by Lee Valentine
Published by Blue Panther LLC
Designed by Néstor Romeral Andrés
Wooden gameboard, 40 playing tiles, & rules
Taiji is the first professional release from designer Néstor Romeral Andrés. It is an abstract tile laying strategy board game based around a yin yang theme. The review copy I received was a prototype and so was more representative of game play than of the commercial quality of the components.
Taiji game is played on a 9 x 9 grid with a wooden board and wooden tiles. Players each select a color (light or dark) before the game begins. Then they take turns playing Taijitu tiles, the basic game piece in Taiji. Taijitu are tiles that are one grid square in height, by two grid squares in width (so they'll cover up two empty adjacent spaces on the board each time one is played). One square's worth of the Taijitu is dark and the other square's worth is light, meaning that each time a player plays a piece on the table, one board square becomes light and the other becomes dark. Players score points by creating chains of orthogonally adjacent squares covered by their own color. At the end of the game, when there are no more empty spaces to play a Taijitu into, players calculate their scores by adding up the lengths of their two longest chains.
On a 9 x 9 grid, at most, each player will have 20 turns, and will end up covering up, at most, 80 out of 81 squares. The light side player plays the first tile. Because Taijitu can only be played if there are two orthogonally adjacent empty squares on the board, part of the strategy in Taiji is to lay down a Taijitu so that empty spaces are left on the board where a two-square by one-square Taijitu can't be placed. This can effectively defend a space on the board, preventing your opponent from filling it with his color, without you having to actually put a tile in that space. While Taiji is obviously an abstract strategy game in the family of Go and Othello, the ability to leave empty spaces belonging to neither player, and the fact that each tile played belongs equally to both players really makes Taiji a unique entry into the category.
The game has respectable, but not mind-numbingly difficult levels of strategy. It has good replay value, especially since Taiji plays fast. Some games may take up to 30 minutes, but the last game I played was about 15 minutes long. That's not bad at all for a strategy game.
The designer predicts that there's a first move advantage and that the game needs to be played in matches, where each player gets one chance to play the light side. In match play, your scores from each game are added up to make up a combined match score. I noticed no substantial first move advantage, though; Taiji seems balanced enough that it can be played one game at a time.
Look and feel
Blue Panther LLC, the publisher of Taiji, manufactures a wide variety of games with wooden components. Their games seem to be carved out with a laser engraving tool of some kind. In fact, Taiji's game board does not have an inked on grid, but rather a laser etched on grid.
Taiji's board measures only 8" x 8" and each Taijitu is only 3/4" x 1.5". This is not cramped for play, but instead makes the game highly portable if you want to pack it in a backpack with the rest of your gaming gear to play it as a filler game.
When Blue Panther sent me a prototype of the game for review they warned me that the there would not be a lot of color contrast on the Taijitu pieces on the prototype. They weren't kidding. The color contrast was so mild (white vs. very light brown) on the prototype that I decided to color in the darker side with a black sharpie marker. This production flaw, however, was something I was forewarned about and it thankfully won't exist in the commercial release of the product; it was an artifact of the prototyping process.
There will be two commercial versions of the game. One will be plywood and the other will be hardwood. The commercial version will feature a much darker stain on the dark side of each Taijitu: a cranberry (deep red) stain. The pieces will have a polyurethane coat. In either case, the contrast problem that I noted in the prototype that I received will not exist in the final commercial version of the product.
Taiji comes in a plywood box with the name of the game laser etched into the box top. The box is small and easily portable, measuring only about 5" x 8". It is made of plywood, and is thus quite sturdy compared to most other game boxes. I had one problem with it's construction - while the bottom is permanently affixed to the sides, the box top merely sits lightly in slots on top of the box's side panels, and is not firmly secured in any way. Blue Panther shipped the box with a rubber band wrapped around the box, and I found that when I carried the game around this wasn't enough to guarantee against a spill of the parts if the box was accidentally inverted. This would be easily remedied if there was a cardboard sheath to slide over the box to secure the box top. I think Blue Panther will need this anyway to print advertising text on should they move this product into distribution during the first quarter of 2008 as intended. Based on my conversations with Blue Panther I suspect that a decent advertising wrap will be available on the final commercial release.
Previewing the goods
Taiji can be played for free on any Windows-compatible computer. Néstor Romeral Andrés, creator of Taiji, has also programmed a computer version that can be played on a network or it can be played solo against a computerized artificial intelligence (AI). The program is downloadable for free at:
The AI in this game has 4 levels of difficulty. On level 4, the Master level, the computer uses a tremendous amount of processor power, which will cause Taiji to run at a cripplingly slow speed on anything but the newest computers. Thankfully, however, level 3, Expert, is fun, faster, and relatively competitive. I did not get an opportunity to test the software out in networked play, as I was primarily focused on reviewing the physical game. However, the ability to try this game before you buy it is very attractive; it's the perfect way to see if Taiji is a fit for your interests.
The price of Taiji has not be firmed up yet, but Blue Panther estimates that the plywood version will retail for $20 and will be available by the end of October direct from Blue Panther. They have yet to decide the price point on the full hardwood set. The game is due to be out in specialty hobby distribution by March 2008. If this game was done in stained hardwood with a finishing coat it would be an attractive addition to your coffee table, to induce non-gamer geeks into learning a fast, fun game. The plywood version will be an inexpensive box of portable fun.
For retailers reading this review, I can't tell you exactly how saleable this product will be for you if you just leave it on your shelves, because I never saw final commercial packaging or components. Generally, to sell a lot of copies of an abstract strategy game you need to demo it anyway. Thankfully, Taiji demos lightning fast. You can get someone making their first move of the game within 2 minutes after you break out the game. The game is simple in its rules, interesting in its strategy, and fans of abstract strategy games may find this an addictive addition to their collections.
Taiji will be part of the "Abstract Games Tournament" at UCON (University of Michigan) in mid-November. For those lucky enough to attend, I highly recommend that you test drive Taiji and pick up a copy for yourself.
Overall Score: A-
Rulebook Clarity: A
Ease of Learning: A+
Replay Value: A-
Components: B (on prototype)
Retailer Salability: B+ if demo'd; lower if left on a shelf
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