Tzaar is an abstract game that is part of Project GIPF which includes 6 other abstract games for 2 players. This game is much like a hybrid of checkers in that players are trying to capture their opponents’ pieces, there can only be two players and pieces can be stacked. However, it differs because each player has three types of checker-like pieces: 6 Tzaars , 9 Tzarras, and 15 Totts. The Tzaars have an outer circle as well as an inner circle, Tzarras have just an inner circle and totts are completely blank. There is no strategical difference between the types, just visual. Also, pieces can never be “jumped over”. To set up the board, players randomly place ALL of the pieces on the board. After this, the white player goes first and can only make one move—capturing one of their opponents’ pieces. To do this, the white player may take any of their pieces and capture a black piece adjacently. After the first turn, every player on their turn must make 1) A capture and 2) Another capture or Stack a piece or Pass. As said before, a player can capture an opponents’ piece that is adjacent, but as the game progresses, there are less and less adjacent pieces. In this case, a player can capture another piece by moving a piece in a straight line over any number of vacant spaces to the fist space occupied by an opponents’ piece. Pieces can only be captured as long as the “strength” of the two pieces are the same or yours is higher; strength is dependent on how many pieces are underneath the top piece. To create strength, a player on their second step of their turn can stack one of their pieces on top of another one of their own colors (much like in checkers). There is no limit on the number of pieces that can be in a stack and will always be treated as one piece. The top most piece represents what the stack is--Tzaar, Tzarras or a Tott. There are two ways to win the game: 1) Have your opponent run out of one type of piece (Tzaar, Tzarras or Tott) 2) Put your opponent in a position where he/she cannot capture any of your remaining pieces on the board. This means that when you make your pieces stronger, you are also covering up (thus losing) your other pieces, but gaining more powerful "strengths" in return So do we think that Tzaar does Tzaar belong in the palace, or is it doomed to live in the muck like a common urchin.
Tons of options on any given turn - On any given turn there are dozens of things that you could do. “O man, Amanda has her quad stack set to take a few pieces I am running low on...but if I defend them, she could set herself up to take my triple stack. Then again, if I sacrifice those pieces I could put her in a real pinch with her last triple ring stack.” There are always tons and tons of options in front of you on any given turn and to play effectively you must spot and analyze each of them properly.
Multiple paths to victory - Like I just stated above, there are a ton of options on any given turn. However, there are also a lot of strategies you can attempt to use to win the overall game. You could try and play very aggressive and go after a single type of your opponents’ pieces at the risk of your own. You could make several large stacks and work on pinching a few of their important pieces. You could attempt to use your own weaker stacks as bait and lure them into a trap. Or you could deploy one of my favorite strategies and not even worry about attacking more then you have to! One of my favorite ways to play is to ALWAYS use my second move to stack one of my own units. This over time will lead to not just you having a strong defense but more importantly your opponent will run out of potential moves and eventually lose the game not by taking your pieces, but simply because you forced them into a position where it’s impossible for them to attack anything on their first move (which is an instant defeat).
The playing pieces - The pieces are not made of cardboard or chinsey plastic like many other games. Instead, it’s a hard plastic that I actually thought was stone at first-- VERY nice playing pieces.
Understand it instantly--master it in a life time - Tzaar is what an abstract game SHOULD be. It’s one of those games that you can sit down and anyone can wrap their head around how to play it in 2 minutes, but then could spend years and years and years becoming amazing at the game. Anyone can understand it, but intelligence and dedication will lead to playing on another level.
It’s part of a collection - I always love when games are part of a series! It gives me an excuse to buy far more games then I realistically should!
I love laying traps - I really enjoy making Amanda or others think one of my pieces is vulnerable and then watching as I destroy them after they take my token.
The cardboard board - The plastic pieces to this game are just so gorgeous. I really wish the game had come with a game board made out of the same material or a wooden board. It would have been a nice game to just leave out as art had it done so!
One of our first abstract games, yet we still love it - Some games just do not stand the test of time. As we discussed in our review of Qwirkle, we still enjoy it, but it is far from a favorite game in our household. This is not true of Tzaar. It is still a game that if we had the time, we would both still be content to get it on the table all the time. It was one of the first games we bought and it is one of the few I don’t ever see leaving our collection.
Very competitive - Ryan and I like playing competitive games and Tzaar is one that really gets the bloodlust going. He may beat me the majority of the time at Tzaar, but he makes mistakes and I can capitalize on them. It just feels so good beating him at this game and I know it is one of the few that gets under his skin (he can be a bit whiney even when he loses!).
Plays fast - A lot of games that require this level of skill can drag on forever. I feel Tzaar flies by pretty fast and when we put it on the table it often gets played several times in a row.
1st player/2nd player advantage – Often, I feel that games give unfair advantages to the player that goes first, this can be especially true of abstract games. Tzaar negates this by making it so the first player only gets 1 move on his first turn. I always greatly appreciate it when games find a way to balance the advantage starting players get.
Planning several turns ahead - Anyone that reads our reviews weekly knows this is something I admit to not being good at all. However, I feel I can do it in Tzaar pretty well. Yes, there are dozens of potential moves on any given turn for both of us, but the limited colors of the pieces combined with the straight forward gameplay makes it easier to formulate a real plan.
Having invulnerable pieces - I love that you can create these giant stacks of game pieces that become basically invincible. If I have a stack of 5 and Ryan’s biggest stack is at 3, I know he will not be able to attack my stack for at least 3 turns(and that’s assuming I do not add to my own stack). It is nice to be able to take a vulnerable piece and turn it into something untouchable.
Set up and clean up is minimal - The set up can take a minute or so but it is not too bad. The clean up though is amazing! You just sweep everything off the table and back into the box and you’re done! Gotta love that!
I feel sometimes we use the same strategies over and over - As Ryan said above he really enjoys playing defensively and building up stacks that put me in a position where I have nothing to attack. It seems like many people are guilty of this-- they find a strategy that works for them and then they want to stick to it. It can make the game feel slightly repetitive at times, but just slightly.
If I did a Top 10 list there is a fair chance Tzaar would be on that list. If nothing else, it would be guaranteed a spot on my Top 20 list for sure. I LOVE this game and I really do not have a single serious dislike. Yes, I would have liked a nicer board and yes, at times people can use the same strategy a bit too often; these are just very minor complaints though. When it comes down to it, I could still put this game on the table pretty much nightly, what better recommendation can there be then that?
Tzaar is a great game! Can’t I just end my review with that?? Just like Ryan, I can really not find much wrong with Tzaar. The pieces are of great quality, the rules are incredibly easy (and show examples) and I feel that I can play this game over and over! I enjoy the fact that I can plan my moves and hopefully can trap Ryan into having no more moves available. I appreciate games that are simple to learn, but can almost never be mastered. I recommend this game to everyone—new gamers, old gamers, those that love checkers but want more, abstract players—everyone!