless I'm wrong) the former had their first appearance on film?

Debating on this T&E game. My main group has moved back to almost exclusively minis and rpgs and I wonder if this is too many steps up for The Casual Players Club. Plus, I'm fishing around for LotR + F&F at the moment. Still, how heavy is T&E compared to say, Settlers? Again, I'm thinking of casual players here who like Settlers.
Last edit: 02 Jul 2015 12:27 by Mr. White.

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02 Jul 2015 12:30 #205275 by Michael Barnes
That's exactly right. When a character is introduced in a film, that is the character's identity and how we identify them. You don't suddenly decide that you want Ripley to have blonde hair or look like someone else. Because Sigourney Weaver's look is Ripley's look, and that's very different than something like Dorothy Gale or Paul Atreides, where we have the luxury of interpretation.

The spirit of the character is intrinsically tied to the appearance of the actor or actress, because there again the visual interpretation is completed by the art director, the stylist, wardrobe, makeup and the physical presence.

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02 Jul 2015 12:54 #205276 by Gregarius
It's entirely possible that they acquired the rights to the characters, but not the rights to the actors' likenesses. It may be deliberate that they kinda look like the actors, but not exactly.

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02 Jul 2015 13:01 #205282 by Gregarius

Mr. White wrote: Still, how heavy is T&E compared to say, Settlers? Again, I'm thinking of casual players here who like Settlers.

It's definitely a step up. I don't think the rules are any more complex, but the brain-freezing possibilities and consequences can be intimidating. I'm sure your group could handle it, but I'm not so sure they'd find it fun.

I'm with Barnes, though. It's been my favorite game since the first time I played it many, many years ago. And I love when he uses it to illustrate the difference between theme and setting. "Amen, brother!" I say from the choir.

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02 Jul 2015 13:06 #205284 by Gary Sax
Counterpoint to your worst theme use ever---Batman: Love Letter?

Re: Forbidden Stars. I get where you're coming from. It's the type of thing that makes more sense if you're talking about strategy in the game, or faction strengths, or something substantively about the game. But as a game that's pretty derivative of other games, in a good way, that's a tough review.

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02 Jul 2015 13:28 - 02 Jul 2015 13:30 #205290 by VonTush
I'm starting to buy into the theme v setting thing, but I still feel that some settings have inherent/assumed themes which means that there are times that setting does equal theme...But that's beside the point.

With T&E, is it great because it is a great design? Or great because it is a great game? To me it sounds like a great design, especially when viewed from a thematic angle. But great designs for me, while enjoyable to experience and explore, don't always mesh up to make a great game (Mage Knight for me for example).

Regarding Forbidden Stars, what I'd be interested to hear about it more how it fits into the narrative of FFG's string of games taking on the 4X approach because we know FS will be good, designed well and has amazing production, it is a tentpole game for the year and it won't flop. But I feel that these games - TI2, TI3, Starcraft, Runewars, Civ:TBG, Forbidden Stars are almost a reflection and encapsulation of FFG"s design paradigm and theory at the time.
Last edit: 02 Jul 2015 13:30 by VonTush.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Michael Barnes, Gary Sax, Frohike

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02 Jul 2015 17:21 #205306 by Michael Barnes
That's a good point about the likeness issue, Greg...that is a problem with Vasquez in particular. Jeanette Goldstein has never allowed her image to be used in any Aliens products, so there is no Vasquez in this game. Which sucks! But it's pretty clear that in most of the cases, it's just that the artist struggled with drawing human faces.

VT, that is a great way to approach Forbidden Stars and that may be what I do with it. It does feel like kind of a culmination of the things that they've done while also feeling like a reduction of what they had built up to with Runewars, Middle-Earth Quest and some of those more rangy designs before they refocused on doing serial products.

On T&E, regardless of what troublemaking hoodlums like Matt Thrower would say, it is a great design and a great game. It definitely follows on from Acquire and has some principles from abstract games...but what is there is fun, interactive and dramatic. The things you are SUPPOSED to like.

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02 Jul 2015 20:57 #205317 by VonTush
How well would T&E fit into the ERP?

