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Tak, Cyvasse and Gwent: From Book to Board Game

Board games span across fantastical worlds, dizzying adventures and the most outlandish of stories, yet sometimes it is those very stories which create the board games themselves.

Tak, Cyvasse and Gwent are all examples of games which originate from famous fantasy series, embedded in the worlds of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle, George RR Martins’ A Song of Ice and Fire and Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series respectively - Yet these board games are also beginning to bleed into our own reality.

With the release of these games in physical forms one begins to wonder what it takes to adapt games from the pages of fantasy novels, and why so many series include them in the heart of their fiction.

Cyvasse - A little bit of Chess

When George RR Martin created Cyvasse for the Game of Thrones universe he described it as ‘a bit of Chess, a bit of Blitzkrieg’ and ‘a bit of Strategy’, and it’s clear that he had in mind the kind of strategy games which educated medieval princes in the art of warfare.

Cyvasse begins much like Chess, a two-player game with 10 types of pieces ranging from trebuchets to war elephants, but also involves more modern elements like terrain tiles of mountains or forests which affect your potential tactics, and walls to block your opponents’ view as you each set up your attacks.

Martin clearly draws on a range of experience with board games, however he didn’t originally intend the game to be produced for the board game market: a product to be solidified out of the vague strategy game described in the books.

But taking into account Martin's well-documented love of games and all things geeky going back to his childhood, coupled with the unstoppable force that is the Game of Thrones branding machine, it is not shrouding that the Cyvasse board game was eventually born alongside a string of other spin-offs and editions from the popular TV series, some of which have been rather successful.

Martin clearly draws on a range of experience with board games, however he didn’t originally intend the game to be produced for the board game market: a product to be solidified out of the vague strategy game described in the books.

But taking into account Martin's well-documented love of games and all things geeky going back to his childhood, coupled with the unstoppable force that is the Game of Thrones branding machine, it is not shrouding that the Cyvasse board game was eventually born alongside a string of other spin-offs and editions from the popular TV series, some of which have been rather successful.

Tak - Simplicity at heart

The marketability games with such enormous brands behind them is self-evident, but therein also lies the danger of creating a game which cannot stand on its own merit. However this is not always the case: Tak is an example of a board game which quietly stands apart from its book series: Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind.

Tak launched itself with great care having gone into its simplicity, quality and authenticity to the books - where every aspect from its writing to world building is carefully hand-crafted. Both Rothfuss and George RR Martin are known for a deliberate care and pace to their writing process, as well as a depth of world building that has not been seen since the likes of Tolkien, so it is apt to see how Tak echoes the elegance and groundedness of the series from which it originates.

Interestingly, Tak also takes its inspiration from ancient board games like Draughts or Go, just as Cyvasse hearkens back to Chess. Tak gives players the challenge of building a road across the board by placing stones and capstones: represented by simply crafted blocks of dark and light wood, which you and your opponent compete to place strategically.

Yet Tak’s goal is far from the over-churned, excitable and gimmicky approach of branded games. Instead Tak asks players to focus simply on ‘playing a beautiful game’: to play curiously, strategically and with earnest attention even if you are ultimately beaten. It’s a frame of mind which lends itself to the impression which Tak hopes to achieve, one of an ancient game that might be played in taverns and courts alike across distant worlds, or even our own. And perhaps it is also this same feeling which begins to explain why board games are found at all within fantasy series.

If we look at the board game as an ancient tradition I believe that their appeal to fantasy authors becomes quite clear. Games, like art or music, reflect a societies' culture and history, and so fantasy authors who look to solidify the entire history of a new world, its languages, dynasties, customs, have drawn upon the oldest and most integral board games of our own world.

Both Tak and Cyvasse draw on the ancient and simple premises of war, and building, and delve into the timeless systems of Chess, Draughts, and Go. I would argue that it is these fantastical games which help anchor strange new worlds in our own reality, often with the result that they become a part of our world as well.

If we look at the board game as an ancient tradition I believe that their appeal to fantasy authors becomes quite clear. Games, like art or music, reflect a societies' culture and history, and so fantasy authors who look to solidify the entire history of a new world, its languages, dynasties, customs, have drawn upon the oldest and most integral board games of our own world.

Both Tak and Cyvasse draw on the ancient and simple premises of war, and building, and delve into the timeless systems of Chess, Draughts, and Go. I would argue that it is these fantastical games which help anchor strange new worlds in our own reality, often with the result that they become a part of our world as well.

Gwent - Beyond the original series

If we question whether games can live beyond the series they originate from, one need look no further than Gwent: a card game created by CD Projekt Red and adapted from the Witcher books and video game series itself.

In its official forms Gwent currently remains a wholly digital affair, similar to card games like Hearthstone or Magic the Gathering, yet it’s solo release outside of the Witcher series proves the ability for fantasy games, even mini-games, to go far beyond their original expectations.

Games like Tak, Cyvasse, Gwent or even Quidditch bring a little reality into their fantastical worlds – and perhaps in turn bring a little fantasy into our own.

Final Thoughts

Fantasy games tear down the barrier between our world and the next and put us in touch with the stories we love, but they often also stir up the essence of what makes our own games timeless and compelling. Translating games from the pages of fiction must always be done so with care and an understanding of gameplay, but when the apparition from fantasy to reality is successful such games are always worth consideration.

It’s true that adapted games are often the victim of their own readily popular branding, but once in a while a game goes far beyond its origins to become something well worth truly a closer look – something truly fantastic.

Helen Jones is a writer and games journalist, you can read more of her stuff @Barnacledrive on Twitter.