Tatsu… Dragons Circle Overhead

Base Game Review

Player/s: 2

Play Time (Box): 30mins

Play Time (Goof): 15-30mins

Producers: Gen42 Games

Designer/s: John Yianni

As a child I wanted to love board games. My initial foray into the hobby was… less than exciting. Trouble, Connect Four, Monopoly, and who could forget Snakes and Ladders? (Personally I’d love to).

The problem with classic games like these is they lack exciting decisions, interesting themes (well… in the Trouble version I had you were running away from a Monster which was kinda neat). So naturally, these gave way to video games, where I could absorb myself in other worlds and make decisions which could impact entire galaxies (or so it felt).

When I entered University I rediscovered the hobby. Magic: The Gathering, Arkham Horror, Lords of Waterdeep, and roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons that were more than just an extension of my love of gaming in general. They were a way of forming social bonds, seeing my friends, and crafting these crazy and wonderful stories. I’ve shared a few laughs over video games across my life, but never have I laughed as hard as I have at the gaming table.

What this led to in my development as a gamer, was a misconception about the mechanics found in classic games. Particularly ‘Roll and Move’. I thought this must have been the reason for those games… well… sucking.

I felt Roll and Move took away all your options, and you were no longer making interesting decisions but simply rolling the dice and doing what they said. A “Boredom Simulator” if you will.

It’s only been in the last few months I’ve come to realise a game I enjoy very much, Formula D is, in fact, a Roll and Move game. Thematically it’s so strong the Roll and Move element falls away, and the mechanics provide you with multiple significant decisions to make almost every turn.

I bring all this up because Gateway to Games have generously sent me Tatsu to review. A Roll and Move game which has a bunch of abstract strategy.

And this was my long winded way of saying “don’t click away just yet”.

tatsu-2

Gameplay (6/10)
I think what takes Roll and Move games away from things which we bore kids with and into the realm of enjoyable games is when you add various elements which increase the decision making aspect. Variable powers for different pieces, multiple pieces to move, different ways to use the dice. Tatsu handles it all with an elegance and simplicity which is really easy to pick up.

I love the ability to sacrifice the larger dice in order to free a dragon to move the smaller amount. It gives you less moves on a turn, but the move might be a lot more significant.
Normally rolling dice can really screw with you if you happen to get too unlucky. And sure, to say there’s no luck element in Tatsu would be inaccurate. But having the multiple pieces to move, making decisions about even moving a piece twice, moving a dragon onto the board if you roll one, two, or three. This allows you to mitigate the luck factor significantly.

Strategy wise, you can make decisions to “hold” your own dragons by placing two of them on the track, meaning the inside dragon cannot movie but it also protects you and potentially limits the moves of your opponent. I like to sit a Fire Dragon there or in my mat… waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting prey. Also helps to protect the smallest, most powerful, and thus most precious dragons you’ve got.

I’ve talked recently about the Tokaido App, and before about Tsuro. The way they’re calm games which are interesting yet relaxing. I don’t know what it is about games starting with the letter ‘T’ but I’d put Tatsu in the same box.

I guess my biggest issue with Tatsu is it doesn’t feel like a lot. There’s some strategy, there’s some important decision making. Sure. But at the end of the day it hits an awkward spot between not quite simple and not quite complex enough. The decisions are important, yet a little too limited. In the same time it takes to play a game of Tatsu, there are just other games I’d rather be playing.

My main point here is the gripes I have with Tatsu have nothing to do with it being Roll and Move, but more to do with overly simplistic yet not addictive or captivating game design. It’s fun, but I imagine it’ll probably sit on my shelf more than other games will. If you’re into classic board games, this would be a solid game for you and is certainly better than any game I’ve experienced in the “classic” genre. Might be a good one to pull out with my Grandmother. I’ll let you know how it goes.

tatsu-3

Pros: +Options, +Simple Rules, +Luck Mitigation

Cons: –Limited Interesting Decisions

Theme (6/10)
One of the issues I have in abstract strategy games is the immersion aspect. Not to say Tatsu is immersive, but when your theme is various types of dragons flying around an arena and savagely biting, clawing, and fire breathing each other to death, I demand this come through in some way. It’s way too cool not to. In Tatsu I really can picture the dragons gliding and tearing their way at each other. You can imagine yourself standing beneath them as the dragons circle overhead. Which is just so damn cool (sometimes I wish I could draw).

I don’t really understand why the terms “mat” and “tray” are used in Tatsu. It fits with the circular tiles, in an Avatar the Last Airbender “Pai Sho” kind of way. But it doesn’t tie in with the dragon theme they’re heavily pushing. Same with some of the choices with the artwork, but I’ll talk more about my complaints there in the production section.

tatsu-5

Pros: ++ Dragons are Cool

Cons: -Non-Thematic Terminology

 

Production (7/10)
Look. I’m a board game reviewer. I take stupid amounts of pictures of cardboard boxes. And sometimes I even film myself in front of them. They HAVE to look good. The person who decided Tatsu needed a transparent window on the front was a freaking moron (and I mean that in the nicest possible way).

tatsu-1

*Insert your preferred noise of disgust*

Maybe this isn’t a big deal to you. Maybe you pack your games away in a cupboard. Feel free to add those two lost points back on for yourself. But presentation means a lot to me by way of production. When I have a wall full of games and I’m asking friends and family to pick out something to play, if your box doesn’t look good I guarantee it’ll stay on the shelf. Getting a game out ready to play, the pictures need to get you in the right mood. It’s a first impressions thing. If the box can’t set the scene you need to have a rethink. It actually looks a bit old school mass market, which is just silly.

But if you can get over the outside, what’s on the inside is beautiful. Which (and I’ll move on from this point in a moment) makes no damn sense as to why you’d make an ugly box for what I can honestly say is a simple, elegant, and absolutely stunning interior. I love the components. They’re smooth to touch, they have a fantastic weight. And they are just mesmerizingly pretty. Other than looks, there’s something seriously tactile about Tatsu.

When I started out to write this review, I actually thought of Tatsu in a really positive way. I thought this review would be excellent. And the game has some good points, it really does. But the more I wrote the more I realised I WANTED to love this game, because of how pretty it is. The two dragons in the middle of the board are cool, the dragons on each of the pieces are symbolic and mesmerising. Sometimes I miss the moves my opponent makes because I’m too busy running the smooth tile around in my hand, or looking at the details of the engraved dragons.

tatsu-4

Pros: ++Stunning Components, +Tactile Pieces, +Board Art

Cons: –Horrid Box

 

Conclusion
Tatsu really is pretty. And it’s a good game for enthusiasts of more classic styles of games. Hell, it’s probably even a good one to step up some of the younger gamers out there into strategy style games. But it’s not what I expected, or what I was really looking for in a two player strategy game.

I give Tatsu:

6/10

Another big thank you to Gateway to Games. I actually suggested this as one of the games I could review and they were kind enough to send it along in a box of surprise goodies. Make sure to check them out!

 

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Gateway to Games are offering readers of TGR 5% off at checkout if you use the promo code GOOF5. So check them out HERE.

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