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Vlaada Chvátil


No. of Players:
2 - 4

G@mebox Star



Gamebox author Ralf Togler writes about the game:

A line of extraordinary well designed and very successful games established in the last ten years is proof enough: Vlaada Chvátil is one of the top game authors of the last decade. Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends is his newest game and like many others of Vlaada's creations it is published by CZECH GAMES EDITION (CGE). However, this is not really surprising, because Vlaada is one of the people behind the Czech publisher. In the last years the games of CZECH GAMES EDITION, not least because of Vlaada's work, have become very popular and some even found their way to other languages in cooperation with other distributors. So, I had high expectations when I first was confronted with the new game.

Tash-Kalar is a game about masters of magic. Two or more players demonstrate their powers in an arena fight, fighting either in teams or each player for himself. As it is common knowledge, magicians normally do not fight in person, but they summon powerful beings which then are sent to destroy the creatures defending their opponents. Well, that seems to be a desirable profession: don't get your hands dirty, just send your servants! But of course the opponents normally stand up to the attacks. So, they send their own creations and at this point it might turn out that it is no more so desirable to be a magician, at least if you are the weaker one. Anyway, a clever businessman in a mystical world had a good business sense and began to organize arena fights for these confrontations of magicians to amuse the masses (well, that is what the game rules tell us)…


Each player takes the role of one of those magicians who demonstrate their power in the arena fights. But before we can start to send our beings to the arena, we first have to decide between two different game modes. The first one is called the "High Form". In this mode we not only try to destroy our opponent's beings, but we score points for fulfilling various tasks that are given by an outlay at a task board that can be found next to the main board of the arena. The tasks differ in difficulty and kind. Some tasks demand to summon a certain number of creatures in one round, others to occupy specific locations in the arena and still others to destroy creatures of our opponents. This variant normally develops into a very tactical game. Decisions must be made: Is it really better to destroy another creature of my opponent and so further weaken him or should I better send my creations to occupy places far away from the current fighting area and thus make myself vulnerable? I came to the conclusion that the "High Form" is best when all players know the game quite well, because otherwise some of the strategic implications may be missed.

But as all of us know, sometimes it is more desirable if you can just let yourself go. In this case it is better to play the other variant which is simply called the "Death Match". The name says everything: kill as many of our opponent's creatures as possible. Still, the "Death Match" uses a clever mechanism in a game with three or four players. To prevent the typical all-against-one pattern, the kills against each opponent are added up separately, and in the end only the smallest sum counts for victory. This works very good and definitely prevents long-lasting agreements between the players.

Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends comes with four individual sets of cards for the magicians. Two of them only differ in the illustrations, but the other two also vary in the effects of each card. So in a two-player game you always have a choice: either you are equipped with identical weapons, as every card presents one of the higher beings, or you have different weapons. The different sets of cards are called "schools" and all demand slightly different tactics. So, some of the sets are more useful for destroying your opponents' creatures from the front, whereas others can more easily send creatures behind the line of your opponent creations...


After all players have chosen a set of cards, each player takes three of them and is additionally equipped with a card of flares and two Legend cards with more powerful beings. Cards of flares are a kind of last chance for players who have fallen behind - if the conditions of the card are fulfilled, those cards can help the player to get in again.

Then the fighting can begin. The main board shows us the arena, a simple 9x9 grid with some spaces marked in red or green. These spaces are important for fulfilling some tasks in the "High Form" game. For the combat we have two actions in our turn and we can choose between the following options: on the one hand we can place a common creature of our color onto any empty square in the arena, or on the other hand we can summon a powerful being with the help of our cards. Now you may wonder, why would someone like to place a common creature instead of summoning a powerful being?

The reason is that we need a specific pattern of our common creatures already in the arena to summon such a powerful being. Each card shows us where the new being is summoned on the map in relation to the other creatures and what requirements we need to fulfill in order to summon it. This requirement is a specific pattern of our creatures already on the map. So, for example there could be a pattern with a necessity of two common creatures next to each other and another one two spaces away from these two. Only if you can fulfill these conditions you are allowed to play the card and summon the powerful being. In addition, all beings summoned by cards also have a special effect and these special effects increase in power with the complexity of the pattern necessary to summon the being. Some beings actually have really strong effects, for example the possibility to perform three combat moves in which you can destroy up to three pieces of your enemies in the arena. Or, for example, there is a gun turret that destroys every piece in a straight line in front of the space on which it is summoned. Other beings can be used to place common pieces behind the opponent's lines, and this may be a great preparation for the summoning of the next powerful being which the player still may have on his hand. As you can see, a player who wants to prevail in the game needs to position his own common pieces in order to prepare patterns for summing powerful beings while at the same time he needs to destroy patterns of his enemies to prevent them from summoning their own beings.

Here it should be noted that the only way to move pieces already in the arena is with the special action of a newly summoned being (provided it possesses the special power of moving other pieces). After a powerful being is summoned and the special action is carried out, those beings - like the common pieces placed directly into the arena - become unmovable and loose their special action. So they now become "normal" creatures that can be used to summon another powerful being (by fulfilling the conditions of the pattern of another card still on hand).

The most efficient way to act in the game is to play two of your cards: with the first card you finish the preparation of a pattern you need to summon the being on the second card. The more complex the patterns the more difficult it becomes to play a card. I had to learn this the hard way, using turn after turn to fulfil the requirements of one of my strongest cards, only to loose all of my preparations because one of my opponents' beat me to the punch and destroyed all of my preparatory setup with a powerful being of his own…

In the "High Form" the game ends after a player has collected seven victory points by fulfilling tasks, whereas the participants of a "Death Match" must gain18 victory points by killing other players' creatures.

Being mainly a card game, Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends needs the board to show where your and your opponent's pieces are located and which pattern is necessary to summon a powerful being. Additionally, the "High Form" uses the board to give the players tasks that differ from killing your enemies. The game is very simple to learn, but it is hard to master. More than five games can be necessary to realize all the possibilities in a given situation. Also, players should have a liking for spatial thinking, because all patterns needed for summoning creatures can also be used rotated and inverted. When all players have developed this skill and know the game very well, Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends can result in deep tactical fights.

I especially liked the unique and individual decks of each player. The texts on the cards give the players a lot of different actions, so that your opponent will often be surprised and all of his plans must be adapted. And then, of course, it is a Chvátil game, and this alone is reason enough to have a closer look at the game. Having played it a lot of times since the SPIEL '13 convention, I must say that the game is really great. For me it is definitely a must-buy!

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Copyright & copy; 2014 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany