- Designers: James Ernest and Patrick Rothfuss
- Publisher: Cheapass Games
- Players: 2
- Time: 20-30 minutes
Tak is a fictional game found in a book that has since come to life. The game was first described in passing in The Wise Man’s Fear, a 2011 novel by Patrick Rothfuss. This unfinished trilogy tells the epic story of Kvothe, a young boy who starts his life in a troupe of traveling players and he becomes the most notorious wizard that the world has ever seen.
The game itself is an abstract one – pitting the two players directly against each other in a battle of wits. The game itself can be played on various sizes of square boards, with the most common games being played on a 5×5 or 6×6 board. The board starts out completely empty, and the goal of the game is to make a road (continuous string of your pieces) from one side of the board to the other. The first person to finish a road is the winner.
Each player has his own color of pieces, and there is a special piece called a capstone that is a bit larger and more easily identified. All of the pieces need to have a flat surface so that they can be stacked on top of each other. In a 5×5 game, each player has 21 pieces and one capstone. The number of pieces changes based on the size of the board.
The game starts with a somewhat interesting twist – each player starts the game by placing one of their opponent’s pieces to the board. After these first two pieces are played, the game alternates between the two players,
On each turn, you will either place a piece in an empty space, or move a stack that you control.
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. Alternatively, you can play a piece flat on the table.
Stacks must move in a straight line, dropping pieces as they go, and possibly covering other pieces along the way. You can only move stacks that you control – that is a stack whose top piece is of your color (whether a regular stone, standing stone or your capstone). You must leave at least one stone on each step of the path, though you may leave more than one behind. The stones must be dropped off in the order that they are in the original stack.
There is a limit to the number of stones that you can pick up at a time – namely the number of spaces on an edge. That means, in a 5×5 game, you can only pick up 5 stones in a stack. You cannot place any stones on top of a capstone, so all pieces have to be dropped off before you get to that space. Standing stones can only be covered by a capstone (and thus flattened). Note that your capstone can flatten a standing stone of either color – this is important for game ending! 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.
The name of the game comes from the term “Tak” which is supposed to be stated out loud when you are one move away from completing your road – akin to “Check” in chess or “Uno” in Uno.
The game ends when someone finishes a road – that is a connection from one side of the board to the opposite side with all stacks being topped with either a regular flat stone or a capstone in your color. There is an alternate end condition when all spaces are occupied. At that time, the game ends and the player who controls the most spaces with a flat stone on top of stacks is the winner.
My thoughts on the game
Tak is an interesting enough pure abstract game. I have not read the book, so I can’t comment on how well the game play echoes what is described in the text. However, it is a decent game regardless of its origin. The initial play is reminiscent of Twixt, the old 3M game, where players are also trying to connect opposite sides of the board. The big difference here is that the game is a lot more mobile – being able to form stacks and then move them around gives you’re a lot of strategic possibilities. There can be a lot of maneuvering around to get the board set up into a state where you can push for the win – for me, this is often picking up a large stack, dropping pieces along the path to then set up a checkmate-like fork where I have multiple ways to win, and therefore cannot be stopped.
While most of the pieces are played flat, a clever placement of a standing stone (or movement of one onto a stack) can be used to stymie the movement of a larger stack. Sure, a capstone can still knock it over, but once the capstone is played, it can only be moved around by moving the stack on which it rests.
It is the sort of game that you can be taught the rules in 2 minutes, lose your first game to someone who understands the game in about 3 minutes, but be ready to play competitively by the third or fourth game. I haven’t played enough yet to know what it takes to master the game, but there certainly appears to be enough complexity to the game to allow such levels of mastery.
The version of the game given to me by Cheapass Games has a hybrid board which plays either 5×5 or 4×4. Thus far, we have only played the 5×5 version as the game lasts about 20-30 minutes, which is the right length for us. While it’s rare for me to play 2-player only games, and rarer still to play an abstract game for only two players, this one has been intriguing enough to continue to hit the game table even after the plays needed for review were finished.
I suspect we will keep playing it over the summer, and at least one of my boys has mentioned that they’d like to try a larger game (6×6 or 7×7) soon…
Until you next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor