“Tak is the best sort of game: simple in its rules, complex in its strategy. Bredon beat me handily in all five games we played, but I am proud to say that he never beat me the same way twice.” -Kvothe
I borrowed that from the Tak game Kickstarter page, who had borrowed it themselves from Patrick Rothfuss’s book The Wise Man’s Fear. Rothfuss invented the game, but never wrote of it in any more detail than the quote above. When I read The Wise Man’s Fear, Tak was one of those things that I really wished was real, it seemed like something I would really enjoy playing.
Imagine my excitement to learn that James Ernest created a real version of Tak that can actually be played.
The game is a bit of a cross between Connect Four, Chess, and Othello. I won’t go into the rules here beyond saying that you are trying to have your pieces connect from one side of the board to the other, while your opponent is trying to do the same, and you’re both trying to keep the other from accomplishing that. If you want to read the full rules, you can do so here.
To my surprise, it looked like a pretty simple game; one that I could even build at home. Since my friends and I had our quarterly game night in a couple weeks, I decided to build one.
Wood: Pine Board, Oak Dowel
Fasteners: Titebond II Wood Glue
Finish: Rust-Oleum Painters Touch Satin Espresso Paint, Behr PPU Sunburst Orange Paint, Behr PPU Iron Mountain Paint, Minwax Satin Polycrylic.
That’s all the wood I needed to build the game. More than enough wood, actually. I bought a 5/8″ x 18″ x 48″ pine board at Home Depot, and a 3/8″ dowel.
It took a couple hours, but on the table saw I ripped the pine board down into an 11.5″ x 11.5″ square board, four 1″ wide strips for edging around the board, four 1.25″ strips I’ll cut down into game pieces, and one 5″ piece I’ll cut in half for a couple special game pieces.
The four 1.25″ strips I didn’t want to be 5/8″ thick, so I set my table saw fence 1/4″ from the blade and ripped those more or less in half, keeping the thicker half and discarding the thinner half. That was a challenge, pushing something so thin through the saw, and I ruined a couple pieces trying, but eventually I got the strips that I needed.
I set the blade on my table saw so it just barely crept above the table and ran the game board across it ten times to divide the board into 36 1.75″ x 1.75″ squares with a small gap separating the squares.
Here you can see the game board with the squares shaped in.
Once the squares were shaped in, I ran one edge of the trim pieces down the table saw so there would be a gap running all the way around the playing surface. You can see the four pieces of wood on the left there with that gap edged in. The four pieces on the right would be broken down into game pieces.
Here are the game pieces after being cut and sanded. I learned a couple things here.
First, either my miter saw needs a sharper blade, or cutting pieces like that on a miter saw is not the way to do it. I’m thinking that I would have had better luck cutting them on the table saw on a miter sled. When the miter saw was finished with the cut, as the blade came back up, it threw the pieces all over my garage. Pine is a soft wood, so when it did that, I lost maybe 1 in 4 to cracking in half or some other damage. I thought I had enough wood strips to make more than enough pieces, but it turned out I barely had enough.
Second, sanding 6 sides of 64 small pieces by hand is terrible. My hands were cramping, it took forever, and I rushed it because it was so terrible. I’m not making another game until I’ve added a disk sander to my shop.
You can also see in this picture some dowels that I cut, also on the miter saw, also should have cut on the table saw. The dowels will be hammered into the holes I drilled into the game board, where the squares intersect. More on that in a bit.
Here I’m gluing the edges to the game board. I got the ratcheting box clamp from Harbor Freight for $6 I think, and it worked great. In fact, a lot of my tools come from Harbor Freight, including my table saw. They aren’t the best tools, but for someone who is just starting out, they work just fine. If I stick with this and really get into it, I’ll upgrade tools to better versions when I actually need to.
Tak is a two player game, and typically played with white and black pieces. Or, dark and light pieces. The pieces can be any two colors, really, so long as they aren’t the same. For mine, I went with two colors I already had in the shop. One is a dark gray, I think it’s Behr Iron Mountain. The other is the Almond color I used on my workbench. They contrast nicely and will work great for my board.
The two colors in this picture are not the two colors I ended up using, however. The lighter color there is actually a gray I was considering. After painting a few pieces light and dark gray, I decided there wasn’t enough of a difference. That’s when I switched the light gray to the almond.
See the holes I drilled? I bought a 3/8″ dowel and a 3/8″ drill bit so things lined up perfectly. I don’t know if it was my drill speed, the fact that I was using a hand drill and not a drill press (also something on my wish list), or that pine is such a soft wood, but I had a lot of chip out, which was disappointing.
The dowels were wrapped in wood glue before I hammered them into place and wiped off the excess glue.
I hammered the tops flush with the cutouts in the board, so on the bottom I had a lot of dowels sticking through. I used this saw to cut those off, but it’s really the wrong tool for the job. I should have used something like a Japanese hand saw, or some other fine woodworking saw, and not this rough lumber saw. Unfortunately, I don’t have a fine woodworking saw, so I did what I could.
The price I paid for not using the right saw was that the bottom of my board got scraped up real good by the teeth. I wanted the pegs flush with the board, so I had to pretty much rest the saw on the board to cut them off. Sanding will help hide a lot of that later though.
This is what the playing surface looked like before paint and finish. Let’s talk a little bit about the squares and the dowels.
Tak is a versatile game. You don’t even really need a board to play so long as you can imagine your playing surface, but it helps to have one. As you can see, there is a 6×6 grid of squares, but at the intersections is a 5×5 grid of dowels. You can play Tak on either size board. You can play on a 4×4, a 7×7, or an 8×8 board as well. The rules change just a little bit, and how many pieces you use also changes, but the game is essentially the same. I built a hybrid 5×5 / 6×6 board, for when I want to play longer or shorter games.
To make the squares pop, I painted the interior groves. It’s a bright, deep orange color that really stands out. Originally I was going to do the groves in one color, the dowels in another color, the trim pieces in another color, etc., but decided to just keep things simple.
It took a couple hours to paint all of the groves and dowels, longer than I anticipated, but it was definitely worth it.
I also added the orange paint to the two capstone pieces to tie everything together.
This is the board after two coats of polycrylic.
Once the polycrylic was dry, I painted the bottom gray and added some little feet so the wood wouldn’t scratch whatever table we happened to be playing on.
I also found a nice little bag at Hobby Lobby to hold all the pieces.
We played a couple games right after I finished the game. I’m sad to say that I lost the first couple games that I played. It’s quite a fun game, but you really have to be paying attention to everything, which is nice. There’s a ton of strategy involved, and I’m definitely looking forward to playing some more.