2006 English language edition
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Control of India at the beginning 18th century is up for grabs. The 200 year-long rule of the Grand Moguls has collapsed. Now is the time for the most powerful Maharishis and princes to take control of the Indian subcontinent. The players use strategy and cunning to win influence over India, province by province and city by city. The most successful player (and the winner) is the one who establishes the most magnificent palaces and has the most power in the end.
I brought this game after reading the reviews and was not disappointed. The rules are pretty complicated if you don't have anyone to help you out with. When I played this first, we did get some of the rules wrong but now they don't seem that bad.
I really like the strategy aspect of the game. I think that this game has more strategy and less luck than Settlers of Catan since in Settlers you are waiting for your lucky numbers rolled but instead in this game you have to plan your way in each city so that you play your cards just right for that round and also plan appropriate for the next rounds. The special cards are very important and each one of them is important to a certain strategy for the game. The emperor is important if you are looking for the most connections between cities, the elephant comes in handy for winning cities, +2 and change color are always useful.
I have played with only 3 players and have found it to be quite interesting. I would recommend this game to anyone who is looking to spend 1-2 hours on a game with good strategy options.
I've read numerous excellent reviews of Taj Mahal and decided to give it a try yesterday and it turned out to be a good buy :)
Initially, we had a hard time trying to understand the rules, but fortunately a guy from another gaming group came over and taught us the game :) We played a 5 players game and I ended up last, but I really enjoyed the game... the mechanism of game play is original and innovative... requires a lot of brain work when deciding what card to play and which cards to choose... all in all, it's a good game... I would rank Taj Mahal to be on par with great games like Puerto Rico and EVO...
Is it poker? Better. It plays with cards but removes the luck. Add to that some glorious tile-play and decision-making and you've got one heck of a brain burner.
Knizia bears his stamp on Taj Mahal more than any other game designer has shown their personality in a game. The several, simultaneous methods of scoring that are impressively balanced; cumulative scoring that creates momentum and flow to the game; the agonizing choices; and, an original, but skin-deep theme (I still can't remember the name of the green guy - I just call them the 'green guy').
This is a game that's hard to win. The fights just keep getting harder and it's usually the pressure that forces one to make a bad decision - the sign of a solid game.
I like Knizia games. I don't know how he manages to do so, but many of his games have some kind of 'magic touch'. Even the lighter games, like Africa, (wich could be ranked 'too easy' for heavy-gamers) has attractive elements. I must confess, I consider a game like Africa as a bit too light and simple. Yet it is undeniable that it is great fun for casual players or younger players. So, eventhough Africa is not a game I want to play with other strategie-hungry players, I still am aware of the 'magic touch' in this game.
I think that the 'magic touch' I mentioned has a name. It is called Reiner Knizia. And Taj Mahal... IS Reiner Knizia. Taj Mahal is pure magic, because this game is ABSORBING.
I can only agree with the previous reviewer: Taj Mahal grows on me. It is a game that unfolds its secrets more and more, every time you play it. And that is one of the elements that I like about a game.
To make a comparison: when I had read the rules of Mexica, (a game of Kramer and Kiesling and wich I also like very much), the game played exactly as I expected. It was great fun, yes, but no surprises during the first game.
This is -I think- where a Knizia game differs from a lot of other games: read the rules, try to imagine what the game and its set of rules are all about, all fine, but only when you PLAY the game, you can see the mechanics. It is like you discover hidden layers that you had overlooked while studying the rules. This is one of the aspect Taj Mahal excels in. It has a mix of different components, all very clearly explained in the rules-book, all relatively easy to understand, but only by actually playing the game, extra dimensions seem to be added. That is what I call magic.
Of course, after your first game, you finally know what the game REALLY is about. This is the moment you fasten your seatbellts, ready to defeat your opponents. From that moment you will find yourself hooked to this game. Well, that happened to me, at least.
You know, there are movies and movies. Some movies are very enjoyable, but when it's over, it's over. Other movies are still keeping you busy and involved, a long time after you have turned off your tv. If Taj Mahal would have been a movie, it would belong to this latter category.
I consider this the best game of Knizia. Where I consider Tigris & Eufrat, Stephensons Rocket, Merchants of Amsterdam as very good games, Taj Mahal has stolen my heart.
