Stats at a glance
Ages: 8 +
Publisher: Calliope Games
Tsuro translates from Japanese as “the route.” Rightfully so. You’ll need to get introspective to place your path tiles and dodge your opponents who will try to slide you off the board. It’s a mixture of zen-like components and backstabbing path forgery.
Are you ready to step into the abstract world of Tsuro and follow the path to victory? You’ll only need 20 minutes and proper tile-laying strategies.
Brief Overview of Tsuro
Tsuro is an Asian-themed fantasy board game that functions on tile placement, player elimination, and hand management. The designers describe the path lines as the “many roads leading to divine wisdom.” You’ll need a bit of brainpower and zen to combat these changing path lines and hold your place on the grid.
When I first played this game, I thought it was comparable to the Forbidden Island / Forbidden Desert game structure with way fewer moving parts. It’s on the easier side too, with a complexity rating of 1.23 on BGG.
Although the difficulty is low, it does not impact how Tsuro plays out. You can play a two-person game, or go big with up to 8 players. The more opponents, the more you’ll need to dodge and manage your pawn’s position carefully. Every player comes with their own blueprint in mind to keep you on your toes (and in their hopes, off the player board).
When you unpack Tsuro, you’ll find:
- 1 board
- 8 pawns
- 35 path tiles
- 1 dragon tile
How’s that for a simple setup hey?
Tsuro thrives on simplicity. At first glance, it seems to lack depth. As you get into unpacking the board and the tiles, you’ll be amazed at the detailed artwork decorating the board. A red phoenix graces the gameboard in all its ornate glory. The board itself is decently made, from hard cardboard and in 6×6 gridlock style.
To advance in this game, players place path tiles. These are rounded squares with a pattern that changes from tile to tile. The path is laid out in what looks to me like a rope dragged through the sand. Think about an oriental garden, how they perfectly sculpt the lines — this is similar.
All the colors in the game are red earth tones, soil-based, and grounding. The pawns stand out in their water, fire, earth, and air elemental assortment. All pawns are made from plastic, looking like pebbles with a dragon etched into each one. It delivers on the spiritual, earthy elements of Tsuro.
One added bonus to enhance the theme is a translucent piece of paper adorned with a traditional bamboo brush painting. The inventors did a splendid job keeping the theme alive with the design.
How to Play Tsuro
Tsuro is quick to learn, easy to adapt to, and engaging to play. It keeps your mind stimulated as you plot your next tile placements. The imagery adds a calming element that makes the whole game experience seem like an enchanting stroll in a garden.
Lay the board out, move the dragon tile aside, and shuffle the remaining tiles face down.
Every player chooses a pawn color and places them on the starting white line of their choosing. You will be starting from the grid’s outlying boundaries where there are clear white lines in and off the board. Your opponents can choose to place their pawns directly next to yours (some even in the same grid box), or in a more open area.
When everyone is happy with their pawn placements, hand out three path tiles to each player clockwise. Once again, do not include the dragon tile in this shuffling/draw pile.
The game begins when all players have three tiles and are positioned on a white starting line. The oldest player goes first with turns initiating clockwise.
Players take turns one after the next, with no interlocking of actions. Let me explain further…
Every turn is composed of four actions in order:
- Play one path tile that extends your own path. You cannot play tiles in random spaces on the board.
- The player’s pawn follows the laid path tile in the naturally occurring direction until the end of the path.
- If placing this tile affects an opponent’s pawn, resolve in this step by tracing their pawn to the end of the line.
- Draw back up to 3* path tiles in hand.
*In some instances, there will be no remaining path tiles in the draw stack. When/If this happens, the player will place the dragon tile in front of them to signify that they will be first to draw when tiles are replenished.
After the player has finished these four actions, turns continue clockwise.
If at any time, a path tile is placed that directs your pawn off the board, you are eliminated from the game. This can happen in three ways:
- You are out of tile options and forced to place a tile that leads you off the grid.
- Your opponent places a tile that drives you off the board.
- You run into an opponent’s pawn, then you both are eliminated.
