Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Wednesday 13 May 2020

Taking Board Games to the 3rd Dimension:- Tsuro VR

Game: Tsuro

Publisher: Calliope Games

Designer: Tom McMurchie

Digital Edition By: Thunderbox Entertainment

Year: 2004

It is quite normal in these times to take our traditionally analogue hobby into the digital world. For some time many popular games have developed app versions of their games to entertain people on the go, or when they can't gather everyone around one table. Tsuro VR is one such app, being a take on the popular tile-laying game Tsuro. The rather obvious difference being that it isn't a game you play on a flat screen, but rather a game for VR devices.

VR has been a thing in sci-fi for as long as I can remember, whether it's the Holodeck in Star Trek or the Artificial Reality video game on the "Back to Reality" episode of Red Dwarf (although that was actually a giant squid, long story). It has long been portrayed as a way to take characters out of their 'mundane' reality and into situations that would be impossible in the show's main storyline. The road to VR in real life has been rather more bumpy. Many people will point at the ill-fated Virtual Boy as the first failure to get VR into consumer's hands, but more recently various 'Google Cardboard' style devices have let you turn your phone into a VR device. While these certainly can be used in impressive ways, such as the crime scenes of Chronicles of Crime, they're a long, long way away from what modern VR is capable of. If you want to see that you're going to have to put down some serious cash.

The top of the line in consumer VR at the time of writing is the Valve Index. This is a serious bit of kit and has a serious price tag. You'll be looking at spending over £900 to get a new one, and that's on top of the price of the high-performance gaming PC you need to run it! But there is a budget option, a happy middle-ground between the Index and the Cardboard, and that's the Oculus Quest. With a  price tag of £400 it's not just significantly cheaper than the Index, but it's also stand alone, having a small Nintendo-Switch-like device inside it that can run VR games for you. There are downsides, the Quest has a relatively small library of games (though you can hook it to a PC to gain access to more), the weight needed for standalone VR can make it comparatively uncomfortable for long gaming sessions and the quality of the display isn't what you would get with the premium options on the market. All things considered, that's where I put my money, and that's what I'd recommend most anyone else do too.

Freeroaming VR lets you get right up into the action. Well, as much action as you can expect from a tranquil game of Tsuro

There is a caveat to this preview, which is that Tsuro VR is not yet available on Oculus Quest. It is still in development in order to utilize features such as controller-free hand tracking. While I could have used my PC to stream the game to my headset, I was fortunate enough to be given this dev build to play around with. The hands in these photos/videos are my real hands being tracked live with no controllers/gloves involved.

When you first load up the game you will find yourself instantly transported to a tranquil garden, a large pond lies underneath a cherry-blossom tree and in the centre, is a huge game board of Tsuro. Remember that, in VR perspective is very much apparent, this board is massive, with tiles easily being a metre long on each side. In the centre of the board are the play pieces which you can select and pull to a starting location in order to choose your colour. The remaining pieces can then be dragged into one of the 3 AI slots to set their difficulty. Having selected your opponents, you can then hit the gong to start the game.

For a more strategic view you can teleport onto a tower or a nearby roof.

Once the game has started it behaves exactly how you'd expect a game of Tsuro to behave. Every round you place a tile out of a hand of 3. You can rotate the tiles as you wish, but once placed your stone, and all other stones who were also adjacent to the tile you placed, will move along the marked paths until they reach the end of a path. All you have to do is be the last person standing. Every time a stone leaves the board, or a stone hits into another stone they are eliminated. As the game progresses the board becomes tighter and hand sizes shrink as the remaining tiles run out. Tsuro VR does a fantastic job of recreating Tsuro, it works exactly as you'd expect, the AI function from blathering idiots to worryingly aggressive depending on their difficulty. You can even take the game online to play against real players!

But all is not perfect in this garden. While there is no doubt that Tsuro VR is a game for VR devices, it doesn't feel like a VR game. In VR your brain is whisked away to a new place and you instantly want to explore. Humans want to pick things up and examine them closely when they are curious and in Tsuro VR you get none of that. Sure there are a few hidden items around the garden that you can collect, but you get them by pointing and selecting them. The lack of interaction is extremely apparent compared to other VR titles. I would have loved to ring the gong to start the game by picking up the mallet and swinging it. It would have felt so natural to rotate my tiles by plucking them out of the air and twisting them, rather than tapping my fingers together in order to simulate a 'click'. None of this ruins the game, the game works, but because of this if feels like a game. The power of VR is in making things feel real.

Tsuro VR is a great way to play Tsuro, and a great getaway from modern troubles. It's an intensely chill game that instantly makes me relax. It's not going to be the title that I recommend buying a £400 headset for (that game is Beat Saber!), but for its low price tag, it's certainly worth getting if you already have one. If nothing else it's fascinating to see board games taken to the next technological level.

Early access to Tsuro VR for the Oculus Quest was kindly provided to us by Thunderbox Entertainment. It's currently available on Steam VR, Oculus Rift, Oculus Go and Samsung Gear VR.

No comments:

Post a Comment