Fantasy fans are likely well familiar with The Wiseman's Fear. The fantasy book was a top seller on the New York Times Fantasy list in 2011 and raved about by author George R.R. Martin. The book has a strong following, as well as it's tabletop spin off! Cheapass games, with the help of author Rothfuss have brought the once fictional game Tak to live in an a deceivingly deep experience. The game is already successfully reached it's goal on Kickstarter, and after playing it myself I know why!
At its base, Tak can seem like a snooze fest. I'm sitting here looking at a small makeshift 4x4 chess board and a bunch of wood blocks. Not the sexiest of tabletop I've laid my eyes on I'll say that for starters. Still, it was board game day and with our usual group much smaller than usual I needed a two player experience and took it to my local game shop.
The rules seem pretty simple as their Kickstarter page lays out...
The board starts empty, and the goal is to build a road (a connected string of your pieces) connecting opposite sides of the board.
On each turn, you will either place a piece in an empty space, or move a stack that you control. Stacks must move in a straight line, dropping pieces as they go, and possibly covering other pieces along the way.
You can play a piece upright. This piece is called a "standing stone," or "wall." It can't be part of a road, but other pieces can't stack on top of it.
The Capstone is your power piece. It can be part of a road, it can't be stacked on, and it can also flatten standing stones.
Our demo copy wasn't so thoroughly laid out so we had some hiccups...
Game One- Game ended in five turns. We didn't read about standing stones.
Game Two- Game ended in four turns. Other player wasn't paying attention.
Game Three- Game ended in 10 turns...both players disqualified as capstone not applicable in 4x4 play...
By game FOUR, we finally had a handle on the rules! I can't stress enough to learn the rules before you play this game. REALLY LEARN THEM. This game is pretty simple, but it's simple in the way chess is simple, not checkers. Chess is a breeze to play when you know the mechanics...it's winning that's difficult.
This is Tak's shining feature. It's a thinking mans game, and if you're thinking you're going to bust out a move in under 30 seconds mid game you're gonna lose. If you're looking for a strong strategy experience and game like chess without the playtime that comes with competitive chess you'll love this as an alternative.
So back to game four. Now that we were saavy on the rules it was a competitive race to the finish. No "road win" was scored and the board was full so each player designated points to each space they owned in addition to their remaining board pieces. In the end I lost by two points...two points that could've been a tie had I been smarter with my final placement. As much as it hurt I appreciated that my downfall came at my lack of thinking on the situation. It really epitomized how much of a thinking man's game this is!
Are their downsides? For the player who likes intricate artwork and design, this won't be your jam. It's all wood pieces and checkers boards...basically Cracker Barrel's toy section. Of course you could always build your own pieces to jazz things up, as the true value is the game.
I really can't riff on the style of the game as it's supposed to be the commoner's game. This is an artistic representation of what Rothfuss had in mind when he imagined Tak in his novel, and if you're a fan of the series, I can't imagine a better piece of memorabilia to own.
My only complaint is that the rules be a little more drawn out as there are several variances in this game that the base rules don't account for. Other than that, a great warm up game when you're waiting for others, or just rolling two deep.