This is a revised version of my original review which appeared only briefly on GGO before a glitch lost it and others to the ether forever.
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.
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 it is just a 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.