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03 Jul 2015 02:17 #205321 by MacDirk Diggler
I have had T and E for ten years and maybe have that many plays on it. it just isn't that sexy that it jumps off the shelf. I think it's a solidly designed game, but whenever I am hosting a session at my house nobody says, " Oooh, I've been dying for some T and E. Ra is probably my favorite Knizia, but I don't own it. my wife got me Priests of Ra as a gift, but that is like Ra without teeth. I heard the podcast and have seen you laud Knizia for his "iterations" like Warhol and being able to monetize the Knizia brand. I found Priests of Ra feeling like nothing more than the latter. I don't know why it needed to be made. Furthermore, what the hell is going on with all the Knizia talk and threads wondering about player elimination. Has the internet diverted me to Fortress Economic Euro? Forbidden Stars hit the streets for Christ's sake and you can't even get horny about reviewing it? Must be bizarro world.

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03 Jul 2015 06:02 #205331 by repoman
Well speaking for myself..

Forbidden Stars Review: game is great. Have you bought it yet? If not, stop being a moron. If yes, have a cookie. You did the right thing.

Player Elimination: do you believe we are all winners just for showing up? If yes: stop being a moron. If no: have yourself a cookie. You are correct.

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03 Jul 2015 09:00 #205335 by wadenels
T&E takes a number of plays to start playing well. It's when you get to that point that the expanding and collapsing empires becomes a recognizable part of the game. It's so much more than a tile-laying game but that isn't immediately apparent, and that may be the one downside that keeps it unplayed for many people.

FYI: There's a Tigris app on Android that's pretty solid, but read the board game rules before you play. The AI is a bit predictable and always takes the same starting moves, but the game is just so good that it doesn't even bother me.

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03 Jul 2015 10:19 #205345 by Stonecutter
T&E is a game that I just don't *get* and it makes me feel like an idiot. I want to like it so badly, but I traded it away and haven't missed it. I tried playing the app version a few times and I still don't get it. I'm sure it's brilliant but it's not for me.

Can someone explain what it is that makes Legendary: Encounters so much better than Marvel Legendary? Everyone seems to say it's a huge step up but I can't seem to find anything that lays out what it does different mechanically.

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03 Jul 2015 13:06 #205352 by Michael Barnes
Mechanically, it is mostly the same as Marvel Legendary- you spend recruitment points to buy cards out of an HQ, you spend attack points to knock cards off a bad guys row before they do some kind of harm. There are chaining card effects that happen if you play certain types of cards (class specialties or affiliations). Pretty much the same thing here.

However, the #1 thing it does differently is that it makes the scenarios matter WAY THE HELL more. Each one is a multi-stage narrative with interim goals between each stage, and the Hive/Villain deck is staged accordingly. So in the Alien scenario, stage one is locating the SOS beacons. And during this part, you encounter the eggs and facehuggers. Later on Ash shows up and causes problems. There are also events keyed to the stage, so for example in the last stage you can trigger a self-destruct on the Nostromo...and you've got to beat the boss ("The Perfect Organism") by moving him out of the combat zone and into the Airlock space. You know the rest.

There are rules and concepts specific to the setting. Like how all of the Hive/Villain cards are face down as they enter the "complex" You have to scan them (spend attack points) to see what they are, and some have "Reveal" abilities. So yes, a facehugger can bust out onto your character - and you have one turn for somebody, anybody to get it off by spending three attack.

You also have an actual character with armor and HP and a special ability by way of a single card that goes into your starter deck.

Coordination is a new mechanic, and it fosters cooperation. You can put out a card with Coordinate and you effectively lend that card to another player on their turn.

Overall, it feels like some of the wonky stuff in Marvel is gone- the weird all-over-the-map difficulty, the meaningless scenarios and the sloppy attempts at narrative like those stupid bystander cards. There's more organization to the way the scenarios unfold, There's more coordination and cooperation. There are more mechanics specific to the Alien setting.

In all, I think it's by far the superior game. I liked Marvel and played it really quite a lot over a couple of months, but Alien makes it feel like that was some kind of prototype or something.

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