Tak: A Beautiful Game is a two-player abstract strategy board game developed by Author Patrick Rothfuss and lead designer for Cheapass Games, James Ernest. It was first mentioned as a fictional game in Rothfuss’ second novel in the King Killer Chronicle: The Wise Man’s Fear, where it served as a popular game in the fantasy world like chess or checkers.
Originally it was just a game in the book without rules; all readers knew about it was from the brief description: “My next several hours were spent learning how to play Tak. Even if I had not been nearly mad with idleness, I would have enjoyed it. Tak is the best sort of game: simple in its rules, complex in its strategy.” —Kvothe, The Wise Man’s Fear. Then Rothfuss teamed up with Ernest to bring the game into the real world.
They stuck to this brief description beautifully. It’s a game anyone can pick up and play, and not tied to the fantasy series in gameplay at all. Tak is a game with two possible moves and one goal, but the strategy that can come from this seems disproportionate to the simplicity of the rules. The best kind of abstract game: easy to learn and hard, yet rewarding to master.
The goal of the game is to build a road with your tiles from one side of the board to the other. It must be a solid line, diagonals don’t count. Players take turns, either putting a new piece on an empty square of the board, or moving an existing piece. Pieces can be stacked atop one another to gain control of opponent’s pieces, and the top five pieces of a stack can be moved in the same turn, giving it a whole heap of potential.
There are three types of pieces starting with regular road tiles. Walls, which are the road tiles placed on their sides, don’t count towards roads but can’t be stacked on top of. Finally, the cap stones, each player has one, they can count as road tiles, cannot be stacked on and can knock a wall flat. These three pieces lead to a mind melting amount of possibilities, especially when you consider the stacking of regular pieces. Players suddenly have to choose if they want to pursue their own strategies, block their opponents or try to think several moves ahead to attempt to do both at once.
It can be played on a 4×4, 5×5 or 6×6 grid, with the larger grids facilitating longer games and generally requiring you to think about your moves more and plan ahead more intently. Tak is presented with two rule sets. The first being “Tavern rules” – quick games with players staying silent towards each others strategy in hopes of pulling off a win the other won’t notice. And the “Courtly rules” where players call check when they’re a move from winning, and if they want to play a “beautiful game” might even let opponents take back turns they don’t like, or point out that their opponent is still in check after a move and discuss the board with a little more civility.
Tak started out as a Kickstarter in 2016, funded mostly by Rothfuss book fans. The project ended up with more than $1.35 million USD and I’ve recently spotted it in some of the larger board games stores. It’s currently available on the Cheapass games site in two versions. Rothfuss’ website however, has the game in a number of styles and sets to match different characters from his King Killer Chronicle series. More than this is the different materials available for purchase. The standard hardwoods are available, but stone pieces, leather boards and even a weighty metal set can be found on the site. Whatever your game aesthetic, they’ll be a set for you there.
I was not inclined to wait the four weeks postage from the U.S however, and managed to knock up an (admittedly slightly dodgy) set in a couple of hours for the interim. The game’s simple enough that you don’t need more than a saw and a sander to make something you can play with fairly quickly, for folks who want to try the game out before buying.
I found Tak to be a charming little game with plenty of moments that caused me to curse my opponent for out maneuvering me and others that allowed me to gloat in any small victory I found. It was short and sometimes frustrating playing “Tavern rules,” especially while just learning the game, but I found that calling Tak for “Courtly rules” and allowing moves to be re-done allowed us to learn the game not only faster, but better, as well. Longer games were more competitive, tense and more rewarding, and I personally favored the 5×5 grid, as a nice choice for the size of a game.
For fans of abstract and/or strategy games, I would highly recommend Tak as a great game to play a couple of rounds with a friend of a like mind. It will now have a place as one of my go to games for when the power goes out and there’s only one other person in the house.
Tak can be found on the Cheapass Games site here
Or for extra board options, on Rothfuss’ site here