TASH-KALAR: ARENA of LEGENDS
Published by CGE (Czech Game Editions) and in the USA (English edition) by Z-Man Games this is a 2-4 player game (best as a 2 player, good as 4 player team/partners game, really only as a 3 player game for Deathmatch battles (and then it can get a little bitchy).
It is designed by renowned games creator Vlaada Chvatil with excellent artwork throughout attributed to David Cochard and quality card and board for long term playing as it is a game you are quite likely to wish to play on a regular basis - especially now that I understand there is an expansion pack due.
The EVERFROST expansion introduces a new player deck with new characters and creatures some of which have the FROZEN effect as well as a regular effect and others do not have the special snowflake icon. To help identify a Frozen card quickly the text is generally written in italics. These cards are summoned like regular cards but the Frozen effect doesn't immediately come into play when the card is summoned, instead the card is placed face up in front of its owner and the effect is saved to be brought into the game when required. The Frozen effect can be thawed using the same timing as you do with the Flare cards from the original game. However you should remember that you may only have one card with the Frozen effect in play so it isn't just a case of building up a strong Frozen attack and unleashing it, in fact there are times when you find yourself discarding one card to bring in another just because it seems like a good idea at the time. Because of the new expansion cards and effects there are new tactics to be considered, the play and use of snowflake-icon cards being the main and prime example of these.
EVERFROST adds a totally new experience to the game and makes even experienced players think a little more about their decisions. The expansion is for one player as it provides specific cards and counters for Common, Heroic and Legendary plus an Icy Deathmatch Scoreboard. I cannot find anything to say whether it is or isn't possible to have more than one EVERFROST player in a team or whether each team can have their own EVERFROST player; however it would seem quite logical that multi-Everfrost players be allowed, you'd just need each player to have their own copy of the expansion.
Personally I like using the EVERFROST deck myself, though I have yet to use it to my advantage as far as winning a game is concerned. I regularly play, and prefer the challenge of, one versus one, as I am in general averse to combat games that play like tennis doubles, where you are supposed to be on the same side yet are never sure whether you and your partner are on the same wavelength.
At Spiel Essen 2014, CGE had available a new set of cards, counters and boards for the basic game. The boards have a better decoration and the cards are brighter and more easy to read but I must be missing something as I haven't found any differences from the originals other than perhaps being slightly more aesthetically pleasing. Surprisingly despite there being four full set of tokens and player boards, there no updated Legend cards; these being the;
Fire Dragon, Hell Bull, Angel of Death, The Eldest Tree, Bone Catapault, Fire Elemental, Leviathan, Two-Headed Dragon, Earth Elemental. Time Elemental, Stormy Elemental and Titan.
If you are looking for a two or four player arena battle style game then you will do no better than to give Tash-Kalar - Arena of Legends. It plays as good as it looks whereas so many combat games look good, have great components, then rely on a 4, 5 or 6 on a die to resolve combat, so passeé!
Looking at the box and reading "Arena of Legends" actually put my wife (an extremely good board game player) off as she doesn't really like games that are mainly combat based, so I can imagine a lot of people with the same feelings towards battle games will likewise turn away from Tash-Kalar, and that is a pity because, as my wife found out once I talked her around, Tash-Kalar has a similar approach to combat (with one game option exception) as that great wargame "Chess" has - it's a thinking-persons-wargame.
The game is played on one side of the board, which side depends on the game option and the level of experience of the players (as in how familiar you are with the game and the cards and pieces). One side of the board has the central nine squares darkened. These squares and the coloured spaces on the board come inot effect often dependant on the Task cards. The board is practical, rather plain and not very inspiring, but it does the job perfectly.
Each player has a set of cards - 2 of these sets are identical (Red and Blue) whilst the Green and Brown are unique. Along with the cards, players also have a set of counters (printed both sides),one side showing a sword (normal), the other side shows crossed swords (Heroic). These are placed 2 at a time (with the exception that the player going first only places one counter but only on their very first turn) attempting to make patterns that comply with the conditions shown on the cards they currently hold. Basically if you can lay counters to match a pattern exactly you can bring the power/ability of the chosen card into play. All cards are discarded after they have been used once.
Completing certain manoeuvres such as defeating an enemy / opposing piece with your Normal (Sword) pieces allows you to flip the countersover to show the crossed swords, thus making that counter now an heroic piece. Some cards and Tasks require that only Heroic pieces are used. Completing Tasks that are shown on the Task Bar gives you the Task card to keep and at the game end you gain VPs (Victory Points) for the value of those Task cards - add their values together.
So what appears at first glance to be a straightforward game of combat is indeed a battle of wits, luck of the draw, and clever card playing. remembering the patterns of your cards helps, though you only hold 3 cards generally and can always look at them, as you can see the patterns emerge either by design or occasional luck (as when you are looking to make a particular pattern and then by placing the pieces on the board for that pattern you realise you have made another, perhaps better, pattern, with pieces already in place.
The players belong to different "schools" of magic and combat. These are Highland (Brown) Sylvan (Green) Northern Imperial and Southern Imperial (Blue & Red) with counters and card sets to match. It is advised, quite rightly in my opinion, that you play a 2 player game first using the 2 Imperial schools. This gives you a strong insight into how the game plays. If you play through the examples you will know the game in no time - when I say "know" I mean you will have the basics. Then you can begin to include other rules and cards (mainly the Legends). Players form the correct condition on the board and then "summon" the card from their hand to use its power - the the card is discarded from play. They can summon a good variety of magical beings to fight for them to begin with, Legends can be summoned in the next phase. Working to summon a card while working to complete a Task means using a lot of thought in most cases - you are always trying to get the very best from your placing of the piece, playing too cavalier will be your undoing.
Players also have Flare cards which have two sections, upper and lower. If you meet the condition for either compartment/section you may cast that part of the card. If you meet the conditions for BOTH parts of the card then you can action both parts; it really is a cleverly, well thought through game. The magical beings include Knights and Swordmasters etc the Legends may be a Fire Dragon, Hell Bull, Angel of Death, an Elemental, a Titan etc there are many and all are different. The Tasks are all to do with the positions of your counters on the board.
Deathmatch games are all out battles where you try to eliminate your opposition as quickly as possible. I have never been a great fan of deathmatch games, though there are occasions when they are great stress relievers (especially when played in fast moving glorious HDD colour on a large monitor screen). Team games are good and have a number interesting differences; such as, a player with not much to do on their turn can pass control of their turn to their partner (who usually sits opposite) in the hope that they have the means to do something you couldn't. Once they have used you, they give what's left of you back to complete your turn,; as I said clever !
So my overall message is don't be put off by the fact that it looks like just another combat game, do spend time learning the patterns, do play 2 player games and experiment with the cards - you nearly always need one player to be Blue and one Red but you can always introduce other elements to them, such as making a Red/Green deck and a Blue/Brown one - the possibilities are not endless, but they are sufficient to ensure you play virtually a different game each time.