Calvin’s Commentaries: Tatsu

When it comes to games Hive is about as good as it gets, a game that I rate fourth on my Top-100 games of all time.

The 2001 release is a masterpiece from designer John Yianni.

Of course, creating a masterpiece with your first game can make it difficult to equal if you design future games unless of course, your name is Kris Burm the creator of the amazing Gipf series.

In Yianni’s case, there have been a few other games, but they have not created the ‘buzz’of Hive, the boardless abstract strategy game in the vein of classics such as chess, although I still want to one-day review Army of Frogs and pocket Hive.

Then in 2016 Yianni released Tatsu.

Now I won’t suggest Tatsu is quite on the same level as Hive, but it is a game that stands pretty well on its own merits.

In terms of aesthetics, Tatsu is pretty sweet. The board is cardboard but looks nice, and the pieces are engraved plastic and remind of the great pieces in Hive.

For mechanics, Yianni clearly borrowed from a couple of classics. The idea of rolling dice and moving pieces around a board draw from backgammon. That is some cases you can send an opponent’s pieces off the board certainly reminds of Parchesi.

The overall look of Tatsu, and it’s easy to grasp gameplay makes it a game worth some serious attention.

There are two ways of winning in Tatsu: you win if your opponent has no more of their dragon stones remaining in battle, meaning that they have no stones remaining on board or on their mat.

You also win if you destroy all of one type of your opponent’s dragon stones. Either all four of their Vine Dragons, all three of their Water Dragons or both of their Fire Dragons.

The three types of dragon stones as explained in the rules are at the heart of Tatsu;

“The Vine Dragon: when landing on an Arena segment occupied by an opposing Dragon, will entangle that Dragon holding it in place, until it either escapes or is released.

“The Water Dragon: when landing on an Arena segment occupied by an opposing Dragon, will expel the opposing Dragon, sending it back to the tray of the opposing player.

“The Fire Dragon: when landing on an Arena segment occupied by an opposing Dragon, will destroy the Dragon sending it to the aggressor’s Dead Zone and out of the game forever.”

That the dragons are beautifully engraved into the pieces is a striking visual aspect of Tatsu.

As noted the dragon pieces move akin to those in backgammon.

“Players take turns rolling the two dice and moving their stones around the inner ring of the arena (board), from segment to segment,” details the ruleset. “Black moves clockwise and white moves anti-clockwise, as indicated by the Dragon images in the center of the board. If an arena segment already has a stone on its inner ring, then stones will move onto the outer ring of that segment. A stone may not end its move on an arena segment that already contains two stones.

“You may use one or both of your dice to move stones from your mat onto the arena. The die moving the stone must have a value of either one, two or three and the stones must be moved onto the segment corresponding to that value, depicted by the numbers at the arena entry points. You may not move a stone into the arena onto a segment that already is occupied by two stones.”

The rolling of dice, of course, creates a significant level of luck in Tatsu, but that may be mitigated to a degree by making good choices among the options you have based on each roll.

There are many reasons to give Tatsu a try. If you enjoy backgammon Tatsu is a near must. A fan of Hive, give this Yianni creation a try. Like quick games with a nice mix of strategy and luck, this one fills that niche too.

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