Tara is a beautifully designed three-dimensional tabletop puzzle game steeped in Celtic heritage and history. The board design is from the Book of Kells and the rings are inspired by the Hill of Tara in Ireland, seat to the high kings of Ireland. Tara: Ireland’s Royal Board Game is truly a game worthy of kings– it can be played with an air of chess-like intellectual strategy as easily as it can be enjoyed light-heartedly with a freestyle approach.
The Tara version available today actually contains four different games, each with its own name and rules, that can be played on the same board. Tara is a two-player game that recommends ages 8 and up, with a 20-30 minute playtime. In my experience, an 8-year-old would have to be fairly experienced with puzzle or strategy games. Expect at least 30 minutes to play a typical game with younger kids.
We prefer the Stone of Destiny version (a little Irish and Scottish history here for those interested), a Tara variant that is considered the quick-start game and comes labeled as a “free” fourth game in the box. Stone of Destiny is played in two parts. In the first, each player alternates places rings and kings. The second alternates linking and unlinking rings in turn. This reminds me of Chess in that each player must think ahead to set the stage for late-game strategy. At least that’s what I believe is a generally good strategy in chess… I don’t win a lot at chess.
I do, however, win at Tara. When placing your ring forts in the first stage, your goal is to plan ahead so that you will have the fewest interlocking kingdoms when linked during the second stage, fewer kingdoms being larger and more powerful. You then place your king in your forts to claim your turf.
The second phase is the battle phase… and where you find out if you royally screwed up in the first phase. Generally, you will interlock your forts with bridges. But that would be too easy to plan and without an element of surprise and sabotage. Each player also starts the second phase with five of their opponent’s bridges. You may move up to five of your opponent’s bridges throughout the round, but doing so will require you to “pay” your opponent with one of the five bridge pieces you hold. This allows them to place this additional bridge where they like. Many games of Stone of Destiny are won or lost in decisions made moving (or not moving) opponent bridges. I’ve won games of Tara simply because an opponent was all-too-willing to move my bridges and pay… dearly.
The game ends when there is no legal move left. Again, not planning for this can be your downfall since players must take every legal move possible. After play has ended, you count up “kingdoms,” or any fully interlocking collection of ringforts and bridges. Any of your tiles not touching or connecting via a bridge becomes a new kingdom. The player with the fewest kingdoms wins. Often me.
I’m going to mention again that I often win games of Tara. Our family regularly endures my husband winning most games, and it’s always a special pleasure when one of us bests him.
Tara is simply a great puzzle game that’s super versatile, one that appears simple on the surface, yet requires some strategic planning. The setup is not difficult, and the gameplay is easy to grasp, but the instructions for four games can seem daunting. We really enjoy the unique three-dimensional and multi-layered aspects of Tara. As a fan of Celtic history, I especially enjoy the story behind the gameplay and the artwork that went into the board. My final advice: Tara is best enjoyed with a good friend, conversation, and a Guinness.
Interested in another great strategy game with Irish roots? Check out our review of Battle Sheep, a family-friendly strategy game about expanding your flock of sheep to consume as much land as possible.