Published by Board&Dice
Designed by David Spada & Daniele Tascini | Art by Zbigniew Umgelter & Aleksander Zarwada
1-4 Players | 120 Minutes
Step into the sandals of a master architect tasked with building one of the great cities of the Late Bronze Age. The city of Ur, the ancient footprint of modern day Iraq was a hub of activity in its day. Your goal is to gather resources from the arriving barrages and make your impact in the city’s 5 districts. Build houses and farms, shrines on the historic ziggurats or in the priest district to earn the favor of the gods. Seek the prestige of the city and to impact history during this iconic period in ancient times.
In Tabannusi: Builders of Ur, players will be gathering and managing resources in an effort to build a variety of objects throughout 5 areas of the board. You’ll engage a unique dice-drafting system in hopes of maximizing your movements and actions while careful planning and resolve will guide you across multiple scoring options and end game goals in hopes of earning the most points in this beautiful, engaging euro.
HOW DOES IT PLAY?
Daniele Tascini, in my opinion, has created some of the most important euro games of the last 10-15 years. Tzolk’in, Teotihuacan and Marco Polo II have become evergreen tent poles for the mid-heavyweight euro-gaming community. He excels at creating tight game play highlighted by challenging decisions. I’m a huge fan and was highly anticipating his latest release in Tabannusi. Joined by relatively new designer David Spada, my hope was to see what Daniele had up his sleeve for the latest game in the famed “T” series.
Conceptually, Tabannusi is an area control game with action selection, tile laying and dice drafting mechanics. Essentially you’re going to be drafting dice as a resource, placing both tiles and buildings across the board, taking a limited number of actions and hopefully meeting your building goals before your opponents can get in the way.
Tabannusi takes place across a beautifully rendered board representing the ancient city of Ur. There are 5 distinct areas where barges dock unique resources represented by dice.
In typical Tascini fashion, each player starts the game equipped with their own player board and a limited variety of starting resources. Players each have an Architect and Assistant to help them navigate the different districts of the game.
On a typical turn, players will choose one of the dice/resources docked at their current location. The value of the die will dictate which district they will move to for their next turn. Players will then take one of a series of actions at that location. The game takes place over 5 scoring rounds which are each triggered when all dice in one particular barge is exhausted. This provides a strange tempo to the game since it may take some time before the first barge is emptied, but the second barge could go within the next 1 or 2 turns.
Building is the theme and thus a major action in the game. Players will need to first establish a plot of land and ultimately build 1 of 3 colored buildings on it. While establishing the foundation earns you an immediate bonus, other players can sneak in and build on the plot themselves, so you have to be careful how you plan this part of the game. Of course there are restrictions as well as benefits provided when an opponent butts in. This definitely seemed to be a bigger challenge at larger player counts, but certainly something you need to consider when executing your strategy.
The goal is to score the most points and points are earned in a variety of ways. Of the 5 districts, 3 are considered common along with the port and ziggurat districts. While each district type scores in a unique way, there is a circular reliance on other districts to determine the scoring event. For example, the ziggurat district houses 4 unique scoring actions that vary from game to game along with master tracks corresponding to each house color. When scoring a common district, players will multiply the number of like-colored houses in that district times their claim marker value on the mastery track. When scoring the ziggurat district, players will score the 4 actions – typically related in some way to the number of houses built in the common districts – such as a set. Hopefully you can get an idea how everything kind of blends together.
The port district is the final area where players can establish houses and claim boats. This mini-game provides immediate and residual bonuses throughout the game and scores in a grid-like fashion. This is somewhat reminiscent of building the temple in Tekhenu.
Like any euro game worth its salt, players won’t be able to accomplish every goal, so they’ll need to be focused on their plan of attack. Tabannusi does require players to have somewhat of a balanced approach, but there are still many different ways to win the game.
Tabannusi features a solo mode in addition to the 2-4 player count. The solo mode is somewhat complex, but done so in good conscience to better emulate a real player. I’m not a huge fan of the upkeep that goes into these solo experiences, but it’s not a bad option.
The game board is 2-sided depending on the player count. I did find the 2-player option somewhat looser. I was definitely able to avoid conflict a lot easier in the 2-player option. The 3 and 4 player mode feels a bit more challenge with more hands in the pot. The number of dice at each barge fluctuates based on the player count so adding more players won’t necessarily speed up the game. In fact, the game length really depends on players familiarity with the game and the dreaded time it takes players to make decisions. Fortunately, at the end of the day, Tabannusi isn’t an overly complex game. While there are some interesting decisions, players with a good understanding of the iconography and general flow of the game should be able to keep things moving smoothly.
