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Friday, April 16, 2010

Review: Thurn & Taxis - Light Game of Joy

Back when Germany was best known for its Postal System...

     Friday brings us back around to review time.  This week, I'm taking a look at Thurn & Taxis.  It should come as no surprise that Thurn & Taxis gets the GeekInsight seal of approval.  The game won the prestigious Spiel des Jahres for 2006.  This game is very easy to pick up, moves quickly, and is a great family game.  I've also found it to be a great 'gateway' game.  The average person hears 'board game' and thinks of games like the endless, soul-crushing, and fun-sucking Monopoly.  This is a game that is very enjoyable and will get them started down the path to the heavier and funner (I'm on a quest to make 'funner' a word.  Don't judge me.) board pursuits.

Full review after the jump.

     The theme behind Thurn & Taxis is that you are a postmaster building postal routes.  There are several sections of Germany that you can bring your postal routes through as you serve various cities.  The artwork on the board is fantastic and each city is represented by a famous landmark.  Having never been to Germany, I recognized relatively few.  But those of you who are well traveled might see a lot of familiar sights.

     Gameplay is relatively simple.  There are six cards on the side of the board each representing a different city.  Each turn, you must draw one and play one.  (And, each player may take one special action per turn - drawing a second card, playing a second card, replacing all six cards, or getting a carriage better than you earned).  Your next turn, you must play a city that is connected to the first city you played, and so on and so on for each turn thereafter.  Your goal is to build a long postal route which you can then score.  If you can't build onto your existing route, then you have to abandon your route.  Thus, there is some risk/reward in going for a longer route, vs. scoring the smaller, but safer one.

     When a route is scored, you place your houses on the board.  Either one house in each region in your route (represented by different colors), or filling all the cities in one region, and putting none in the other regions.  So, a player must make the play that will garner him the most houses and the most points.  In addition, you get a carriage which matches the length of your route.  3, 4, 5, 6, or 7.  You have to earn the lower carriage before you can earn a higher one, and when a player earns carriage 7, that's the last round and the game ends. 

     A player also earns bonus points for doing a number of actions.  Scoring a route 5, 6, or 7 cities long, having a house on every city in a region or region pair, or having a house in every region are the biggest point getters.  But, the points go down each time.  So the first person to score a route five long will get two bonus points.  The second person to do so, only one.  The third and fourth - nothing.  So the game rewards initiative.

     At game end, you simply count up the bonus points that have been awarded.  The player with the most points win.

Components: 4 of 5.  Nice wooden pieces for the houses.  The board and artwork are also wonderful.  The cards, however, are a little on the small side.  It allows them to fit on the board, but they can be a real pain to shuffle. 

Strategy/Luck Balance: 4 of 5.  There is a pervasive luck element.  You can't place a city in your route unless you draw the card.  However, the game leaves many options open so that you can make the most of what is available to you.  And, in desperate need, you can always exchange all the cards for new ones and hope for the best.

Mechanics: 5 of 5.  The game is very easily understood.  In fact, its ease of play is what lends itself so strongly to the 'casual' gamer crowd.  This is a game I would not hesitate to play with my in-laws.

Replayability: 2.5 of 5.  Thurn and Taxis suffers from some repetitiveness.  It's essentially the same game every time.  However, it moves quickly and is very light and enjoyable.  So, when you're looking for something to wind down a night, or when you're playing with the less hardcore crowd, it can be a nice tension breaker.

Spite: 0.5 of 5.  Another major factor in being accessible to the irregular board gamer (meaning someone who plays less often, not someone with bowel trouble).  There is almost no way to attack or harm another player.  The most that you can do is race another player for a bonus point.  But then it really comes down to luck and skill, not any inherent ability to mess up someone else.  The most one can do is take a card that the next person would want.  But, that means you may not be getting a card you want and so its utterly impractical to do so. 

Overall: 4 of 5.  Thurn & Taxis is a great light game.  It moves quickly and you can discuss other things and have a good time with friends as you play.  There is little analysis paralysis or long moments of strategery.  Instead, everyone talks and laughs and moves their pieces along.  This light game can find a spot in most any collection.  The only major down side is that it is limited to 4 players, so big groups (the kind where casuals are most likely to appear) cannot partake in the T&T. 

You can buy it from Boards and Bits if you are so inclined.
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