Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tigris & Euphrates

Developer: Reiner Knizia
Publisher: Hans im Gluck Verlag GmBH / Game Table Online
Release Date: 1998
System: Something that runs Java
ESRB Rating: Huh?
Official Website

Today's Game for Lunch comes from guestblogger Greg Costikyan of Manifesto Games and Play This Thing.

In a nutshell: German boardgame goes online.

0:00 I've spent way too much time playing the online version of Ticket to Ride, a "Eurogame" designed by Alan Moon, and I'm interested to see whether other online implementations of German boardgames are as compelling. Tigris & Euphrates is often held up as the masterpiece of Reiner Knizia, a highly regarded Eurogame designer, and has an online implementatiion of this. I've read the rules online, but am pretty uncertain of them, and have no copy, nor have I ever played, a physical version of the game. I'm also a little nervous about this format for reporting on a game in this context, because I'll be playing against other real world players online, who are unlikely to be happy with me if I pause for five minutes to write up my impressions of the -last- five minutes. I'll try to jot things down and expand them later, but it may be that this format is just not feasible for this style of game.

Anyway: What I've gleaned from the rules is that I can earn four flavors of "victory points" (red, blue, black, and green), and that my actual victory point total is the smallest of these at game end, so I want to try to increase all in tandem. I have four leaders, one of each flavor (king=black, priest=red, farmer=blue, trader=green), and one of the actions I can take each turn (I get two) is to place a leader on the board. The board has a square grid; some squares start with temples (each has a treasure). "Temples and tiles with a common edge are a 'region' and any region with leader is a kingdom." I'm not clear at this point whether a "kingdom" can only be a temple and the four tiles adjoining orthogonally, or whether tiles can be extended from those that adjoin the temple to make the kingdom larger, but I'll find out.

Anyway, apparently kingdoms aren't "owned" by players; instead, any and all players can have leaders in a kingdom--but each player has to have a different flavor (color) of leader, or there's a conflict.

Another action you can take in your turn is to place a civilization tile -- they come in the four colors; blue can only be placed on rivers, others can be placed anywhere. You earn a victory point of the tile's color, if you have a leader of the same color in this kingdom; if no one has a leader of that color, the king (black) of the kingdom, if any, earns it.

You have two catastrophe tiles; you can play one as one of your two allowable actions each turn; it destroys the underlying tile. But you can't place it on a treasure, monument, or leader. It can 'distrupt the connection to a kingdom,' so I guess kingdoms can extend beyond the four immediately orthogonal tiles to a temple. Maybe the rules should have said so to start with. Or it can divide a kingdom in two.

Another action of the two allowable each turn you can take is to discard any number of tiles from the 6 you start with and refresh with that number.

At the end of the turn, "players leaders linked with monuments" earn RP, and you draw back up to 6 tiles.

Okay, then there's something about four tiles of the same color in a square make a monument, which means anyone in the kingdom with a leader of that color earns a VP every turn for that monument. Um, okay.. And if a kingdom contains more than one treasure (which begin on temples), then the green leader in that kingdom gets the number above one, and treasures are "wild" VP, adding to your otherwise lowest total at game end.

Uh.... I think I have the basics. Can I play?

0:01 Well, no, I have to register. Okay. Need email confirmation. Sigh.

0:02 Okay, that was reasonably quick, but I guess I'd better change my password, because I'm sure not going to remember T4akp2.

0:03 Where's the 'my profile' link exactly? Um... Okay... Done. Now how to I get back to the game listings...? Okay, back to the home page, click Euphrates and Tigris. Um. Where do I click to play?

0:04 No, I do not wish to view screenshots or read the rules.

0:05 Oh, okay, 500 people a month get to be "core members" and play for free, but only get to remain core members if they play at least five games a month. Or they gots to pay. Well, screw, let's see if I can weasel in on this for now anyway.

0:06 Woah, that actually worked. And click back to the game page and... still no link to play. Um?

0:07 Okay, this is frustrating.... look at the FAQ?

0:08 Hm... "click here for scheduled game times." Okay....

0:09 That doesn't work. Hm... "players in lobbies 1... games in progress ". Maybe this just isn't going to work, through paucity of traffic?

0:10 Uh.... apparently I have to click on the link that says "gathering place," that first downloads a jnlp file (what's that? ain't seen that before) then asks me to click through that I think this site's Java is okay, sure, then after a bit another click through to verify digital signature... Yeah, yeah....

0:12 Site's certificate cannot be verified. Yes, I'll continue.

0:13 Welcome, costik, to the gathering place, a Java applet that starts screen-maximized. What is it with people? Am I the only person on the planet who has a dozen apps open typically, and switches between them? Games should open maximized. Helper aps shouldn't. No tools on the window bar, but a menu option under "Window" lets me window it.

0:15 The "tables" listing is empty. Only fellow I see is markhodgeNZ, but he seems to be chatting with some invisible folks, and says "I'm up for Tigris in 15 minutes, just reviewing some legal documents at the moment." Others seem jake with this, so I figure perhaps I'll stick, although playing with a Kiwi lawyer doesn't fill me with rapture.

0:17 Oh, no, it appears I'm reading ancient chat, since after that the other dweebs are "gg"ing all over the place ('good game'). So guess I'm shit out of luck. Going to go get a drink. Then maybe I'll figure out whether to abandon this for a bad idea or what.

