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[Review] Terakh

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Joined: 03/23/2011

I initially heard Terakh (Stoneplay, 2005 - Terence Wong) described as a cross between Risk and Magic the Gathering. Knowing that both of those games have a large legion of fans and detractors, I wondered how such a combination would play. When I first saw pictures of Terakh on the internet, I was impressed with how well it looked; but when I opened the box for the first time, I was absolutely amazed at just how superb they were (with the exception of the box itself).

Terakh is really a very interesting abstract-type war game with the theme of some futuristic war battles. I'm not sure if the theme helps (it's kind of just "there" in some instances, while quite applicable in others), but gameplay is very smooth and easy. While there's a good amount of luck (thanks to multiple rolling of eight sided dice), the game has many tactical decisions to make it worth playing. I was really impressed by my playings of the game, and consider it a unique, fascinating design.

Six "Battle Planes", identical triangular boards made up of sixteen triangles (trias), are placed into a configuration - one plane used per player in the game. Each tria is one of five types (aqua, vitale, infernal, orth, or plain). Players take a four-sided die (representing their "Elder"), an eight-sided die, a Spec card, an "Orb" (plastic chip that can fit into any Inka) and six "Inka" (basic fighting pieces: round plastic pieces with two sides: ready mode and guard mode). A pile of Mods (small plastic bands) and mana stones are placed near the board, as well as a shuffled deck of Cast Cards. Players roll their eight sided dice to see who goes first, with the winner flipping a "direction coin", which shows whether play proceeds clockwise or counterclockwise. Players take turns placing their Inkas onto any vacant tria, then placing their orb onto any of the Inkas (turning it into a powerful "idol"), then their Elder (with the "4" side facing up - denoting its hit points). The first round is then ready to begin.

In each round, players all roll their eight sided dice, with the highest roller going first and flipping the direction coin to see what direction play goes. All players receive one Cast Card from the deck, and then players take their turn. On a player's turn, they receive the five mana stones - basically representing action points that they can spend that turn. These are the actions they can utilize:
- Move (costs one mana). Any Elder or Inka can move from one space to an adjacent space. The orth trias (which are in the middle of each plane) are all adjacent to each other.
- Change Mode (one mana). A player can flip any Inka over from "ready" mode to "guard" mode or vice versa.
- Rotate battle plane (two mana). A player can rotate any battle plane, as long as their Elder is on it.
- Summon a dead Inka (two mana). A player can bring back any Inka onto a vacant orth tria, if available.
- Transform (one mana). If an Inka is on the same space as an orb (from a defeated idol), the player may place it onto the Inka, transforming it into an Idol.

Players can also initiate an attack (two mana), attacking any unit on the board with an adjacent unit. Players each roll an eight-sided die and add in any modifiers:
- Ready Inkas have no modifiers.
- Guarding Inkas are "-1" to attack and "+1" to defense.
- Elders are "-2" to attack and "+2" to defense.
- Idols are "+1" to attack for each A-mod (attack modifier) they have, and "+1" to defense for each D-mod (defense modifier they have).
If the modified defense roll is equal to the attacker's, or higher, nothing happens. If the attacker's is higher, the defending Inka is removed from the board. A losing Elder loses one hit point (the die is moved accordingly); and if an Idol is killed, it is removed from the board, dropping the orb on it. The attacking piece moves into the sport of the defender, and the attacking player may add one A-mod or D-mod to any idol they control.

Each player can also do special actions with their Idols - as mentioned on the reference cards for each one. Depending on how many mods the idol has (0 through 3), different actions are available. Actions range from the Shade's ability to switch locations with other units, to the Ranger being able to make long range attacks, to the Hydra, who can attack more than one adjacent unit. When an Idol is killed, the orb falls, and the player who recovers it takes the reference card from the controlling player, allowing players to have multiple Idols.

Players can play cast cards whenever indicated on the card, helping them in battle, relocate units, etc. Each card has a certain "rune requirement", which means that at least one unit form that player's clan must be on a rune trias of that same type. The different types of trias are often referenced on Cast Cards. A few Cast Cards must be played immediately when drawn - possibly hurting each Elder on the board. These cards help progress the game faster. When a player loses the last hit point of their Elder, they no longer may play Cast Cards, and only have two mana per turn, instead of five. The only way a player can bring back their Elder is if they destroy an opponent's Elder - in which case they can resurrect their own Elder with one hit point.

