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Tatsu» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Tatsu: Backgammon 2.0 rss

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Demetri Ballas
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Durham
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John Yianni excels at creating what essentially amount to 2.0 versions of classic games. Hive took the core concepts of Chess but discarded the board, allowing a laser-focus on the most interesting part of the game: pieces with really cool movement rules. And it worked! Hive is great.

Tatsu attempts to take the core concepts of Backgammon, but removes racing to the opposite end of the board in favor of constant conflict. An admirable goal, but does it work?

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:

Tatsu is not a gorgeous game. The box is practically lidless in order to show off the components and art. Unfortunately the components and art aren't worth showing off. The dragons look like generic tribal tattoos. The dice are tiny and light, not to mention you only get one pair and they're both black for some reason. The board would be fine if it didn't have TATSU plastered twice in the center. The dragon pieces are similar to Hive tiles in quality, but the visual design is busy to the point that you can barely see the dragons on some of them. You'll never see a carbon version of Tatsu because the pieces would be borderline indistinguishable.

A note to board game artists: less is more. Put your art in front of someone who has no idea what you're working on. If they can't identify what the hell they're looking at scrap it and make something simpler. I can appreciate trying to apply a theme to an abstract game, but not if it actually makes the game harder to decipher.

THE RUNDOWN:


(thanks for the pic, John!)

Each player has 4 green dragons, 3 blue dragons, and 2 red dragons. They start with 3 green dragons in play. Black always moves clockwise around the arena and white always moves counterclockwise, meaning both players immediately start at each other's throats.

On your turn you roll the dice. You can use the two numbers on two different pieces or the same piece twice, but they must be used as separate legal moves. If a piece lands on a colored space that player moves a corresponding piece from their tray to their mat. A 1, 2, or 3 can also be used to take a piece from your mat and put it into play on the corresponding space.

If your piece lands on a space that already contains one of your pieces the innermost piece becomes locked and cannot move until you move the outermost piece off. If your piece lands on a space that contains your opponent's piece, the color of your dragon determines the effect:

- Green entangles. In order to free their piece your opponent must move it with the lower numbered die and discard the higher number. It's annoying as heck and sets up the other two pieces.

- Blue washes away. The piece is returned to the tray and must be reacquired. This typically results in a glare from your now soggy opponent.

- Red kills things. The piece is sent on a highway to the dead zone and never comes back. Groans and gnashing of teeth ensue.

There are two win conditions in Tatsu:
- Your opponent has no pieces in the arena or on their mat. This is the vanilla wincon. It's fine.
- You kill off all of your opponent's pieces of one color (all 4 greens, all 3 blues, OR both reds). This is the most fun wincon and produces the best reactions from both players.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Tatsu is a prime example of why games shouldn't be judged by their covers (or lack thereof). It's a tight, focused take on Backgammon that revels in constant conflict and risk analysis. Your red pieces are powerful and the quickest route to victory, but using them aggressively often leaves them in harm's way and losing one means you're halfway dead. You can set up kills with green dragons, but your opponent may choose to break the entangle before you can strike and hit you first. As you start to lose pieces you may be forced to put increasingly valuable pieces into play, changing how you weigh your options and use your dice.

Because you're limited to two actions on each turn Tatsu is surprisingly tense. Putting a vulnerable piece within 6 spaces of an opponent is always dangerous. In order to reach the red spaces and get your most powerful dragons you have to cross your opponent's entrance, where you can get instantly attacked at any moment. You have to constantly weigh risk and reward, and in a game where dice are involved that's always an interesting puzzle.

My only complaint with the gameplay of Tatsu is its length. Most games tend to take 20-30 minutes, but whenever it hits 30+ it starts to feel long. This is exacerbated by the blue pieces constantly bouncing everything back to the tray in the early game, which doesn't often make great strides towards a win state until a few pieces have been eliminated.

Tatsu isn't for everyone. I struggle to recommend it as readily as I do other recent abstracts like Hive, Onitama, The Duke, etc. That said if you enjoy classic games you owe it to yourself to try this. It manages to shift smoothly between relaxing and stressful while offering constant interesting decisions despite being a game where you move pieces based off of die rolls. It's far, far greater than the sum of its parts.

SCORE:
HIGHWAY TO THE DEAD ZONE
RED DRAGONS RIDING TO THE DEAD ZONE
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Tim Koppang
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Westmont
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"It's a magical world, Hobbes, ol' buddy..."
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"For the listener, who listens in the snow, and, nothing himself, beholds nothing that is not there and the nothing that is." -- Wallace Stevens
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Nice review!

However, I'm beginning to take issue with everyone's comparison of Tatsu to Backgammon. Can you really say a game is like Backgammon if it's not a race? I don't think so.

But of course I don't deny that the game is inspired by Backgammon. I just think it's worth pointing out that the end result is in a different family of games.
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Demetri Ballas
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An interesting point! I think that the Hive comparison is apt here. The changes John made are definitely transformative and give the game an identity of its own (it's definitely more than a backgammon variant), but it's difficult to not compare it to the source material.

What would you prefer it to be classified as?
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Stephen Rider
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Mount Prospect
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I'm curious how well the game stores in that wide open box. Is it fiddly to put away? Does it look terrible without the "display pieces" in their slots?
 
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Demetri Ballas
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There is actually a pretty decent insert in the box that the board fits on top of. Once the pieces are all put away you just see the board through the hole in the front. However, you still need the piece-display-thing slid in on top in order to keep everything from rattling around. That means you're stuck with an empty piece of display plastic unless you rework the whole thing. It's not great.
 
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Ivan Girobu
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Looks like it's actually a running-fight game, like Daldos! I have to have it. Maybe, I've missed something, but... is it the first new (and good) game in this genre in last 1000 years or so?
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Jeffery Hudson
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Well, there is a historical 4 player variant of backgammon where the board is a circular track and you just keep going around and round until all your opponents pieces have been eliminated. I've not been able to try it yet, but maybe this was part of the inspiration.

http://historicgames.com/alphonso/F89V.html
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John Yianni
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Barronmore wrote:
Well, there is a historical 4 player variant of backgammon where the board is a circular track and you just keep going around and round until all your opponents pieces have been eliminated. I've not been able to try it yet, but maybe this was part of the inspiration.

http://historicgames.com/alphonso/F89V.html


That's really interesting, thanks for that link.
I've never see that before and it's not really anything like Tatsu, apart from the round board, although if you look closely at the Tatsu board you will see it's hex shaped not round "The goal is to get your men to the opposite table and bear them off there." so nothing like Tatsu, but interesting anyway.

Thanks again
John
 
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