Tak being played with a "Tavern" set
Abstract strategy game
|Playing time||Casual: 10-30 minutes|
Tournament: 30-90 minutes
|Skill(s) required||Tactics, Strategy|
The goal of Tak is to be the first to connect two opposite edges of the board with pieces called "stones", and create a road. To accomplish this, players take turns placing their own stones and building a road while blocking and capturing their opponent's stones to hinder their efforts at the same. A player "captures" a stone by stacking one of their pieces on top of the opponent's. These stacks can then be moved as a whole or broken up and moved across several spaces on the board. The vertical stacking and unstacking of stones gives a three dimensional element to the game play.
There are several common terms used to describe different aspects of Tak and its states of play. Many of the terms are unofficial and, while proposed or commonly accepted among Tak players, are not published in official rules or used in other official capacities. Much of this unofficial terminology has been taken from Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicle series.
- Roads are lines of flat stones, or flat stones and capstones, that connect the north end of the board to the south end or the east end to the west end (or south/north, west/east). They do not have to be a straight line, but each stone must connect orthogonally (north, south, east, west) to the next stone in the road. There are no diagonal connections. The first player to complete a road wins the game.
- Often simply called "flats", these pieces lay flat on the board, may stack on top of each other, and count as part of a player's "road".
- Commonly called "walls", these are flat stones placed standing up on their narrowest side. Standing stones do not count as part of a player's road and are used to block another player's road. Standing stones can stack on top of flat stones and can be "flattened" or "crushed" by a "capstone." Flattening a standing stone turns it into a captive flat stone.
- Capstones are the "power piece" of Tak. They have a unique appearance compared to the player's flat and standing stones, which are uniform in color and shape, can't be stacked on by an opponent, and count as a road for the owner. They also have the ability to "flatten" standing stones,[a] turning them into flat stones, by moving onto the standing stone's square.
- Stacks are groups of stones of one or more color stacked on top of each other. They can consist of all flat stones of one or both colors, flat stones of one or both colors with a standing stone of either color on top, or flat stones of one or both colors with a capstone of either color on top. Stacks can move like a single stone one space in any orthogonal direction, or they can be split up and moved several spaces across the board so long as one or more stones from the bottom are left on the square they're moving past. Stacks can only be made by moving stones on top of each other, not through placement.
- "Tak" is called when the player is one move away from completing a road and winning the game, similar to the concept of "check" in chess . Calling Tak is optional, but is encouraged when playing against beginners or can be mandatory when agreed upon beforehand.
- Tinuë is an unofficial term for a winning position where the active player can complete a road on their next turn, regardless of what move the opponent makes. This is analogous to checkmate in chess. Tinuë is commonly a situation where a player can complete a road in several different ways with the opposing player only able to block one winning path.
- When either player places their last piece on the board, or if every square on the board is filled, the game ends. If there is no completed road at this time, the player who has the most flat stones on the board wins. Flats that are captives underneath a stack do not count towards the score in a flat win.
- Informal term for when a capstone is stacked on top of a flat stone that is the same color as the capstone. There can be additional stones of any color underneath the "deputy stone" (the stone immediately underneath the capstone of the same color).
Tak is played on a monocolored square gameboard[b] of various sizes. Games can be played on the squares of the board or on the intersections and corners of the squares (similar to Go). In addition, there are specialized hybrid boards that provide a single surface for different sized games, such as the arcanist board that allows for 5x5 and 6x6 play. If there is no board available, players may use an object or a temporary marker to designate the center of the board, while making mental note of the board limits. The number of stones available to each player depends on the size of the board. The stone count for each size as set by the rules is listed below.
Similar to the conventions of chess, Tak game pieces, referred to as "stones", are divided into white and black sets. The players are often referred to as "White" and "Black." Tak sets, however, are available in a variety of colors and styles. Aesthetically, the capstone shape varies among different sets, while flat and standing stones are simple, stackable pieces[c]
For a game played on a 7x7 board, the number of capstones is determined by player agreement.
