Tatsu Board Game Review
Like all good ancient stories, Tatsu is a love story of two Lords competing for the affection of the most beautiful princess Kushinada. Oh, and the Lords have dragon armies to fight each other with. And their warring terrorises the princess's villagers, forcing them to hire a magician that curses the armies. This imprisons them in an area wherein they must fight for millennia until one emerges victorious, despite the princess now being dead. At the core, Tatsu is a love story. OK, so the story may not win best screenplay at the Oscars, but it is a pretty epic set up for a great battle that you get to control.
Tastu took all of a minute to set up and a further five minutes to read the rules. This small 2 player symmetrical abstract game by John Yianni is both visually stunning and easy to learn. The game takes about 30-45 minutes and is one of the most enjoyable adaptions of a roll and move mechanic I have seen. As one of the Dragon Lords (White or Black) you will command an army of 4 Vine Dragons, 3 Water Dragons, and 2 Fire Dragons. You will compete on a circular board with a starting row of three Vine dragons. The other dragons remain in an out of play area until summoned.
Each turn in Tatsu begins with the rolling of two dice. You can use the dice in any order, but they are both used to move the dragons around the arena. You must move a dragon one die distance at a time even if only moving the same dragon, though you may use the two dice to move different dragons. This is important as when dragons end a movement it may trigger certain events. The circular area has two movement tracks, an outer track and an inner track. The White Dragon Lord moves his or her dragons anticlockwise and the Black dragon Lord clockwise. Movement occurs on the inner track unless dragons land on the same space. At this point the moving dragon will stop on the outer track next to the stationary dragon triggering an action.
If a vine dragon lands next to an opponents dragon it will entangle it stopping it from moving. To escape the player must sacrifice his or her highest dice roll entirely before using the lower die result to move the dragon out of the entanglement. If the Water dragon lands next to the opposing player's dragon it will send the dragon back to the out of play area. The Fire Dragon however will destroy the opposing dragon entirely, removing it from the game. Around the Tatsu board are summoning squares, colour coded to the different types of dragon in your army. Should any dragon land on one of those squares you may ready a dragon of that colour by adding it to your waiting area. In front of the waiting area are the numbers 1, 2, and 3. When any of those numbers are rolled you can summon a dragon in your waiting area to the arena. The game ends when one player has removed all their opponent's dragons from the board, or killed any one dragon type your opponent controls.
The roll and move element of Tatsu is hardly boring and is the first time I have seen the mechanic used in a way that invites tactical decision making. That said I would not rank this game as a significantly challenging game. Sometimes the plays are obvious and necessary based on the numbers you roll. That said it did provide an enjoyable play experience for a relaxed and simple game. Perhaps the main reason I liked this game is the potential for engaging younger players and getting them to move beyond the classic games they are typically exposed to. The mechanics are similar to Monopoly and Snakes and Ladders, but provide cognitive pressure and just a bit of cunning for a younger mind. Trying to think ahead, plan out moves did not take much effort for me, thus my light game classification, but to a junior would be far more challenging and engaging. I would not rank Tatsu as being in the same league as Yianni's award winning abstract game Hive, yet it does have his trademark sleek design and visual appeal.
Tatsu is a good game for those interested in light fun, or for those who want to help younger people get interested and invested in a broader board game education.