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Review originally posted here:
Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends is an abstract strategy game set in a fantasy themed arena (and reviewed in 2015). It has risen into the Top 500 games on Board Game Geek and is listed just outside the Top 20 abstract games. The game is played on a grid of squares with players trying to place their pieces in a variety of patterns; that in turn allow the playing of powerful cards that will change the shape of the game. There are variety of game modes, depending on player numbers (two to four), with aims ranging from simply taking your opponents pieces to completing tasks.
Its a fantastic abstract game that stands apart by having both elements of luck (in your individual card draw, the tasks etc) but also each player having their own deck of themed cards to use. There were two sets of identical cards in the box for the purists wanting to be more evenly matched, plus just two more decks: a bit tight, I thought – so it was always crying out for expansions.
What does Nethervoid bring to the arena?
Nethervoid can very much be seen as an advanced deck; as while it only adds a single new element to the game it’s a real doozy. Included in the expansion is a single yellow glass stone, which is referred to as ‘the Gateway’. When you play a Nethervoid card and the Gateway isn’t on the board, the piece you place becomes the Gateway (you simply place the stone on it). It can be destroyed just like any of your other pieces (and will come back next time you play a card), but while in play can have a huge effect on the game – if you play your cards right (sorry…).
All but two of the cards in the Nethervoid deck mention the Gateway; with effects ranging from moving/becoming it, killing enemies adjacent to it, upgrading/using the current Gateway piece and moving your pieces towards to it. Regular players are probably already realising the significance of this: its hard to make any patterns at all, let alone making them line up with one individual piece that can also move around the board…
How much does it change the game?
While the deck is interesting, as you’ll see above, it doesn't introduce anything to the game beyond this that wasn’t there already. Neither of the first two expansion decks affects team play, for example, and no new ways of playing are introduced. But Nethervoid definitely adds a new element of strategy to the game. It’s a neat new twist that isn’t for the feint of heart and can be very hard to play well. But if you don’t like the frustration element of the original game, this ramps it up to 11! And despite being more complex it doesn’t feel imbalanced, even when you get it right.
Is Nethervoid essential?
One of my key observations in my review of Tash-Kalar was a complaint about the lack of different card decks in the box. Four seemed exceedingly tight, especially as two of them were essentially identical. It didn’t stop me having fun with the base game, and it is a fun challenge to play with the identical decks, but if this is a game you’re hoping to play often I’d say yes, grabbing at least one of the two available expansions will be essential.
However I wouldn’t say you need them straight away – quite the opposite, in fact. Nethervoid adds more complex decisions and is more suited to players that have become familiar with the base game (the Evenfrost expansion has a new mechanism that isn't as hard to master). The game can be quite hard to get your head around at first, as its mixes up some original ideas with traditional ones, and this adds more advanced rules on top.
Is Nethervoid value for money?
At around £10 it may seem a little expensive – but it comes with its own scoreboard, tokens and card deck with all individual pieces of art on each card. You could of course argue that you don’t really need the tokens, or boards – so why not just do cheap card expansions? My guess to that would be the standard one for expansions: that it’s the card art that costs all the money, so taking the other bits out wouldn’t reduce the cost much anyway.
But if you take it purely on what it adds in terms of gameplay, its absolutely worth it. Although I wouldn’t want to get into an argument about whether it should have been included in the original game box anyway, with that having a slightly higher price… But hey, business is business and it's easy to forget that this is the board game 'industry' – not the charity many Kickstarter campaigns would have us believe.
… and does it fit in the original Tash-Kalar box?
Yes, very easily. And if you discarded the (rather useless) insert from the original box too, there’s still plenty of space for some more expansions too – and long may they continue.