# Tara

When I was in college I became enamored with Celtic calligraphy, especially the intricate knot-work designs that decorated weapons, headstones, and illuminated texts dating back over a thousand years. Over the years I’ve toyed around with game ideas that would incorporate these designs into the game mechanics, not knowing that in the year I graduated from Wabash College, Murray Heasman had developed an ingenious and versatile mechanic that would spawn several award-winning games.

Up front, I need to be clear that I have not played all of the variations that come with Tailten’s collection of Tara games. For the purposes of this review, I am going to focus on the first game that is listed in the rules, called “The Sacred Hill.” By doing so I hope you’ll understand the basic mechanics that inform all the games that are possible with this collection. It is one of Tara’s great strength that it lends itself to many varieties of strategic play.

Game Board and Pieces:

The board is essentially a seven by seven grid minus the four corner cells to create a cross shape. Each cell of the grid contains a diamond shaped hole. The holes are designed to hold the primary game pieces so that they stay aligned with the grid.

There are two game pieces that are used in all games: the ringfort and the bridge. The ringfort is a roughly square piece that fits into the holes on the game board. Each is inscribed with a colored ring (red or blue). Bridges are thin strips of red or blue that are used to connect two ringforts of the same color to each other. There’s only so much fidelity that my words can manage in describing these pieces; suffice it to say that the ringforts are designed so that you can move them without disrupting the entire board and the bridges fit on top of the ringforts to create intricate and almost seamless patterns.

Game Play: The Sacred Hill

Most of the Tara inspired games revolve around piece placement and territory control. Sacred Hill is a great example of this. The goal is to finish the game with the fewest number of “kingdoms” which are made of connected ringforts.

The game plays out in two phases: maneuvers and battle. The maneuvers phase involves opponents taking turns placing their ringforts. The first ringfort can be placed anywhere. After that, your ringforts must be placed a knight’s move (in chess the knight moves two spaces in one direction and then one space to the left or right) from any of your existing ringforts but cannot be closer than a knight’s move. Once players have exhausted all possible placements for their ringforts, the battle phase can begin. There will be lots of blank spaces on the board.

In battle phase, players take turns placing ringforts next to their existing ringforts and linking them with the bridges. If you can surround an opponent’s single ringfort with your color, you can remove that ringfort and replace it with one of your own. The battle phase is an interesting combination of consolidating your own kingdom and splitting your opponent’s. It is not so important to have the most connected pieces so long as all of your ringforts are connected into one kingdom. Your opponent could control all but one small corner of the board and still lose if your one small kingdom is the thing that is keeping them separate.

Variation:

There are many games that can be played with just the ringforts and bridges. The game also comes with a king piece which fits inside the ringforts and is used in an engrossing variation called “High King of Tara.” With these three pieces, there are an astonishing number of permutations that are possible, especially if you are willing to adapt different placement rules for the ringforts. All in all, the game comes packaged with the rules for 5 games, some with their own variations.

Tara is beautifully constructed and designed, which is appropriate given the Celtic artwork on which it is based. Although the rules for piece placement take some time to learn, the instruction booklet is well written and clearly illustrated. Once you do learn the basics, the rest of the games are easy to pick up and largely intuitive.

If you can only pack a single game for a get-away, this one would be a great choice.

2 players. Ages 8+

Tara was designed by Murray Heasman and is © 1993 by M.W. Heasman and Tailten Games.

# Longhorn

In the wild west of gunslingers and prairie justice, where murder could make you a beloved hero and brigands could become legends, there was one crime that went beyond the pale.

Cattle rustlin’

Highly profitable and utterly despised. It took a sort of ruthlessness and recklessness that more often than not got you strung up by your neck without the mercy of a quick drop.

Blue Orange’s 2-player game Longhorn drops you into that world as a pair of competing cattle thieves, and although getting rich is one way to win, the main way to win is by making sure your opponent loses.

The game board constantly changes. It consists of 9 tiles that are shuffled and placed in a random 3×3 grid. Each tile starts with a certain number of cows. The cows are of three colors (black, orange, white) and the colors should be randomly distributed between the tiles. For example, the tile called “Dagger Flats” calls for 4 cows but the color of these cows should be decided randomly. The starting tiles also have a space for a special effect token. These tokens are chosen randomly and can be beneficial to the player or harmful.

On your turn, you steal cows and then move your opponent a number of spaces equal to the number of cows you stole. In this way you try to maneuver your opponent into the worst possible situation as you try to make the best of the conditions in which you find yourself.

There are three ways to win:

1. If you force your opponent to take the Sheriff token, you WIN (opponent automatically LOSES).
2. If you collect 9 cows of the same color you automatically WIN unless you also get the Sheriff in which case you LOSE and your opponent WINS!
3. If you are forced to land on an empty tile, the game ends and both players earn money for the cows they have stolen plus any money they collected during the game (from the tokens). Richest rustler WINS.

I’m not going to go into all of the tokens and the final calculations for scoring. Suffice it to say that the different victory conditions open up several winning strategies. You and your opponent have to factor in a lot of variables, not the least of which is that you can’t control your own piece. Sometimes it is better to steal fewer cows in order to move your opponent one step closer to swinging the Gallow’s Dance.

Games are fast and cut-throat. They are never the same twice and I can’t over-emphasize how much fun it is to have a game that revolves around forcing your opponent to step on a rattlesnake or take a bunch of sick cows.

There are a lot of pieces, and the first time you set up the game it will take some time to figure out what goes where, but once you see it, the following games are completely intuitive.

Although I’m sure that this could never be said about cattle rustling in the days of Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid, but rustling cattle on the Blue Orange range is Major Fun.

2 players. Ages 8+

Longhorn was designed by Bruno Cathala and is © 2013 by Blue Orange Games.

Scroll To Top