Game Buzz – Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends

It should come as no surprise to ANYONE who reads this blog that I am super excited about the following game:

image by BGG user kreten
image by BGG user kreten

Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends is a new fantasy arena combat game designed by Vlaada Chvátil and published by Czech Games Edition. It’s a 2-4 player game (really a 2-player game with 3- and 4-player variants) that takes 20 minutes to play. The general concept is that you are practicing the art of Tash-Kalar, an ancient form of magical combat. In the arena, you will be summoning beings, trying to complete tasks, and trying to maneuver into the most advantageous positions.

The game comes with a double-sided game board; 4 decks of XX cards, each representing a school of magic; 4 sets of 17 double-sided common/heroic pieces; 4 sets of three legendary pieces; a deck of XX beings cards; a deck of XX legendary beings; a deck of XX flares, a deck of XX tasks; two task boards; and eight scoreboards. In a game, you’ll begin with the arena board on one side depending on whether you’re playing High Form or a Deathmatch. Each player gets a deck matching a school and the corresponding pieces – for the first match (which should be two-player), one player gets the Northern Imperial school and the other gets the Southern Imperial school. These decks are identical in everything but color. Three tasks are laid out, and each player draws three cards from their deck plus one flare card.

As in most Vlaada games, Tash-Kalar has a gradual learning cycle. The first match should be two-player and uses somewhat simplified rules.

The starting player gets one action to begin with, and then each player gets two actions per turn for the remainder of the game. An action consists of placing a common piece or summoning a being.

Placing a common piece is easy – just put a piece with the common symbol (one sword) face up on any open space of the board.

image by BGG user Jajina
image by BGG user Jajina

Summoning is a little trickier. Beings in your hand show several pieces of information – the rank (common/heroic/legendary, though you won’t be using legendary in your first game), an effect, and a pattern of squares. You may only summon a being if a pattern of your pieces on the board match the shown pattern. This means that spacing and ranks should be identical (though the orientation can be different). When you use an action to summon a piece, it goes in a specified square. If a piece of equal or lesser rank is already there (yours or your opponent’s), it is destroyed. You can then carry out the effect of the card. After this, the piece is just a piece – it has no properties of the summoned being. After summoning a being, draw back up to three.

Your pieces can be moved around on the board only if a card’s effect allows it, or if you invoke a flare. Flares have certain conditions on them that must be met, and occur when your opponent has more pieces on the board than you. Each flare has two effects, and you can use either or both as long as the conditions are met. Flares do not use an action, are discarded after use, and you get a new one at the end of the turn in which you used one.

When you meet the conditions on a task card, you can claim it. This will get you points. The game ends when someone has six points, or when someone draws the last card from their deck.

The full game of Tash-Kalar includes legendary heroes drawn from a common deck – you’ll always be able to have at least two in hand. You can also use an action to discard from your hand. There are also different endgame triggers based on the style of game you are playing – the High Form (for two players or teams) ends at 9 points or when someone draws their last card; the Deathmatch Duel (for two players or teams) ends at 17 points or when someone draws their last card (no tasks are used in a Deathmatch); and a Deathmatch melee (3-4 players) ends when someone gets to 10 or 12, depending on the number of players.

There’s a lot to explore in this game. A lot of people have so far been down on this game, and I’m not sure why. Part of it seems to be that Vlaada is very divisive (either you love him or hate him, there’s not much middle ground), part of it seems that the game might be too puzzly for folks, part of it is that the game seems a lot more abstract than most Vlaada games, and part of it is people bemoaning that this isn’t another Through the Ages. Vlaada does something different with every design, and I for one relish that. I recognize that his games aren’t for everyone, but so far I have yet to find one that I am disinterested in. Tash-Kalar is no exception. The idea of summoning by patterns is different than anything I’ve seen before, and I can’t wait to see how it plays. Thanks for reading!

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6 comments

  1. Down on the game? Wonder why? I played it 6 times at Essen…I have never played a more BORING game in my life…maybe that is why! It is really clever and not fun at all!

  2. I played 6 times in one sitting trying to force myself to like it. The card art is really good. It is a good idea. It isn’t fun at all. It is about as abstract as they come. I am not the only one to think this way. People I played with and my group at the fair felt the same way. Monumentally disappointing!

  3. Of course you should try it asutbone….you might love it…people who love both chess and fantasy will likely love it. It is more abstract than Hive though, so test it first if you don’t like abstracts so much.

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