0:19 Okay, back. Figure I'll say something, maybe get a response:
costik: Arma virumque cano
costik: Qui Troiae ab oris

0:20 Let's think a little about this whole setup. A fella (or group of folks, I don't know) has coded this Java player-matching applet -- I'd guess a minimum of three months time on that, and even though getting into it is a little uneven, it's serious work here. And he's gone out and gotten the rights to do online versions of Reiner Knizia's Most Famous Game, and a bunch of other things I haven't mentioned but some of which I noted right away were really cool boardgames I might want to play online. And spent more months implementing versions of them in Java, which, even if he has some core and shareable technology, is a substantial and difficult development task. I may not be God's gift to programming, but I've done enough to have a pretty good idea of the time and energy required to do this, particularly if you're a single guy, or a small group, with little to no funding to pay the bills. People worked their ass off to get this site up and running.

0:23 Not a rise from our lawyer in New Zealand, but God knows what time it is there, minus some big fucking number GMT, probably middle of the night and he hangs out here permanently, like some geeks I know on IRC. I go check to see what other games I'm not playing. Chess, Checkers, who cares. Cosmic Wimpout, vastly over-rated game. I would totally play Kill Dr. Lucky, goofy game but fun. Lord of the Fries and Nuclear War, ditto. Rest I either haven't heard of, or know even less well than Tigris & Euphrates.

0:26 Our Kiwi friend is apparently not a Virgil fan.
costik: When someone makes a move
costik: Of which we don't approve
costik: Who is it that always intervenes?
costik: UN and OAS, they have their place, I guess
costik: But when in doubt, send the Marines.

0:28 Nor a Tom Lehrer fan, evidently.

0:30 So you can imagine.... Months and months of coding, high hopes, business development with key partners, and the day comes... You launch the site! Some of the best boardgames around, now playable online! Come ye, come all.

Dang, can I sympathize.

0:33 And you know, even as I write, millions of losers are playing shit games on Miniclips and Yahoo! Games and all, and these worthy games -- well, I perhaps shouldn't say that, as I haven't had an opportunity to PLAY any of them yet, at least in this environment, although I've played Kill Dr. Lucky and Lord of the Fries and Nuclear War in their non-digital form, and can certainly attest that they're pretty damn cool games in their original tabletop formats at least -- sit here with some sleeping mouthpiece from New Zealand in attendance.

costik: I'm a little teapot, short and stout
costik: Here is my handle, here is my spout.
costik: When I get all steamed up, hear me shout
costik: Tip me over and pour me out.

0:37 So how did Days of Wonder do it with the online version of Ticket to Ride? Doubtless it had something to do with the fact that if you buy a boxed version of the game, you get a code in the rules that you can input on their site for free play for a year. That surely generated a critical mass of players to begin with -- and offering free play to others (but not the ability to start games, just to join--though you can get that, and player rankings, for $19/year without buying the board game) had something to do with it. This isn't your 1994 Internet, alas. Put it up and they won't come. Nor is Google your friend, though they pretend to be. I'd like to look at's Google Analytics, but I bet they're pretty damn dismal.

0:40 So what portion of the lack of traffic here is due to my initial problems with getting to the games, and what with the basic structural dynamics of generating traffic? Some to the former, surely; you have to make things as dirt simple as possible for people, like, say, a "PLAY NOW" button flashing obviously on the front page. I have a t-shirt that says: >select * from users where clue > 0 0 rows returned

SQL humor. But yeah, assume your users are morons. Like, say, me.

0:42 But the latter is probably more important. Days of Wonder had promo through their physical games to rely on. Yahoo has its enormous traffic, some portion of which it can funnel to its game site. How do you build an online game site that actually gets people to play? Having good games obviously isn't enough.

0:45 And obviously, if you have multiplayer online games, having a critical mass of users, so that newbies coming in and looking to play something will find a game, is vital.

costik: Is anybody out there?
costik: Cause I just can't see what we have.
costik: Is anybody out there?
costik: Cause I just see over there.

0:50 Guess not. So one way to build that critical mass is to have something that's built it already--like, say, Yahoo's traffic numbers, or Half-Life sales that give you an installed base of Steam users, or a way of piggy-backing on your boxed game sales to generate online players, as with Ticket to Ride. And certainly there are web services, and game operations online, that do it, by spending big bucks on publicity and marketing, as with GameTap, or Kongregate, or the like.

0:52 But I guess I'm not getting to play Tigris & Euphrates tonight. And perhaps have learned something about the non-openness of the supposedly open World Wide Web.

0:53 Oh wait; ding dong! Somebody came in... and left.

0:54 It isn't actually any easier to attract a base of users on the Internet than in any other medium; doing so requires either hooking into partners who already have traffic they can pipe you, or spending on marketing to attract them. Of course, for a service like this one, the actual marginal cost of supporting a user is small, so it's hard to justify charging a substantial sum for their attention, so the notion of going out and splashing big bucks on Goggle ad words to attract them to your site to generate small per-user revenues is fucking foolish... So how do you square that equation?

0:56 Looks like there might be something of utility and value here, but it also looks like there isn't an marketing approach of a viable business model to support it.

0:57 I think I'll go shoot myself now.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? I'd like to play it for an hour. Really.


Guyome said...

Hahaha, now that's not the kind of thing I expected to read here. High five!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a lesson in reality for the creators (and investors if there are any)