Tao Long: The Way of the Dragon is a game of battling dragons. It is, at its heart, a two-player game. Although, a small expansion allows two additional players/dragons to be added to the board, for team play. Each player is a dragon, on a grid-like board, with the dragon consisting of 4 tiles.
Each turn comprises of a move and, if possible, an attack. Cause enough damage, and the opposing dragon will lose a body segment. The object of the game is to damage the opposing dragon sufficiently that they lose all body segments.
Player turns in a game of Tao Long, designed by Dox Lucchin and Pedro Latro, are determined by a mancala. There are several tokens (stones) arranged on the mancala (called the Ba Gua) - on their turn, a player takes all stones from one spot on the Ba Gua, and drops one onto the next anti-clockwise spot and then the next, and so on. Each spot is associated with a specific type of movement on the board - the spot on which the last stone is placed determines the move that the dragon makes.
If the dragon is unable to make the move in question, that turn is not legal, and cannot be taken. If there is no legal move available, the player's dragon takes damage. Each spot on the Ba Gua is only legal if the dragon is facing a horizontal or a vertical direction.
At the end of the movement, if the dragon head is facing and immediately adjacent to an opponent dragon piece (body or head), it will bite that dragon, causing one life point of damage. More about damage later.
Two of the spots on the Ba Gua are labelled Fire and Water. Each of these elements has a different function in the game, although both can be used to attack. When taking the fire or water element action, the player may choose to either absorb or expel fire/water.
If the player chooses to absorb, they take one token (of the respective element) from the centre of the Ba Gua (there is a limited supply of both) and places it on their respective "meter" (with space for four of each type of token).
If, on the other hand, the player chooses to expel energy, they are electing to cause damage to their opponent. The amount of damage is determined by three things; the type of energy being expelled, the amount of that energy available, and the relative position of the opposing dragon.
- Expelling Fire - If the dragon expels fire, the amount of damage done by a ranged attack is determined by the number of tokens on the fire meter of the active dragon.
- Expelling Water - If the dragon expels water, the amount of damage done is determined by the number of water tokens remaining on the Ba Gua.
The damage is then modified by the proximity of the target dragon (A neat little gauge is provided to help with this). Too far away, and no damage is done; very close, an extra damage is caused.
Each point of damage depletes the opposing dragon's water meter by one token. If the water meter is emptied, a segment of dragon body is removed, the meter refilled, and any remaining damage removed from the newly filled meter.
Additional Game Elements
Tao Long comes with several other game components, which introduce a number of additional game modes, adding variety and complexity.
The Tao Long game board can feel empty with only two dragons on there; as a result, the opportunities to do damage to your opponent can be rare. Portals allow dragons to "jump" across the board. But beware, using a portal to move closer to your opponent also brings you closer to their attack...
Small single-tile obstructions on the board, which cannot be moved through. In some variants of the game, the rocks can be destroyed through attacks or even trampling, but trampling rocks can also damage the dragon…
In this variant, one dragon is the defender of the village, the other the attacker. This mode introduces new rules for proximity of the attacking dragon to the village.
The "stones" on the Ba Gua are split evenly between black and white tiles (to correspond with the dragons). Additional rules come into play when all four stones arrive on the same spot on the Ba Gua, or when all four stones are on alternating spaces.
In this mode, placement of the stones on the Ba Gua is not always anti-clockwise, it is determined instead by the colour of the stones collected.
Final Thoughts on Tao Long
Tao Long is an elegant, confrontational game, with lovely components. It's best played as a two-player game, though the expansion allows four players to play in teams. Be prepared for some frustrating moments, as your opponent moves right out of your way, or as you unwittingly move your dragon into the worst possible position.