SdJ Re-Reviews #22: Torres

  • Designer:  Michael Kiesling, Wolfgang Kramer
  • Publisher:  F.X Schmid, Rio Grande
  • Players:  2 – 4
  • Ages:  10 and Up
  • Time:  60 Minutes
  • Times Played:  > 50

Torres Cover

Torres: Burgenland and Terra Turrium mix with mechanics meant for Tikal…

Kramer and Kiesling started their collaboration on Torres while they were still working on Tikal.  Some of the mechanics in Torres were part of Tikal’s original design, and the similarities between Torres and Tikal have led Torres to be considered an honorary member of the Mask Trilogy (which includes the games Java and Mexica).  But Kramer’s flirtation with what would eventually be called Torres actually goes back much further, to an exceptionally rare game called Burgenland.  

In 1986, ABRA produced a wooden version of Burgenland, an abstract strategy game that used a very basic action point allowance system.  The goal of the game was to get your pieces on each of six different levels.  Only 150 copies of Burgenland were produced, making it one of Kramer’s rarest games.  A beautiful plastic version was released in 1990 under the name Terra Turrium by Franckh-Kosmos as part of their Edition Perlhuhn series, with only minor rules changes from Burgenland.  That edition seems to also be relatively scarce, though not nearly to the degree of Burgenland.  (Jay Tummelson received a faxed copy of the Torres board at the 1999 Gathering of Friends.  He was so excited to demo the game that he borrowed Terra Turrium pieces from Ted Cheatham so he could teach people how to play.  Greg Schloesser ended up being one of the people that demoed it, playing with Ty Douds, designer of Victory & Honor.)  

Terra Turrium

F.X. Schmid released Torres in Summer 1999, only a few months after Tikal.  Rio Grande followed.  Rumor was that the release date — which was shortly after the SdJ jury’s spring cutoff — was timed so that Torres and Tikal would not compete against each other for the red pöppel.  An F.X. Schmid representative famously declared almost a year before the ceremony that Torres would win the SdJ.  She was right.

The jury praised the game’s smooth gameplay, intuitive rules, and solid production value.  The win was Kramer’s fifth, a record that stands to this day.  Kramer and Kiesling are the only team to have won the SdJ multiple times.  

Despite winning the SdJ, Torres did not achieve the same awards recognition that Tikal did.  It ranked second in 2000 Deutscher Spiele Preis voting.  It was nominated for the 2000 Gamers’ Choice Award (forerunner to the International Gamers Award), but it lost to Tikal.  

Whereas Tikal went on to sell over 600,000 units, Torres sold only 298,000, a number well below the SdJ average (though still a number that would thrill any publisher).  This is likely due, at least in part, to the game’s complexity: its BGG weight rating is the second highest of any SdJ winner (El Grande is the peak), and German families were reportedly taken aback by the game’s difficulty level.  The following chart shows the BGG weight for each SdJ winner:

SdJ Weight Chart

Torres is long out of print: the most recent edition was Rio Grande’s 2005 version.  Nonetheless, the game can be obtained without much effort or expense, and you can play online at Yucata.  It is one of the few SdJ winners post-Catan to have never received an expansion or a spinoff.  

The Gameplay: Rebuilding castles using action point allowance….

I’m going to walk through the 4-player game: the big difference in the two, three, and four player games are the number of rounds in each phase and the number of towers each player takes from the common supply at the start of the round.  All pictures are from the original Rio Grande edition.  

Torres Board

Each player takes their chosen color of pawns, a Codex (i.e. player aid) for their color, and the appropriate deck of cards.  The components for the blue player are shown above.  Each player also receives a score marker (not pictured).

There are three phases in a game, and in the four-player version, there are four rounds in the first phase and three rounds in the second and third phases.  Each player taxes two tower blocks for each round, setting them in stacks of two.

