Tabannusi: Builders of Ur Review
Board&Dice are back, with the latest in the ‘T’ series of games. If you’ve not come across the previous games, I’ve covered both Teotihuacan and Tawantinsuyu on this site before, and it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of them. Regardless of the designers, each ‘T’ game shares common attributes, and Tabannusi is no different. Dice as workers, a historical theme with an unusual name beginning with the letter T, and tons of depth – it’s all in there.
Ur was an important Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia, located at the site of modern Tell el-Muqayyar, in Iraq.
I’m not about to pretend I knew that, it’s just what the combined might of Google and Wikipedia told me.
Tabannusi is set in the Late Bronze Age, as the city began to grow and flourish. As a master architect, you are tasked with building each of the city’s districts. Houses, gardens, the port, and even the famous Ziggurat are all there to be developed under your watchful eye, and the boats on the Euphrates River, which bisects the city, are the main source of resources.
In true T-game fashion, you’re going to accomplish these impressive feats of civil engineering through the use of dice. Lots and lots of dice. During the game, you claim dice from the barges in each district, and each die influences what you’ll do with it. The colour dictates which district you can build in, and the value tells you which district your Architect is heading to for the next round’s actions. It’s a clever, unusual system, which I really like. It breaks my brain with forward planning, but I like it.
I think there’s a certain type of person who likes a brain-crunching Euro game. Those people are masochists, and I count myself among them. That same type of person will love the mental gymnastics that Tabannusi has you performing. One of the things I particularly like is how little analysis-paralysis affects the game. All of your planning can be done while the other players take their turns, and you’ll normally find you’ve got a definite plan, which is different from the others. There are a lot of different ways to score VPs, which means there’s not much treading on toes by other players. The flip side of this is a low level of interactivity, but that’s to be expected in these games.
A trademark of the T-games is some form of spatial puzzle on the main board. In Tekhenu it’s pillars and statues, and in Teotihuacan it’s building the pyramid. In Tabannusi, we’re dealing with building projects, houses, and gardens, and it’s a much bigger feature of the game. There are bonuses just for covering squares with project tiles, restrictions about building adjacency, using garden tiles to improve others, and individual objectives – all of which can reward you with VPs.
Given that the spaces where all this land-grabbing takes place make up 60% of the board, you can understand when I tell you it’s an important feature. Despite what I said in the previous section about low interactivity between players, this passive interaction is actually pretty decent. It’s just not very in-your-face.
Once again we’ve got various tracks to climb too, giving bonuses along the way. It’s another example of a game where you’ll never do everything, so you’ve got to make your mind up early and stick with your plan. If like me, you have a tendency to get drawn away from your original strategy, to try a bit of everything, you probably won’t do too well.
Follow the leader
My favourite part of Tabannusi is each player’s use of the Architect and assistant meeples. It really gets you thinking ahead properly, and not just choosing randomly and hoping for the best. It’s also a unique way of telegraphing what your intentions are to the rest of the players. In most games, you might have an idea of what someone has in mind for their next move, but you never know. In Tabannusi, you know exactly where their next action will be, and it forces you to think about it.
This visual pre-planning, and the fact that the moving parts of the game’s systems aren’t too complicated, means that Tabannusi is the T-game I’d recommend to newcomers to the series. Tekhenu and Teotihuacan both have similarities but are denser. I’d rather teach Tabannusi, and I feel confident that a new player could pick the game up more easily.
The little mumbles and murmurs that happen during the game are brilliant. When someone moves their architect to an area you really weren’t expecting, eyebrows raise in surprise, and you’ll catch yourself saying “Hmm, interesting…”. Moments like that keep the game alive and add a little moisture to what would otherwise be an archetypal, dry Euro.
If you enjoyed either Teotihuacan or Tekhenu, and were looking for another historical-themed game with similar DNA, you won’t be disappointed with Tabannusi. You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned Tawantinsuyu in this review, and that’s intentional. Despite belonging to the same family of games, Dávid Turczi’s game feels like a bit of an outlier in comparison to the other three. Even though the users of BGG disagree with me, I also believe that Tabannusi is the lightest of the series.
Tabannusi doesn’t really have the same presence on the table as its siblings. There’s no chunky pyramid, or towering plastic obelisk this time around. The little plastic houses are cute enough, but it’s not someone that’s going to excite anyone other than fans of Euros in this style. That said, I really like the graphic design and artwork. I just understand that it’s not for everyone.
The solo mode is solid enough, and a great option if you want to learn the game and feel what it’s like to have your options reduced by another player. I know we can play two-handed, but there’s an inherent bias in your actions, whether you admit it or not. Teotihuacan is still my favourite game in the series, but I won’t turn down a game of Tabannusi with you. It’s a good game, and one that can hold its own in its T-tastic family. It’s just not going to make anyone go “Wow, that was incredible!”
Review copy kindly provided by Board&Dice. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
Tabannusi: Builders of Ur (2021)
Designers: David Spada, Daniele Tascini
Art: Zbigniew Umgelter, Aleksander Zawada
Playing time: 120 mins