In Spires players are building towers for the pleasure of the royal family – but if they build them higher than the palace, the monarchy gets piqued by this show of indulgence and your previously point-scoring towers cost you points instead!
The game is played through a deck of cards containing six suits, and each card also has a number value. Each player is dealt five cards and three are laid face-up on the table – one in each of the three markets. Players also have matching market cards (I, II and III) and in each round they play one face-down to the table before everyone reveals which market they’re going to. If you’re the only player going to a particular market, you get to take the card and place it on the table in front of you, building a tower. If you already have one or more that colour, you must add it to your existing tower.
If more than one player is going to the same market, however, there’s now a second phase where each player now plays a card from their hand (face-down, then reveal) to decide who gets the card at the market. The highest numbered card wins, unless the lower number matches the suit of the card, and the higher number doesn’t. The winning player gets not only the card from the market, but also the cards both they and their opponents played! As these cards must all be used to build towers, you need to be careful here – three or less cards in any tower will be worth 5 points per card, but any tower with more than three (i.e. it’s ‘taller’ than the palace) costs you minus one point per card. Clever play can see players handing each other cards they don’t really want.
Many cards also have symbols on though, and you can offset having too-tall towers by having the majority in these, which will score you bonus points. When the deck is exhausted and all cards claimed, players can discard one card from their hand – but have to add the rest to their towers!
There are also scroll cards that pop up during the game which can be used to score points, or remove cards from towers. These are added to the market as normal – they never go into your hand – and contested in the same way as a standard card.
Spires can be brutal – but it’s a lot of fun. You can be lagging miles behind with the game nearing its end, and perform a spectacular comeback. And of course you can be victim to the flip side of that coin as well. What at first seems a simple game of building towers, only not too high becomes fraught with tension and double-think as you wonder whether someone is going to stiff you with a card you really don’t want. If you like that kind of palpable tension this is a delight – a tense, agonising delight, but a delight all the same.
PLENTY. This is a game where screwing with your opponents is just as important as building your own towers.
Low. Play moves pretty quickly, until the final few turns when suddenly you have a bit of a head-scratcher on your hands.
Moderate. Getting a card you really want can mean you play "on-suit" for it, but if your opponent does too you might well be picking up more than you bargained for - or indeed handing them juicy points.
There's not a huge variety in the experience of Spires, but it plays pretty fast and does allow room for strategy and tactics. Cards ensure some randomness too.