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

Sunday 15 November 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Tessera

Game: Tessera

Publisher: Board Game Hub

Designer: James Emmerson

Year: 2021

Tessera is the latest design coming to Kickstarter from UK publisher Board Game Hub. Their last project, Tranquility was a beautiful cooperative game which successfully funded and recently fulfilled to backers. This latest project is another game with a simple core concept and simple components, but a quite addictive puzzly, design.

Players are collectively creating a mosaic tile floor with size colours and designs, each dedicated to a god from Roman mythology. By overlapping new tiles, a pattern is created that maximises and minmises scoring opportunities for different colours, giving a few key decisions for players to make along the way. Whilst the mosaic is a collective endeavour, the game is competitive, with one player scoring the most points to win.

Tessera will launch on Kickstarter on 18th November.


Each turn of Tessera is simple. You play one of the Domino-style tiles from your hand onto the board and then choose how to score it before drawing a replacement from your deck. There are six (seven at higher player counts) gods that can be represented by the art on the tiles. When you place a tile it can overlap other tiles however you want. However you place it you will either score  with both half of your tile or boost your gods instead.

If you choose to boost your favor with the god then you simply move the relevant marker up one location on your player board. These positions represent a multiplier when you score that god. Choosing a balance of how much to boost a single god's multiplier and how often to score it it key to victory. If you choose to boost one of your gods you must also boost the other one, likewise with scoring gods.

When you choose to score a god you gain a number of points equal to the area of connected space of that god's colour that you just added to. These points are placed into the section of your board that that god's multiplier currently resides. For example if you scored a size five area of tiles on a god that was at tier two you would put five point tokens in the tier two section of your board, representing that these five mounts should be doubled at the end of the game for ten points. The game continues until each player has run out of cards. Points are then multiplied and added together to give your final score.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Tessera manages to give players easy gameplay and yet have a constant barrage of choices. When a large area has emerged for one god do you make use of it to score, add to it to score bigger, or disrupt it to prevent other players getting opportunities? This is determined as much by personal strategy as by what is currently available in your hand. You have to choose the same option for both sides of your domino tile, so is it worth scoring big on one god and small on the other, or biding your time, increasing your multiplies for the big payoff down the road? The board can change rapidly during the game, with opportunities ebbing and flowing, altering the balance of power between the gods.

In order to do well you're going to have to know when best to take you opportunities and when to hold back and build your strength. A truly advanced player might card count themselves and even others in order to work out how many cards you have left for any particular god. There's no point getting a 5x multiplier if you don't have any chances left to score them! Unfortunately while this gameplay is intuitive and gives meaningful choices it is ultimately rather simple, resulting in a game that quickly felt "finished" after only a handful of games.

Tessera has a good balance between strategy and luck and does manage to fill a number of meaningful choices in a 20-30 minute game. However even with the mini expansions that we were able to try the strategies won't evolve much between games, making Tessera fit only as a suitable filler game rather than something bigger.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Tessera is a game all about one critical choice each turn - are you going to take the points now, or will you increase the multiplier each of the two colours on your tile for the potential of more points later. Your hand only contains 6 tiles containing each colour, so if you spend too many of them investing you won't have a chance to reap the dividends. However, if other players start to make the board really lucrative for a colour you've invested in, then your one or two scoring rounds have the potential to be enormous. The board changes quite a bit over the course of the game, so timing your scoring chances is key!

Due to its simplicity, along with the length of the game being fixed by the size of your card deck, Tessera will be over very quickly and it did feel a little lack-lustre to us on our early play. The game has an inherent balance to it, which can feel like most games will come to a similar conclusions. However, in part because it is short, it really makes you want to play again, and after a few plays we noticed that our games were quite different and we were definitely becoming more skilled players. The single wild card expansion tile also really added a lot to the game, which was very impressive for such an unassuming addition!

If you've ever played Heartland, or its reprint, Gunkimono, you'll probably find Tessera to be the filler version of those games. It's simpler and has more basic components, but gives those same satisfying puzzly vibes. The theme has meant that the art style doesn't impress quite so much as the art for their previous Kickstarter, but if enough people choose to learn more, they might discover a nice puzzly filler to add to their collection.

You Might Like...
  • The simple choice of taking points now or improving your point scoring opportunities for later is very satisfying.
  • Watching your opponents can become very important in what is otherwise a quite solitary game.
You Might Not Like...
  • Our favourite part of the game was the Kickstater exclusive bonus tile - great for backers, but not so great for future retail.
  • Luck of the draw can hamper you if you don't have the right cards to take advantage of high scoring board states.

The Verdict
Tessera is simple in may ways - its art style, it's mechanisms and the choices you'll make during the game. In this case it's a good simple, creating an elegant and classic game feeling with a lot of satisfying moments. It is unlikely to be the most impressive game in your collection, but it's a very solid filler that has a 'let's play again' feeling and a broad family appeal.

Tessera was a prototype copy kindly provided to us by Board Game Hub.

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