The player who has the last remaining Elder in the game is the winner!

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: I really don't like the box, which has three flaps for a lid, is a pain to close (the components barely fit inside), and just doesn’t look that good. But inside the box are some top notch components. The turn token (which is a neat idea that I hope other games use) is a metal gold colored coin that shows via arrows what direction the game plays in. The battle plains are made up of solid, good quality cardboard with a felt bottom (keeping them from sliding on the table.) The triangles on the planes are differentiated not only by color, but by symbols on them (although the symbols are fairly abstract). The Inkas are triangular rounded pieces that have indentions in them to move easily on the board, and the plastic discs fit into them easily. Each Inka shows a fighting man on one side, and a kneeling, defending man on the other. The dice (both eight sided and four sided) aren't as good quality dice as say - Chessex - but they are the exact same plastic as the Inkas and orb, which makes them useful in my opinion. The cast cards are large squares and show clearly what the card actually does, as well as a stick-figure representation. The Spec cards concisely list the abilities of each Mod. The mods are tight rubber bands that fit around the three prongs tightly. It's a very well put together game, thus allowing me to ignore the annoying box.

2.) Theme: I will give the designers credit for coming up with a unique theme about Inkas, Elders, Idols, etc. It really is kind of an oddball theme, and the cards and board really don't express the theme too well. What DOES help the theme are the pictures of warriors on the Inka pieces, and the different abilities of the Idols (which are very thematic). We just discard the strange theme and talk about our warrior armies. That's enough for most war-like people.

3.) Rules: The rulebook has fourteen pages that include quick reference charts, a FAQ, and glossary. They were very clear and easy to understand. The game itself is easy to teach, although players sometimes take a while to grasp the concept of a board that isn't always static.

4.) Board: I really enjoy the way that the planes connect to one another and can be rotated. No player can hole up like the player who takes Australia on the first turn in Risk. Rather, they must watch for attacks from all three sides of the triangular plane, as well as troops coming in through the orth tria. The cards, while adding in a slight bit of chaos, also help keep players from marching armies in direct formations, as some of them allow players to warp soldiers from one space to another.

5.) Fighting: I wonder if six-sided dice might not be a better representation of combat, with the "+1" modifiers; but after games of Terakh, the combat system certainly holds out very well. Knowing how many Inkas to keep in guard mode, how and when to attack with your idol, and where to keep the elder are critical elements. The game really isn't as much about combat as it is about positioning, knowing how to get your troops in the best positions to assault the enemies' Elder.

6.) Cast Cards: The cards add a bit of chaos to the game, as I stated earlier. However, this is mitigated by the fact that the cards are fairly equal in power, and none of them are so powerful as to be game-breaking. Even the "Detonate" card, which can potentially kill four units, kills one of your own units, and only MIGHT take out the enemy. The Terakh Crisis cards are the most important, because they advance the game, making sure that players fight instead of just trying to hole up in defensive positions.

7.) Elimination: Any time that there is a multi-player war game like this, player elimination is a big problem. No one likes to sit around for a long time, waiting until everyone else finishes playing. But in Terakh, a player who loses their Elder can still attack and do other options. Yes, their abilities are greatly diminished with only two mana per turn, and they have slim to no chance of winning the game. But because they have at least a marginal chance of winning, it's a better way to go out than being eliminated.

8.) Fun Factor: Terakh was a lot of fun for me. I went into the game a little apprehensively, as I wasn't sure that the magical cards and theme would work well with an abstract like board. But gameplay was fast, easy, and simply fun. Its' fun to steal someone else's orb and control their Idol. It's fun to take that Idol back or use some Cast cards to get a critical hit on an enemy Elder. The game seems to take about fifteen minutes per player, which is pretty good for a war game. All who've I introduced the game to enjoy it, (although I think that some of them just like playing with the chunky bits.)

There are other little nuances to the game I didn't talk about, like the victory pendant that the winner receives and can use next game - but all of this stuff flows smoothly. Players need keep track of only a few pieces and abilities, but yet have many options each turn. The game is a mixture of other games, I'm sure, but has enough new, fresh ideas to be truly an original game. Terakh may not make my favorite multi-player war game list, but because it's simple and (more importantly) fun, I'll gladly play it anytime.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"

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