Review

Tara – Seat of Kings – a review by Mike

Tara:Seat of Kings

We were lucky enough to have a full Sunday morning of gaming today, so we decided to give Tara:Seat of Kings a go, we had played once before but were short on time, so we had already prepared the rules and were up and running in no time.

As mentioned elsewhere, Si and I met with Alan Paull (the designer of Tara) a couple of weeks ago at a “Magic:The Gathering” tournament at a local games store. We started chatting about his latest game, and very shortly after, my wallet was the requisite £20 lighter and I was one Tara heavier, and I’m very glad I bought it! Bearing in mind that this is only from one play, but the early indications are such that this could be taking over from “Bridges of Shangri-La” as my favourite brain burner!

The basic idea of the game is to play cards in order to place followers into regions of Ireland. Each of the four ancient regions of Ireland (for those without such classic educations , they are Ulster, Leinster, Munster and Connacht) is divided into a pyramid of “follower ranks” so there are five spaces for farmer, four for herdsman, three for warrior, two for chieftains and one for the king of a region. The idea of the game is to promote your followers from the lower ranks to become king of a region, the first player to gain two kings is declared the “High King of Ireland” or as in the case of this morning “A lucky blighter who should have let Mike or Paul win” (ok, well done Si – good game!).

It sounds simple, and indeed once you are familiar with the rules the game springs along at a reasonable pace, although there was certainly room for down time as there is a lot of thinking that has to go on in places. So how do you get your pieces onto the board? Well, the  games is split into a number of rounds, firstly you each get 6 cards, you select three for the first round and then store the remainder for the next round – so some thinking ahead, and some hoping no one else messes your plan up,  is done at this point. Each card details where in the first three ranks you are permitted to place your followers (note, this is for the first three ranks only, you have to promote to get to be chieftain or king), and this is done via a graphical representation on the card. For example, some card will show that you can place one farmer, but it must have a farmer place to the immediate right, so this rules out playing on the very far right of the region. Additionally, you must place your followers into empty spaces if you can, this rules out jumping straight onto the other players followers.

If you place two of your followers next to each other on a rank, you may pay an “upgrade” cost (depicted on each of the cards, typically 0 – 4 cumals) to add one of your followers onto the rank above – just above the follower just placed. If this, in turn, makes another pair, you can carry on promoting (for no additional cost – wahay!), so you do get to see some clever ripple effects which change the look of the board quickly. Just a quick note about cumals, they are the money units in the game (apparently a cumal is roughly equivalent to three cows!), and they are fairly hard to get hold of so, spending them wisely is a must!

It is by using this ripple effect that you get to promote your followers all the way up to be the king. Having said this, there are upto 4 regions to play in (one per player), so you get to contest in a region for a while until you think you can win it or decide that you cannot, and move elsewhere. One of the things I like most about this game is the constant ebb and flow of the board and the regions, as an example in this morning’s game, I was about to make a move which would have seen me as the King of Munster, but I was thwarted by having to play in an empty space if possible, and very shortly after that the balance of the region moved towards Si!

Once the three cards have been placed, there is a small amount of housekeeping that gets done. Firstly there is a “traitor” round, where the players who are not the most dominant in a region are able to vie to become the traitor and effectively add another follower into the region – thus shifting the balance of power. Secondly there is an income phase, the player who has the majority in each rank of each region gets an additional cumal, there are bonuses for having followers in the same rank across multiple regions (for example, if I had a farmer in Munster and also one in Ulster). If a king has been made this turn then the region is cleared out and any captured pieces (where someone has played a follower on top of another players follower) are ransomed back to their owners, and finally the starting player is chosen.

The rounds start again, either by playing the second hand of three cards put to one side earlier, or by dealing 6 new cards and splitting them into two groups of three, and continues until one player had two kings. We found that the game took about 90 minutes, but with more games, this could come down a bit, although the game certainly doesn’t seems to drag.

Mike’s Overall View

I was very pleased that I bought Tara for two reasons. Firstly, it’s always great to get a new game, and to discover something new, that you genuinely enjoy playing and that you think you could still be playing happily in a few years time. As I said earlier, Tara could be the next big Brain Burner for me, indeed the game was a hit at last years Essen, and had it received two more voting slips, it would have toppled Caylus as the “big hit of Essen” – in my mind, Tara is a more complete game than Caylus and deserves the accolade. The second reason is that the game is local, it was designed by a local guy, just 20 minutes down the road, and I’m thrilled to be able to say to him that it’s a cracking game!

Nice one Alan!

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