Review – Wayfarers of the South Tigris
|Designer||Shem Phillips, S.J. Macdonald|
|Artist||Mihajlo Dimitrievski ("The Mico")|
|Publisher||Garphill Games / Renegade Game Studios|
|Category||Eurogame, Strategy Game|
|Release Date||Fall 2022|
Garphill Games has now completed two “trilogies” of board games: the Raiders, Explorers, Shipwrights of the North Sea, and then Architects, Paladins, Viscounts of the West Kingdom. We’re now headed southward, starting with Wayfarers of the South Tigris. This is ostensibly a dice placement game, although it involves lots and lots of cards, as well as a central track full of bonuses. Does that sound like crunchy Euro goodness to you? Let’s take a look!
I have to start with this: the rulebook for this game absolutely sucks. It’s one of the worst rulebooks I’ve read in a while. The main problem is that they chose to explain each individual concept before explaining any kind of turn structure or how to win, but because the systems are interconnected (which is a good thing), these pages often mention something new followed by a “We’ll explain this later,” or even worse, no explanation or denotation at all. It took me several attempts to suffer through it, and by the time I got to the page referencing yet another new concept without explanation… To be honest, I used some choice language regarding pigeons.
That said, the game is actually not all that obtuse. Players have 3 dice that they place on their own cards to take actions, and are also privy to workers that come and go and are used to activate board spaces. The goal of these movements is primarily to collect cards for scoring purposes, either all the same or all different sets (for standard scoring) or specific cards that reward scoring various things. As players use up their dice, recalling them requires a “rest” action that differs quite a bit from other games that do this.
As part of the rest action, players “journal”, which means they move up the central journal track if they have met the requirements to move up. The track is variable and has various paths players can take, requiring some serious forward planning to make sure you’ve done the right things. As you proceed through the track, you earn various rewards, and you earn more if you get there first. One type of reward (also possible through worker actions) is to add tiles to a grid under your dice that improve what they can do. This system is quite fun and gives a sense of engine building, even more so than taking cards that give new actions. The main point is that resting is actually a very powerful move, and not a complete waste of a turn.
This means that players actually want to rest often, and thus the game stipulates they only receive benefits if they rest with only 0 or 1 dice left, so as to avoid “breaking” the game. This puts further stress on worker actions: they are often good, but they also mean it will take longer for you to journal again. There are dice actions that allow you to journal, but it’s most commonly done through resting. The other thing that delays journaling are the track requirements, but if a player can see the right line of play where the requirements are interrelated, they can push the track in a hurry. It does seem to me that getting to the end first is a strong indicator of who is likely to win.
Of course, points are primarily scored from the various cards, so collecting them is just as important. There are five different decks laid out, each with 4 cards available to pick from, and frankly, it’s too many. What’s also a point of frustration is that each deck has several types of cards that relate to one another, but the cards do not move enough, particularly with two players. The two decks that provide action spaces (city and harbor cards) have a special rule that allows players to look at the top 3 and pick one, but no such rule exists for the Townsfolk and Space cards. This seems like a weird oversight and one that I hope is changed with the inevitable expansion(s). But what I would like to see are alternate decks or more cards shuffled in, not more ideas.
Because fundamentally the game has enough going on – exactly enough, not too little, not too much. And although it’s advertised as a dice placement game, it is very much a card-combo game, particularly as things interact with the journal track. It feels really good to pull off those chain-reaction turns that get you a pile of resources and victory points.
That being said, I did find it weird that we were finishing games with a stockpile of resources, which were not worth any points. The primary points in the game currently are from various types of set collection; it would be a natural fit to have some city and harbor cards provide dice actions that convert resources into points. This puts pressure on other players to progress the game before they get buried in resource-conversion points so it provides a tiny bit of interaction (in a game with very little), but also simply makes it feel a little less silly to end the game with so much useless stuff.
This review is sounding like I do not like the game, but I quite enjoy it. I actually think it is the best game Garphill Games have done. It still has too many ideas, but it is less offensive in that regard than their other games. The artwork is fantastic, and the card-combo gameplay combined with the upgrades on the dice give the right kind of dopamine hits for a deckbuilding/engine loving gamer like myself. I don’t put it up there with, say, Castles of Burgundy, but it’s a fun game for the right audience (if you want big monster fights and dungeons and miniatures, stay far away).
The Bottom Line
Despite the rulebook, this is the best game yet from Garphill.