I know, I wrote this review in a very subjective way. Not a word about the game itsself. I have only been expressing my warm enthousiasm for this jewel. But then again, describing this game in terms of rules, and how the game is constructed etc. doesn't say much about the game itself. And perhaps you even think me hypnotized. In that case I couldn't more agree with you :)
Taj Mahal keeps growing on me. Not only do I like this game more and more, but I find myself slowly improving each time I play. A couple of different strategies are available to each player, and the player who gets the most out of his limited cards will end up being the winner.
I think I enjoy this game more than most because there is very little luck involved. And the game play is usually very fast. Seeing the next set of available cards also adds an exciting component to the game as you agonize on whether to take more influence or to withdraw and grab the attractive cards.
While the scoring mechanism is somewhat complicated (special cards, bonus tiles/commodities, previous tiles/commodoties, palace placement, connected provinces), it creates additional strategy considerations that you do not find in your ordinary game. I love this game and highly recommend it!
I am thoroughly impressed with Taj Mahal. It was a complicated decision choosing which Reiner Knizia game to buy, so I searched the internet and got my hands on every single review I could find for all of his popular games. Maybe there was no wrong choice, but I think this gamble paid off.
This truly is a balanced board game. With so many ways to score, you can choose the strategy that suits your style ultra-aggressive or make a series of subtle moves and hope nobody catches on. But with the all the activity going on each and every round (intense card battles, palace placements, scoring points here and there), one would expect things to grow more complex as the game progresses quite the opposite happens. Everything meshes together so smoothly on the scoring track. All the strategies and gambles people have made come together seamlessly by games end.
The only element that Im still considering is the Princess card: would it be better if it werent worth 2 points every time? In some games Ive played, it was necessary for the close scoring. In other games, it was responsible for the lop-sided victory. Im considering tweaking the rules so that it is worth 2 points in even-numbered rounds and only 1 point in odd-numbered rounds.
The important thing to do is not get caught losing a lot of cards for nothing. It hurts. And its the surest way to cripple yourself for the next two rounds. Bluffing should not be used every round. Go for a palace and if you can win one early, be content with that. Then build up your hand. Holding a lot of cards in your hand can be an intimidating pose. Victory is contingent on gaining many smaller victories.
The game board and components enhance the games appeal. The palaces are wonderfully designed and the choice of colours are tastefully reminiscient of what Id expect from a game that takes place in India. But something that was NOT well-designed was the instruction manual. Its annoying, in fact. I had to read the booklet several times to understand the game play. The reason for my frustration was that even though the manual explains how to play, it doesnt explain the reasons for doing certain moves. I understand the game now, but it took me a lot longer to learn than it should have. The book does explain the scoring system clearly, but I think it has to.
Taj Mahal gets a 5 for game play, strategy and overall enjoyment. I like games that make me think and this one gets my brain going on all cylinders.
This game is relatively easy to learn and extremely fun to play. While it can be a family game, it has such exquisite 'screw your neighbor' capabilities that it can be quite raucous. It's also one that non-gamers can pick up on quite well--a first-timer won it on Saturday by quite a bit.
It's a game of chicken... do you stay in the conflict, or do you cut your losses and get two great cards for the next round?
It's difficult not to count both sides of the influence cards, but other than that, it's extremely playable. And replayable. And replayable.
Just read all the other reviews, I can't do much better than what they have already said.
Taj Mahal is an excellent game. My fourth playing finally produced a victory, and I felt I EARNED it. It was a journey well worth taking. I had loads of fun getting to that first victory!
Taj Mahal is a gamer's game and you would be nuts not to play it. Buy a copy if no one you knows has it, and play it as soon as you can.
Five stars, very well deserved.
This game moves fairly quick. There's significant player interaction. It's possible to try and gang up on the leader. There are plenty of options as to how you play. It's very hard for a player to be completely out of it. In short, there's nothing about this game that has a problem. And it's fun!
There are still a few Reiner games I have not tried yet, but so far I feel this is far and away his best. I almost feel this way after each of his new games but this one is still going strong after a full year of playing. It is one of the few games I do not get tired of after repeated playings.
Read Greg Schloesser excellent review below for the mechanics of the game. I tried it two nights ago with 5 players for the first time. While I thought it was slightly broken with that many players, it was still a lot of fun. I found two problems with 5 players: One is that the Elephants are about the only way to win. The second problem that I found was the white card that gives 2 victory points when played was also too powerful. With 3 players, I have found that this game is just about perfect and I suspect with 4 it would be fantastic also. Every turn is gutwrenching unless you've decided just to bow out and go for cards. The games do not last too long and each round everyone is watching what's going on so there is no real down time. It is a lot like poker except what you are losing instead of chips are the cards you are putting down and these are very valuable and hard to come by.
