Game Review: Weave the Most Magical Carpets in “Tabriz”

tabriz board game - boxIt’s not easy being a carpet weaver in the bustling Persian market city of Tabriz, but you’re determined to overcome the odds and have your rugs in the royal palace. You’ve got your three faithful apprentices poised and ready to run from shop to shop collecting critical components, and have learned all about weaving. Can you find the best commissions for the available resources, barter your way to rare goods like silk, and gain the additional skills necessary to be recognized as the best carpet weaver in the Grand Bazaar? It’s time to find out!

Tabriz is a resource collection and task fulfillment game played on a large mat that represents its namesake’s famous Grand Bazaar. It’s for 1-5 players, is designed by Randy Flynn with beautiful artwork by Syd Fini, and is published by Crafty Games. I was sent a prototype for this review, so some components and illustrations might vary slightly from the final production version. If Randy’s name is familiar, it’s because he also designed the popular games Cascadia and Rolling Up Roses.

In Tabriz, players alternate sending their apprentices to different spots in the Bazaar where they can purchase goods, visit traders to swap a common good for one that’s rare, and sometimes roll the dice to try their luck at acquiring cut-rate goods in the sketchy “specialty” stalls deep in the twisty alleyways of the market. You complete Commissions that are essentially recipes: once you can fulfill the requirements you weave and sell that carpet, gaining both immediate rewards and longer-term benefits to help you gain an edge as the game progresses.

In the solo mode, you play against an AI that I will suggest is best viewed as a criminal presence in the Bazaar. The AI’s apprentices will force you to pay them to gain access to any stalls they’re visiting, the AI will steal goods from stalls, “find” others (from the storage warehouse), and force a variety of other changes, all while earning their own prestige points. It’s a surprisingly well-balanced solo game, fun, and easy to understand, though a few games will definitely help you hone your strategy.

SETUP AND TABRIZ GAME COMPONENTS

To start out, let’s look at a few components. Commissions are split into three difficultly levels, known as Common, Merchant, and Royal commissions, and randomness is further added with the use of three types of dice that offer a chance at increasingly rare goods. Players accumulate coins and goods to make carpets; wool, camel hair, plant dye, carmine dye, and silk. Each player gets a Weaver Mat that lets you easily organize your collected goods and tracks skills. To start you get 10 coins and four Common Commissions, choosing two that you think you can fulfill quickly and discarding the other two. Here’s my Weaver Mat, coins, and selection of four possible beginning Commissions:

tabriz board game - weaver mat

Each Commission card has three areas: The top portion is the list of required goods to complete the carpet, the middle stripe shows the immediate rewards for fulfilling the commission, and the bottom portion shows the recurring benefit once fulfilled. The first commission, for example, requires five wool (white), and one carmine (red), and rewards completion with 7 coins, +2 on the skill track, and 1 prestige point. It also will add +1 to the coins paid to the player during all subsequent market phases. It’s not too hard to fulfill and will be a solid boost. The second commission requires three wool (white), two plant dyes (green), and one camel hair (yellow), also paying 7 coins, 2 skills, and 1 prestige point. It doesn’t, however, offer any ongoing benefit.

The solo AI player, by contrast, has a very different setup (that’s on the obverse of a weaver’s mat). Here’s how the AI is set up:

tabriz board game review - ai weaver mat sheet with dice

The dice pool, as explained earlier, consists of black, grey, and white die, representing more common or rarer goods. In this instance, it’s also used to determine the AI’s first, second, and third moves for a given round. Each round has players alternate moving their apprentices on the board, but in the solo game, the three dice determine the action or actions for the AI. Sometimes the AI’s apprentices move, but more often something else happens like goods are removed from a store or similar.

The centerpiece of the game is the Grand Bazaar, and its combination of playmat and individual shop and stall tiles give it a very distinct look and great table presence. It’s big too, which is fun unto itself:

You can click on the above image if you want to see a larger version. The Bazaar is populated with randomly selected Shop tiles, Trader tiles, Courtyard tiles, and Alley tiles. Each is two-sided, allowing you to specify a Bazaar that’s a bit more player friendly or a bit more difficult, as desired. Apprentices are denoted by meeples, and in my game, I’m yellow, while the AI player is blue. Along the top are the five goods: wool (white), camel hair (yellow), plant dye (green), carmine dye (red), and silk (purple). The three classes of commissions are shown face down on the lower left, along with the Workshop cards (which aren’t actually needed in the solo game).

