The second board game in Garphill Games’ latest thematic trilogy, Scholars of the South Tigris, has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. Players will work to translate academic scrolls into Arabic by mixing dice colours, hiring the best language experts in the world and managing their influence in the House of Wisdom.
Scholars of the South Tigris builds on the narrative and mechanical direction of 2022’s Wayfinders of the South Tigris, in which the ruling Abbasid caliph sends players out to collect scientific, cultural and philosophical scrolls and send them back to the capital for translation. Like past entries in Garphill’s portfolio, South Tigris iterates on a single chief mechanic across three distinct titles - this time with dice placement forming the core.
Now that the scrolls have been collected in the House of Wisdom, players will labour towards translating them from their native language into Arabic through a daisy chain of experts hired from the ranks of intellectuals who have flocked to Baghdad. All of this is achieved through a loop of playing action cards, assigning coloured dice to slots on those cards, then using workers to alter the colour and value of those dice to achieve the desired results.
Like other Garphill Games entries, Scholars ultimately asks competing players to amass as many victory points as possible through a complex and tightly woven system of interactions. All of the possible actions fall neatly into work - worker placement, recruitment, travelling, translation and research - and rest, which refills the players’ hand, adds new dice and rewards some income. Deciding when best to rest and effectively reset a players’ available work actions introduces a similar tension to that present in Wayfarers and will likely drive critical choices.
Mixing the colours of two dice placed on action cards is Scholars’ main hook. At the start of the game, players will have access to dice in the three primary colours (red, blue, yellow) plus white, along with workers in matching hues. Once a die has been assigned to an action card, workers can be deployed to either increase the value of a matching-tinted die to six, or alter the colour of anything else to match the worker. Once done, the two dice combine their values and mix their colours - possibly creating three secondary tones of orange, purple or green.
All six colours correspond to different types of research the player can accomplish, awarding them with resources and benefits during the rest period. They can also hire translators from a pool of available workers to their private workforce - other players can make use of these translators’ services, but it costs precious gold. Once a translator earns enough gold, they retire and grant their patron play additional action during the dice placement phase.
A digital PDF of the rulebook is available on Scholars’ Kickstarter page, which explains the myriad other rules and systems not even mentioned here. If it all sounds a bit overwhelming, the first playthrough of a title designed by longtime duo Shem Phillips and S J MacDonald definitely falls squarely into the ‘we’re just going to learn the rules’ category. This process is definitely helped by an iconography system that Garphill has been refining since its initial North Sea trilogy of board games.
Focusing a main mechanic on colours does raise a pressing question - what accommodations have been made for colourblind players? Primary and secondary colour dice are delineated with opaque and translucent material, respectively, and clearly designed icons in the rulebook reinforce this difference. All uses of yellow and orange, both on dice and the board, use black pips instead of white and include thin black lines in their design. When ordering the six colours, the same rotation is used so that it works clockwise from purple to blue.
Scholars of the South Tigris’ Kickstarter campaign runs through March 15th and does automatically include components and rules for a solo baord game mode, as the studio has done with many past titles at this point. Garphill Games states that the campaign is largely to provide players with an opportunity to buy (more) directly from them while also receiving the game before it arrives in retail. On that note, the studio currently expects boxes to begin shipping to backers in November of this year.