Unlike in other cultures, the desert Tuareg men, known as Targi, cover their faces whereas women of the tribe do not wear veils. They run the household and they have the last word at home in the tents. Different families are divided into tribes, headed by the Imascheren (or nobles). As leader of a Tuareg tribe, players trade goods from near (such as dates and salt) and far (like pepper), in order to obtain gold and other benefits, and enlarge their family. In each round their new offerings are made. Cards are a means to an end, in order to obtain the popular tribe cards.
The board consists of a 5x5 grid: a border of 16 squares with printed action symbols and then 9 blank squares in the centre onto which cards are dealt. Meeples are placed one at a time on the spaces at the edges of the board (not including corner squares). You cannot place a meeple on a square the opponent has a meeple on already, nor on a square facing opponent's meeple. Once all meeples are placed, players then execute the actions on the border squares the meeples are on and also take the cards from the centre that match the row and column of the border meeples.
The game is predominantly scored and won by playing tribal cards to your display. These give advantages during the game and victory points at the end. Usually cards are played (or discarded) immediately once drawn. A single card can be kept in hand but then requires a special action to play it (or to discard it to free the hand spot for another card). Each card has a cost in goods to play. Goods are obtained either from border spaces or from goods cards.
The display (for scoring) consists of 3 rows of 4 cards that are filled from left to right and cannot be moved once placed (barring some special cards). There is also a balance to be found between the victory point score on the cards themselves (1-3 VP per tribal card) and in the combinations per row (a full row of 4 identical card types gets you an additional 4 VP, and a full row of 4 distinct card types gets you 2 VP).
The winner at the end of the game is the player with the most victory points.
Two is the perfect number
The search for the perfect two player game seems to be very high on a lot gamers agenda. Something that that offers an engaging and thematic experience, with a significant amount of strategy and options. But without a huge set up or complexity that may turn some players off for a two player experience. This is rare to find, but the answer could have been sat in front of us for a while. The 2012 release of Targi may have been over shadowed that year by strategy classics such as Terra Mystica, Tzolk’in and Lords of Waterdeep, but I would urge you to give it a try if you are looking to add a new two player strategy game with some depth into your collection.
7 Wonders Duel, Azul, Patchwork, Jaipur and Sagrada are the other five that would come to mind for the best two player experiences. The thing that makes Targi stand out from that crowd is its worker placement mechanic. My favourite worker placement games, Everdell and Viticulture, play very nicely in a two, but they suit a three or four better. Targi on the other hand is solely a two player experience. And the development of the game as such is felt in the simplicity, satisfaction and smoothness of the game play.
The theme of the game is strong. You are a member of the Tuareg, a semi nomadic people who live in the North African Sahara Desert. Your job is to control the trade routes through the desert and in doing so, become the most prosperous tribe. The path to victory however, is fraught with tough decisions and of course, reacting to what your opposing player does.
Time to trade!
Set up is easy. You lay out the border cards which are numbered for clarity. They are double sided with one side showing text explaining what that card means, the other simply with a symbol. The second side is more aesthetically pleasing and will be clear as to its meaning after one game. The border route is one way to represent the number of rounds in the game. I will explain the other later. A robber figure is placed on the first square. Each round the robber moves along one space until it reaches the final space and triggers the end game.
This also blocks a certain card each round simply with its presence. You then lay out the nine cards in the middle, alternating between resources and tribes. In alternate turns, players then place their Targi figures on the border cards of their choosing. The card they choose determines what resource or power they have that round, and the two intersection points between their three Targi offer two further benefits. Be they resources or tribes. In the game you are looking to get resources to buy tribes to add to your display.
You want Tribes to get points. Most points win. Sounds simple, and it is, but the choices of where to place your Targi figures is agonisingly brilliant! Laying them alternately but knowing their intersection points get you more rewards is a brilliant mechanic. You are thinking what you and your opponent wants or needs and are constantly trying to figure out an order by which you can get your chosen cards without being blocked by your opponent. Often you cannot get what you want as your opponent wants it too!
So you need to start with a few options or pivot your strategy mid turn. The game recognises this and offers a unique power on the border cards called Fata Morgana, which allows one player the opportunity to move one of their intersection points to any free space that round. A second chance if needed, and it often is!
Every three rounds the robber raids, taking either resources, points or money. Preparing for this is another element to plan for and spices up the rounds preceding this. Prepping to make sure you have the necessary item to stop the robber taking something else more valuable. But all the time, trying to build your display of tribe cards.
Once you do have a Tribe card, you place it into your display. In total you can have twelve cards max, in three rows or four cards. Where you place the cards is also important as you get an extra point for four unique tribes in a row, two extra points for four tribes with the same symbol. Getting 12 cards is the other end game trigger, so a tactic could be to get any twelve cards as quick as possible, irrespective of their value or symbol, to surprise your opponent with a quick end.
Work, work work!
As you start each round, your brain goes into over drive. You have three decisions to make, where to place your three Targi figures. That’s it. But where they go will determine what five things you can take that round. If a coin resource card is drawn, that will change all your plans as they are very scarce in the game, and you need them to buy most Tribes. But what if the perfect Tribe card is there? Could you risk leaving that as you don’t think your opponent wants it? But then before you can get it you need one more Pepper.
But there is no pepper card out, and the pepper space on the border cards doesn’t line up with either the coin or the tribe I want! All this is gong on in you head as your opponent’s think similar things. As you form you plan, you place your first Targi hoping your opponent doesn’t block you, inadvertently or otherwise. Often they do, so you may then look to place on the Fata Morgana space to control your fate a little more. But what if your opponent blocks that too or claims the space you want anyway. Its excruciating, hilarious and highly rewarding in equal measures!
All in, the game takes 1 hour and feels very smooth throughout. I have played with my wife and six year old son and found both experiences to be equally enjoyable. The game is marketed to 12 and up, but my son picked it up very easily and even on his first game, only narrowly lost by a few points. The worker placement mechanic is what makes Targi shine, but the Tribe tableau building is very rewarding too. Getting a tribe card that allows you to buy another card cheaper or get more points from other types; and then having that pay off later is very pleasing.
Knock on score effects are highly satisfying too. You could have a card that scores one point for every two cards of a certain type. So you collected that second type as much as you could and got four, all placed in one row. Before you have scored either of those five cards base points, they have already scored you four extra points. In a game often won and lost by a few points, this can be crucial.
Pound for pound value.
All this for under £20 in small box. Fun, replayable and satisfying gaming as such a low cost. This has to be up there in terms of pound for pound value. I would highly recommend this.