Family Board Game Review – Tak: A Beautiful Game

Cheapass Games

Age Rating: 12+

Players: 2

Timeframe: 20-45 minutes

MSRP: $55.00

Style: Abstract Strategy

 

“My next several hours were spent learning how to play Tak. Even if I had not been nearly mad with idleness, I would have enjoyed it. Tak is the best sort of game: simple in its rules, complex in its strategy. Bredon beat me handily in all five games we played, but I am proud to say that he never beat me the same way twice.”

-Kvothe, The Wise Man’s Fear (book by Patrick Rothfuss)

Introduction

The concept of Tak originated in the second book in The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. It was only described in vague detail but was always very intriguing to fans of the series. It was THE classic game in the world the author created. It didn’t exist in real life- until recently. Patrick Rothfuss and James Ernest from Cheapass Games had worked together on a little card game called Pairs. James Ernest had discussed creating a real and playable version of Tak. Patrick was reluctant, to say the least. But, the game ended up getting made (read the details here: http://blog.patrickrothfuss.com/2016/04/tak-a-beautiful-game/) and we all get to reap the benefits. (Editor’s note: If you’d like to hear the story you can listen to our podcast episode where I interviewed James Ernest about it!)

 

Tak is an abstract strategy game similar in play to Chess, Go, Mancala, etc. It has simple rules, looks (and sounds) beautiful and is easy to play. But, don’t be fooled by its outward simplicity. Playing this game requires a great deal of thought, tactics, and strategy.

 

Contents (The Classic Set)

  • Full rules booklet
  • 62 wooden pieces (31 natural colored trapezoid shaped pieces, and 31 darker colored flat bottom circle pieces including a capstone in each color)
  • 10” square hybrid game board

The components for this game are very clever and well thought out. The wooden pieces have a compelling tactile element because of their shapes and they also sound really cool when placed on the game board or when they clank together. We can imagine that it would sound even better if you had one of the higher end game boards that was available through the Kickstarter.

The game board itself is double sided and allows for highly customizable play. The “tavern” side of the board is printed to look like an old fashioned hand made wooden board and is meant to be played as a basic 5×5 grid game. The “court” side of the board is printed with a beautiful Selas flower and diamond pattern and can be used to play any size game from 3×3 to 6×6. .The artwork and aesthetic fit well with the world described in The Kingkiller Chronicles and should be pleasing to fans of the series as well as casual players. The box interior is not particularly well laid out if you are bothered by everything getting jumbled up. We would have liked to see separate compartments for the different colored wooden pieces.

Gameplay

The object of game is simple. Players have to build a road (using their wooden pieces) that connects from one side of the board to the opposite side. A road does not have to be a straight line and diagonal spaces to do connect.

On each turn players may either place a piece in an empty space in the board or move pieces in one of the stacks that they control. Pieces can be placed flat on the board, or standing upright.  Nothing can be stacked on a standing stone but standing stones do not count as part of your road (so standing stones act more like walls). Capstones can also be placed on the board like regular stones, but they do count as part of the road and they can be used to flatten standing stones.

Movement in the game is a bit tricky, and you and your opponent should read through the rules a few times before you play. If you’re anything like us, you will miss some rules the first time you play and will only figure it out when you encounter a scenario that doesn’t see to make sense or be fair. Movement is really the key to winning this game.

In addition to playing with different size grids, there is some more variety added when you score the game. Just like many other Cheapass Games, there are fun variations included in the rules to keep the game endlessly interesting and highly replayable.

Is it a Family Game?

Tak is absolutely a family game. There is nothing offensive or mature about the game, no reading is required, and the rules for gameplay are simple and easily explained to players age 7 and older.  However,we found that younger players will miss out on most of the strategy involved in the game and gameplay will often be much shorter because they do not apply complex or deep ideas.

This game is easy to jump into for children familiar with abstract games, but keep in mind that they have to be flexible thinkers and open to changing plans. Strategy and tactics are all well and good, but they’re only as good as the players’ ability to think and respond quickly on their feet. If you play with a young gamer who gets easily frustrated when their plans get changed by an opponent’s move, this might not be the game for you. If you are a player who likes games with deep stories and an aesthetic that supports that story, this is also not the game for you.

Conclusion

Tak is a game that can be enjoyed by new gamers, casual gamers and experienced gamers alike.  You do not have to be familiar with the book series that the game is based on to enjoy the game as a family. It really seems to be as timeless and classic as Chess, Checkers, and Mancala.  Because the game feels and plays similar to those classic and is beautifully designed we have really enjoyed playing it. There many different outcomes and playstyles, so the game hasn’t gotten dry or repetitive and our children often choose to bring this to the table to teach new friends how to play. While the game doesn’t have the inherent EXCITEMENT level of some of the more popular gateway games, the adults we introduced the game to definitely found it to be intriguing and fun.

FCC disclosure: A copy of this game was sent to us by the publisher for the purposes of this review.

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