When is a T-game not a T-game? The answer is… I’m not sure. Board&Dice have a line of games that are lovingly referred to as the T-games, and I’ve covered some of them before. You can find my reviews of Teotihuacan, Tawantinsuyu, and Tabannusi by clicking or tapping on their names. Regardless of how you classify it, Tiletum is a medium-weight Euro game from designers Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini, where you and your friends are rich merchants, bimbling around Renaissance Europe. If the thought of a Euro game set in 15th Century Europe doesn’t get your pulse racing, you’re dead inside.
Either that, or you’re not as much of a geek as I am. Whatever the case, buckle up!
Let’s clear up one thing right from the outset. Yes, this game has the word ’tile’ in its title. Yes, it has loads of tiles in the box. No, the word ’tile’ in the title has nothing to do with the tiles in the game. Tiletum is a town in west Belgium, and it’s this town which lends its name to the game.
As I mentioned before, you play as rich merchants, travelling around Europe doing stuff. You see, the merchants aren’t just sock weavers, cheese traders, or goat beauticians. Nope. You folks are jacks-of-all-trades. As you saunter your way around the continent you’ll do a spot of cathedral building here, fulfil contracts for wool and steel there, gain influence with noble families, steal their crests, build houses, home nobles – there’s a lot going on during the Renaissance.
As a player, this means you have a veritable Smörgåsbord of actions and ways to score yourself some of them delectable VPs. Min-maxing in one area or sampling a little bit of everything are both viable strategies in Tiletum. A lot of that viability is due to the sheer number of bonus tiles the game throws at you, tempting you hither and thither. Those bonus tiles are a large part of why I really like this game, but I’ll come back to that later. For now, let us dip our toes in the pond of action selection, for the water is warm and deep.
The ludological skeleton that Tiletum attaches its musculature to, is dice selection. (Note to self – never use that particular metaphor again). At the start of every round, you draw some of the pastel-coloured dice from the included bag and place them around the action wheel on the board. They’re grouped by value, so you end up with different colour dice grouped beside the various actions. When you come to take a turn you take a die and plonk it onto your player board. Choosing which die to take is the first delightful headache Tiletum gives you.
The die you take has a colour and a value, right? So if you pick up a yellow five, you get five of the yellow resource, which is Gold. A pink three grants you three food, and so on, and so on. Taking a high-value die seems like a natural choice. More resources are always a good thing. Well, yes, and no.
The section of the action wheel you took the die from determines the actions you’ll be taking in your turn. The catch – because you knew one was coming – is that the strength of your action is the difference between the die’s value, and seven. Pick up a one-pip, you get six actions. Take a three, you get four actions. So while a high-value die might see you with more wool than you know what to do with, you’re not going to actually do much for the rest of that turn. Tricky, isn’t it?
I mentioned the bonus tiles before. The board is littered with them. There are bonuses available all over the map of Europe, which you can claim as part of your Merchant or Architect actions. There are bonuses next to each segment of the action wheel, often tempting you away from an action you were planning to take. There’s a bonus for being the highest on the King’s track at the end of each round. This is all before we even look at the bonuses you get for putting completed contracts on your player board, or adding crests to your board.
Personally, I really like this. It offers plenty of combo opportunities as you play. Sometimes you’ll take a die and immediately use the bonus tile from the wheel. Let’s say that bonus gives you enough food to add a new crest to the buildings on your board. You spend that food with one of your ‘anytime’ actions, and the space you cover lets you move your merchant on the map board. You’re setup to build a house, claim a tile from the new town, and move to another now, and this is all before you’ve taken the actions your die choice granted you.
If you’re reading all of that and think it sounds like AP-central, weeeellll, you’re kinda right. You definitely end up doing a lot of deliberation over which action to take next. For some people, that’s a turn-off. Those people like their turns fast and slick, like a finely-tuned otter. If that’s you, try the game before you buy, if you get the opportunity.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s glorious. The actions themselves are really simple, thanks to the iconography, and the great glossary in the rulebook. Even if you take a turn which is strictly speaking suboptimal, it never feels like it. It always feels like you’re doing something good, which is great if you’re secretly a bit rubbish at games, like me.
I really enjoyed Tiletum the first time I played it. It’s easy to learn, and it really helps that most resources only have one use. Wool and steel are for contracts, nothing else. Stone only ever goes towards building cathedrals. It avoids those moments present in some games where new players suddenly stop and say “Well, I have a load of wood now, but no idea what I can do with it”. Every time I play the game I enjoy it more than the previous time, so I think it’s safe to say it’s staying in my collection for the foreseeable future.
The colours of the dice might be an issue if you’re colourblind. I was worried about the pastel colours on them, so I ran a photo through a simulator, and those of you with Protanopia or Deuteranopia might have real trouble telling apart the light-grey, dark-grey, and pink dice. On the whole though, the presentation and components are very nice. The rulebooks (there’s one just for solo mode) are well-written with good examples, and the iconography throughout is great.
The solo bot is a bit of a pain to learn, as its actions can be very non-standard, and have tables of preference, but once you get the hang of running it, it makes for a very good solo experience. Tiletum is one of those games that makes me happy just to play it. Yeah, at the end of the game I might get absolutely spanked by someone else, but I have so much fun playing around with the game’s systems that it just doesn’t matter.
If you enjoy those sandbox-y games that let you just play and experiment, you’re going to love Tiletum. It looks and feels like a classic Euro, but with no direct player interaction, and no meanness. It’s my favourite Board&Dice game since Teotihuacan, and that’s saying something. A hearty recommendation from me.
Review copy kindly provided by Board&Dice. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Designers: Simone Luciani, Daniele Tascini
Art: Giorgio De Michele, Zbigniew Umgelter
Playing time: 60-120 mins