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Subject: Game overview and initial impressions rss

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Laurentiu Cristofor
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This is my third review in the series dedicated to Huch! games. Previously, I commented on Ignis and Carnac (reviews here and here). If I manage to get my hands on a copy of Azteka, I may be able to extend this series with one more entry, otherwise this will be the last one.

Components



Like Ignis and Carnac, Talat has some impressive components. The stars are the three sets of pieces: white, black, and speckled. These appear to be made from the same hard plastic material as was used in the components of the other two games; in short, they will last a lifetime unless someone intends to destroy them. Talat also includes three square boards, a handy insert for organizing all the pieces, a manual, and a desiccating bag. The boards are sturdy but not as nice as the Carnac board because their edges are cut rather than being covered in paper - no functional problems here, just a place for a small improvement.

Regarding the pieces, there are 9 in each set. They come in 3 different heights and 3 different sectional shapes: triangle, square, and hexagon. I'm not sure why they went with a hexagon instead of a pentagon, but that's what the game includes. Despite the many straight edges of these pieces, they are actually all very nicely smoothed out as if they've been worn by centuries of handling; as a result, they have a great tactile feel.

The different sizes and shapes of the pieces are also pictured on the game cover:



The boards are all representing 5x5 squares and there is a board for each combination of game colors: white + black, white + gray/speckled, black + gray/speckled. Two rows of squares on each board will be colored accordingly, as can be seen from the following image:



Here, for example, we have a black row and a white row. The other two boards will show black + gray and white + gray.

Rules

Talat is a 3-player game that also offers a play variant for two players.

Whereas Carnac reminded me of Go, Talat is reminiscent of Chess and particularly Chess 960, as it will soon become obvious.

All pieces in Talat move and capture in the same way. They all move 1 space at a time, either directly forward or diagonally forward. Capture works the same way, except captures can also be done via a lateral move - such lateral moves can only be done when capturing. So we have up to 3 potential possibilities of moving and up to 5 potential possibilities for capturing. Capturing, by the way, is done just as in Chess, by moving a piece over an opposing one and eliminating it from the board.

But which piece can capture which piece? This is where the height and shape of the pieces comes into play. There are two rules:

1. A piece can capture any piece that is exactly 1 level smaller.
2. If pieces have same height, then hexagon can capture square, square can capture triangle, and triangle can capture hexagon.

The first rule is easy to misread as meaning that pieces can capture any smaller pieces. But that is not the case. Tall pieces can only capture medium ones and medium ones can only capture small pieces.

The second rule is a rock-scissors-paper type of rule that ensures that no piece is the most powerful in the game - every piece can be captured by some other piece.

At the start of the game, players place the boards in a triangle. I :



Note that some images here on BGG show random arrangements of boards. This is the correct one, enabling each player to sit between two boards having his color on his side. Each player will thus play on two boards against the other two players.

Taking turns, each player places one of their pieces on one of the rows in their color, until all players have placed all their pieces. As there are 10 squares in a color and only 9 pieces of that color, a space will remain unoccupied on one of the two boards. This optional initial piece setup is why I compared the game with Chess 960. Arimaa also had a similar setup. As in those games, this simple approach enriches the variety of the game.

After the initial setup, players will take turns moving one piece at a time on either one of the two boards on which they have pieces. Note that they cannot play on two boards and must choose a board to play on.

There is just one more important concept to define and we'll be ready to play Talat. This is the concept of a frozen board. A board becomes frozen when it is no longer possible for a capture to happen. Note that this does not mean a forced capture, but a capture resulting from any set of moves, where players may cooperate for the purpose of enabling the capture. A frozen board no longer permits moves and freezing a second board ends the game immediately. At that point, victory is decided based on points: 5 points are granted for piece captures (size and shape does not matter) and 3 points are granted for each piece that reached the starting row of the opponent on a board. On ties, players compare the most powerful pieces and the one whose piece can capture those of their opponents wins; if this cannot be done, the game ends in a tie.

To clarify these rules, let's take as an example a late game position:



Looking at it, we can see that the lower board (gray vs black) is frozen. The gray pieces have reached the other side and no capture is possible anymore. Since they look quite far apart from each other, it is possible that this board was frozen by a final capture.

If we turn to the upper left board (gray vs white), we can see that this is not frozen. The speckled medium hexagonal piece that still sits on a starting square can be captured by the white tall square piece as there is just one level height difference between them.

Finally, while we cannot see the full situation on the third board, we do see a black medium triangle piece threatening a white small hexagonal piece, so this board is not frozen yet either.

Hence, with just one board frozen, this game is still in play.

Impressions

Good 3-player abstract games are hard to find. One obvious issue is that two players can join forces to eliminate the third, turning the game into a 2-player game. But this cannot happen in Talat. Even if two players focus on the third, the latter in its turn can focus just on playing against one of the other two, holding their own this way. The fact that the game ends when just two boards are frozen also helps - there can be no two-player game after "eliminating" a third. Talat's approach to a 3-player game ended up being the primary reason I decided to purchase this game.

It took me a bit to describe the rules but once I played the game I had no difficulty applying them. Talat is quite intuitive to play and my daughter took to it almost as easily as she did with Ignis. Initial placement is driven in response to what the opponent plays, trying to balance the forces. The simplicity of the movement and capturing rules means you can easily plan your moves. Where complexity comes in is in the choice of which board to play on. I like how the author combined very simple rules with this simple choice to produce a challenge.

A Talat game can be played very fast. The restricted movement means that there are no complicated combinations of moves that you can pull off. Your time in the game will be spent more on analyzing the progress on the boards and how close they are to becoming frozen.

The freezing mechanic is interesting as you may feel like you can gain some points from reaching the other end of the board, but that is simply not possible because movement forward will freeze the board once pieces pass each other and the opportunity from capturing each other disappears. So sometimes you want to leave a piece back to keep this capture opportunity alive and score with your other pieces.

I like Talat. It has great components, straightforward rules, and plays fast.

A note on the 2-player variant: it exists, but I did not play it. In it, each player controls half of the pieces of the third color and uses them against the other player. Only 8 pieces of that third color will be in play - the 9th will be left out. This could be interesting to play, but I think this loses the 3-player novelty that made Talat special for me.
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