I became attracted to the world of board gaming when my local hobby store (www.thecomicwarehouse.com) began hosting Monday game nights. With Wizards of the Coast’s announcement of price increases and the imminence of marriage, board gaming saved me money and was something fun to do with my fiancé and her family. Games that I typically enjoy the most are those heavy in resource management and speculation. My favorites include Union Pacific, Goa, Traders of Genoa and Citadels.
I learned of Terakh during a conversation with a friend regarding my newfound love of board games. She shared that after a recent game of Ultimate Frisbee, one of the players showed her his first production copies of a board game he had designed. She described the game as “a cross between Risk and Magic.”
I explained to her that I thought the description was odd since to my knowledge, most modern boardgame geeks would not associate their game with Risk, which many board game geeks claim to be a prime example of weak board game design. Three weeks later, I browsed the new game offerings on BGG and spotted Terakh, whose description is practically word for word what my friend had described. So after a few posts to the designers and two playtesting sessions, (the first, a playtest with my boardgame design group and another a playtest with one of Terakh’s designers, Akhil Patel) here is my first review.
It turned out that I correctly assumed that Terrence Wong and Akhil Patel, co-creators of Terakh, were new to the boardgaming culture. Frankly, I anticipated a less than desirable game play experience despite the game’s pretty pieces and after I began to grasp the tricks my suped-up Shade was capable of I wanted more. I enjoy playing Terakh with my nephews. We enjoy the tactical and strategic play. The game is chess-like as we maneuver tribes until only one of our Elder’s (leader of a tribe) is left.
General Description of Game Play
In Terakh, your objective is to be the last player to possess an elder.
The game board is composed of a number of “battle planes” (large equilateral triangles that contain sixteen smaller triangles called tria) equal to the number of players.
Each battle plane consists of:
§ One center orth tria that is adjacent to orth trias of other battle planes
§ Six corner Runic tria that are green, red or blue and when occupied by Inka, fulfill cast card requirements
§ Nine Plains tria.
Player order is randomly determined. The first player chooses a tribe of Inkas (unmodified pawns) and its corresponding Orb (a tribe’s control token that when “worn” by an Inka confers special abilities unto the Inka that increase when an Inka that player controls successfully attacks an opponent’s Inka, Idol or Elder)
Players take turns placing their Inkas onto the game board in Guard Mode (defensive state that confers a +1 combat bonus when defending and a –1 penalty when attacking)
In the same manner, players place their Orbs and then their Elders, which are represented by a four-sided dice that displays the Elder’s current health.
At the beginning of each round, all players receive one cast card and the starting player and direction of play is randomly determined. During a player turn, a player has five mana to spend on moving, attacking, switching modes and using unit special abilities. The various unit actions and their mana costs are listed at http://www.terakh.com/forums/viewforum.php?f=3.
Players may also play cast cards according to their runic and timing requirements.
The beauty of this game is in the balance of Risk versus Reward. If I attack and succeed, I gain control of the defended tria and increase the power level of my Idol. If I attack and fail, I have wasted precious mana and most likely have Inka vulnerable to attack. If I don’t attack, I can position my units to defend my Elder and Idol and wait for a more opportune moment to strike. An augmented and protected Idol spells DANGER to your enemies. The special abilities that augmented Idols grant are quite game altering and if left unchecked can quickly diminish an opposing player’s options. Cast cards are powerful since there is no limit to the amount of cast cards players can hold in their hand or play within a turn. Cast card effects include card draw, unit kill, mass kill, spell negation, mana manipulation and unit relocation. Numerous cast cards played in a single turn can wreck your opponent’s board position and/or kill enough units to make winning that much easier.
At the beginning of a game of Terakh, Idol’s are fragile and Elder’s are typically tucked away somewhere. Someone has to draw blood first and begin augmenting their Idol. If you are the first player and you go for it, your chances are less than favorable because all Inka’s are in Guard Mode and unless an opponent erred big time, Idol’s are untouchable. Fortunately, you typically have enough mana during a turn for two attempts at a successful attack. If you are not the first player, it seems easiest to attack vulnerable Ready Inkas or other exposed units. If you can make successful attacks while protecting your Idol and Elder you are well on your way to winning.
1) Components: The bright purple box is littered with wonderful tribal art. The box material is rather soft and I had some trouble opening it, but once opened I have not had much trouble. Inkas, Orbs, Elders and dice (d8s) are made of hard plastic. Each disc-shaped Inka displays a stick figure in Guard Mode on one side and Ready Mode on the other side. The Attack and Defense Mods are industrial strength bands that are fastened to notches on Inka. The bands are a bit fiddly, but are fun to play with and serve their purpose well enough.
