|| This article is the first in a series that will be examining specific Tak variants. A variant is a variation of a game’s ruleset that, while possibly changing a great deal in how the game is played, doesn’t alter the “essence” of the game. I plan to focus exclusively on real world variants rather than delving into variants associated with Kingkiller Chronicle lore.
If you go through the list of modern abstract games on BoardGameGeek, you’ll notice that a great deal of these games are played on unusual hexagonal boards, unlike the familiar square checkered grid of chess or the monocolored square grid of Go. This modern fascination with these “honeycomb grids” has led to the creation of “Hex" variants of older square grid games. A Hex variant is when a game, such as chess or Go, is transposed to a hexagonal grid. Glinski’s Hexagonal chess is a notable variant of “Hex Chess”, and there are several versions of “Hex Go”, such as Blooms. Most of these transpositions are to “Hex Hex” boards, which are essentially a hexagon made of hexagons. This article shares my attempt at transposing Tak to a HexHex grid. For HexTak, as I’ll be calling it, I chose a four hex grid to analyze because its area is comparable to the 6x6 Tak.
The four hex grid is immediately distinguishable from a Tak board by its connectivity. There are six sides to the board and three types of roads that can be built compared to Tak’s north-south and east-west connections. Each cell in the center has six open spaces it can connect to by placement or capture. The side cells have four, and the corner cells have three. Compare this to Tak’s four connectivity in the center squares, three on the sides, and two on the corners, and you see there are more opportunities for road building in HexTak than in standard Tak. However, this is a double-edged sword because blocking is less effective in HexTak than Tak.
In Tak, a push northwards can be initally stopped by a single flat stone. The builder of the road must go around or capture the blocking flat stone. This gives the defender breathing space and allows them to develop their own threats.
Imagine this same scenario on a HexHex grid. White pushes directly north. If black places a flat directly in front of white’s stone, rather than stopping the forward motion, they merely deflect white to the right or left.
Black has placed their stone in front of white, but white can now simply place in the cell to the left or right, still advancing a road. If this is extended to the edge, white will eventually be able to move forward again by going left and will create an east-west connection. If Black tries to stop this east-west connection they’ll be forced to leave a hole in their north-south line that white can push through.
This connectivity creates more problems when tactics from Hex are considered. Hex (1947) is sometimes called “The Alpha and Omega” of connection games because of its depth and elegance. I disagree, but as a fan, can understand the sentiment. Hex is played on a diamond hex grid with four sides with the goal of connecting your own sides. Unlike Tak, there is no capture, nor are there equivalents to standing stones or Capstones.
In Hex, the most basic tactics are bridges and blocks. A bridge is the placement of two stones so that they’re diagonally adjacent with two empty hexes between each other. With this pattern it becomes impossible to stop a connection from occurring. If a defender places in either of the empty spaces in between the two bridged stones, the attacker simply places a stone in the other empty space and forms a connection.
White has formed the bridge at b4 and d3.
Black tries to block at c3, but white can complete the connection at c4. Had black tried to block at c4, white could complete the connection at c3.
A block takes advantage of this same hexdiagonal adjacency with the defender placing a stone where a bridge could be formed. This essentially reverses the effect. If the attacker tries to place a stone on either empty space between the two, the defender will respond by placing a stone in front of the attacker’s stone, completely halting forward movement.
Black places their stone in the block position at d3.
White tries to go around, but black continues blocking at d2.
In HexTak, while bridges are effective formations as well, blocks are not. Because HexTak retains Tak’s capture rules, a block is never permanent. The attacker can position their own flats to capture a block, forming a bridge for them. Black can respond with a standing stone capture threat, but it puts him behind in flat count and tempo.
In games of HexTak against myself, I found standing stones nearly useless. While they can still capture stacks, their effectiveness at blocking is reduced for the same reason blocking forward direction with a flat is not effective. A standing stone also doesn’t maintain flat count increase, like placing does. While it can be used effectively in combination with Hex’s block tactic mentioned above, I found this not generally worth falling behind and losing road building potential.
Capstones, while not useless, are weaker. They can block permanently without losing road building potential, but their ability to smash walls was made pointless by the walls’ weakness.
These issues added up, reducing HexTak to a game of initiative. Initiative is important in Tak as well, but in HexTak it is likely the only thing that matters. I didn’t play enough games for this number to be statistically solid, but I won playing against myself as white ~ 70% of the time. Going first gives a one flat initiative that isn’t easily defended against. I can’t imagine better players studying the game and allowing white’s win bias to drop lower.
I suspect a larger board might alleviate this in a similar way to the effect on Hex, but the amount of Tak stones needed would probably be double or triple the original game with no particularly persuasive benefit.
It boils down to one player pushing until they win, while the other spends the game desperately defending. If this is true, HexTak is not worth spending more than a few plays on. Ultimately, anyone interested in HexTak should just play Hex. Hex is the better game on a Hex grid. Unless HexTak is altered to solve these issues, I'll maintain that HexTak is probably not a viable variant to play.