Players determine randomly who starts the first game, and alternate the first move for future games. In competitive play, white plays first.
All Tak games start with an empty board. On each player's first turn, they must place one of their opponent's flat stones on any empty space on the board. Play then proceeds normally with players controlling their own pieces.
After the first turn, players must either place a stone on the board or move a stone or stack under their control. Passing is not allowed.
On their turn, players may place one stone from their reserve onto an empty spot on the board. There are three stone types that can be placed:
- Flat stones are "normal" stones played "flat" face down on the board. Flat stones can be stacked upon by either player by moving their stones already on the board. Flat stones count as part of a road.
- Standing stones are "normal" stones played "standing" on their edge. Standing stones cannot be stacked upon except by a capstone. Standing stones are also commonly called "walls".
- Capstones are the most powerful pieces, as they count towards a road and cannot be stacked upon by any piece. The capstone can also move onto a standing stone and flatten it into a flat stone. Both the opponent's standing stones and the player's standing stones can be flattened in this manner.
A player may move a single piece or a stack of pieces they control. A stack is made when a player moves a stone on top of another flat stone of any color. The stone on top of a stack determines which player has control of that entire stack. All stones move orthogonally in a straight line on the board. There is no diagonal movement.
A player can also move a whole stack in addition to single stones. A stack can be moved like a single stone, moved in its entirety one space orthogonally (North, South, East, or West), or it can move several spaces orthogonally by breaking the stack and placing one or more flat stones onto the squares being moved onto. The player can leave any number of stones, including zero, on the starting space, but must place at least one piece for each subsequent move.. There is no height limit for stacks, but the amount of stones a player can remove from the stack and move is set by the "carry limit" of the board. The carry limit of the board is determined by the dimensions of the board. For example, if the stack was on a 5x5 board, the carry limit of the stack would be five.
Because standing stones and capstones can't be stacked there are not stacks with these pieces at the bottom or in the middle. Both of these stones however can be moved onto other flat stones to form a stack with them as the head. A capstone may "flatten" a standing stone and use it to form a stack with the capstone as its head, but it must do so alone. For example, a stack with a capstone as its head cannot flatten a standing stone by moving as a stack onto the standing stone, but a stack can be used to move a capstone across the board so that the capstone alone moves to flatten the standing stone as the final movement.
The primary goal of Tak is to build a road from any edge of the board to the opposite edge. This can be accomplished using flat stones or capstones. Standing stones do not count as part of a road. When a road is built, the owner of the road is declared the winner. This is called a "road win". Roads do not have to be in a straight line, but stones can only connect when they are orthogonally adjacent (North, South, East, West) to one another. Stones cannot connect diagonally.
If a player makes a move that results in a winning road for both players, the active player wins.
If a road has not been built by either player, and the board is either fully covered or one player has run out of stones, the game ends and the flat stones of each player are counted. The player with the most flats wins. This is called a "flat win." Standing stones and capstones do not count, nor do captive stones underneath a stack regardless of the owner.
Players have proposed numerous variations to the official rules and have developed unofficial terminology to describe these variations and the different states of game play.
Tak's design was based around the fictional game of "tak" described in Patrick Rothfuss' 2011 fantasy novel The Wise Man's Fear. The protagonist of the novel, a young student and musician named Kvothe, travels to a foreign city and takes up residence in the mansion and court of a powerful noble. While there, a nobleman named Bredon introduces Kvothe to the game of Tak. The novel does not describe the specifics or rules of the game, but Tak plays an important part in the development of Kvothe as a character.
Throughout the novel, Tak is described as "simple in its rules, complex in its strategy" and is analogized to "a dance" where a "well-played game of tak reveals the moving of a mind." The goal of Tak is not necessarily to "win" but to play "a beautiful game".