COMPONENTS & ARTWORK
The artwork from Tabannusi is top-notch in my book. While there isn’t a ton of artwork throughout, the box art and board create a rich, inviting experience. The iconography is exceptional here as well. It’s done in the typical, high-quality approach you would expect from Board & Dice, but it’s super intuitive and it really limits the learning curve. I think all the same positives can be applied to the game’s graphic design.
I’d also like to add that the game’s rulebook is fantastic. It’s easy to follow and makes deciphering those early run throughs a breeze. There is also an amazingly comprehensive appendix that has all the answers. This is really a high-quality publication in it’s own right.
As far as the components go, there is a lot of cardboard, but there is also a ton of plastic for a euro game. Each building base is made of plastic and has this ancient temple type feel. While I would have loved them all to be made of wood, I imagine that just wasn’t cost-effective. That being said, they look good on the board and they really enrich the game. All the cardboard pieces are high quality with nothing suspect here. The meeples are made out of wood along with the player markers. The game also comes with 35 dice.
While an insert would always be beneficial for these Board & Dice productions, they continue to be an AMAZING value for what you get. I never feel cheated opening a Board & Dice game.
WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THE GAME
Overall, Tabannusi is a really enjoyable experience with a lot to like. While the theme in these types of games can be thinly grafted on the mechanics at times, I really like the theme and production here. While I didn’t always feel connected to the mechanics in terms of theme, the production is really immersive. Overall, it’s very approachable and interesting.
I really enjoyed the dice drafting in the game. While it’s not revolutionary, it does produce a fun twist. I like having to take multiple things into consideration when selecting a die. It not only dictates the landing spot of your next turn, it can also provide a valuable resource going forward. In addition to the dice drafting there were some surprising ways to chain actions together and really make the most of each of your turns. In a game like this, you’re never 100% sure how many actions you’ll get in the game so it’s critical to make the most of each turn.
I also enjoyed the weight of the game. It’s definitely lighter than I expected and certainly lighter than games like Tekhenu and Teotihuacan. The benefits for me at this point in life is the ability to find players to play with. Being able to explain the game’s more simple concepts and mechanics makes this much more likely to earn table time. The 120 minute play time seemed accurate, but it’s not bogged down with long dead periods where players spend extended time thinking about their next move. In addition to Origins: First Builders, Board & Dice have released a pair of games this year that serve as solid intros to the world of mid-weight euros.
The last thing that stood out to me was the interesting scoring paths. I really enjoyed finding a balance between growing my position on the master track and my construction of buildings in the common districts. It does take a fair amount of planning, but not so much that I felt overwhelmed. When I was able to succeed–hitting the scoring just right–it was a great feeling.
My biggest concern is the game’s replayability. There is plenty of variability in the game. You’re able to change the district’s actions, the port’s bonuses and recurring benefits as well as the ziggurat districts scoring goals and the decrees (community end game goals). But changing those up doesn’t really change up the game that much for me. I know the variability is built in specifically for replayability, but I think you’re going to end up playing this game over and over because you enjoy the game despite it’s variability. I’m only so many plays into it–so it’s not entirely fair to judge that–it’s just a perception that I got.
Strangely, the weight of the game serves as both a positive and negative for me. While I love the weight to be able to introduce it to players who might be intimidated by this type of game, I also felt the depth isn’t quite there. I feel a little conflicted here because I want the decisions to be a little deeper, but you’ll also see in the next paragraph that I struggled with some of the more complex scoring goals and their paths. I’m not trying to contradict myself, but I think I wanted a little more interesting decisions throughout. That’s not to say the decisions aren’t interesting, but I’m comparing this to Tascini’s previous work and overall it isn’t quite as satisfying.
As I previously mentioned, there are some end game scoring goals that seemed a little out of reach. I really felt like you had to compromise your entire strategy to achieve. I guess that’s ok, but I ended up completely disregarding some of these objectives just because it seemed a little far fetched.
My final critique is pretty standard for this genre, but setup and teardown can be a real chore. While it is 100% worth it, I feel this unfortunate circumstance does limit how often a game like Tabannusi gets played at my house.
DO I RECOMMEND IT?
Tabannusi: Builders of Ur is a really good experience. I really like this as more of an introduction to a more sophisticated level of euro gaming. I think it provides a good taste of what these types of games can do. I also really enjoyed the turns – especially the dice drafting. The actions were really smooth and the game flowed well. I also enjoyed the limited theme and the overall production. The production feels really rich and it definitely draws you in.
It’s not terribly heavy and that may deter some players looking for that next great challenge, but there are still quite a few interesting decisions and pieces to enjoy here. I don’t know how often this will make it to the table, but I’ve really enjoyed my initial plays and I look forward to introducing this game to other players. If you’re on the fence, I would definitely point out what a great value Board & Dice games are. They pack a lot of stuff in each box and you never feel cheated. This is a fun play and I would encourage not to pass up a chance to try this one out.