Will you build the most balanced civilization?
Android & iOS
# of Players
Tigris and Euphrates is the classic tile placement, area control, set collection game from designer Reiner Knizia, brought to the digital world by Codito Development. Players take turns placing tiles and leaders, attempting to gain victory points in four separate categories. Games contain many wars and hostile takeovers, with the game ending, most often, once there are no more tiles to draw. A game typically finishes in under 15 minutes and the winner is the player with the highest score.
Note that the Android and iOS versions of this app differ drastically in terms of overall features. This review is written primarily from the Android version, so there might be some small details which differ between the two. We make sure to call out the iOS-specific features throughout the review.
To play, each player gets two actions on their turn, there are four to choose from and they may use the same action twice in a turn. The actions: position a leader, place a tile, place a catastrophe, swap tiles. Each player has four leaders and they are the primary way points are earned, positioning a leader can be placing or moving one on the map. The four leaders reflect the four tile types, which are represented by color and type: Farms/Blue, Settlements/Black, Markets/Green, Temples/Red. As an example, placing a market tile which connects to your blue leader tile (either directly or through a series of other tiles), you will earn one blue point at the end of the turn. The tile and leader color must match, except a special case where a black leader (known as the King) could earn the point.
Catastrophes are placed to remove a tile and permanently block anybody from using that space again. Swapping tiles from your hand can be an attempt to gain a specific type of tile or it can be an attempt to end the game quicker, as the game will end if there are no more tiles to be drawn.
Players take turns placing tiles and leaders, trying to earn points until they run into each other either by directly placing a leader or connecting two kingdoms. These actions lead to revolts and wars, respectively. The details of the two differ a bit, but the basic premise is the same: count up the strength of your leader involved in the conflict based on board position and play more tiles from your hand to add to that strength. Ties go to the defender and the winner receives either one (for revolts) or potentially many (wars) VP, while the defeated leader is removed from the board along with additional tiles which aided in the fight.
If you place matching tiles in a 2x2 grid, you may build a monument in their place. Monuments provide points at the end of each turn, compared to normal tiles which only provide points when played. Finally, there are treasures which are placed on tiles in the starting game board, these can be earned and act as wild points, counting towards and of the four colors.
The game continues until there are no more tiles to be drawn or there are only one or two treasures on the map. Scores for each player’s four different colors are counted (these are hidden to opposing players throughout the game). The big, grand finale twist in Tigris and Euphrates is that your final score in the game is the lowest amount of points you scored across the four different colors. Say you had 8 blue, 13 red, 11 black, and 27 green at the end of the game. Your score for the game would be 8. All of those green points above 8? Wasted.
That’s a shallow overview of a deep game, how does this thing play? It straddles a few lines and feels less like a war game than you would expect given the amount of direct conflict involved. Often, somebody will incite a revolt and you might not really care so much. Since you are only as good as your lowest score, you might be perfectly willing to give up that sweet spot your blue leader is sitting in because you already have way more blue points than other colors. This isn’t always going to be the case, but it’s definitely a different feeling in a fighting game where you occasionally won’t mind losing a battle.
Another large aspect of wars and revolts is how drastically they can change the map. Tiles which supported the losing leader during a conflict are removed from the board which can cut off leaders from vital tiles. Attempt to avoid these weak points makes mindful placement of tiles that much more important. Additionally, there are often cases where a war could involve multiple leaders and these are resolved separately. If you resolve a war first which breaks up a large connected kingdom, that second conflict won’t occur. You can see the potential here. Start a two-leader war, knowing you are almost certain to lose the second, but if you win the first and it results in cutting off that other leader, you can avoid the second war. Catastrophe tiles work in a similar manner to trigger key strategic breaks in kingdoms, albeit on a more permanent basis. Oh, by the way, you can also incite wars between opposing players to really mess with things!
Tigris and Euphrates is a brilliant game, in my opinion. I’m a big fan of “your score is only as good as your lowest” mechanic, if really forces some tough decision making and, in this case, really opens the game up in conjunction with the conflicts. It is definitely one that demands some time to learn strategies, but I feel the payoff is there in spades. The game greatly benefits from the streamlining offered by a digital version, you can play a full game in under 15 minutes which puts this one fairly high on the strategy/depth/weight per minute scale.
Barrier to Entry
The app contains a full set of text rules, a full game tutorial, and in-game popup hints. The full game tutorial is a great starting point, you likely won’t have a complete handle on everything afterwards, but probably enough to get started, with a little help from the popup tips. These work well together to give you a baseline understanding and then nudge you along as necessary during your first game or four.
