Saturday, 15 November 2014

Tash-Kalar: Everfrost

Tash-Kalar: Everfrost


Tash-Kalar: Everfrost
Designed by Vlaada Chvatil
Published by Czech Games Editions
For 2-4 players (in conjunction with the base game)

Tash-Kalar: Everfrost tokens
The new race tokens.


I'm not a big fan of expansions. Often they add a lot of unnecessary bloat, with new rules, and new options, that dilute the original game and detract from the core beauty that made me enjoy that game in the first place.

Plus, I have real trouble writing reviews for expansions. I have already used up all my "witty" jokes and "meaningful" insights in the review for the base game, which puts me in an awkward position.

I bet Vlaada Chvatil wouldn't have that problem if he wrote reviews.

Vlaada is one of the most inventive games designers in the industry. Even when he produces a game I have no interest in, I have to stop and admire his handiwork because it contains such a startling amount of originality. Every game he produces is significantly different from the last. Every game is inventive.

And his games are funny too, dammit.

I reckon if you were to jam a spigot in the back of his head, you'd get enough frothy brain goodness out to fill a bathtub.

(Don't try that, for God's sake.)

So, yeah. I think Vlaada would probably have something fun and creative to say in his review for the awesome Everfrost expansion.

But you're stuck with me. Deal with it...

The Everfrost expansion is actually the kind of expansion I really like. It doesn't overcomplicate the base game, or add lots of fiddly new rules. It just gives you a bit more of the stuff you already like. In this case, if gives you a new race deck to play with.

With an ethereal, wintery vibe that is just right for this time of year, Everfrost immediately stands out as one of the most attractive card decks available for the game. The artwork is from the talented David Cochard, and it evokes the magic and mystery of the ice-bound creatures perfectly. From the lithe winter fox to the gigantic glacial giant, every card is a joy.

Tash-Kalar: Everfrost cards
A fox in socks on icy blocks.


The Everfrost deck once again exhibits Vlaada's ability to blend rules with theme in a seamless way. For example, this deck contains creatures that are almost the embodiment of a glass (ice) cannon: They can destroy other pieces, sometimes even legends, but in doing so they shatter into pieces.

However, it is the way the cards work together that truly highlights the beauty of the design. Study the shapes you need to make to create each creature, and then consider the powers each creature has. To get your "creature engine" up and running, you need an "ice block" in a 3x3 grid, and then you can grow outwards like ice crystals by utilising the sliding abilities that many creatures possess. There are even powers that allow you to downgrade or upgrade creatures, perfectly encapsulating the freezing and thawing aspect of the winter wastelands.

It's freaking beautiful, and I am totally in love with it.

And I haven't even mentioned the one new rule this deck introduces: The frozen effects. These are abilities on creatures that you do not have to trigger immediately, Instead, you set them aside, and you can activate them whenever you want at a later date (this is known as "thawing" a frozen effect). This is a tricky and nuanced new mechanism. Just when you think you have grasped it, it slips through your fingers like a snowflake. But if you can get the hang of it, if you can resist the temptation to fire off the abilities as soon as you can rather than biding your time, this is a deck that really brings the pain.

Tash-Kalar: Everfrost rules
The new frozen effect rules.


It takes time. It takes patience. The deck moves like a glacier as you slowly build your position of power. But when it strikes, it strikes like an avalanche.

I have always been a huge fan of the Forest deck, but at the moment Everfrost is a close second for me.

Tash-Kalar: Everfrost score board
The wintery scoreboard for the expansion.


And of course, one of the best things about this expansion is that it negates one of my few complaints with the base game. Originally, although four people could play, two players had to play with identical Empire decks. Now, it is possible for four unique factions to battle it out in the arena, which is a far more exciting prospect.

But the very best thing of all?

I got a credit in the rules booklet for being one of the lucky folks who got be involved in playtesting the new deck before it went to print. (I am credited as RedMonkeyBoy, which is my www.BoardGameGeek.com username, rather than my real name; but as I was not expecting any credit at all, I'll gladly take it.)

Tash-Kalar: Everfrost credits
Hey, there I am!


It does give me a little warm glow inside to think that in some tiny way I may have helped to shape the final product.

