GTM #208 - Tak: A Beautiful Game
Reviewed by Rebecca Kaufeld

Welcome, stranger. If you’ve traveled far, come spend a night at the tavern; there’s ale and food, camaraderie and a cheery fire to warm your hands and raise your spirits.  Greet the innkeeper and mind the other folks as you find a table; if you’re lucky, you’ll catch several patrons engaged in a curious game. Flat and standing stones, placed on their own or stacked in towers, build paths across the board from one side to the other.

You might ask the innkeeper about it when he brings your ale.  He’ll even teach you how and encourage you to play... if he’s not too busy.

~ A Beautiful Game ~

Tak is the story of a road. Players arrange flat stones across the board to build their road, often crisscrossing each other’s paths to reach the other side. The rules, themselves, are deceptively simple; the strategy, however, ranges from easy to delightfully complex.  Only the players’ wits and skill decide the difficulty.

~ The Pieces ~

An army is not equipped without its officers, and a road isn’t complete without stones. Players have three kinds to work with:

  • Flat stones
  • Standing stones (or “walls”)
  • Capstones

Flat stones are stackable, and can either stand on their own or be moved into towers with other flat stones. Standing stones (flat stones placed on their side) act as a wall; they can be moved, but don’t help build a tower unless they’re the top piece. They also don’t count as part of the road. Capstones have aspects of both flat and standing stones. For example, they do count as a part of the road, but cannot have another stone stacked above them. In addition, they have one more power that makes them invaluable: they can actually ‘knock down’ a standing stone, turning it from an impervious wall into a flat, stackable stone.

~ Strategy ~

The premise of the game is simple. Build a road from one side of the board to the other, using only flat stones (with possible assist from your capstone). The pieces and their movements aren’t complicated, and gameplay makes it easy to share Tak with other potential enthusiasts.

Treachery, though, lies in the strategy. While standing stones and capstones can’t be stacked, flat stones can use a movement to settle on top of another flat stone nearby. Enough flat stones on the same space create a tower of pieces from both sides. But, what happens when your pieces are locked inside a tower? You break it down!

The top stone indicates who has control of the tower. Should that player be so inclined, they can choose to “move” the tower: leaving one stone behind, it travels in a straight line, dropping a flat stone on each space it passes through. Breaking down towers can leave a player feeling venerable with so much power at their fingertips, but also leaves them with the potential to change the entire board at the drop of a hat (or stone, that is).

There are other strategic moves, of course. Using walls to block other players, transporting standing stones to the top of towers, then breaking down the tower to move across the board – the combination of possible moves is the beauty that defines Tak’s strategy. Only by using all the resources available will a player truly prove their worth.

~ Winning the Beautiful Game ~

A completed road is only the first condition to winning Tak. There are two other opportunities for players clever enough to use them: a ‘flat win’ (either player runs out of pieces or the board is completely full, in which case the one with the most visible flat stones wins) or a ‘double road’ (creating a winning road for both players, and whomever makes the final move gets the victory).

The majesty of Tak lies in the delightful combination of simple rules and complex play. In premise, this should be easy; after all, how difficult is it to build a road from here to there?

In this case, the answer may surprise you.

Fast Facts:

  • Plays: (2) masters of strategy
  • Ages: 12 and up (though some younger players may enjoy it, too)
  • Time: 10-30 minutes
When a whirlwind of whimsical words beckoned from worlds away, Rebecca knew she had to follow. She fell into a rabbit hole of metaphors and cliches, mixed with more similes than water drops in a storm. Somewhere along the way, she picked up a love of games that would use her words to create beautiful reviews, and that's where she is today.