The dice are of the same material as the Inka, but are of lesser quality and could be substituted with your own colored dice for the sake of aesthetics. The most attractive component is definitely the battle planes. The felt on the undersides of each battle planes are oh so soft.
2) Rules: The rules are in full-color and well illustrated. Game concepts are conveyed well enough, but Terakh terminology takes some getting used to and in some of the terms could be simplified. This is one of those games that you need to play a complete game to truly “get it”.
3) Turn Order: A unique feature of Terakh is that Turn Order is random. You cannot predict whether or not you will be acting first or the turn order from round to round. Reward must be measured against Risk when leaving your Inkas in weak positions at the end of your turn when the player most able to take advantage may or may not act before you. It pays to not bite off more than you can chew.
4) Tempo: Players with few options have quick turns. When you have many options or are on the ropes and do not want to make a mistake, brainfreeze may occur though players plan ahead during other players’ turns.
5) Resources: Cast Cards and Mana are the two main resources. It is important to occupy Runic Tria to play your Cast Cards when needed. It is also important to prevent your opponents from occupying Runic Tria. It is very important to be able to use your Cast Cards when you need them. Also, forgetting to use Cast Cards when needed is just as bad as not being able to play them. Any action that will cost your opponent many Mana points is a good one. My favorite part of this game is the cost-benefit analysis of play options as they relate to the amount of Mana points I have earned, lost or cost another player. Compared to chess, defeating enemy Idols is similar to capturing Rooks, capturing Orbs is similar to capturing Queens, damaging Elders is similar to checking and trapping Elders is pretty much “CheckMate!”
6) Strategy: Basic tribe strategies (excluding Idol powers) include:
Runic Tria denial – Prevents opponent’s from playing Cast Cards
Orth Tria denial – Prevents opponent’s from resurrecting Inka
Conservative Play – Prioritizes the protection of units over the progression of an Idol
Aggressive Play – Prioritizes the progression of an Idol over the defense of units
Multiplayer strategies include: Forming Allegiances, Cherry Picking (attacking weak Idols) and Tossing your enemy to the lions (rotating or otherwise moving threatening units so that they are very vulnerable to attack from another player).
Idol strategies are varied:
The Shade moves farther than any other unit (aside from Teleportation), swaps places with units, nullifies enemy Idol Defensive Mods and shapechanges into an enemy Idols. The Shade moves quickly, strikes and then fades into the shadows.
The Ranger attacks from range and is the second fastest unit (first being the Shade). The Ranger is able to shoot through cover and through Orth Tria, making it quite a nuisance. The Ranger cannot attack adjacent units. The Ranger attacks from a distance either from behind cover or on the run if friendly Inka no longer protect it.
The Sorceress resurrects her followers next to her as well as on the Orth Tria, strikes any unit on her battle plane and eventually strikes any unit on the game board. The Sorceress surrounds herself with Inka and sends the Inka not on guard duty to stir things up until she grows in power until she is able to strike any unit from anywhere.
The Keeper attacks units on the same Runic Tria as the type it currently occupies. This ability is initially limited to the battle plane of the Keeper until the Keeper’s power grows and there is no limit to the ability.
The Keeper warps to any unoccupied Runic Tria of the type it currently occupies. The Keeper deters opponent’s from occupying Runic Tria, flees easily and warps in close to finish off the enemy.
The Guardian transfers attacks against friendly Idols, Inkas and Elders to adjacent Inkas and increases the defense of adjacent Inkas in Attack Mode. The Guardian barrels forward surrounded by shieldbearers that take hits destined for it.
The Hydra attacks multiple enemy units adjacent to it and eventually swaps positions with friendly Inka, similar to the Trojan horse and attacks all adjacent enemy units. Each enemy unit attacked increases the Hydra’s power, making it the easiest Idol to power up. The Hydra seeks to attack as many units as it can without becoming exposed.
7) Fun Factor: I have played with the designers, seasoned gamers and my two nephews-in-law and had fun each time. The dice can really hate you sometimes, but it is good play that allows you to finish a game. Building up Idols and exploiting their various strategies and powers is fun and there is high tension when high risk/reward attacks against Idols/Elders are attempted. The most fun I have had while playing Terakh has been getting teamed up on by my nephews. It is almost as much fun trying to wear out your opponent as it is trying to go for a kill.
8) Time and Players: I've played the game with two, three and four players. Two player games are cutthroat and tactical as both players go for the jugular. Multiplayer games tend to last longer and promote politics as players are drawn to attack vulnerable targets or team up against a player they feel is winning.
Game time is highly variable. I believe that two player games average around 40 minutes, while multiplayer games last between 70 – 150 minutes depending on the number of players.
If you enjoy abstract tactical combat and character strategies, you will enjoy Terakh too.