Tower of Babel is a clever area majority game designed by Reiner Knizia. Players try to complete the eight wonders of the world, including the Tower of Babel from the title. Alas, not all of them will be done by the end. Players try to get the majority of the markers in each wonder that is finished.
The game’s published by Hans im Glück, which says something about the quality. The game looks neat, if a bit bland. The components are good, even though they include some rather pointless bits of wood used to denote the turn order — which goes clockwise around the table and remains the same each round. Surely the players are able to remember that?
Together we’re strong
The way the wonders are built is cooperation! Each wonder consists of three subprojects. Each has a colour and a size. To build the subproject, you need to play the right number of cards of the right colour. The player who initiates the building doesn’t have to provide all the cards: everybody offers a number of cards and the builder chooses whose cards are included. He can add his own or build solo, but he doesn’t have to.
Each card is one marker on the wonder: the player with most markers scores the biggest points when (if) the wonder is done. The builder gets the project chit — a collection of several chits of the same colour is worth a lot of points and is a rather significant source of points.
If your cards aren’t accepted, you get compensation victory points, one for each card. Not bad! There’s also the trade card: include it in your offer and if your cards are accepted, the builder gets the markers from your cards and you get the chit. This makes the offers more interesting, particularly as the builder can only accept one offer with a trade card.
The game end when one of the colours runs out from the board. This, combined with the need to collect chits, makes the end game dynamic and exciting. It works rather well. I’ve played with three and four and think both work — with five, there’s probably too many cards around. Many people seem to recommend avoiding the game with five.
I like the challenges offered by the system. Trying to maximise your presence on board, while collecting the building chits and making sure the wonders you have built won’t get finished too soon or too late, that’s a challenge. As a builder, which wonder you want to build? Which chits to collect? There are plenty of interesting decisions to make. Sometimes you suffer from the lack of cards of certain colour — there’s some luck effect there, but it’s not a game-breaker. Besides, Tower of Babel is a reasonably swift game, which is forgiving.
I’ve skipped the bonus cards in my review, and I recommend you do the same when you play the game. I’ve played once with the bonus cards that award rewards for the players who finish the wonders, and I feel they add nothing to the game — instead, they make the game worse in my opinion. According to the legends, the cards weren’t a part of Knizia’s original design anyway, but even if they were, I think the game is better without them.
Tower of Babel is a subtle game that probably benefits from repeated plays. I enjoy the game, but in the end it’s perhaps a bit too subtle: I don’t feel the need to get it on the table. If someone suggests this, I’ll play, no doubt about it, but as it is, I’m trading my copy away.