Monday, September 14, 2009

Review -- TZAAR


If you have been reading the gaming reviews over the past year or so, then the gipf series of abstract games will be familiar, since half of the series of six games released over the last decade have been covered here.
You are also likely familiar with the name Kris Burm, the creator of all six games. There are other game creators with a longer list of games to their credit, but in terms of abstract strategy games Burm truly stands at the head of the class.
That is not to say the six games in the series are the best games of the genre. In fact, they are not in my opinion. That said however, when I sit down to list the Top-25 abstracts of all time, Burm creations show up rather often. Zertz, which ranked number seven when I did the list, is in my estimation the best of the group, although I will admit to liking it because it is familiar in the sense of reminding of Chinese Checkers. Yinsh, reviewed here only a few weeks ago is arguable as good, although it was number 10, when I did the list, which admittedly could use a ranking update. Gipf, the first of the series, and today's game Tzaar the most recent creation, both rank in the Top-25 as well.
Tzaar is a game designed, as most abstract strategy games are, for two players, and is rated eight and up in terms of age. The game is supposed to play in about 15-minutes, but good abstract players usually slow that in the sense you want to study moves, which is the key to winning such games.
Each player has 30 pieces, divided in three types; six Tzaars, nine Tzarras and 15 Totts. Yes the names are a bit funky, but that's part of gaming. The three types of pieces have a connection which is central to the game, they cannot exist without each other. The aim is rather straight forward, and like the best games, there are multiple win conditions, either to make the opponent run out of one of the three types of pieces or to put him in a position in which he cannot capture anymore.
With the exception of the first player's first move, you have two actions on each turn. The first action has to be to capture an opponent's piece. The second action can be to capture another opponent piece, or to move one piece of yours onto another. The stack created can only then be captured by a stack of equal, or greater height.
There is the big decision each turn whether to reduce the opponent's pieces, or to strengthen your own position by building stacks. This is a simple mechanic, but one which adds considerable depth to the game.
The rather simple to grasp win conditions and game mechanics make Tzaar a great game to introduce people to abstracts, and that is a good thing. Chess for example, while wonderful, has a rather steep learning curve. This one does not.
At the same time though, there are tough decisions, a forward planning required to be successful. You have to think to win.
Like all the gipf series games I have experienced so far, the board and pieces are great quality, and the rulebook clear and thorough.
A nice addition to learning this game is that Burm himself has an instructional video online at Check it out.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 9, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

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