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TALAT

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Huch! & Friends, 2 to 3 players, ages 8 and up, 30+ minutes; about $25)

 

Talat is the Arabic word for “Three” and three is the core of the game play here in this abstract game designed by Bruce Whitehill. There are three boards, three sets of game pieces and, while rules are provided for two, Talat is at its best with three players.

The game comes with 27 hard plastic pieces referred to as “towers”, nine each in black, white and “salt and pepper” gray in three different sizes (one, two and three levels) and three different shapes (triangular, square and hexagonal). There are three boards, each a 5×5 grid, and these boards are arranged in a triangle. Each board has a starting line in black, white or gray and the boards are arranged so that each player is near the starting lines matching his color on two of the boards.

Every player commands pieces on two of the three boards. To begin, in turn, each player places one of his 9 pieces on one of the starting lines leaving one empty space on a starting line. With the board properly seeded, these pieces start to move.

Each turn, a player may move ONE of his pieces on EITHER board one space. Pieces may be moved forward or diagonally to an unoccupied space. (Passing on a turn or jumping over a piece or moving backwards is not allowed and spaces may not be shared by two pieces.) If you manage to get across the board to your opponent’s starting line, you must stay there. As you move, you may be able to capture an opponent’s piece.talatbox

An enemy tower may be captured IF it is standing either directly diagonally in front of one of your towers OR is on either side of it. (That’s how you can remove an enemy piece on your starting line.) But there are other factors involved here. The ability of a piece to capture is directly related to both its size and shape. Towers can capture enemy towers exactly one level smaller. (A three level tower can capture a two level tower but may NOT capture a one level tower.) But that’s not all. If two towers are of equal levels, then the deciding factor is its shape. The more “sides” a piece has, the more powerful it is. So, a square shaped tower can capture a triangular shaped tower of equal height, a hexagonal tower can capture a square one of equal height. The exception? The small three-sided tower can capture the large hexagonal tower (reminiscent of Stratego where the weak Spy can capture the powerful Marshall). Captured towers are placed in your holdings off the board. The capturing piece then occupies the now empty space on the board. When no more captures are possible, the board is considered “frozen”. Once two boards are frozen, the game is immediately over and scoring done.

Every captured tower, regardless of size or shape, is worth 5 points. Any tower that manages to maneuver onto an opponent’s starting line and remain there at game’s end is worth 3 points. High score wins. If tied, the player who has captured the highest ranking tower wins!

Talat benefits from an outstanding graphic production. The pieces are both pleasing to the eye and touch and the beautifully embossed box with its black, gold and white motif is an attention-grabber. The rules are nicely laid out and come in four languages (Dutch, French, German and English) but someone fell asleep when checking them. Missing from the English language translation is the key rule about diagonal and sideways capturing of enemy pieces! To add insult to injury, one of the diagrams used to show what a “frozen” board is is simply wrong! But not to worry. The revised English language rules are available for download at http://www.huchandfriends.de/page/de/Downloads/Spielanleitun…)

The unique quality that makes Talat so demanding is that your attention must be split. You need to plan on TWO boards and you’re competing against TWO different opponents at the same time! (Reminds me of those chess exhibitions when a Grand Master would play dozens of opponents at the same time – and beat them all. Talat makes you appreciate that accomplishment even more.) Add to the mix the variable starting positions and you have a concoction that makes tracking and staying alert to board configurations so as to recognize when (and if) a board is frozen a challenge unto itself. Since the game ends immediately when the second board is frozen, you need to guard against being surprised, particularly if you are setting up an opponent for a capture to net another 5 points. That all this action is contained in a 30 minute playing time is another big plus for the game.

Two may be company and three, it is said, a crowd but with Talat, three is the perfect number for a challenging and attractive game of abstract strategy. – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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