Dale Yu: Review of Tabannusi: Builders of Ur

Tabannusi: Builders of Ur

  • Designers: David Spada, Daniele Tascini
  • Publisher: Board&Dice
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: 120 minutes (we’re averaging closer to 160)
  • Played with review copy from Board&Dice

tabannusi

Set in ancient Mesopotamia, a cradle of civilization, at a time when the location of Ur was a coastal region, players work to build the Great City of Ur, expand its districts, and establish themselves as powerful builders.  Tabannusi: Builders of Ur features a stunning board showing the city of Ur divided into 5 regions, each tied to a specific color die. There are 3 building districts, 1 temple district, and 1 port district.  As many gamers in my generation will know, Ur is super important because it is the namesake of what may be the oldest board game ever – https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/1602/royal-game-ur.  This connection alone makes me interested in the game.

In this game, players will vie with each other to make the greatest contributions to the construction of the great city, scoring points at a number of interim scorings and then having one final scoring at the end of the game.

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The setup is a bit involved, and I have found that it helps to do this before people arrive for gamenight.  There are a number of card decks which are prepared and lots of chits to be separated, randomized and placed on the board.  Each player will end up with their own small personal board, loaded with houses of their color, as well as 2 gold, 1 bonus card and 5 claim markers (courtyard).  The remainder of the claim markers are set aside to be had later (provinces).  Each player also starts with a randomly chosen crate which depicts a die of one of the five colors – this essentially acts as a virtual die of the color on the tile.  You also get two figures, a meeple and a wizard.

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The board shows the city of Ur and the areas around it.  Broadly, there are 3 city sections (white, yellow, brown) which essentially work the same, a blue sea area and a green end-game bonus area.  Each area has a block of actions associated with that area, with one space being filled in by a randomly distributed tile in setup – to ensure that each game plays differently.  There is a boat next to each where dice of matching color are rolled and then stored.  These dice will serve multiple purposes in the game as will soon be described.  In the upper right, there are three progress tracks (in white, yellow and brown) as well as spaces for bonus scoring decree cards.

Turns are fairly straightforward.  First, you choose a die from the boat at the area where your two meeples are.  The number of the die you choose will direct you to your next location; move your wizard figure to that new location to remind you of your next destination.  Take that die and put it on your player board; it is now a resource to be used.  Second, you take two actions at your location; your options are listed in the box next to the boat in your area.  I’ll describe each area in a bit.  Third, check to see if there is an interim scoring – this occurs when a boat is fully exhausted of dice.

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So, as I mentioned earlier, there are three city areas – numbered 1 (brown), 2 (yellow), 3(white).  Each pretty much works the same with the difference being that each wants its own colored dice to be used as resources to build.  Each area is a grid of building squares (with some water and garden spaces pre-printed on the board that help separate the areas).  You can make a proposal – you place a cardboard tile down on a space, and say “We should build a (white/yellow/brown) building here”.  Buildings can be size 1, 2 or 3.  If you cover up a icon with your proposal tile, you get that bonus (gold, claim markers, water tiles, garden tiles, move your wizard somewhere, victory points, etc.).  With another action, you can build a previously proposed building.  It always costs 2 dice of the color of the region to build, with extra costs if you build on your own proposal.  You place plastic buildings down and mark it with one of your houses.  If you use proposals of your opponents, they get bumped up on the progress track matching the color of the building.  If you build next to an opponent’s garden, they also get a wild track upgrade.  Finally, after you build a building, you have the opportunity to pay a gold to place a claim marker on a ship in the blue area.   You can also choose to gain and/or play water and garden tiles.  Water tiles cost blue dice, garden tiles cost green dice.   Garden tiles can only be played on top of water tiles.  Water tiles can only be played adjacent to other water or garden tiles.

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The blue water area is numbered 4.  Here, you see a 3×3 grid of ships – many of the ship tokens are drawn at random during setup.  At the top and left are spaces for two houses.  In this area, you can spend 2 blue dice to place a house, earning either a crate or some other bonus.  You could also spend 2 gold to place a marker on one of the ships.  Each of the ships has a specific ongoing bonus that immediately activates when you place a claim marker on them.  Additionally, there are one-time bonuses given to the player who first finishes any row or column; as you would suspect, these markers are also randomly assigned in setup.  