On a player’s turn, he has five action points to spend in any order.  The following actions can be taken:

  • 2 Points: Add a knight.  A new knight is placed on an empty space on the board adjacent to a knight of the same color.  The space where it is added must be at the same level or lower.  
  • 1 Point: Move a knight.  A player may move a knight one orthogonal space and only up one level per move.  A knight cannot be moved to spaces occupied by the king or another knight.  The castles have doors, and a player may travel through a castle for one AP, regardless of the castle’s size.
  • 1 Point: Place a tower block.  A player may only place tower blocks from one of the stacks before him: in other words, on the first turn of a phase in a four player game, a player may only place two tower blocks.  Unused tower blocks may be reallocated to other stacks at the end of the turn.  A tower block cannot be placed on a level higher than the number of spaces the castle occupies (in other words, a tower can’t be taller than its surface area).  Additionally, new castles cannot be formed.  
  • 1 Point: Acquire a card.  A player may acquire two cards per turn.  A card may not be used in the same turn it is acquired.
  • 0 Points: Play a card.  Only one may be played per turn.  I’m not going to include a description of all of the action cards in the game, but some of them are quite powerful.  For example, one lets you add an extra block from the general supply, one lets you jump a knight, one gives you 7 action points instead of five, etc.  My favorite card lets you enter one door in the castle and exit another door, meaning you can move from a really low level to a high level quickly.  The only randomness in the game is the order in which a player draws his cards: each player has an identical stack.
  • 1 Point: Score one point on the score track.

Scoring occurs at the end of the phase.  At this point, there are two ways to score points: by being on a castle, and by the king’s bonus.

A knight scores points for being on a castle equal to the highest level he is on times the surface area of the castle.  For example, the blue knight on the castle in the picture below is on level four, and the castle has a surface area of four, so the blue knight would get 16 points.  The orange knight would get twelve points (level three times surface area of four).  

If the king is on a particular castle, a player scores points if he has a knight on the same height as the round phase.  The bonus points are 5 in Phase I, 10 in Phase II, and 15 in Phase III.  For example, if a player has a knight on level 2 of the castle with the king in Phase II, he’ll get 10 points.  

The last player to move places the king at the start of Phase I.  In subsequent rounds the player with the lowest score will go first and place the king.  

The player with the highest score at the end of the game wins.

Torres Piece

There are a number of variants for Torres, including a popular “Master” variant where players choose the initial placement of the castles, start the game with the action cards in their hand, and play with master cards that give additional scoring opportunities.  

Does it stand the test of time?  My thoughts on the game…

I’ve loved Torres since my first play, and I enthusiastically bring it to the table whenever I can.  In a testament to the game’s depth and replayability, I’ve played more than fifty times and still haven’t tired of it.  I consider it to be the Kramer and Kiesling duo’s best game.  

Torres is a game where people come for the components and stay for the gameplay.  I’ve had many people in my game group look at the gameboard — which is always eye catching by the third phase — and ask for more details.  But then when I get them to play, they always comment on how fun the game is.  I’ve never had a player dislike it, although I have had players comment that it can be a bit cutthroat for their taste.

And Torres is a cutthroat game.  If played well, you’ll constantly be blocking your opponents, or taking advantage of the castles they’ve painstakingly constructed.  Aggressive play is rewarded in Torres, a rare characteristic in a SdJ winner.  I don’t find it overly adversarial — and besides, I like a little confrontation in games — but I understand when people do.  

I’m a big fan of action point allowance, and I consider Torres to be the finest game with that mechanic.  Unlike the action point system in Tikal, which causes a bit too much downtime for my taste, I find the system in Torres to strike the right balance.  There are enough points for players to make big moves, but there aren’t so many points that analysis paralysis sets in.  Sure, it occasionally happens, but not nearly as often, and not to the same scale, as in Tikal.  In the end, that is the single biggest reason why I strongly prefer Torres to Tikal.

The game is easy enough to learn, although like most action point allowance games it is difficult to master.  I consider myself good at Torres now, but I think it took me twenty games or so to discover all of the different kinds of clever moves that can be executed, especially with the action cards in play.  I’ve played a few times on Yucata, which is a great place to learn some new tricks.  

Despite having a higher weight than most SdJ games, I’ve always found Torres to be quite approachable, and I’ve taught it successfully to several non-gamers.  BGG gives Torres a higher “weight” rating than Tikal, and I’ve never understood why: I think Torres is far easier to teach and grasp.  There are fewer different actions to remember, and the game, while deep, is extremely intuitive.  I don’t think of Torres as a complex game, and I’ve never introduced it to a player that had difficulty understanding it.  

