Tower of Babel Review

A quick little game that I had thrown into a trade recently is Tower of Babel.

In Tower of Babel, you are attempting to earn the most victory points by helping to build (or offering to help build) the different wonders of the world.  Each turn, the active player has two options - he can either select a building disc to build, or he can pass.  If he passes, then he draws one cards and his turn is over.  If he attempts to build a disc, then he selects which disc he wants, and all of his opponents can offer cards to help.  When selecting which opponents' offers he will accept, a player cannot accept more cards than are required to build the disc.  (For example, if the disc requires four white cards, he cannot accept an offer for three white cards and an offer for two white cards.)  Whichever players are not selected to build get to keep their cards and also receive a victory point for each card offered.  Whichever players are selected get to place a marker on the in-progress wonder for each card that they offered.  Finally, the active player gets to keep the building disc.  Alternatively, a player can, along with his offer, include his "trading" card.  Of all of the players that offer a trading card, the active player can only accept one offer.  If he accepts that offer, then he must discard a card from his hand for each card that the "trading" player offered.  In addition, the "trading" player gets to keep the building disc - however, the active player gets to place markers on the wonder instead of the "trading" player.  At the end of each building turn, all players get to draw a card.  Once each wonder is completed, players are rewarded based on how much they have contributed.  Additionally, at the end of the game, players are rewarded for how many building discs they have, and earn the most points by having matching types.  Whoever has the most points at the end of the game is the winner!

The first pro that I have for Tower of Babel is that it is one of the most uniquely strategic games that I have played.  It really takes a full game before you start understanding how any of the strategy works.  During that game, you will start trying to balance whether it is "better" to contribute to wonders, or to collect building discs.  Or, do you want to try to make offers that you think that other players won't accept - thus earning victory points and keeping your cards.  Really, though, you need to balance out all of these things.  So, ultimately I think that the strategy of the game (along with what makes it unique) is in deciding how many cards to offer, and when to offer a trader.  There are some situations where you don't want your offer to be accepted, yet can get a lot of points for making it - and so you need to capitalize.  At other times, you will truly hope that your offer is accepted - either because you offered the trader for a building disc that you really want, or you are trying to get markers on a wonder right before it scores.  I found these different elements to be very interesting.

Tower of Babel game in play
Assessing offers
The second aspect of the pro that I mentioned happens when you are the active player.  As the active player, you have most of the power when determining how victory points are going to be distributed. This is especially true if you are building the last disc on a wonder.  When doing this, you get to see what everyone has offered, and based on those offers, you can often determine which player will score in each position on the wonder.  There are really two ideal options in this situation - first, of course, is to put yourself into the best position, thus making the most points.  The second option, though, is to force two other players to tie for first place - thus making them both only get points for second!  Again, there really are a lot of elements to factor in when making decisions in this game.

However, there are some cons with Tower of Babel that are worth mentioning.  The first one is fairly trivial - the game includes some of the most useless playing pieces that I have ever seen.  Each player is given a fairly sizable column marker, and this is the player's turn order marker.  These are placed on the turn order track in clockwise order.  At the end of each turn, you are supposed to move your marker to the back of the line, and shift everyone else's marker forward.  But, turn order never changes, and you just take turns going in a circle, like almost every other game in the world.  So, why do I need a turn order track for this?  Short answer - there is absolutely no reason whatsoever that you need this.

Tower of Babel turn order track
The most useless turn order track ever
The second con for Tower of Babel is that, ultimately, the game feels like a "trick" or "gimmick" game.  By this, I mean that the entire game is essentially one mechanic - how many cards do I offer, and, often, how do I offer them in the hopes of getting turned down.  That is really the game.  All of the scoring is based on this one mechanic.  So, though the game functions well, if you don't love this mechanic, it will cause the game to grow stale very quickly.  (Honestly, there are a lot of game that center around a single mechanic - like Ra, which centers around an auction mechanic, and which I really enjoy.  So, this con will only bother you if the central mechanic isn't one that you thoroughly enjoy.)   The first time that you play, the mechanic of offering cards and trying to get rejected is really innovative - but, as you keep playing the game, you realize that this mechanic is the game.  So, if you love that mechanic, then you will love the game and get a lot of enjoyment out of it.  But, if you don't like that, or you get tired of it, then you will be ready to move on fairly quickly.

Overall, I give Tower of Babel a 7.0/10.  I honestly enjoyed the game.  However, I don't see myself looking for opportunities to play it more in the future.  And, since the other people in my play group had similar sentiments - being willing to play if other people wanted to, but probably not asking for it to be brought out, I don't see this one getting much more play. 

If Tower of Babel sounds interesting, you might also check out Lost Cities, Quo Vadis, and Famiglia.

1 comment:

  1. Nice piece. That is the major issue with games based around one auction technique. Looks nice though.