Any medium that is enshrined with creativity can be classed as a form of art, and board games are no exception. The implementation and design of the game mechanics – the scientific side if you will – requires a level of imagination and conviction exclusive to a few. Aside from that, there is also the visual side of games where the look, feel and style of the game is created through multiple artistic approaches, presenting a theme to enhance the scientific experience. You also have the games narrative, setting and lore that further emphasises the uniqueness of any works.
Simply put, if you don’t think board games can be artistic masterpieces, you are wrong.
Whether it’s the mechanics of Pandemic Legacy, the narrative of T.I.M.E Stories, the abstract art style of Dixit, the components of Blood Rage, or indeed the sheer simplicity, yet depth of Carcassonne – they are all just a few examples of artistic brilliance in modern tabletop gaming. Visually, there is an endless well of games that go beyond being aesthetically pleasing to look at.
However, when it comes to modern board games as art, I’m always immediately drawn to one game. A game that is deliciously simple to play and absolutely gorgeous to look at. Presenting…Tsuro – The Game of the Path.
Designer Tom McMurchie had conceived the game in the late ’70s under the working title of the Squibble Game, yet despite the patent it took 25 years to bring his concept to life, with Tsuro originally published by WizKids in 2004. By the time it hit shelves, artists Cathy Brigg and Shane Small had been drafted in to give the game an utterly mesmerising Asian spiritual theme.
There have been three versions printed with a KOSMOS version following in 2007 and then the most recent edition from Calliope in 2012, with very minor art variation in each. I own the later.
The game is a stunningly simple abstract strategy game for 2-8 players played on a 6×6 board. Players take it in turns to lay a choice of path tiles from their pre-dealt hand on the board in a empty space adjacent to their marker. They then move their token as far as possible along the line they have created before them. If their chosen path leads them off the board, or into a collision with an opposing player, then they are out of the game. The winner is last player left on the board.
Playing in as little as 15 minutes – even with eight players – the strategy is to try and force other player off the board by placing tiles. It is wonderfully simple to learn, accessible for all ages and contains a decent level of strategy and replay-ability considering the simplicity of the game.
However, as mentioned, Tsuro‘s unbridled allure in enriched by a style and design so delightfully engaging. The art style is so refined that, in my opinion, it is without doubt a work of art.
The first thing you will notice is the quality of the box, and the weight of it considering it only holds a board, 36 tiles and eight plastic markers. Upon opening the box – which is emblazoned with a stunningly illustrated Chinese dragon – you will notice a very fine and exquisitely detailed sheet of rice paper with Chinese calligraphy. It serves absolutely no purpose other than aesthetically boosting the overall presentation. The very sturdy board features a hand-drawn phoenix that steals your gaze, while the tiles are all thick, durable and feature a replica of the box art on their reverse. The rule book continues the artistic theme, again littered with hand drawn calligraphy. Despite being plastic, the player markers are again quite sublimely designed, weighted perfectly and engraved with dragons.
As an added little treat, the Calliope version from 2012 includes a wonderfully illustrated booklet telling the legend of the Greek goddess Calliope (who gave them their name). While it is not related to the game itself and is simply promotional material for the publisher, it is also delightful to look at, clearly inspired by Terry Gilliam’s artistic approach in Monty Python. The least offensive advert I have ever seen.
A spin-off, Tsuro of the Seas was released in 2012 and increases the size of the board to 7×7, adds a few new rules and features a nautical theme. Probably a better game, but nowhere near as visually striking. There is also a very rare Star Wars version called Asteroid Escape out there, but will probably cost you upward of £200 on eBay.
Looking at it as the whole, it’s enjoyable. Sure, it has the luck element and doesn’t really have any depth to it, but that is part of its charm in a round-about way. Being so easy to learn and lighting quick to play, this would be equally just at home in a family games night or a adults only party. It also works as a kids game. For me, it is a great filler that is thrown out between the heavier games and it never fails to do the trick. Not a game you long to play by any means, but a game that is also never a chore.
However, without question the art for me makes this what it is. When you break it down, it is essentially a very basic path-making game that elevates itself into something not only worth playing, but worth owning and cherishing. It is absolutely stunning.
If that doesn’t have you sold, you can very easily pick up a copy for around £20, and for something that is truly a work of art, that is a absolute steal!
Kickstarter Campaign of the Week
This week’s KSotW can only be GKR: Heavy Hitters.
Not content with creating the quite spectacular world of Middle Earth for the big screen, Weta Workshop are now turning their hand to the tabletop with this sci-fi miniature battle game in collaboration with Cryptozoic. Set in an an apocalyptic near-future, the game follows a hugely popular new sport staring “Giant Killer Robots”, using the abandoned cities of Earth as their arena for battle. While the gameplay sounds solid and engaging, like Tsuro, the real appeal of this game comes with the utterly astounding artistic design, including fantastic miniatures, art and components. With pledges starting at $99 (plus and estimated $20-45 for EU shipping) this represents a major outlay that only the truly besotted may want to make. The funding goal of $100,000 was smashed in less than five hours, and current total stands at just shy of $500,000 with 16 really cool stretch goals already unlocked. Even with impressive achievements in the bag, this campaign won’t end until the 25th March!
Check out the campaign page for all the info.
NEXT WEEK: Sticking with board games as art, I go from the most beautiful game to the best components in my collection with a look at a tough as nails co-op game.