Targi board game: A four-sided review

The Targi board game is a two-player action selection and tableau building game. It plays in less than an hour and has little (sometimes no) direct confrontation, excelling instead in its non-direct interactions.

It is nominally themed around two nomadic tribes gathering resources and expanding their territories. But while the component quality is nice and the artwork well done, it is very much an abstract experience.

The game is part of the highly regarded Kosmos two-player small box line (see also The Rose King, Kahuna etc). These retail at just under £20 – a great price for the life you’ll get from them. The box says ages 12+, but younger gamer kids should have no problems. In the box you’ll find 80 small cards, 11 wooden pieces and 50+ cardboard tokens. It is also worth noting Targi is available to play online for free at Yucata and Board Game Arena.

Teaching the Targi board game

Gamers will find themselves on very familiar ground. But Targi can also work well as a gateway game. It introduces some common gamer concepts, but in a tight environment. And with very little (often no) hidden information, it is easy to teach the finer points as you play. As well as pointing out potential pitfalls as they arise.

The playing area is created with cards. There is an outside frame of 16 that stays throughout the game, with a 3×3 grid of cards inside that are replenished as players take them. Cards in the outer frame represent actions or resources; cards in the 3×3 grid will be tribal cards or resources. The game ends when a player has collected 12 tribal cards. Or if the robber (see below) makes it all the way around the outside card grid. This means a maximum of 12 turns. Because while the outer grid is made up of 16 cards, the corners are not used. They’re just penalty squares players must pay for when the robber passes them.

Players take it in turns to place one of their three meeples on cards in the outer grid. You can’t place on the same spot as another meeple (including the robber) or opposite your opponent’s meeples. Once all six meeples have been placed, you also place 0-2 markers on any intersections between your meeples in the 3×3 grid. Each player then removes all their meeples are markers in any order, taking the actions/resources/tribal cards as they go. At the end of the round, turn order switches and you fill in gaps in the 3×3 grid – then go again.

Actions, tribes and resources

Targi has three basic resources (pepper, salt and dates), plus gold. Gold is hardest to come by, but needed to claim many of the tribal cards. There are just six action spaces. Two allow you to trade basic resources, either for gold, points, or other resources. Two give you ‘lucky dip’ picks from the tribal card and resource card decks. One allows you to move one of your markers to a different spot on the 3×3 grid. While the last lets you play your hand card. During the game, you may always have a single tribal card in hand – useful if you really want a card, but can’t afford it just yet.

The robber blocks off the card he stands on, moving one card clockwise each round. And after each set of three rounds, he moves over a corner space of the outer grid – taxing both players. At first it is just a resource or victory point. But later, it may be three resources or a gold coin. Which can really hurt. Some tribal cards negate the robber, or even let you profit from him. While another lets you share a space with him.

Points come from several avenues, allowing for a surprising number of strategies for a game light on components. Gold and resources can be converted into points via actions, while some resource cards are actually just a point. All tribal cards are worth points, with some giving bonus end-game points if you meet certain criteria. Finally, the way you create your tableau of tribal cards can also score points. As you claim cards, you start to form a personal 3×4 tableau with them. Each card is part of a set, with complete rows of same/all different types awarding even more bonuses.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: As someone who dabbles with game design, Targi impresses me technically. Set collection, recipe fulfilment and scoring are bog standard. So the key mechanism has to be strong. And it is. But it’s also incredibly simple, widening the potential appeal and reach. Plotting axis points is something everyone understands. But the denial it creates with two-players makes the game sing. It’s easy to see what you want. But you need both axis points to get it. Which always leave a blocking move for your opponent. Once again a simple, elegant mechanism makes a great game.
  • The thinker: I see this not as a game, but a series of games played out in turns. When the grid is refilled with cards, you completely reset your plan. Not only on what you received last round. But also by the options now available to you. Direct interaction is done well, with just a few cards having minor impact. Instead, the game is in choosing whether to chase your own goals or deny those of your opponent. And if you can do both at once, more’s the better. This makes each round like its own little chess battle. And for that I find it thoroughly entertaining.
  • The trasher: As an aggressive player, it is strange to find a game where blocking feels like the front-foot tactic! Find what your opponent wants most, then make sure they can’t get it. The fact is, you’ll always be getting something unless you really place poorly. Gold feels incredibly important, so starving your opponent of opportunities to get it feels strong. But then the randomness of the tribe cards can throw up other opportunities, keeping you on your toes. Targi feels like those rarest of games that has much for both the tactician and the strategist. The aggressor and the pacifist. Win-win.
  • The dabbler: It’s a very simple game to learn and looks nice, if unspectacular, on the table. Filling the card spaces each round is a bit fiddly. You need to replace cards with their opposite (so a resource card is replaced with a tribe card), which all feels a bit mechanical. And the meeples are annoying as they fall over a lot. Also, after you’ve added a few tribe cards to your tableau you can have lots of added powers. discounts for cards, free resources if you collect a certain type etc. This is all written out on the cards in words, not symbols, so it’s easy to forget stuff. Which can lose you the game. But despite all that it is a lot of fun, and deep for what it is.

Key observations

As always, there are the strange detractors that say Targi isn’t exciting and lacks theme. I guess these things are true. But it would be like criticising something blue for not being red enough. Or eating something you know you don’t like. Why do people insist on doing things they don’t like to do? And then moaning about it?

Some say the best move is usually obvious. But this isn’t a solo game – you must think about your opponent. Are they going for a tribe set? Or need to lay the card in their hand? Even if there is a ‘best’ card, you’ll need two meeples in the right spots to get it. And I don’t agree the ‘Fata Morgana’ action space is problematic. It allows you to move a token to a space you couldn’t get to, scuppering blocking. But to do this, you are wasting an action – quite a high price to pay. If the start player is always getting what they want, you’re letting them. Or they’re paying an extra action to guarantee it, which can hurt over time.

Too long and too lucky?

Some people think, at about an hour, it runs a little long. Again, I disagree. For me, Targi has a nice curve. Early on its a land grab, as you take the best combo of tribes and resources you can. Then later you are choosing whether to concentrate on your own tableau, or on blocking your opponent. Or doing a little of both. But the too-and-fro is always interesting. But of course, if you’re not really enjoying it, any game is going to be too long. And Targi clearly isn’t for everyone.

Yes, there is certainly luck involved. You may try for four of a tribe for example, get to three, and not see another one. This can be frustrating, but it’s not enough to put me off. However, if this kind of luck element annoys you, I can see it being a disappointment. Also there isn’t a huge amount of variety in the box. I’m a fan, but still deliberately don’t play it massively often. I think a lot of games are like this, and I’m fine with that. But if you have small collection and are looking for games to play very regularly, Targi may not be for you. That said, it does have a very well regarded expansion that changes things up a lot.

Conclusion: Targi board game

As you’ve probably guessed by now, the Targi board game is an absolute keeper for me. It’s an elegant balance of combative abstract and euro mechanisms. I’m happy with the 45-minute-ish game length. And, while the luck of the card draw can get you sometimes, I’m having a good enough time to roll with it. My better half likes it too and is now picking it on game nights. And at close to 50 plays now (on and offline) I’m always happy to play. And that’s without having picked up the expansion. A definite winner.

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