Torres has been in my Top 10 favorite games since the first time I played it. I truly believe it to be one of the best games ever designed. It is a tense, tactical battle of wits from start to finish. Chock-full of tough strategic decisions, it is an absolute masterpiece.
So when I first heard about Pueblo, it shot to the top of my want list. Another beautiful, 3D abstract from the genius minds of Kramer and Kiesling? I had to have it. I recently acquired this game, and it absolutely lived up to my expectations.
Except for the fact that it feels nothing like Torres.
Don’t get me wrong, Pueblo is a wonderful game. It’s one of those elegantly simple, yet deceptively tricky games. It’s beautiful to look at, intriguing to play, and as clever as you’d expect a K&K game to be. It’s just not what I expected.
Torres is an incredibly strategic game. At every turn, you are faced with grueling decisions about how to spend your actions. The game makes you think not only about how to maximize your own turn, but also to ensure that other players can’t reap the benefits of your hard work. It has this back-and-forth nature, where you’re constantly thinking, “If I do move X, my opponent will probably respond with move Y, which I could then counter with move Z.” It’s almost chess-like in that regard. There are a plethora of viable strategies, but it is very tactical, as you must be constantly responding to your opponents’ moves.
Pueblo certainly has interesting decisions, but they are much more straightforward. This is probably because, unlike Torres, which has a variety of different actions to choose from, in Pueblo, you must do the same two things every turn: place a block and move the chief pawn. By no means is this as easy as it sounds, though, the decisions are just more contained. There are dozens of locations and positions in which to place your block, which forces you to really think about what the best (read: least awful) placement is. You must weigh your options, sometimes placing a block in an undesirable location to avoid having to place it in an even worse one. But when all is said and done, all you’re doing is placing a block and moving the chief pawn.
Torres has many more options. The game has surprising depth, but this comes at the cost of a higher barrier of entry for new players. It is not overly complex, per se, but it isn’t simple either. There are a lot of moving parts, so it takes a bit to “click.” New players might not grasp the intricacies of the strategy right away. Once you start to understand what’s going on, though, you begin to realize how much control you have. At any given time, you have multiple, viable options, and part of the fun is determining how to maximize your measly five actions. Early on in a game of Pueblo, there are usually moves that are clearly optimal. The decisions become weightier as the game goes on, so in that sense, Pueblo has a nice strategy crescendo.
It’s hard to explain, but in Torres, it feels like nothing is ever impossible. You might be positive that you executed the most brilliant move ever, and there’s no way your opponents can mess with you, but clever, unforeseen plays happen all the time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the diagonal move card or the “jump up two levels” card change the entire game. One perfectly-timed play can be devastating, and I love that. As much as I enjoy Pueblo, I have never gotten this same experience from it.
Both games can suffer from AP-induced downtime, but Torres much more so. As it is, Torres has more actions to choose from, so it makes sense that turns would take longer, but by the end of the game, when there are a million things happening on the board, you might as well take a shower and go grocery shopping, because it won’t be your turn for an hour (and that’s only a slight exaggeration). Pueblo can slow down a bit near the end, but not to the point where it grinds to a halt. There is more riding on your later decisions, but even the most AP-prone people shouldn’t take THAT long.
A big plus for Pueblo is that it’s quick to teach and quick to play. Even with four players, box-to-box time is 30 to 40 minutes. It doesn’t overstay its welcome. Torres usually clocks in around 75-90 minutes, which isn’t so bad, but it’s a bit more of a commitment.
When compared side-by-side, Torres and Pueblo are both exceptional. They just feel classic and timeless. I would say Torres provides a more rewarding experience, but players must invest more time and mental energy. Pueblo is more accessible, but it still provides a very interesting puzzle. After I’ve play Torres, I find myself thinking about the game long afterward. I think about what I could have done differently, how amazing it was when I had the perfect move at the perfect moment, how angry I was when my opponent took the tower that I built, that kind of thing. I like when games stay with you like this. As much as I like Pueblo, it doesn’t provide that same experience. When the game is done, that’s that.
As far as a recommendation goes, I think it depends what you’re looking for out of the gaming experience. Pueblo feels more like a puzzle, while Torres feels more like a hybrid abstract-Euro. Torres won the Spiel des Jahres at a time when it seemed like the selection committee favored meatier games (El Grande, Torres), stuff that today might be more Kennerspiel fodder. If you like puzzle-y games like Dimension, Ricochet Robots, and Karuba, or if you’re just interested in exploring abstract games, Pueblo might be more your style. If you gravitate more toward heavier, thinkier games like El Grande, Pillars of the Earth, and Maharaja, I’d say go for Torres.
I really do love both of these games. They are amazing abstracts that will be permanently staying in my collection. You don’t even have to like abstract games to enjoy them; I’m not usually a fan of abstracts, but these are something special. I’d encourage you to try both of them.