You are a top architect in the Kingdom of Geometria, and have been given a great task. The King and Queen have asked for grand monuments to be built in the kingdom, and it is your honor and privilege to bring about their wish. The task is not without its difficulty of course, as the Queen expects her towers tall and sturdy, while the King seeks creativity and whimsy. Can you build a monument worthy of your kingdom while suiting the tastes of both king and queen?
Tournament of Towers is a dexterity stacking game which uses a card drafting mechanism to decide which pieces each player gets to use. Players are dealt seven cards to begin a round. Each card shows a picture of one of the sixty possible pieces included in the game. Players choose one of the cards, place it face down on the table, and pass the rest of their hand to the player to their left. They then do the same with the hand of six cards they receive, continuing this process until all cards have been selected and each player has a new assortment of six cards in front of them.
Players may then line up their cards, still face down, in the order in which they’d like to place the corresponding pieces. When players have chosen their build order an “Events” die is rolled which has the possibility of changing the player’s chosen build order in various ways, or even forcing players to swap cards.
Once the event die is resolved players collect their pieces and then, in the current order of their cards, begin to build their towers. All players start with a flat foundation piece, and all pieces added to the tower must touch only the foundation or other pieces already on their tower.
Tournament of Towers features many different pieces which fall into two basic groups. Grey pieces are the basic structural pieces, such that the Queen favors. They have flat surfaces, are generally symmetrical, and help to create stability and height when being placed. There are a total of forty grey pieces in the game in ten different shapes.
The gold pieces are all different, and are as creative as they are unhelpful. Lots of round pieces and asymmetrical pieces are in this group, and almost none of the twenty yellow pieces will add any stability to the tower on which they’re placed.
When a player has placed all seven of their pieces on their tower they may choose to place a small architect figure somewhere on the tower for the scoring phase. Scoring begins when all players have finished building. The tallest tower earns three points, a placed architect figure earns one point, and each yellow piece earns an additional point. At the end of scoring the architect figure is removed and a second round begins, building onto the same tower and running in exactly the same way as the first but with a fresh set of cards. The architect must be placed higher on the tower to count the second time.
It is important to note that if at any time during the game a piece or architect figure falls from a player’s tower, that player is disqualified from the remainder of the game. The rulebook does allow for “mulligans” in certain circumstances, however generally speaking once a piece falls off of a player’s tower that player is disqualified from the game. This is sort of a drastic rule, especially if a player has a great first round and then makes a mistake in the second.
Stacking games are obviously not new a new idea, and a trip to a good game store will present you with many to choose from already. When comparing them it’s the variety of pieces and the circumstances under which you stack that make all the difference. To the first point Tournament of Towers gives the payer a very nice spread of different pieces of varying difficulty. The grey structure pieces are all well designed and allow for the building of tall towers, just as they’re supposed to. I appreciate that there are four of each shape as it allows players some consistency in their building and a chance for every player to likely get at least one of a piece they’re comfortable with.
The yellow pieces are all very interesting but almost useless for building. I know this is the point but at the same time you mostly find yourself just laying them on a ledge and ignoring them rather than trying to actually build with them or incorporate them into a design. I don’t know what the fix is to that but it would be nice if there was some way to use them that was more meaningful.
Thankfully the game’s drafting mechanism allows players some control over which pieces they’re using. I thought this was actually a smart way to run piece selection as opposed to a totally random draw or bidding or any other method. Being able to avoid certain pieces, tailor your hand towards either height or decor, choose the yellow pieces you’re comfortable dealing with, all helps to give players some control over what can become a desperate situation, especially when you enter the second round and need to build another whole tower on top of your existing tower.
While the piece selection and the drafting element are pluses, I have to say I’m not a fan of the event die element. I’m all for a touch of randomness to almost any game, however I feel that the particular brand of random the event die brings distracts from the good elements of the game. The game has you choose a specific build order. The event die can manipulate that order. The drafting mechanism allows you to choose your pieces, the event die can force you to trade a piece.
At its very worst, one second round event die result changes the point structure, giving a bonus to players who use three or more of the same piece, but since the event die roll happens after two rounds of piece selection it’s a totally random bonus that nobody can capitalize on except by accident or by playing the whole game as though that bonus will be picked. Honestly since there’s only eight events it’s likely that veteran players will do their best to brace for all possibilities while playing, designing their hands to best prepare for the various roll outcomes. And maybe some players will like doing that, but for me it just distracted from the game and becomes a way to put new players at a decided disadvantage.
My little gripe aside the game is fun. I played it with two and with four players and both ways worked equally well. The instructions were very clear and easy to read, and the little bit of thematic flavor fit the game nicely. I think it’s possible that after playing this game a number of times a player might find themselves with a series of piece combinations that they always try to stick with, so while it’s infinitely replayable I imagine that frequent players will probably get into a rut and lose a little bit of enthusiasm for it.
There’s a lot to like here if you’re a fan of stacking games. The pieces are fun and large enough to feel substantial, and the drafting mechanic adds a nice planning element and some player interaction. I’m not crazy about the event die, and it’s maybe too easy to be completely eliminated from the game, but that’s also part of the challenge of it.
Tournament of Towers is currently live on Kickstarter so go check it out, and happy gaming!
((A prototype copy was received for the purposes of this review, although that did not affect the outcome of the review. Prototype components are shown and are subject to change before final production.