Elements of this philosophical approach from the novel have been incorporated into the game play of Tak where players distinguish between different styles of play, one that focuses on playing a "beautiful game" and others more competitive in nature.
Concrete rules for Tak started to materialize in 2014 when James Ernest approached Patrick Rothfuss asking to design Tak for real and release it for play. Rothfuss was extremely reluctant at first saying "You can't make it. Nobody can make it, and if you made it you wouldn't be able to make it right, and if you did make it right, nobody would want to play it..." Ernest persisted despite Rothfuss' misgivings, however, and developed the game with his blessing. When he and Rothfuss played it for the first time, Rothfuss was amazed.
It was just so good. It was beautiful. It was elegant and it was easy to learn and it was simple and it was really irritating because I hate being wrong...
...it was amazing. I was stunned by the game. Stunned that anyone could make something like this. It’s more elegant than chess. It’s more enjoyable than Go.
I learned to play it in about five minutes and had a blast. More than a year later, the game is still unfurling for me like a flower, as I understand more and more about the play of it.
It is, in brief, a beautiful game...
After this private unveiling of the game, James Ernest and Patrick Rothfuss, through Cheapass Games, launched a Kickstarter campaign on April 19, 2016 with a goal of US$50,000 in order to bring the game to publication. It ended on May 23, 2016 with 12,187 backers and US$1,351,142 pledged.
Since then the US Tak Association has been founded by fans of the game to promote the game's recognition and its level of play, and to host tournaments in person and online.
Tak has a small online community of players who play, discuss, and promote the game.
US Tak Association
In 2016, Tak players founded the US Tak Association (USTA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and promoting the game of Tak in the United States and worldwide. USTA has two primary goals: to educate the public about the game of Tak, and to provide opportunities for fair and competitive play to its members. Players can pay to join and become a member of USTA. USTA hosts online tournaments and promotes Tak through tabletop game conventions, such as Gen Con.
Tak is available to play for free online through Playtak.com. Players can play Tak against other players online or against AI players (commonly called "bots"). Playtak.com has been active even before Tak was commercially produced through its Kickstarter campaign.
In 2017, Mastering Tak Level I: A foundation for success (Volume 1) written by Bill Leighton, was the first published Tak strategy book.
First Player Advantage
Tak has a strong first player advantage on smaller boards. Steven Tavener's AIAI report program estimated a 60% win bias in favor of the first player on the 5x5 board size, while Bill Leighton, author of Mastering Tak Level 1: A Foundation for Success estimates a bias of almost 66% on the 5x5 board. For the 6x6 board his estimate of first player advantage stands at 59% bias towards the first player. Nohat Coder, a prominent Tak player, keeps an unofficial Tak rating system that gathers statistics from games played on Playtak.com. Removing data from players whose ratings are below 1600, NoHat coder has calculated a first player advantage bias of 65.6% for the 5x5 board and a 59.8% bias on the 6x6 board. The bias decreases with larger board sizes, but players have also proposed rule variations to mitigate this factor and balance the game more. For comparison the bias in chess is roughly 55% to 60% in favor of the first player at high level play.
A notable example of an attempt to deal with first player bias in a tournament setting was the use of komi in the 2020 Covid-19 Cup. An automatic score of three points was added to Black's score in the event of a flat decision. Among all games played in the tournament[d], 100 total, White won 47% percent of matches to Black's 52% (with the rest as draws). When the data was filtered to only include the players who finished top four in their round robin, 46 games total, White won 50% to Black's 48% (with the rest as draws).
- A capstone may flatten any standing stone, not just the opponent's.
- Or often on a checkered board as well.
- Stones and Capstones often come in a matching style, although the pieces only have to meet differing color standards and stackability requirements. Players must also have a way to distinguish between capstones and normal stones.
- All games were played on a 6x6 sized board
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- Streeter, W.F (May 1946). "Is the First Move an Advantage?". Chess Review. p. 16. Also available on DVD (page 167 in "Chess Review 1946" PDF file on DVD).
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