17 December 2018
Tigris & Euphrates’ golden child shines
If you’ve played Reiner Knizia’s civ-building tile-placement masterpiece Tigris & Euphrates, how you feel about its sequel-cum-successor Yellow & Yangtze will likely depend on how much of a fight you like.
Y&Y resembles T&E in a sort-of half-remembered, police photofit kind of way: almost identical in some places, I-can-see-how-you-got-there in others, radically different in a few more. You’re still laying down tiles and positioning leader tokens to score points and grow your domain, but here the square tiles become hexagons, the leaders gain more power and warmongering with your neighbours isn’t always as profitable as it once was. It’s familiar enough for fans of the 20-year-old yet timeless game of competing civilisations to almost jump straight in, only to discover that what lies beneath the recognisable surface makes for a significantly different kind of game. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.
As you might expect from the passage of time, it’s a more modern experience. T&E’s abstract simplicity gave way to notoriously brain-burning strategy and harsh repercussions for failing to balance your play; Y&Y levels the field a bit, most notably with the introduction of a pool of yellow ‘wild’ victory points that can be distributed to even out the still ingenious way of scoring based on your lowest total across the different colours. Players are even given increased agency over the random process of drawing tiles from the bag, with traders granting access to a market of face-up tiles when placed. Combined with the way that the pagodas, which churn up an extra point each turn, can now be stolen and relocated by players on future turns – rather remaining fixed and fought over in one place, like T&E’s monuments – these small but significant evolutions work to keep all of the players in the running for longer, even if some of the sadistic pleasure of its predecessor’s brutal competition is lost in the softer touch.
This is most apparent in the way wars have been reworked, making them both easier to resolve and less rewarding for the victor, with fewer points gained and collateral losses inflicted to stop one player using the momentum of one win to steamroll the rest of the game. Diplomacy plays more of a part, too; with any player now able to lend their strength to one side of a conflict, even if they’re not directly involved, aggressive play isn’t quite as viable as it was before, as making too many enemies can come back on your head. The dialling back on conflict might leave those who revelled in the swingy nature of T&E’s board-clearing clashes feeling like the knife’s been blunted, but that’s not the case; all it means is that Yellow & Yangtze’s competition is one of smooth curves rather than sudden spikes – the experience at the centre remains just as sharp.
The distinct individuality of Yellow & Yangtze doesn’t just allow it to sit apart from Tigris & Euphrates as a fantastic game in its own right for those who’ve never played Knizia’s classic, it means that it can happily sit alongside it in a collection as an experience that cleverly builds on an undeniable gaming triumph.
Heritage aside, it may not be superior to its predecessor, but it’s almost certainly equal – while being more accessible and friendlier for those who daunted by harsh competition. Who knows, maybe in time it may even surpass one of the all-time greats.
Far, far more than just Tigris & Euphrates with hexes, Yellow & Yangtze is a worthy successor to a bona fide masterpiece. Small changes add up to a unique, friendlier feel that offers something fresh, even for old fans. Whether you already own T&E or not, this deserves a place on your shelf.
Designer: Reiner Knizia
Artist: Vincent Dutrait
Time: 90 minutes
This review originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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