Tak is a recent addition to the growing number of modern, worthwhile strategy games. It was invented in 2016 jointly by James Ernest and Patrick Rothfuss to bring to life a strategy game Rothfuss conceived of as a sort of “chess” for his fictional Kingkiller Chronicle world. So why play it? Abstract strategy games are, well, abstract. There is little or no theme to them, no backstory, and often no art aside from the cover. In addition, they are often difficult and have been likened to “a puzzle that you pose to another player.” 1 Puzzles, while rewarding, are not always “fun.”
So why play it? To answer the question, let’s go from the new to the old. Go, possibly the oldest abstract, was invented around 2200 BC by Shun, an advisor to Emperor Yao, for his son, Danzhu, in order to positively influence him.2 This idea of Go positively influencing a person is wrapped up in the Confucian concept of the Four Arts. The Four Arts are technical studies that Chinese philosophy holds all “Junzi,” or “complete persons,” must have some mastery in. They are painting, calligraphy, playing the guqin (an instrument), and Go. Why these arts, and why Go in particular? A quick summary of the Confucian view of the person is necessary.Confucianism, especially Confucianism descended through Mencius (300 BC), views the human person as analogous to a shoot sprouting from the ground. The potential for righteousness, benevolence, wisdom, and propriety is already inside a person. One merely needs to cultivate these virtues by exercising them in particular environments. A person can do this by playing Go. What virtues or traits does Go cultivate and why is it so important? Mencius says:
Now Go is but a small art, but without his whole mind being given, and his will bent, to it, a man cannot succeed at it. Go Qiu is the best Go-player in all the kingdom. Suppose that he is teaching two men to play. The one gives to the subject his whole mind and bends to it all his will, doing nothing but listening to Go Qiu. The other, although he seems to be listening to him, has his whole mind running on a swan which he thinks is approaching, and wishes to bend his bow, adjust the string to the arrow, and shoot it. Although he is learning along with the other, he does not come up to him. Why? Because his intelligence is not equal? Not so. 3
In order to learn Go, a person must cultivate several qualities: focus, analysis, industry and dedication, and, in the case of guided study, obedience and humility in deferring to someone wiser. These qualities have broad application in life, and Go was placed among the Four Arts in recognition of their importance. Confucianism would argue that Go itself is not necessary to cultivate these qualities. Let’s look at chess.
Chess, another venerable abstract, has been studied as therapy for ADHD and has been shown to decrease hyperactivity and impulsivity, and foster dramatic improvements in focus and visual and working memory.4, 5 Responding to these kinds of studies, in 2016, Russia joined several other nations in introducing mandatory chess classes in their public school systems, and found a 35% to 45% improvement in academics as a result. 6, 7
The results clearly vindicate Mencius in praising the value of abstract games for cultivating focus, impulse control, industry, and cognition. Tak offers this and something else, something less tangible: Beauty. When James Ernest first revealed Tak to Patrick Rothfuss, Rothfuss described his experience:
...it was amazing. I was stunned by the game. Stunned that anyone could make something like this. It’s more elegant than chess. It’s more enjoyable than Go. I learned to play it in about five minutes and had a blast. More than a year later, the game is still unfurling for me like a flower, as I understand more and more about the play of it. It is, in brief, a beautiful game…8
Chess, as Tak player ManaT describes it, is a game of “diminuendo.” As in music, it starts bold until its great clashes finally dwindle and the battle ends. Go is soft like piano, it ebbs and flows, but stays balanced before coming to a gentle and decisive end.Tak, however, is “crescendo”. Like a composition that builds upon itself, Tak grows as the game progresses and becomes more intricate and complex. Its beauty unfolds as it goes, both within each game, and across a lifetime of playing.
Tak, therefore, likely can also cultivate these venerable attributes associated with Go in ancient Confucian thought, as well as the benefits of chess seen in modern times. What may elevate Tak above both of these, in the minds of some, is the "crescendo" of Tak, rising across a lifetime. A sufficient reason, I believe, to the question of “why play Tak?”
Sources & Notes
 Thompson, J. Mark (July 2000). "Defining the Abstract". The Games Journal. Retrieved July 27, 2017.
 The first written mention of Go, however, is found in the Zuo Zhuan, a 400’s BC historical document referencing an event that took place in 548 BC. This suggests Go was invented anywhere from the 2200’s BC to sometime before the 400’s BC.
 Mencius. "Mengzi - Gaozi I." Chinese Text Project, edited by Donald Sturgeon, ctext.org/mengzi/gaozi-i. Accessed 23 Apr. 2021.
 Sanz, José. "Improves ADHD symptoms - Therapeutic & Educational Chess". ADHD & Chess. Retrieved 2021-02-26.
 Kim, Se Hee; Han, Doug Hyun; Lee, Young Sik; Kim, Bung-Nyun; Cheong, Jae Hoon; Han, Sang Ho (2014-4). "Baduk (the Game of Go) Improved Cognitive Function and Brain Activity in Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder". Psychiatry Investigation. 11 (2): 143–151. doi:10.4306/pi.2014.11.2.143. ISSN 1738-3684. PMC 4023088. PMID 24843369.
 "ChessMaine: Russia Introduces Chess as a Required Subject in all Schools". chessmaine.net. Retrieved 2021-02-26.
 Glum, Julia (2016-12-09). "Mandatory Chess In Russian Schools? Senator Proposes Board Game Lessons Instead Of Physical Education". International Business Times. Retrieved 2021-02-26.
 Patrick Rothfuss. "Tak: A Beautiful Game". blog.patrickrothfuss.com. Retrieved 2021-02-26.