Every time a player is removed from the game, their remaining path tiles are shuffled and placed back in the draw pile. There is an advanced rule that states if you eliminate a player from the game, you can browse their path tiles and choose to replace them with your own, adding the unused tiles to the draw pile.
The Dragon Tile
This special tile is decorated with a red dragon face, symbolizing that you are first in succession to new path tiles. When a player is eliminated, their path tiles in hand get returned to the draw pile. Since you have the dragon tile, you get to draw up to three cards first. You will then pass the dragon tile to whoever has the least cards in hand to draw next.
This tile will never be placed on the game board. It is simply an indicator of succession.
Your peaceful walk through the zen gardens is finally complete when you are the last standing pawn on the board.
There are no points, there are only boundaries. You want everyone off the grid to be declared the winner.
Pros & Cons
- Fast and Fun Gameplay
- Visually Appealing Components
- Fascinating Game Dynamics
Tsuro is by far, one of the easiest board games to set up. It takes less than 5 minutes to get started and explain the rules. For newcomers to the gaming community, this is a nice warm-up for denser tile placement board games such as Carcassonne, Between Two Cities, or Lanterns. I would recommend players to start their gaming night with Tsuro to get the brain juices flowing.
The components are honestly stunning. It’s a classy mix of simplistic and traditional artwork with beautiful theme details. The elements of fire, earth, water, and air are written in kanji in the board’s corners. It delivers on the zen, spirituality, and naturalistic feel even though you are forcing your opponents off the board.
Every time I’ve played Tsuro, the strategy has been different. When I’ve played with bigger groups (remember this game accompanies up to 8 players), I was fending more for tile space than actual mechanisms of strategy. If you play in close contact with your opponents you constantly have the looming fear of colliding pawns. If you keep your distance, you may survive longer but get stuck dodging board run-offs.
- More of an Appetizer
From newbies to experts alike, I have not heard many complaints about Tsuro. The advanced gaming crowd understands Tsuro to be more of a snack than a meal, and it works for them. It’s not meant to hold your attention for hours, follow loads of rules, or change up characters. It markets and delivers solely on the simplistic tile placing, player elimination, and network-building nature.
Versions & Expansions
Tsuro of the Seas
Tsuro: Phoenix Rising
Tsuro Review (TL;DR)
It’s safe to say that Tsuro is a delicious appetizer for any warm-up or cool-down at game night. You shouldn’t expect it to be mentally challenging, extremely strategic, or dense with action and rules.
Apart from these expectations, I think most players will love Tsuro. I found it easy to explain and the difficulty is inclusive for all ages and player counts. Every tile placement is a new chance to strategize your next movements and stay alive.
I am a bit biased, as Tsuro is one of the games I usually start every gaming meetup with. It doesn’t initially attract attention, but once you play once, you’ll be coming back for sure.
The biggest strength in Tsuro is the ever-changing nature of players’ path tile placements. You could build your whole route in your head and get sidetracked as an opponent glides you off the board. The added task to avoid player collision makes the paths you intend to lay more tricky depending on how many opponents you need to dodge.
If you’re in the market for a beautifully detailed, zen-like board game that requires minimal setup and tear down, Tsuro is your best choice! From beginning to end, you’ll have everyone paying attention. Some games allow for players to get distracted while waiting for their next turn, Tsuro does not. Losing your focus could confuse the paths and cost you a loss.
Don’t be shy to bring this game out at your next event or date night. It functions smoothly for 2 to 8 players and never fails to become a fan favorite.
We hope you enjoyed our Tsuro review! Have you tried this calming tile-placement board game? Drop a comment below and let us know what you think! We’d love to hear from you.
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Kendra has always been a hardcore fantasy nerd. Growing up in the worlds of Tolkien, Sanderson, Jordan, and Abercrombie, DnD & board games just came naturally. She and her husband, Bryan, started GameCows.com in 2018 as a fun passion project that just took over their lives. An avid board gamer since childhood and chronic DnD chronicler for more than two decades, she loves to play, write, travel, and learn dead languages.