The text rules are an ugly wall of text, but they do act as a good reference if there are specific questions you had. Overall, you will likely need to play a few times to learn, but the app does a good job of getting you prepared, which isn’t an easy thing to do with this game.
Starting the tutorial
Early in a game
Look and Feel
The first impression the app gives off is a bit rough. The app was released in 2011 and hasn’t been updated, visually, since, and it shows. The text, which shows up on the main menu and persists throughout the lengthy learning process, is fairly bland looking. Another thing Android users will notice as a relic of the past, is the soft buttons being glued on the screen while the app is open. This, of course, has zero impact on the app or game, but it is noticeable if you’ve played more polished or recent apps. The app also takes quite a while to load on startup. On the plus side, visually, the in-game layout and visuals are well done. The game board, your tiles, leaders, and scores are all instantly available from the game layout.
The controls are extremely well done. I would like to point many current devs to this as an example of how to handle tile-placement games even where an individual space will be super tiny on a phone due to an overall large board. In Tigris you can either tap a tile/leader and then tap on the corresponding location you wish to play them, or you can drag-and-drop. Honestly, I didn’t even try drag-and-drop my first few games because how could they possibly give me a good way to drag-and-drop into such a crowded map? They pulled this off by giving you a well separated guide mark (a small plus symbol) which marks your destination. I point out that it is well separated, because other apps use similar displays, but it is frequently placed almost directly under your finger making it quite difficult to see while playing.
Elsewhere, the app does allow you to undo most actions, however revolts and wars can’t be undone out of fairness.
Tigris and Euphrates for iOS does contain online multiplayer, including asynchronous games. The Android version does not contain any online multiplayer modes. The iOS version uses a game lobby to create and join games, while games have a chat feature.
It’s unfortunate to see two different versions, but back in the early 2010’s it was lucky that the game made its way to Android at all. In either version, you can play a local pass-and-play game. The game hides tile information between turns so nothing secret is revealed.
Single player games can be played against one to three of four different AIs. The AIs represent the four player tokens available, but each can be adjusted in difficulty to one of four levels. When starting a game you can choose to make hands and scoring public or show the exact tiles remaining, these are all off by default. Your most recent unfinished game will be saved and you can resume it at a later time.
Even the easiest AI will come after you in this game, so none of your leaders are safe even against the worst bots. Especially on Android, the AI needs to be great here, and Tigris and Euphrates succeeds in delivering a stout opponent.
Civilizations are forming
The iOS version contains the advanced map version, available in the base physical game, as an in-app purchase. The map changes the board layout and therefore adds a different take on some of the game’s strategies.
The app has some stat keeping. It will keep your total games played, wins, losses, and also your ELO rating. In a fun twist, the app also keeps the same stats for all four of the AI opponents. This is kind of a silly thing, but I also think it’s fun to have those numbers available. You can reset all of the stats at any time, which is a great way to remove a reminder of how bad you are at the game.
The Wrap Up
This isn’t an easy one to wrap up as it’s a tale of two apps. The Android version dropped in 2013, is missing features, and has not been updated a single time since release. The iOS version was released in 2011 and has been updated numerous times, adding features, fixing bugs, and updating to survive the 64-bit app-pocalypse.
The iOS game, with working online play and even something as small as the different map variant, is a phenomenal game wrapped up in a dated-looking, but fully functional app. It’s an easy one to recommend, especially when you add in the challenging AI.
The Android game, is a phenomenal game wrapped up in a dated-looking, feature-light app. It’s a great tool for learning the game or playing AI, but not having online play is a big deal, especially when it exists in the iOS version. The one thing the Android version does have going for it is that it, somewhat amazingly, avoided serious bugs in its one and only version release. There is nothing game-breaking to be found, so you can happily enjoy the AI games.
I’m not really sure how to balance those two sides. This is a five star game with a four/four-and-a-half star iOS implementation and a three star Android implementation. It’s really well done overall, with only a few visual complaints, but it’s a much different game on the two operating systems. I’m going to slap four stars on this one and hope everybody actually read the review. This might be a five star app for you if you are on iOS and are a big fan of the game, or the lack of online play might make this a zero star app for an Android user. I think the game is good enough that there is a lot of fun to be had taking on the difficult AI, but it doesn’t feel great knowing I could grab my iPad and hop online while my Android phone is confined to AI games.