cover
author Alan E. Paull
publisher Surprised Stare Games
released 2006
players 2-4
playing time 90 minutes

Tara - Seat of Kings

reviewed by Moritz Eggert

Eggo stared at the huge Valley before him, puzzled. "So what is this all about?" he said, looking quizzically at the famous Alan E. Paull with two "l", who stood next to him.

Alan stroked his beard.

"Well, it's all a game"

"I could have guessed THAT, my friend..."

"'A game of thrones', to cite the great George R.R. Martin. You see, they all want to climb that hill over there!"

He pointed his finger to the top of the hill, where a throne sat on a stone pedestal. Down the slope before it were several rows of circles, 14 of them, in increasing width: 2, 3, 4, 5. For now they were empty, but Eggo had a feeling that they would fill up soon.

"Alan, this whole place reminds me of..."

"Eire! Ancient Ireland! A place fit for the ARD RI! The High King of Tara! Do you recognize the classic shamrock shape of Ireland? 4 regions, each ruled by a king. But one king to rule them all! The High King!"

Eggo was impressed by the grand theatrical gestures that Alan E. Paull employed in his speech.

"But I remember Tara - I was once there, it's just a grassy little knoll with a few holes in it."

"But here you can revel in its former glory! A hill to rule the known world."

A loud "baaa" interrupted Alan's speech. A huge herd of...sheep?...entered the valley. Eggo wasn't sure - were these sheep? Or pigs? Or cattle?

"Ahhh, the Cumals, the fuel of the game. Without cumals the king can not pay his underlings! They're cows, actually, but the ancient Celts weren't that great in drawing animals."

"You mean they represent some kind of money?"

"Yes, dear mysterious game reviewer. Cumals pay for the insertion of the pieces, or rather supporters of the king. Up to 4 different factions vie for control of the 4 areas of Eire. The person who controls 2 kings will win this game!"

A large hand appeared from out of the sky and took a couple of cumals who responded with a loud "Moooo".

"Ha, somebody has taken my challenge. The game is afoot!"

From out of nowhere two farmers appeared and took positions in the lowest row of the circles, looking slightly dumbfounded. Between them was an empty circle.

"Any reason why they stand just there?"

"Yes! There are cards which show various circle positions, and the exact pieces that can be bought for cumals. The higher up the rank the more cumals will have to be paid. And the positions have to be free; only if they're not one can put a piece on top of another piece, thereby capturing it. Or even put a piece on top of one of your own pieces, thereby creating a temporary protection, a fortress."

board

While they were talking several more pieces appeared in various positions on the circles. The rows seemed to be associated with several professions. The lowest and most busy row was the row of the farmers. Then came the Herdsman, slightly arrogant with their little shepherd's sticks, then the warriors, in elegant orange, and then the chieftains, with their shiny snake shaped bracelets. Suddenly there was a commotion - the pieces became very excited.

"What's happening?"

"Oh, it's the ingenious mechanic of the game in action, if I may say so myself. You see: once there are two of your pieces of a type next to each other after an insertion, you can make a promotion!"

"How does that work?"

"Another piece is created in front of the two pieces, in the next row, capturing other pieces that might be there, or liberating one of your own captured pieces in addition. All you have to do is pay the cost of the card you used again."

"And what if this creates another pair in front of you?"

"A good question: there might be an endless avalanche of promotions - and the beautiful thing is, now they're free! The sky is the limit!"

While he spoke the landscape changed dramatically in front of them, as one colour suddenly dominated the valley. Several captives where taken at once! After a short silence a little black man appeared, negotiating with one of the chieftains. Suddenly four cumals dropped from the sky. The chieftain nodded and waved with his arm. With this several captives were freed and they could be seen dancing little joyful jigs before wandering off.

"Their player has just paid for Amnesty, freeing all his pieces. These guys don't come unlimited - they might have better luck in the valley over the hill, but their journey will cost them 2 cumals!"

Eggo watched, fascinated, as piece after a piece began to appear, an endless parade of insertions and promotions. Suddenly a silence fell over the valley.

"What's happening?"

"The round is at an end. And there might be traitor among them."

The pieces looked at each other nervously, scraping their feet.

"If the second most powerful player has one cumal left he can bribe some of the pieces, thereby changing the board considerably, but it seems none had the guts."

The two chieftains in front of the throne looked considerably relieved. They turned to the throne and lifted two trumpets.

"Now it is time for the king - the two positions in front of the throne are controlled by the same player, so a king can be elected".

Summary
Explaining the rules: 15 minutes, some unusual concepts and twists. The rulebook is well laid out and contains detailed examples of every action in the game.
Playing the game: 90 minutes
Brainpower: required, but see below
Luck in the card draw: present, but see above
Game material: nicely produced, with Celtic symbology in abundance
Best moment in the game: creating a cavalcade of promotions and stunning your fellow players when you suddenly grasp the throne

A fat and podgy little Celt appeared, accompanied by a little lacklustre fanfare and sat on the throne, after waving unenthusiastically to the excited crowd.

"That's quite an unsympathetic little bugger", Eggo remarked.

"Well he knows he might not be there for long. It's a game of thrones after all."

The pieces of the other players left the valley, with a beaten and depressed look. There seemed to be some more negotiating about captives and some more cumals exchanged hands.

A loud roar in the distance announced the appearance of yet another heard of Cumals.

"That's the cumal calculation at the end of the round. I told you that without Cumals there is no fuel to the game? I bet you could imagine that already. Now each player gets one cumal per row he dominates and one more if he controls additional pieces in the same row in other valleys. The next round can begin."

"Will it be as fun as this one?"

"That's for you to decide, my friend."

And with this the famous Alan E. Paull with two "l" disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving a surprisedly staring Eggo on the Valley of the Seat of Kings.

A little cumal came along. Eggo stroked it, and smiled a wicked smile.

"Well, this looks like fun!"

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