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The final area is green, numbered 5 – holding the end game bonuses.  You randomly select three bonuses from the stack in setup for each game.  Here, you can build a house in a particular area to place a claim marker on the leftmost space you do not occupy on a bonus.  The tiles offer increasing payouts for increased numbers of markers on them.  Some of the house spaces also offer bonuses if you cover them with your house.  

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There are some other actions that can be done at any time – such as spending a die to flip a used crate back over to the available side OR collecting one of the bonus scoring cards if you meet the criteria printed on them.  If you claim a bonus card, take it off the board and take the VP or other bonuses as lifted on them.   There are also 6 other action tiles that are randomly placed in the areas to let you do things like flip crates over, get a gold, or get a water and garden tile.

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While this sounds pretty complicated, in practice, it is surprisingly smooth sailing.  Look at where your people are.  Take a die and move your wizard guy to the new area.  Take 2 actions where your meeple is.  Move your meeple to the wizard’s location.  That’s it. 

So how do you score?  Well, the progress of the game is marked each time a boat is emptied of dice.  In a 3p game, each boat has 6 dice in it.  When the last die is taken, there is an interim scoring at the end of that turn.  You only score the region which has the empty boat.  After scoring, all dice of that color are returned to the board and rerolled to be put in the boat.  If you had to give up at least one die, you get a consolation prize – a bump on the track for white/yellow/brown, a water tile for blue, a garden tile for green.  Also, the player who took the final die in the boat gets a gold token as a bonus.

For the 3 city sections, each player scores their buildings.  You multiply their size (plus bonuses for orthogonally adjacent gardens) by their point value – this is determined by how far up you are on the progress track of that color.  

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For the water area, you look at each of your houses and score one point for each boat claim marker in that row or column.

For the green area, you score each of the three bonus tiles based on how many markers you have on them and the board state which they refer to.

The game continues on until this has happened five times.  After the fifth interim scoring, the current round finishes so that all players have had the same number of turns.  Then there is one more round played.  After that  final round, there is final scoring – which is simply to score the five areas as noted above.    Then, each player reveals their secret  building card received in setup, and scores 10 pts if they have the minimum number of buildings in the designated areas.  The player with the most points wins.

My thoughts on the game

Well, when I first started reading about this game, it was with some Trepidation.  Board&Dice over the past few years has produced a Tremendous line of games all starting with the letter T.  In general, all of these games have Trended on the complex side, most of them coming in over Two hours in duration.  I’ll admit that normally games this length are not my jam, but given how well these games are regarded by other gamers, I continue to try them because I do have some severe FOMO.

When I first opened the box, I was confronted with the FORTY page rule book.  Yea, 40 pages.  I started to read through the rules, and then I was glad to hear that one of the other guys in my group had learned at BGG.con, and he would be able to teach.  I still tried to read the rules, but I was quite relieved to not have to teach this one from scratch.  Our rules explanation ended up taking about 40 minutes, but honestly, I felt like I had a good grasp of the game at the end of it because the turn structure was pretty easy to digest, and once we started to play, I felt like I could easily determine what my options were on each turn.

Now, everything about the game wasn’t smooth sailing; I thought that some of the iconography was hard to grok, and some of the design choices were not good for me (I had a very hard time seeing the spaces on the island restricted for a 3p game versus 4p game and I also had a very difficult time seeing the difference between a regular upgrade and a wild upgrade).  But on the whole, the mechanics of learning and playing the game were really good as compared to some of its peers.

From what I see, this game really wants you to be a good advance planner. The ways to score points are straightforward, but you have to get your meeple to the right place (at the right time) to accomplish those things.   As far as scoring points goes; many of your points are going to come from your buildings – a combination of their size and your progress on the corresponding track.  You’ll have to figure out how to find enough time to do both.  Building the building is generally easier, just collect two (or more) dice of the right color, and you can build a proposed building.  You can make your buildings bigger by having orthogonally adjacent gardens – whether you build next to one or you figure out how to plop a water down and then a garden next to it.

