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Game Preview: Penguin Tasso, or Genetic Stick-Laying

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game: Tasso
Board Game: Tasso
Editions from OPEN'N PLAY
Tasso is a ridiculously simple game from designer Philippe Proux that has been released in a few editions since the first version from his own Ludarden publishing brand in 2004. Proux specializes in creating games with minimal rule sets that use only wooden components, and Korean publisher OPEN'N PLAY has released a new version of the game titled Penguin Tasso — which is odd given that the penguins appear solely on the cover, but perhaps the publisher wanted more opportunities to highlight the work of artist Dahee Lee.

To set up Tasso, place the playing board in the center of the players, then divide the sixty wooden sticks evenly among all the players. On a turn, place a stick horizontally either on the board or two other sticks at the same level that have no other sticks already on them. If you place a stick on top of two unencumbered sticks, you take another turn immediately. Whoever plays all of their sticks first wins.

That's it.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Board Game: Tasso
Board Game: Tasso
Earlier editions
I've played Tasso about twenty times on this review copy from OPEN'N PLAY, almost entirely with two players aside from a couple of three-player games. Tasso feels like it should win an achievement award in the category of "game minimalism" because in some ways it feels like the game isn't even there. I'm placing sticks and building something as if I were interacting with my son during his infant years — yet the game is there all the same, with you honing in on the precise distance at which one stick can cover (or not cover) two, and you start seeing the arrangement of sticks in a different way. Cue flashbacks from The Matrix when Neo suddenly starts seeing code.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Tasso is akin to other minimalist abstract strategy games in that everything related to the game is in front of you with nothing hidden. You need to look ahead to imagine what will happen as a result of you playing there and whether you can profit from that move, except that "there" is far less defined than in other such games — and that freedom is both intriguing and entrapping because even after this many plays, I can't "see" more than a couple of moves ahead in certain tiny portions of the board. Things develop in similar ways from game to game, yet not precisely the same way, which makes me think of the game is being a representation of how lifeforms evolve. One little change here or there, and the result after sixty moves is nothing like what you've seen before, at least not exactly.

Here's an overview video of Penguin Tasso in which my exchange student Lisa and I play out a full game in just a few minutes:

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