Tak: A Beautiful Game Review - Wow, Wood Is Expensive!

Sooooooooo.......this is an abstract game. That's born out of a book I've never heard of. That's barely mentioned in the book to begin with. And then nicknamed "A Beautiful Game". . . . what? This is a very bizarre origin story for an abstract game which would generally be thought of as moving solid blocks on a board. Obviously I have not read this book, nor intend to, nor do I believe it would have any additional bearing on this review so I'm just going to ignore it. It's going to take me long enough to read my Arkham Investigators book as it is.

This now allows me to focus on the game itself, which again does have a bunch of wooden blocks and requires you to place/move them around a board. No surprises there, but all of these abstract games are about the "how" rather than the "what" and I do love trying these out even though I don't have the means of regularly playing any of them to the point of supreme mastery. Let's just hope the name "TAK" wasn't simply a spelling error from "TAT".




Designer: James Ernest, Patrick Rothfuss
Publisher: Cheapass Games
Age: 12+
Players: 2
Time: 15-45 Minutes
RRP: £54.99



From Board Game Geek

"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
Tak is a two-player abstract strategy game dreamed up by Pat Rothfuss in "The Wise Man's Fear" and made reality by James Ernest. In Tak, players attempt to make a road of their pieces connecting two opposite sides of the board.
Stones can be laid flat or stood on end. When played flat, they are called “flat stones.” In this orientation, other stones can be stacked on them. If they are stood on end, they are called “standing stones” or “walls.” Nothing can be stacked atop a standing stone, but these do not count as part of a player’s road.
Depending on the size of the game, players may also have capstones, which can can come in many decorative shapes. Capstones serve as both a flat stone and a wall, and can also flatten standing walls.


WOOD IS THE RAREST COMMODITY 


Not the cheapest abstract game on the market, I have to say. Which is pretty ironic given that the original publisher was Cheapass Games. You do get a bunch of chunky wooden blocks for your expense, but they feel a lot lighter than expected. I was expecting the box to weigh a ton, but I guess they used really light wood in this process. As such they don't feel as solid and chunky as they look, but no big deal, at least it's easy to tell them apart for game purposes. But even then we're talking over £50 for this, which for an abstract is pretty insane.

You'll see remnants in the rulebook (of which the rules are pretty straightforward) of the origin story and the book it derives from etc. But frankly you can just ignore it. It means nothing to the game and I even have a friend who's read the books. He recognised the game in my bag based on the authors name - even he told me that it's referenced incredibly lightly in the books.


STACKING BLOCKS


The premise is pretty simple. You either place a block on an empty square or you move blocks around. Blocks can jump onto other blocks and stacks can be moved providing you drop blocks on route in a manner similar to the Mancala mechanic that some may remember from Five Tribes or Trajan (I had to mention a Feld title for this analogy, the things I do for you). Doesn't sound like much, but it literally takes you about 5-6 moves before you realise that this game packs quite a punch in strategy.

Board states can change radically through a crafty use of a stack movement and I love games where that happens. Remember my YINSH review, that has a similar style of play, you can never assume the board state will stay the same. I'm certainly no expert at this and this has been proved in the multiple games I've played, but it doesn't matter, because a good abstract game makes me want to repeatedly play it and master it. . . . . of course I have to play many games so mastery is unlikely to happen!



KEEP IT WITHIN THE SQUARES! 


Most modern day abstract games are pretty good at keeping the time length down, certainly since the good old days of Chess and Go, etc. Tak is no exception as you'll be done with your first game including teaching in around 15-20 minutes, usually because you won't be making optimal moves and still grasping the concepts. Two people who know what they are doing, locked in mind games, will still take no longer than about 30 minutes to complete a single game. Obviously the larger the board you use, the longer it will take in general.

And the boards are a bit of a weak link for me. You have the ability to play on anything between 3x3 and 7x7. Above 5x5, the game gets a bit long for my tastes. Below that it's quicker, but very unforgiving as one wrong move can spell end-game against a competent player. I don't like how Tak also suggests that you occasionally play on the corners of squares for the next size up. As if the blocks didn't look messy on the board generally, trying to keep a grasp of the board state when you're balancing them on tiny corners is just a nightmare. I'll do a 3x3 on occasion when teaching the game or if I want a really quick session, but ideally I believe 5x5 to be the perfect balance of everything and my chosen way to play.



VERDICT ON TAK


TAK very much does what it says on the tin, it's a simple, yet clever abstract game and the origin story is completely irrelevant unless you're a massive bookworm. Those who enjoy the Mancala mechanic may wish to look at this more closely as the stack movement rules are similar to that and they give the game a high degree of manoeuvrability and opportunity for strategic setups if you can deduce them from the slightly messy playing field.

The variable sized boards offer a slightly different experience on each one, but my preference is 5x5 for that right balance of length vs complexity. 3x3 is fine, but it's very unforgiving against a competent player.

Given the learning curve and the really high price tag, it's maybe not as accessible for new players as something like YINSH or Onitama, which I prefer to this for their elegance and simplicity, but it won't take too many plays before you start getting to grips with the strategy and being able to hold your own. Like the pieces you're stacking and moving here, this is pretty solid and will sit nicely in my abstract collection.




BROKEN RATING - 9 BEAUTIFUL WOODEN BLOCKS




YOU WILL LIKE TAK IF:


You want a simple abstract game with variable setups.


You love handling big wooden blocks.


You like the old Mancala mechanic of "pick up and drop off".



YOU WILL NOT LIKE TAK IF:


You feel the price point is a bit much.


You hate having to justify why it's a "beautiful game".

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