Teaching Time: 10 mins
Playing Time: 60 mins
Setup Time: 5 mins
Value For Money: Mid
Winner of the Spiel Des Jahres in 2000, Torres is a Euro style game of building and scoring castles that could be considerably more gateway than it actually is. It comes with a box full of plastic castle pieces, but the question is, does its gameplay justify the contents, or even the SDJ win?
Gameplay consists of turns where players have 5 action points that can be shared around placing and moving knights, placing tower pieces or drawing cards. At the end of each of three rounds players score points for knights based on the size of their current castle and the height of the tower they are on in it, plus bonus points if they share their current castle with the king, and that’s pretty much it.
Which should all be so simple, but its not. To explain some of why that is I’ll need to go a little more in depth into a description of the gameplay, so if you’re familiar with the game feel free to scan over this section. There are always 8 castles, never any more or less, and each player always has 6 knights. While its possible to block a player from sharing your castle by using your knights to block their path, since only the highest sat knight in a castle ever scores its rarely a useful move. As such, what can often happen is that castles, especially large high scoring ones, get shared among players. When this happens, there’s really no point extending the castle, since the result is net zero gain, and often hoping up another level to gain a multiplier bonus (knights score for the base size of their castle multiplied by the height of the tower they occupy) simply gets replicated by the other player. This potential stalemate is avoided largely by the game ending after three rounds, which is generally not long enough for things to settle down, but its looming from the middle game onwards.
To avoid this the game has cards with a range of powers, which if drawn mean that the later rounds have some variety, not all players having pulled the same card. The issue is that the idea of drawing a random card with a random power seems to offend the Euro soul of the game, meaning that rather than drawing one card off the top of the stack players draw three, select one, then put the remaining two back onto either the top of bottom of the stack. Its not a huge thing, it doesn’t take hours to figure out or tons of referring back to the rules, but it’s a little piece of extra fiddling that just feels like a piece of grit in the machine of what should be a simple and elegant game. Its not the only one either, with various moments sitting just a little more complex than they should be. So, for example, the game is split into three phases, each of which is split into a number of rounds, each round is designated by a number of turns. Phases, rounds, turns, all of which have specific rules attached, its just a tiny bit fiddly to work with. Each turn players have a designated number of tower pieces, if they don’t use them all they can share left overs across their stock for future turns, but not if that stock would then be over three, in which case the excess is discarded. As mentioned each player has 5 AP, it costs one to place a tower part, 2 to place a knight, 1 to draw a card, which can’t be played until the following turn, at which point it costs 0 to play, 1 to move a knight one space, unless its through a tower in which case its as many spaces as the tower crosses, knights being able to climb up one space but not two but down as many as they like. None of it is impossible, its not even really complex, but also none of it is really elegant. In the end, it feels like it lacks the complexity to interest the hardcore gamer and the elegant simplicity for the gateway. Certainly, there is a group of gamers that this still sits with perfectly, but for some, myself included, its in an awkward place of too complex to be simple, but not complex enough to offer real depth. One real problem is that if a game does hit the sort of stalemate that can occur, the bonus points offered by the king can be the deciding factor, which is an issue since gaining those in the first round is a lot easier for the last player, who places both their first knight and the king. For a game concerned enough to Euro the card drawing in the way this does it feels like an odd oversight to give a significant advantage like this to the player who happens to be sitting to the right of the youngest player.
How does it sit as a winner of the SDJ then? It doesn’t feel totally out of place, coming after Tikal it gave the mighty Wolfgang Kramer back to back wins, and I for one don’t begrudge him them. It comes the year before Carcassonne, and it might be significant that Board Game Geek lists 103 expansions for Carcassonne and zero for Torres. Torres is in the region of a gateway Euro game, and it has something of a table presence with its stacked-up towers, which are two things that feature fairly regularly in the awards, so it makes sense. It doesn’t sit totally cleanly in a typical tabletop sub-category, being a little resource management, a little tactical movement and largely abstract, which makes it a little unusual as a winner, but not enough to stand out. In the end, it has the sort of Euro light interaction that the prize loves, blocking is possible, but not a major feature, and mostly you’re maximizing your sandcastle building rather than kicking over those of others.
There are advanced scoring cards that bring a little spice to later play throughs with extra points for completing certain patterns of deployment. These reward some future planning, but being open they generally just create a layer of puzzle than a real difference between player positions. As a rule, its possible to calculate whether going after them is worth doing as a fact rather than a tactical opinion, which is a pity. In the end, this is the sort of game where people who have the knack of abstract optimization will come out ahead, and if two players are closely matched in that field the difference will come down to some slightly random events, which is a pity.
Overall, Torres was a comprehensible winner of the Spiel, if not maybe a stand out and super deserving one. Twenty years on I couldn’t recommend it, the things it does well have been done better and the things that it does not so well are capable of ruining the good bits for fans of those same good bits. If you love abstract Euros hard and have a regular opponent you enjoy having very close games with, this will offer the option to achieve that pretty swiftly, and you might enjoy getting to the nitty gritty of a few slight differences between otherwise totally symmetrical sides. But otherwise, you’re unlikely to be missing out on too much by skipping over this one.