Influence on the tracks is a bit trickier.  Sure there are a few spots on the board which just give you a bump if you take a particular action or if you cover an upgrade space with a proposal or house.  Otherwise, you’ll get bumps in a color if an opponent builds over one of your proposal spaces.  Additionally, you’ll get a bump in the color of your choice if a new building is built next to a garden tile that you own.  You can definitely try to steer people towards your buildings, but there are times when they simply will choose not to build your proposals to prevent you from getting the bonus influence bumps.  However, if you can work together with your opponents, you can hopefully provide buildings that they want to build in order for you to get the bumps that you want.  You could always build your own proposals, but then you get no influence bumps and you must spend an extra die to space that you have proposed; and this gets super expensive!

The boat area doesn’t give many immediate benefits, but the boat bonuses can be huge. In our games, a bonus of 2VP for each house placed was used often.  The one time bonuses for the row and column are of varying effect; a lot depends on whether you can use the particular chit – but even if you don’t use them, they are worth 3VP each at the end of the game, so they are worth pursuing.   In my first game, we had a player who did a lot of boats early, and while his game started out slow, he was able to have so many extra actions/abilities for the rest of the game that he quickly overwhelmed us. 

Likewise, the green bonus area is something that you should think about doing at some point, but you may need to figure out what you have accomplished so you can pick which bonus criteria you are trying to score.

But then there’s the timing and availability issue.  When you choose a die from the boat in the area, you have to go to the area corresponding to its number.  Sure, you can always pay a gold to go wherever (or maybe cover a move-your-wizard icon with a proposal) – but your next location is often determined by what dice are left.  So – you have to always look at where you are going next, and honestly, where you might go from there.  

It helps to keep an eye out for the relative number of dice in each boat because areas only score when the boat is empty, and depending on how your game goes, some areas may only be scored once at the end of the game!  In our first game, due to the boat-heavy strategy that two players were playing, that region scored twice in the run of play and one of the Ur city sections actually only scored at the end!  Trying to get the areas that you are heavily invested in is definitely a viable strategy tactic.

For a longer game, I found that I was engaged through the whole game, and the story arc of the game feels natural.  The scorings do not happen equally in time, and this gives an interesting tempo – you can kind of see how dice will disappear (based on the numbers that you can see), but there are enough ways to change the destination of your wizard to make the whole thing fairly unpredictable.

I’m generally not a fan of super long games, but this one works for me, and I felt it played out well in our group.  It is my favorite of the “T games” series.   I’m definitely interested in trying it again – both in multiplayer and solo forms.  As with most B&D releases, there is a fairly robust system for solo play – with its own rules and components.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Lorna: I enjoyed it more than the other 2 recent “T games.” The action choices tied together better for me and initially had a favorable opinion. Subsequent plays were less enthusiastic as I found the semi cooperative part to not work well for me.

Mitchell: I played Tabannusi three times with two players. Although there are some very interesting ideas, especially the use of dice to anticipate your next moves, I found the game tedious and lengthy. Possibly it is much better with three or four players as the importance of setting up structures for others to complete would become more meaningful. I also had a hard time internalizing the rules and found that the different scoring options never quite came together. 

Dan B.: I’ve played twice (once online, once in person). I agree with a lot of what Dale says – the game is mostly pretty straightforward once you get into it, and flows well – I ended up not enjoying it as much as I hoped because of the way the player interaction works. I am certainly not against player interaction in a game (most of my favorite games are old-school Euros with tons of it), but Tabannusi’s sort-of-cooperative interaction just seemed off. As Dale notes, it’s extremely inefficient to build on your own proposal tiles, so generally you can’t do that, which means you build where other players deign to place tiles, whether that fits in with your plans or not. On the flip side, you have to guess where other players will want to build so you can place tiles where they would be useful, and if you guess wrong you may be out of luck. Possibly the game should be played with lots of negotiation, but it’s not the kind of game I care to inject that into. (I suspect that unlike Mitchell I would prefer the game with two players.)

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale 
  • Neutral. Lorna, Mitchell, Dan B.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Essen 2021, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

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