Friday, October 7, 2016

Tak: the reality behind what was fiction

Tak belongs to that curious family of games that were fictional and someone decided to make real. The game was mentioned in Patrick Rothfuss's The Wise Man's Fear and James Ernst made the game real.

The object of the game is to build a road across the board. You can place your stones on the board either flat as flagstones or on their sides as walls. You can move an already placed flagstone one space, including on top of another flagstone. You cannot move onto a wall but walls cannot move and do not count as part of the road.

Both players get a special piece called the capstone. It is the only piece that can flatten a wall and nothing can be put on top of the capstone.

There is also a special rule for moving a stack of pieces. The person on top, controlling the stack, can move the stack more than one space but they have to leave the bottom piece behind after the first move. It's rather like sowing in Mancala. 

I will be honest. I wasn't terribly interested in Tak when I first heard about it. I do love me some abstracts something fierce but I didn't feel like it offered me anything I hadn't seen before. I have played some really good modern abstracts but I've also played some pretty bad ones too.

But there was a giant set of Tak at Rincon 2016 and I saw in steady use so I ended up giving it a go. And then ended up playing the game three more times.

I know Tak is supposed to feel like a game that's been around for generations and it has a bit of that feel. However, what really
stood out for me was how intuitive it felt. I was able to pick it up and make more experienced players sweat for their wins.

There are some very interesting choices. Using a stone as a wall is a good blocking move but it doesn't help you build your road. The capstone is a strong piece but it has to enter the game on an empty space, like any other space. And getting it out telegraphs how you will use it.

One part of the game that I still have a long ways to really get a good handle on is the sowing move. Building up a stack and being able to effectively make a whole bunch of move is very strong and great stepped into to make that big, dramatic move. But you have to work your way there.

And there is also a strong alternate game ending condition. If you place all your stones first, you lose. That adds tension to the game as well as a timer. If your opponent forces you to place stones, it puts you on the defensive on a couple levels.

Tak doesn't quite make the top tier of modern abstracts for me. Games like the GIPF Project or the Blokus Family or Hive have set a very high standard for me. However, it is definitely a second tier game. It is easy to pick up and understand but it has enough depth to reward continued play and exploring the game. 

The game hasn't actually come out yet but everything I need to know about making my own copy is available. And I am planning on doing that.

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