It's almost enough to melt my heart.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Tash-Kalar Upgrade Kit

We interrupt your regularly scheduled broadcast to bring you this public service announcement...

I received my beautiful Tash-Kalar Upgrade Kit from the good people at www.BoardGameGuru.co.uk It was thrown in for nowt along with my order of the Tash-Kalar: Everfrost expansion (more on that another day).

It is my understanding that not all online companies are offering the upgrade kit with the expansion, so if you want to make sure you get a copy, you know where to shop.

(Although, having said that, you might want to contact them first, just in case they have stopped the offer by the time you read this.)

Right, that's that out of the way. Let's talk Tash-Kalar...


Tash-Kalar Upgrade Kit



I read today that Internet folk have started to use the word "firstable" in place of "first of all." It's like a language upgrade or something: Rolling words together into a completely nonsensical sound to make it even quicker and easier to send messages over the big Worldwide Interweb Super Highway Thingy.

Soon the human race will be able to communicate with a simple series of grunts, and our devolution to Neanderthals will be complete.

Yeah.

I don't like it when things I love get changed.

Well... With certain exceptions, of course...

Here's the scoop: If you know me, you know I am a huge Tash-Kalar fan. You can catch my review here if you like, but you would actually be wasting valuable time you could be using to purchase and play the game.

However, the first edition of Tash-Kalar had some minor problems... A not so minor price tag, and production quality that was a little lacking.

That was a real shame, because it limited the reach of this really rather lovely game; a game I think everyone needs to play, even if it is only once, to experience the sheer brilliance of a theme so completely integrated into the rules that it is almost impossible to separate the two.

But all is not lost.

It has been an exciting time for Tash-Kalar, with a new expansion (which I will be reviewing shortly), and a second cheaper edition hitting stores. Best of all, for people like me who already own the game and don't want to buy it again, there is the Upgrade Kit: A set of stunning new tokens, cards, and boards to give this incredible game the glitzy finish it deserves.

That's the kind of change I can get on board with (excuse the pun).

Now, if you have played Tash-Kalar and you don't enjoy it (what is wrong with you?), the Upgrade Kit is not going to change your mind. But if you own and love the first edition, you are going to want these spangly new components in your life.

First up, you get a new board. It's the same size as the original, folded in the same way; but it has stunning new artwork that really pops. Best of all, it is made of thicker card, so it actually sits flat on the table.

Tash-Kalar Boards
It's like a tunnel for ants.


Who would have thought that the ability for a board to sit flat could bring so much joy?

If I have one problem with the new board, it is that the shadows are a bit heavy, which makes them slightly distracting at times.

Tash-Kalar Upgrade Kit Board
Shadowy


The new sets of tokens for all four races included in the base game are also on thicker card with better illustrations. Rather than a simple texture with a silhouette, the new tokens have some real depth, which makes for a much more impressive look. Of course, I would have paid through the nose to get these tokens in Bakelite, but now I'm just being picky.

Tash-Kalar Upgrade Kit Tokens
It's all too beautiful.


There are also new scoring tracks for the four races. Functionally, they are the same as before, but the imagery is more vibrant and detailed. Everything just pops a little more.

Tash-Kalar Upgrade Kit Score Boards
Score another one for the Upgrade Kit.


Finally, the upgrade kit contains an overhauled deck of Flare cards and Task cards. These have the same text as the original cards, and they are the same size, but they have a new graphic design that makes the originals look so boring you might mistake them for history teachers.

Tash-Kalar Upgrade Kit Flare Cards
Can you tell which ones are the new ones?


Tash-Kalar Upgrade Kit Task Cards
I didn't think the task cards needed upgrading until I saw this.


In fact, the only components that are not upgraded are the decks for the races, because they were already beautiful, and the rules, because they were already excellent.

So there you have it. Let's sum up...

Firstable, the Upgrade Kit brings nothing new to the table except a better quality of component material and graphic design.

Secondable, what the Upgrade Kit does bring is the kind of beauty that should have been there from the start, and which surely every fan requires.

Thirdable, by getting the Upgrade Kit, I now have enough components to play two games of Tash-Kalar simultaneously. You know, in case I want to.

Fourthable, for God's sake, stop saying "firstable," whoever you are.