Gaming Unplugged: Taluva

August 8, 2007

In Taluva, your objective is to establish your territory by building settlements on a volatile, volcanic island in the South Pacific. Each player’s turn consists of two steps:

  1. Draw a random tile of three hexes, one depicting a volcano and the other two depicting two less-fiery terrains (grassland, jungle, lake, rock, or sand) and place it on the play area. You may place it adjacent to any hex, or you may place it on top of already-placed tiles as long as you observe the various restrictions: the volcano hex must be placed on top of another volcano hex; there cannot be any empty space beneath the tile; the volcano must “flow” in a different direction than the one it is covering; and you can’t bury an entire settlement. Also, if a hex has a tower or temple built on it, you cannot cover that hex, and the maximum height of a hex is three tiles — although orchestrating a scenario in which you could play a level-four tile is unlikely anyway. Any huts buried by a tile are removed from the game and not returned to their owners’ reserves.
  2. After placing your tile, you must place one or more buildings via four specific options for doing so: you may place one hut on any vacant (non-volcano) one-height hex; you may place a tower on a vacant (non-volcano) hex that is three tiles high and adjacent to one of your settlements that does not currently contain a tower; you may place a temple on a vacant (non-volcano) hex adjacent to one of your settlements that spans at least three other hexes and does not currently contain a temple; or you can expand one of your existing settlements into all vacant neighboring hexes of a single terrain by placing a number of huts in each hex equal to its height. You cannot choose an option for which you have insufficient buildings in your reserve, and if you cannot place any buildings then you are eliminated from the remainder of the game.

Play continues until either the supply of volcano tiles runs out or one player exhausts his supply of two of the three types of building. In the case of the former (and more likely) condition, the winner is whoever placed the most temples, with towers and huts breaking further ties in a similar manner. The player who manages to achieve the second condition claims the “premature” victory.

At first glance it seems like Taluva has a pile of rules that restrict your choices, but game play simplifies once you realize the implied rule of “you can’t place one tile completely on top of another one” — since every volcano hex “flows” the same way on every tile, the only way to achieve the “different flow” condition is to have the new tile span two or three lower tiles. Once that becomes apparent, the other, more intuitive mechanics quickly fade into the background (with the assistance of useful rules summary cards), allowing you to concentrate on actually playing the game.

Taluva is a quick game — even with three of our four players never having played before, our first game only took about an hour; more experienced players should be able to complete a game in about 30-40 minutes. Your choice of tactics is subtle but important, as there is no random element beyond the types of non-volcano terrain on each hex; everything else is dependant on the actions and decisions of yourself and the other players, which makes for more satisfying strategy and conflict. Taluva is also a good-looking game, with the full-color, lightly textured tiles being made out of very thick cardboard and the four sets of wooden buildings painted in red, yellow, brown, and white to make them stand out on the predominant greens on the tiles. The choice to use cardboard instead of wood or plastic for the tiles mitigates both the overall cost and overall weight of the game without sacrificing durability; the wooden building pieces are rather small, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem for most families/playgroups. Overall, Taluva‘s strategic emphasis, quick game play, and general aesthetics combine to offer a rewarding experience that doesn’t overstay its welcome.