The theme is pasted on, and scoring can be a bit math-y (you might need a calculator), but otherwise, I don’t know of how I’d change this game to make it any better.  I’m a big fan.  I keep hoping for a reprint.  

Would Torres win the SdJ today?  Like with Tikal, I highly doubt it.  The game is extremely well designed, easy-to-learn, and eye catching, so it does hit some of the right notes, but I think the complexity of the game would make it a better candidate for the Kennerspiel des Jahres than the Spiel des Jahres.    

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Andrea “Liga” Ligabue: I find Torres an excellent game and a very good design and I think it deserve the SDJ. I think it will sell good also today but I’m not sure it could win SDJ today. I also like a lot the mechanic with “point action allowance” and Torres works perfectly. What I think it misses is a theme: it looks like (I really like that) nowadays the theme have a more important role than years ago, also in “abstract” games.

Patrick Brennan: Not one of my favourites as it’s very abstract, thinly themed, suffers ‘newbie’ syndrome, and the importance of seating order and the advantage of going last in the last round where you don’t have to protect anything is too high. Despite its problems and the uneven pace of the game over the 60 minutes it takes, it does take a certain skill to play well and so it provides a decent challenge. But I confess to preferring more theme, being happy to leave abstracts to the 2 player games.

Matt Carlson: Torres was either the first or second game I purchased after Settlers, probably due to its SdJ win and the subsequent “internet” buzz. . (I don’t recall if El Grande was purchased before or after.)  It was far more interesting than the typical games I had played up to that point.  However, as years went by I found the minimal theme (I like a nice theme if I can get it) and action point system (and it’s danger of analysis paralysis) made the game fall in its place in my game library.  The action point system was quite exciting (this was my first encounter with this system), I eventually saw its drawbacks.  While I held on to it for quite awhile, it was one of the earliest “good” games I culled once I got serious about making space in my collection.  While it was fairly unique among my collection, I simply found that I had several other games around that I would rather play.  I’d play it today if someone really wanted to get it out, but I wouldn’t be the one trying to get it to the table.

Greg Schloesser:  I’ll quote Chris Wray, whose statement matches my opinion exactly:  “I’m a big fan of action point allowance, and I consider Torres to be the finest game with that mechanic.”  

Torres is a brilliant game and one of only two that I rate a “10” (El Grande being the other).  It is a true mental challenge, yet doesn’t bog down in the dreaded “analysis paralysis” that can affect other games of this ilk.  Every game I play is tense and exciting, and a game never passes without numerous clever moves being made.  

Brilliant.  

Joe Huber (4 plays): Torres is a game I heard great things about – and then I played.  And it wasn’t bad; certainly good enough to warrant more play.  But – the game didn’t get better; instead, I was enjoying it less with each play, as the abstract nature of the game became more annoying.  I finally gave the game to a coworker who was enjoying it more than I was; it’s been 15 years since I last played, and I haven’t missed it.  I’d still be willing to play, but I don’t feel any more drawn to playing it now than I did back in 2000.

Larry (1 play):  I’ve only played this once.  It was pretty good, but it did nothing to excite me and I’ve had no real desire to seek it out again.  It’s just too abstract a game to ever be a favorite.  Plus, my spatial reasoning is pretty poor, so that also lessens it in my eyes.  It’s another game that I wouldn’t have minded playing if it had a champion in my group, but we didn’t, so I never went back for a second try.  Given my lack of enthusiasm for the title, I’ll have to rate this Neutral, even though my only play was reasonably enjoyable.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris W., Greg S.
  • I like it.  Andrea “Liga” Ligabue, Patrick B., Matt C.
  • Neutral.  Joe H., Larry
  • Not for me…
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2 Responses to SdJ Re-Reviews #22: Torres

  1. dbvanderark says:

    Torres is the rare SdJ winner that I dislike. I’m with Larry, it’s hard for me to “see” the game in my head. And, like Pat and Joe, its abstract nature just didn’t grab me. Thankfully, one of my BGG Secret Santa targets had it on his wish list and I was happy to part with my copy.

  2. Torres is one of my personal favorites.
    But I dont think its a good SdJ – to abstract, to celebral. I think Citadels should have won back then

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