by Globus the Elder
As much as I love games that have highly detailed miniatures and fantastic art, there's a lot to be said for something simple. When I make brownies, I use a double fudge recipe, mix in chocolate chunks, frost with chocolate frosting, sprinkled with chocolate chips. That's just how I roll (I also like middles, edges are the lesser brownie). But when you get a simple brownie that does all the things right, I will acknowledge your less is more.
Abstract games are the simple brownie. For those who don't know, abstract games have no hidden information, have no randomness, and have alternating turns. They are generally two player. Chess and Checkers are the ones you are likely to be familiar with. I don't particularly like either of them. Chess is an all edges brownie, and Checkers is mass produced and comes in plastic. Tak, however, is fresh out of the oven, center cut brownie.
Tak is played on a board, like a checkerboard, but with fewer squares. The number of squares determines the number of pieces you use, for example Tak, UE comes with a five by five board, and you start with twenty-one Stones and one Capstone. Each player places one of their opponents pieces on the board, and then play begins.
On your turn, you can either Place one of your pieces on the board, or Move a stack of pieces if your piece is the top piece.
The goal is to create a Road, a series of pieces connecting one side of the board to the other.
When you Place a Stone, you can either place it flat, to form part of a Road, or as a Standing Stone, or wall. Stones may be stacked on other flat Stones, but not Standing ones. Your Capstone is both in one, a Standing Stone that is part of your Road.
When you Move a stack, you may take a number of Stones equal up to the number of squares across an edge of the board, in our example five, and move them to one or more adjacent squares, dropping one or more Stones in each square entered. If you Move your Capstone, by itself, into a square with a Standing Stone, you flatten it. This is the only way to flatten a Standing Stone.
Theme is not something often found in abstract games. What these games have is a feel. The feeling of Tak is a dynamic playing field, which changes from turn to turn. The board state only exists in the now, and can be radically altered in a single move. You can “capture” opponents pieces by placing a Standing Stone on top, only to provide your opponent with a stack once they move their Capstone. Each game I have played has been different, from beginning to end.
The pieces are simple wooden squares and simple pawns, and that's a good thing.
It's an abstract, so it may not appeal to all players, and it's a two player game, which means it can't act as filler or a main game for a group game night. Not a flaw in the game as such, but it's there.
I like this game a lot, as it has depth that reveals itself in layers the more you play. More importantly, my wife, who is not a gamer, also liked this. The box is fairly small, and could be abandoned if you create or purchase a cloth board to put in the bag that holds the pieces (the rules even talk of playing without a board, using a flat marker to show the center point and playing off that. A bit too Zen for me, but entirely doable). You can teach it in less than five minutes, and play in less than twenty, making it a good lunchtime game at work.
This is a Buy. I feel like I will be playing this for some time, and it's the kind of game I will always be trying to get someone new into.
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