Tak from Cheapass Games brings medieval fantasy gameplay to the real world as players compete to be the cleverest. The game was born from The Wise Man’s Fear, the second in the Kingkiller Chronicles series from Patrick Rothfuss, one of the most widely known faces in roleplaying and fantasy. That story describes Tak as “a beautiful game” played by commoners in taverns and on intricately carved sets by aristocrats. James Ernest of Cheapass tabletop gaming fame suggested that they could make the game a reality, even though it was “invented” for literary appeal. Rothfuss writes that he thought it couldn’t be done, but then Ernest brought him the completed game, and it left him stunned.
Like the truly ancient games of chess and Go, Tak is played on a board with pieces manipulated by the players. Its modest set – board and wooden blocks – makes it seem truly a game a thousand years old. Its elegance comes forth quickly as players settle down to study the pieces, watch their opponent, and ponder the next move.
To quote Kvothe in The Wise Man’s Fear, “Tak is the best sort of game: simple in its rules, complex in its strategy.” The goal is straightforward: connect two opposing sides of the board with a “road” of one’s tiles. Rather than being “captured” as one might in chess where pieces are removed or in Go where they are converted, the stones in Tak are stacked. At various points, a player’s captured stones may come back to the surface, reinvigorating play as in no other game.
On each player’s turn, he or she may place a stones or move a stack. Only flat stones may serve as a part of a winning road, but players may also place stones vertically as “walls” that cannot have a stone set on top of them. When stacks are moved, they shed stones from the bottom, reawakening previously covered stones so that players must be constantly on guard to see what the fallout of their actions will be.
Each player also receives a royal “capstone” piece that may not be stacked upon and that can flatten standing wall stones. The piece is not necessary for a game. In fact, many players brag about winning without placing it. This serves as one of many examples of the game’s slick versatility laid upon simple groundwork. As the game develops – by pieces being played upon it, rather than starting with a standard piece set-up as in chess – games may be played on anything from a three-by-three board up to an eight-by-eight, although five-by-five and six-by-six are best suited for a reasonable game length. Each game offers nearly endless possibilities for play, and fans of strategy will want to play again as soon as a game is over to test a new action or combination of moves.
Tak is a game for two players. It is a game for thinkers, players who love the simple intricacies of play in classics like chess, Go, Mancala, checkers, and more. Rothfuss’s own review stands as a testament: “I learned to play it in about five minutes and had a blast. More than a year later, the game is still unfurling for me like a flower, as I understand more and more about the play of it.” With clever gameplay and a fantasy come to life, it is no wonder the Kickstarter for Tak met its goal within hours as thousands swarmed to get their own sets.