TAMSK by Kris Burm

A couple of weeks ago, I finally got a copy of TAMSK - a game I have been eagerly awaiting since I playtested it over a year ago. Since then, I've played maybe 20 or 30 games - which should give you some idea of how much I like this game.

TAMSK is a fairly simple two player abstract at heart; it's played on a hexagonal grid, each player has three pieces, and takes turns moving a piece to an adjacent space. After each move, the player drops a ring over the piece, and the idea is to get rid of all your rings first - or a majority of your rings by the end of the game. Each space can take a limited number of rings - 1, 2, 3, or 4 - before it is full, and can no longer be visited, so the basic game is territorial, with players trying to wall off areas of the board, and reserve spaces for themselves at the end of the game. As I've described it, the game plays well, but is hardly original...

... but there's more; each piece is actually a 3 minute egg timer! Each time a piece is moved, it is flipped, so that the sand is moving in the opposite direction. On the first three moves, players must move all three of their pieces, so after that point, the sand is running in all the timers. From this pont onwards, a timer is dead if it runs out of sand - it can't be moved for the rest of the game. This adds a new dimension to the game; not only are you playing a territorial game, but there's also a resource management aspect to the game - sometimes you have to make poor moves from a territorial viewpoint to keep your timers alive, or if an opponent's timer is about to run out, you can take advantage of the fact to either gain a positional advantage or force him to lose a timer. (Incidentally, there's a 15 second timer to keep you honest; a player can start the 15 second timer during an opponent's move - the opponent must move before the 15 seconds are up, or forfeit a move.)

Despite the time pressure inherent in the game, the pace is about right - most of the time, you can move fairly sedately, with an occasional panic when you race to rescue a timer that's down to its last few grains of sand. This game has been an instant hit with just about everyone who has played it - as one player noted, it's very accessible; even when you sit down and play for the first time, you have a feeling for what you're trying to achieve - even if you don't actually manage to achieve it.

Another point in TAMSK's favour is the design - the board is cunningly designed so that each space will hold the right number of rings and no more, and so the the timers will be stable, and not in danger of being knocked over. The whole game is attractive, with a hi-tech appearance that wouldn't be out of place on a Star Trek set. The rings drop onto the board with a satisfying "click", and the game is supplied with two ring holders that hold exactly the right number of discs for each player, so you don't even have to count the rings when setting up for a game.

The final selling point is the length of the game - because of the time pressure, it's difficult for a game to last more than about 15 minutes.

TAMSK is part of the GIPF project, which means that as well as being a fantastic game in its own right, it can be played in conjunction with GIPF, but that's another story.