There’s a magical intersection of complexity and fun that board game designers all seek to attain, a game where it’s enjoyable to play and also challenging enough to require your brain to be engaged too. Long term strategy, short term tactics, and the occasional laugh or moan as you realize you took a wrong turn somewhere along the way, that’s all manna to us gamers.
Other games are so complex that there’s no space for fun. I remember as a high schooler trying to figure out the classic Avalon Hill game Panzer Leader. The theme was right up my alley – WWII tank battles – but the rule book was so complicated and daunting that to this day I have a negative reaction to war games!
Erring on the simpler side, the board game Torres from IDW Games offers enough planning and strategy for serious gamers balanced with a fun mechanism and visually appealing design that can bring even the most casual gamers to the table. Winner of the prestigious Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) award in 2000, Torres is a 2-4 player castle building adventure.
The game is played across three “years”, the first comprised of four “seasons”, the second and third of three seasons. You can think of turns and rounds, if that’s easier. Each player gets a certain number of castle pieces each year and you can only play a maximum of three pieces on any given turn. You get points not for building, however, but for occupying a built castle: Each player has knights and points for a castle are a multiple of castle size and how many levels up your knight sits.
The start of the game looks like this:
The standard game starts with 8 castles, each player places their knight on their starting castle, and the red token is the king: Being in the King’s castle at the end of each year can be worth bonus points.
Castles can’t merge, you have to place castle pieces atop or adjacent to a piece, and you can bring additional knights into play if they appear adjacent to an existing knight of yours. Below you can see the castle parts handed out on years one, two and three for four, three and two players, left to right:
To explain, in a four player game, each player gets eight castle parts in year one, six in year two, and six in year three. Less players = more parts per player. The rightmost card is the turn reminder cheat card, darn helpful for when you’re learning. As you can see, each turn you have 5 action points, which you can use to place a new knight on the board, move a knight, place a castle building block, buy an action card or move your scoring token +1.
Knights are constrained to move down, to the same level, or up a maximum of one level in a castle. Build a tall tower and you’ll have to have shorter towers from which to work your knight’s way to the top.
Action cards offer useful variations in the regular rules, allowing you to jump up two, jump diagonally from one castle to another, and similar:
Left to right, these let a knight jump up two, allows you to place an additional castle building block from general supply, and move an unoccupied building block to another unoccupied space. All of these are darn useful because your goal is to occupy the high ground — as high as possible — in the largest castles on the board.
Here’s our game quite close to the end of our third year of play:
At the end of each year, everyone scores their castles: In our game green won, with purple coming in second and blue third place. Note the foreground castle: It spans four squares and the knight is on a second level building. That means it would be worth 4 * 2 = 8 points in scoring. The more complicated castle on the right spans 9 spaces and the purple knight is on the high tower at level 6. That score is 9 * 6 = 54 points. Not too bad!
That’s the gist of the basic game, it’s straightforward once you jump in and start playing. Knights cannot be attacked or moved by other players, so if you have the high tower, you can stay on it for the rest of the game, garnering points and focusing on other areas. Knights in other castles garner points too, so blue’s second level knight on the 9 square castle is worth 18 points.
Torres is a pretty deterministic game, however, because not much random happens and players are somewhat working in parallel rather than directly competing for resources (other than spaces), so a good player will most generally beat someone just trying to figure the game out. That can be a minus versus a game with more randomness, but that’s why there are advanced variations that involve specific “Master Card” construction goals, as shown:
Torres feels rather lightweight, and as such could be a good gateway game for people not quite ready for some of the bigger, more complex titles in the marketplace. It’s also family friendly and can work well for younger children who will enjoy the assembly facets of the game.
There are a few glitches in this particular design from IDW Games worth mentioning, however: The shape of the knight tokens is unnecessarily unstable: Ours kept falling down, which was annoying. Why not have a heavier base or more pyramid shape to make them stable? We also had problems keeping track of the season and year at times, a turn tracker on the board would be easy to implement and would help avoid arguments about game progress. Finally, the shortcut card should have three brethren in the deck: Why not one per player?
None of these detract from what proved a fun and highly kinesthetic game that I am eager to get back on the table with my friends and family. It’s easy to see why this won the Spiel des Jahres, it’s good fun, accessible and open to deeper strategies for those players who like to think far, far ahead!
Torres board game, from IDW Games and Huch! And Friends Games. $49.98 at Amazon.com
Disclaimer: IDW Games sent me the game Torres for the purposes of this review.