Monday, February 13, 2006

"Torres" by Rio Grande Games

(Originally published in the Missoulian of Missoula, MT on 2/05/06)

In the fall of 2002, my partner Annie and I found ourselves in Paris, France. We were weeks away from finally returning to the states after our Peace Corps Guinea services, and we had taken the long way home.

To put it mildly, we were a little different. I carried around a green metal trunk whose handles had broken off. We said ‘hello’ to just about everyone, and often asked how people were doing three or four times in a conversation. To top it off, in the heart of the culinary capital of the world, we found the only Guinean restaurant and ate there once a day. We were hopeless.

Eventually, we realized we wouldn’t catch up so easily to the developed world. Since we couldn’t go back to Guinea and we couldn’t hack it in Paris, we decided to take an average of sorts. What we settled upon was the medieval town of Carcassonne, France.

Carcassonne is home to a large fortress built during the Middle Ages. It rests on a hill overlooking the town, and its many towers are even now a formidable appearance.

Let me spare you the suspense. There is indeed a game called Carcassonne, and while it’s a great game, it’s played on a flat surface. Maybe I’m being a little picky, but shouldn’t a game about a castle have at least something to do with building up?

For those of you nodding your heads, there is such a game. Its name is "Torres."

Designed by Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer and distributed by Rio Grande Games, "Torres" is a pure strategy game which involves building three-dimensional castles to impress an aging king.

Set in the Middle Ages, "Torres" tells the story of a kingdom ravaged by war. The old king, eager to choose a successor, charges his knights to rebuild his kingdom. By building tall castles and manning them, the knights win favor (points), and he or she who wins the most by the third year of reconstruction wins the throne.

Two to four valiant knights set out to impress the king. Winning favor can be done in two ways: 1) being in a castle and 2) being in the king’s castle. The latter has a flat reward, so the players’ maneuvering within the first goal becomes the central strategy of the game.

The basic rules are as follows. Within a turn, you may use up to five action points. You may place an additional knight (two points), move an existing knight (one point), add a castle square (one point), draw a card (one point), play a card drawn from another turn (zero points), or move your point marker a single square (one point). There are a host of minor rules which govern each action, but don’t let that fool you. The rules are meant to be read once, while the game is meant to be played a lot.

"Torres" is remarkable in that it gracefully combines its theme with its game play. At the end of a session, you’ll find a board filled with castles, knights, and an aging king with a tough decision. While the crown is justly passed to the most industrious and clever knight, all players can appreciate the final landscape of the kingdom and the struggle of wits needed to get there.

Annie and I finally made it back to the states, but our hearts never caught the flight. We’re forever stuck wanting a slower life, with simple food and long conversations. Until we next set foot on the dusty roads of Guinea, we’ll have to content ourselves with our in-between place - the castles of the Middle Ages, the age of kings and knights, and the simple, comforting contours of "Torres."

Cost: $44.95
Players: 2 to 4
Age: 12 and up
Time to play: 60 minutes
Rating (1 to 10, 10 being the best): 9
Additional Comments: This game is great with any number of players. The mechanics are very clever and make winning very satisfying.