The High Kings of Tara

The High Kings of Tara is a new game with an old atmosphere; it's based on the artwork of the Book of Kells.

Each player starts with two kings, which move around the playing area like chess knights, with the added restriction that kings of the same colour can't move within a knight's move of each other. The game is played in three distinct phases; at the start of the game, players establish 11 isolated "ring forts" on the board, by moving their kings to those spaces. In the middle stage of the game, players compete to join their ring forts together into elaborate loops, remeniscent of Celtic knotwork; moving a king to a space next to a ring fort of that colour allows you to extend your ring into a more elaborate 'knot'. In the final stage of the game, any empty space is filled in according to a set of rules which slightly favours the second player, and the player with the fewest knots remaining on the board wins the game.

There is a lot of skill in the game, both in the opening moves (when you place rings that are easy to join, while blocking the places where your opponent needs to join their rings), and later in the game, where the pieces are often racing across the board to occupy the same key spaces. In fact, it feels quite go-like, in that this is an intensely territorial game, but is rather faster - the board is only 44 spaces, and most moves cover a new space, so that an actual game consists of around 25 moves by each player; 15-20 minutes for a game at the speed we play.

I think the game itself is absolutely superb - an original idea, and manages to be thought provoking without making it difficult to pick up on the basic strategies - but I'm a little disappointed by the production itself. The pieces are made of cardboard, and this makes them difficult to handle - something which is important, since the pieces are rearranged several times during the course of the game as the rings are joined together. Still, the overall appearance is very attractive, and for those who are really bothered about such things, there is the collector's edition, with three-dimensional pieces moulded in resin, and given a granite finish; a snip at a mere 300!

The High Kings of Tara is available from the Real Original Games Company, Brockley Court Farmhouse, Brockley, North Somerset, BS48 3AU for around 30; look at http://www.interaktive.co.uk/kells for more information on the game itself.