Looking at the tiles a bit more closely, here’s a typical Shop, this one focused on wool (but not gathering wool, that would just be a painful pun). The symbols along the bottom show the initial inventory, and the coins show the cost of goods in each of the spots. To buy out all of this merchant’s inventory would cost two coins:

tabriz board game - main layout starting game

The top right shows how many goods are restocked each round, and the little “x” on the right edge of the rightmost space indicates that if the shop overstocks, it wipes out its entire inventory, zeroing out all stock and causing all players to then ignore the shop until it gets more goods to sell. In practice, it’s quick and simple to figure out what you need, where you need to send your apprentice and how to acquire the goods. Except for when an opponent gets there first or the store overstocks and ends up with nothing!

Some stores have two goods, allowing you to purchase any and all inventory even when across products. For example, the below shop:

tabriz board game - more complex shop

This shop is offering two wool for two coins and a single camel hair for 3 coins. If I arrive, I can buy the entire inventory for 6 coins. Why 6? Because the AI’s blue meeple is guarding the entrance, so I have to additionally pay 1 coin to access the shop. It’s a protection racket, which is why the AI feels a bit like the bad guy shaking down the other weavers at the Bazaar for profit. “You’ve gotta nice carpet store, I’d hate to see somethin’ bad happen to it…”

MUCH LATER IN THE GAME…

Each round consists of alternating apprentice movement – each must move before it can take an action, you can’t just sit at a store and keep buying its replenished inventory – followed by the Workshop Phase, which restocks the shops on the board, re-rolls the dice on tiles that utilize dice, pays out any benefits you earn from completed commissions and checks for game completion state. As soon as any player completes 9 commissions or achieves 14 skill points  (or the AI achieves 14 skill points in solo mode) the game’s over and everyone counts up their prestige points. The player with the most points wins the title of best carpet weaver in Tabriz.

But I’m not quite done with this game, though I’m close with 7 commissions completed and 12 skill points. In the below, I’m poised to complete one of my last commissions:

tabriz board game - final commission

If you look at the goods required for this royal commission, it doesn’t seem like I have what’s required, but those wool (white) cubes are a hidden treasure because the trading post immediately above the Weaver Mat offers a five wool -> one silk trade. Since I don’t need wool for the commission, that trade will work perfectly, giving me another completed commission once I can get one of my apprentices to the right spot. Note that the reward for completing this commission is 7 coin, two wool (white cubes) and two prestige points.

AND SO, ON TO THE END GAME

I ultimately won not by completing nine commissions but by achieving 14 skills, a quick skill boost that I earned as the reward for completing a few simple, easy commissions. The timing was good, though, because a close examination of the below shows that the AI was poised to achieve 14 skills and trigger the end game on its next turn:

tabriz board game - end of game setup

The prestige tracker along the top has the blue AI market sitting at zero, even though I’ve attained 18 points during play. That’s normal, the AI doesn’t earn prestige during play, but post-game? Turns out it did pretty well, with a total score of 14 prestige points, almost meeting my 18. Except at the end of the game, I earned some additional points, including the 2-point first-to-attain-14-skills bonus. Final score: 14 to 24.

FINAL THOUGHTS AND ASSESSMENT

While there are always mechanical and logistical considerations when reviewing a game, the ultimate question is whether it’s fun or not, and while Tabriz might have lots of classic resource collection characteristics, it is indeed quite fun to play. Solo play against the AI also allows you to get into more of a zen puzzle-solving state without worrying about the additional challenge of other players. In other words, solo mode feels less competitive and more puzzly, which is something that I really enjoy.

What’s also great about Tabriz is that it’s surprisingly easy to figure out and get started playing, and there’s no question that the big play mat and Grand Bazaar layout give the game a wonderful table presence. This is a game that people will want to know more about if they see it set up, whether you’re actively playing or just preparing for another race through the world of carpet weaving. I’m definitely a fan of this fun game and am ready to take on some of the more challenging AI opponents that will be in the final production version.

Tabriz, by Crafty Games. 1-5 players. Coming to Kickstarter.com later in 2022. Learn more at http://tabrizgame.com/

Disclosure: Crafty Games sent me a prototype of Tabriz in return for this candid review. Thanks, y’all!

dave taylor vertigo film swirl backgroundPlanet Dave is run by Dave Taylor, who has been writing about film, cars, games, and his lifestyle for many years. He's based in Boulder, Colorado and assures readers he's only occasionally falling into a gravity well or temporal distortion field.

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