The premise for Sky Huang's Etariya is of a battle for supremacy between a god of light and a god of darkness. If you're captivated by this theme, Moaideas indulge you in the rulebook with page upon page of flavour text and backstory. However, that really is just decoration because Etariya is essentially an abstract two-player tactical game. It's played on a dual layer board but first you place out overlays that have the effect of creating a 7 x 7 grid with randomised light and dark squares. The overlays are a simple but clever device to randomise the game board so that it is unlikely ever to be exactly the same on subsequent plays.
There are seven sets of seven coloured 'stones' that, in the basic game, you place into a bag from which each player draws three. On your turn you place out all three stones. The first stone of a colour can be placed in any unoccupied square except for a corner square; subsequent stones of the same colour must be placed orthogonally adjacent to a matching stone. If there is no orthogonally adjacent space you must stack your stone on top of a matching colour stone already on the board. Your aim is to win dominance of the colour by being the first to have stones in four squares matching your light or dark alignment, and stacked stones count towards dominance. The game is won by the first player to win dominance of four colours.
The net result is a simple easy-to-play filler-length game that you can play in less than 10 minutes. There's scope for tactics, particularly as the board fills, as you can try to block your opponent off so that they are forced to place a stone in a position that advantages you rather than them. It helps here that players draw back up to three stones at the end of their turn, so you always know what stones your opponent will have on their next turn. However, the fact that you often don't have much choice over where to place a stone can leave players with the feeling that they don't have as much agency as they'd like.
The game comes with in-built solutions to this. The rulebook incorporates several variants, including one that foregoes the random bag draw and replaces it with open drafting from a semicircle formed from all 49 stones. Play this way and tho' you won't feel you have god-like power, you'll at least feel more in control of your own destiny.
Shown here on Board's Eye View is a preview edition of Etariya but there's a new edition with brighter artwork and that's the version that's expected to come to Kickstarter. We'll show it off when we get hold of a copy, and we'll endeavour to post a link to Moaideas' crowdfunder campaign when that goes live.
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