A New Twist – Tsuro: Phoenix Rising Takes Flight

The Tsuro series is a winding path, much like the ones on the tiles it features.  Now, the path is soaring upward to the skies in an exhilarating new adventure.

Tsuro: Phoenix Rising (on Kickstarter January 10th-February 9th) is the third game in the Tsuro series.  The first – Tsuro: The Game of the Path – was released originally by Wizkids in 2004.  It was later given a slight facelift and became the flagship title when Calliope Games was founded in 2009.  A second entry – Tsuro of the Seas – launched in 2012 along with its expansion, Veterans of the Seas.

Over the years, the original Tsuro has become a well-known gateway game, perfect for introducing new audiences to the world of tabletop games.  There’s a good reason for that: Tsuro is one of the simplest games anywhere, both to teach and to play.  Not much is simpler than “play one of your tiles to the board, move your pawn along the path you created, then draw a new tile…oh, and just try to stay on the board.”  That’s a pretty easy game to demonstrate to anyone, from children to grandparents, and everyone in between.

OG: Tsuro: The Game Of The Path

Owing to its simplicity and elegance, Tsuro has been used as a gateway and filler countless times.  There are other games that share its tile-placing, route-building aspects, but Tsuro is unique in how it delivers a fun, thoughtful experience in a compact amount of time for a very wide audience.  For many, the elegance – the zen nature – of Tsuro is its defining quality, and they embrace the game the way it is, no embellishment or additions required.  For others, they want a bit more.

Tsuro of the Seas was created to cater to those looking for a bit more unpredictability in the Tsuro experience.  The game transformed the pawns and board into boats and a mystic sea; introduced daikaiju (sea monsters); and added a pair of dice.  On top of the familiar Tsuro gameplay, there now existed a layer of chaos and randomness, as the daikaiju would rotate and move in an unpredictable manner, always threatening to chomp your boat if you didn’t watch out!  Tsuro of the Seas was the first game we launched via a relatively young crowdfunding service called Kickstarter.  It was unfamiliar territory, but became a joyful experience, both because it showed how many original fans wanted MORE TSURO, but also because we learned how the Kickstarter community is a passionate group who are very engaged and helpful with projects they back.

Tsuro of the Seas – A Watery Adventure

2019 represents the 10th Anniversary of Calliope Games.  During 2018, our team had several discussions about how to celebrate this milestone.  Throughout those talks, the main idea we kept coming back to was a new Tsuro game.  What better way to celebrate our birthday than with a new entry in the line that has defined us for a decade?

Some context is useful here, though.  We didn’t start from scratch a year ago to create a new Tsuro game.  The core of it has existed since Tsuro was first dreamt up by mathematician Tom McMurchie in the 1970s.  In fact, when the original Tsuro (then called “Squiggle”) was shown to Calliope Games co-founder Jordan Weisman back in 2001, Tom developed full second set of tiles shortly thereafter that were strategically set aside for a later release.  These alternate tiles had paths that would move through the diagonals of the tile, instead of through the flat edges only.  That tileset – which is dubbed the “Crossroads” set – changed the experience of playing, offering a soaring, freewheeling feel that moved your pawn quickly across the board.  In 2018 the time had come to put the Crossroads set to use… Calliope Games 10th Anniversary!

We wanted to craft a Tsuro experience that would set apart from both other games in the line.  Tsuro is perfect as an accessible gateway/filler.  Tsuro of the Seas involves the unpredictability of dice.  For the third game, we focused on the tiles themselves, thinking for the first time about how players could physically alter the paths on the board.  Perhaps the tiles could rotate…but what if they could do more?

Ray had been working with Bob Oswald, a longtime Calliope Games friend – and very talented CAD artist – on a design for a unique tile tray that would allow players to flip or rotate one tile in a grid without disturbing any of the neighboring tiles.  Once the design was finalized, it was patented and ready for use.  The new Tsuro game would be the perfect way to introduce the revolutionary new tray to the world, as it would allow the path tiles to be manipulated, creating new options for paths each turn.  Ray hit upon the idea of having one side of each tile feature traditional Tsuro paths – entering and exiting on the flat edges, while the flip side would feature Crossroads paths that sent pawns through the diagonal edges of the tiles.  Suddenly, players could strategize whole new routes, opening up fresh, speedy movement.

Prototype version of Tsuro: Phoenix Rising

The creation of this game was collaboration in its purest form.  The Calliope team – Ray Wehrs, Chris Leder, Zach Weisman, Andy Hepworth, Ken Franklin, along with a team of amazing playtesters – expanded upon the gameplay and tiles created by Tom McMurchie.  As the development of the board and tiles progressed, we concentrated on the goal of the game.  Survival has always been the winning condition in the Tsuro series: last pawn standing wins.  Player elimination – love it or hate it – is a hallmark of the line.  We contemplated ways to augment this goal, all the while thinking about the theme of the game.  The original Tsuro features dragon stones as the pawns, but the board features a beautiful phoenix.  What if we shifted the focus to the phoenix?  A bird in flight would make sense given the soaring nature of the Crossroads tiles.  Plus, it would allow us to consider a way for leaving the board to not mean the end of the game – after all, the defining trait of the phoenix is its ability to rise from the ashes!

During development, we struck upon the idea that you weren’t just flying around trying to stay on the board, but as a phoenix, you were actively trying to reach specific points on the board.  As the testing proceeded and the theme began to solidify, we loved the idea that the things you were trying to reach were glowing, floating, colorful lanterns in the night.  That image just seemed so beautiful.  And because we wanted to inspire a bit of positivity, we crafted the lore about how the world had been robbed of stars, but as you reached the lanterns, you transformed them into brilliant new stars that created bright constellations to enlighten your own personal path.  Instead of last pawn standing being the only victory condition, you could now win by creating a new constellation of seven stars, having brought light to a dark world.  It’s an overriding theme of hope and love of life. 

Tsuro: Phoenix Rising is a gateway/filler game in the same vein as the original Tsuro, and its predecessor Tsuro of the Seas.  One way to look at it: Tsuro is the quintessential zen-like gateway experience, Tsuro of the Seas is an exciting survival gateway game where you play against the board, and Tsuro: Phoenix Rising is a gateway set collection game where the board is a puzzle to solve.  Each game has its own level of complexity, but all fit perfectly within a casual game crowd or as a filler in the middle of the game night.  Though they are all built upon the same foundation, the experiences they provide are all unique.  Which Tsuro game will be your favorite? We love them all!

Tsuro: Phoenix Rising is now live on Kickstarter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *