Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser

(Pearl Games/Z-Man Games, 2-4 players, ages 12 and up, 60-90 minutes; $44.99)


tournayboxIn baseball terms, designer Xavier Georges is batting around five hundred for me. In baseball, that is a terrific average that has never been obtained over the course of a career, let alone a season. As a game designer, that average is, well, average. His first breakout design was Royal Palace, a game I found fresh and filled with opportunities for arranging clever combinations of moves. His next major release was Carson City, which was appealing due to the “Wild West” theme. adequately defend oneself from attacks. Troyes was also extremely appealing due to the theme but I did not care for the dice mechanism and was often left very frustrated. Fortunately, Tournay was much more to my liking, raising Georges’ output to 50/50 for me.

Co-designed by Sebastien Dujardin and Alain Orban, Tournay is a card game set in the city of Tournay in Belgium. Players are charged with rebuilding the city after devastating incursions by the Normans. They will choose the buildings they desire to construct and enlist the aid of special characters and dignitaries to help maximize their profits and achievements. Time is short, however, and construction can end abruptly, often spoiling the long-term plans of the builders. The challenge is to assemble one’s city quickly, making optimum use of the buildings they construct and characters they enlist.
The major components of the game are, of course, cards. There are three decks of activity cards, sorted by color and level. Each deck consists of three levels, with cards in the higher levels generally being more powerful. The decks are arranged in a 3×3 grid, separated by type and level. The separate deck of events is shuffled and three cards revealed in a row above the small board so players will know what effects these will have unless they are defeated and removed. Players receive a plaza placard, six citizens (two of each color) and six deniers. Let the construction begin!
There are two phases to a player’s turn:
Play a card. This is optional. If a player opts to play a card, it is played into his 3×3 playing area. A card must be placed adjacent to or atop a previously placed card. If it is placed atop a card of the same color, the previously placed card remains in place and will still, if applicable, earn prestige points at game’s end, although its special power will no longer be available. Otherwise, the previously placed card is placed at the bottom of the respective deck.
Some care must be exercised in placing cards, especially the characters, which exert influence on all cards in the same row or column. Whenever a player activates a building in a row or column containing a character, the character’s ability is also triggered. This can be quite powerful, particularly when combined with other useful buildings.
Perform an action with citizens. A player MUST do one of the following actions on their turn, using one or more of their citizens of the same color.
tournay21. Draw a card. In order to draw a card from one of the nine available decks, the player must activate a number of like-colored citizens equal to the level of the deck. For example, if the player wants to take a Level II yellow card, he must activate two yellow citizens. Activated citizens are removed from the plaza placard and set aside, making them unavailable until they are reactivated. When selecting a card, the player then can either take the top face-up card from the deck (if any), or take the top two cards, keep one, and place the other face-up on the deck. A player may only possess four cards at the end of his turn, so one cannot excessively hoard cards for future use.
It is important to note that the Level III decks contain prestige cards, which can reward players with substantial victory points at game’s end. Since these prestige cards can only be acquired from the Level III decks, players must recruit new citizens or use citizens of other players. Recruiting new citizens can occur by using the powers of specific buildings, making those buildings quite valuable. There is a limited supply of additional citizens available – three per color – so players must not dally too long before acquiring them.
If the player draws a town crier – there is one in each deck – his turn is temporarily interrupted to resolve the events. A coin is placed on each event card (as long as there is space for the coin) and each event is triggered a number of times equal to the number of coins upon it. Events are usually not favorable, so players will continue to suffer their effects until they choose to combat an event. A player can avoid the effects of an event by playing a rampart card, which is only acquired by defeating an event. More on this in a bit.
2. Activate a building. The player may place a citizen on one of his own unoccupied buildings and execute that building’s power, as well as any characters in that same row or column. As with choosing a card, the color of the citizen must match the color of the building. An interesting twist is that players can use the active citizens of their opponents, but must pay the player(s) two deniers for each citizen used. This is often a very useful and clever move, benefitting the active player and denying the opponent(s) of the opportunity to use those citizens.
tournaypcs23. Combat an event. If an event has at least one coin upon it, a player may combat it. Depending upon the type of event, it will require the player to activate citizens of the depicted color and/or pay deniers. The player removes the event from the queue and takes it into his hand. A new event is revealed from the deck, giving players a new obstacle. As mentionedearlier, this collected event card can be used to nullify the effects of a future event, in which case it is placed by the player’s district as a rampart and will earn a victory point at game’s end.


4. Earn Deniers. One way to earn money is to simply activate one or more identical citizens and take two deniers per citizen. It is ultimately better to do this via the use of buildings, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures.

5. Gather your citizens. The player reassembles all of his previously activated citizens onto his plaza. They are now available to be used again on a future turn.

The game enters its final turn when two players have constructed a full district (9 cards) with at least two prestige buildings, or one player has accomplished this feat and five town criers have surfaced. Each player then has the opportunity to play one more card into their district after which scores are tallied.

Players earn prestige (victory) points as indicated on each card in their district, even those that have been covered. Further, as in Troyes, one of Georges’ previous designs, players score prestige points based on the prestige buildings constructed by ALL players. The player constructing a building scores the points listed for the builder while all other players score the other points listed. Prestige buildings tend to reward points based on the other buildings and characters a player has constructed or citizens he possesses … and these points can be quite substantial. For example, the Pont des Trous grants three prestige points to the builder for every set of citizens he possesses while each opponent gets one point for each set. The Tour d’Arras grants two prestige points (one for opponents) for each Level I or II white or yellow building card that is visible. The player with the most prestige points is victorious.

Tournay is intriguing, challenging players to optimally choose and place their cards so as to maximize their benefits. Players need to establish a set of cards that will provide a reliable source of income as well as provide opportunities to acquire new citizens and earn prestige points. Some cards allow players to use the buildings of their opponents and these are quite powerful. Characters cannot be overlooked, as these can provide additional benefits each time a building is activated. Of course, acquiring and constructing the prestige buildings will ultimately yield the points necessary to compete for victory. These cards will also guide a player to pursue certain strategies. It is challenging and fun to properly arrange these cards to increase one’s flexibility and options.

While I enjoy it, I do have a few issues with the game. Since it is a card game, the luck of the draw can be harsh. Failure to draw cards that provide income or allow the recruitment of new citizens can put a player at a significant disadvantage (advanced rules do allow for the purchase of new citizens). It is difficult to catch someone who has deployed some very beneficial cards early. My main complaint, however, is the abundance of cryptic icons that are liberally used on the cards. My distaste for icons – especially when they are difficult to decipher – is rising. Making matters worse in Tournay is a player aid that doesn’t precisely match the icons themselves, making deciphering and understanding them considerably more difficult. If icons must be used, they should be extremely clear and intuitive. That is not the case in Tournay and, for me, this makes playing the game considerably more difficult and reduces my enjoyment.

In spite of these issues, I do enjoy the game. There are numerous, seemingly viable strategies to pursue and each game plays a bit differently. The game also plays to completion in sixty to ninety minutes and can occur quicker than you think. Players must plan and execute their strategy quickly lest it fail to reach fruition. I enjoy this time-pressure which drives the players to move forward and not procrastinate. If the game is well received, it lends itself well to numerous expansions, providing even more options and helping keep the game fresh. In spite of my issues with the icons, I am still enjoying exploring Tournay.