I have seen on the web that some think that it is too confusing and there are too many ways to score, but I play with an 11 year old girl and her mom and they have absolutely no problem with the game. I get the feeling that these people have just read the rules and decided it was too difficult. Once you start playing it all falls into place.
I've only played this newly acquired game a couple of times with my sons, but am already impressed by the tactical options presented by the card play and varied scoring opportunities. Unlike some of the earlier reviewers, who caused me some hesitation when I was considering this acquisition, I do not believe the multiple scoring mechanisms create a strategic morass. Yes, there are a number of possible actions to take, but your tactics are based on the present situation, the value of the current objectives, your resources, and the play of your opponents. Aren't such decisions what all good strategy games require? Too few choices and you feel like the game's outcome is predestined. Too many and you feel like planning and achieving a desired outcome are impossible. I think Taj Mahal achieves a fairly happy medium.
Card play can be offensive, trying to score points or acquire a special card, or defensive, trying to keep your opponent from doing those things. Added to those confrontations is the decision on when to withdraw from the card play 'battles' to acquire the more choice cards available for that round. You may need to use a turn to acquire those cards (rather than score points) to set yourself up favorably for a future round where your scoring opportunities, through commodities available in the province, connecting roads, or bonus tiles, will be more advantageous for you than what is available or attainable in the current round.
All in all, a rich gaming experience for strategy game lovers.
This is the best game I've played in a long, long time! The card bidding offers all the bump/raise/fold tension of Stud poker, and combines it with a strategic build-and-block boardgame to produce an easy-to-learn masterpiece with multiple strategies, lots of tough decisions, and plenty of tense moments.
One post here claims the scoring system is too complex, but we haven't found that to be the case at all. Another criticizes the design as being too similar to some of his other designs; I prefer to look at it on its own merits, and it's tops.
It plays very well regardless of the number of players (3-5). The bits are outstanding, although the replicate symbols on the cards are sometimes confusing to beginners. The little plastic palaces are neatly detailed, and better than wood.
If you can only own a few games, make TAJ MAHAL one of them.
After my first playing I was only lukewarm to this game. But just one additional playing produced quite a different view! I've played it many times since and it continues to climb up my list of favorite games.
There's tense card play, agonizing resource management, interesting board play, and multiple routes to victory.
Don't just play it once!
Taj Mahal is Reiner Knizia's latest design... although he releases so many games it is difficult to ever say with certainty what his latest game truly is! Reiner is a master of blending various mechanics and scoring mechanisms, and he has used this talent to great effect in Taj Mahal. The game is released internationally by Alea, a division of Ravensburger. Here in the United States and in other English speaking countries, it is being released under Rio Grande Games' label and is completely in English.
The components of the game, as is to be expected from most German companies and Rio Grande Games, are top notch and durable. Such components help make the game so much more enjoyable.
There are so many factors involved that the game is a bit cumbersome to explain to players, but it is easily understood after one or two rounds of play. In Taj, players are vying for control of various individuals within the court of the Grand Moguls, as well as political and military influence in the various regions of India. This contest takes the form of card play, which has a distinct 'Poker' feel to it. To quote Kenny Rogers, "You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em!" This is so true in this game as proper card management is the key to victory.
The board depicts twelve regions, each of which will be resolved by card play. Twelve numbered province tiles are placed randomly in the regions, establishing the order of their resolution. These tiles also depict one or two commodities (gems, wheat, etc.) and can be captured, thereby earning victory points. There are also various chits which are distributed randomly in the fortress spaces of the various regions. These chits depict commodities, or award victory points or extra cards to those players who capture them.
There are also four individuals the players contest for in each territory: Vizier (green), General (purple), Monk (orange) and Princess (yellow). Finally, there is the Grand Mogul himself, represented by a golden crown. These may be captured for each region and are held by the players. They are replenished from a general supply for each region when it is contested.
Each player is dealt six cards to begin the game. Each card comes in one of four colors (green, purple, orange and yellow), as well as white, and depicts one to two symbols which correspond with the four individuals in the court and/or the Grand Mogul. Most cards also depict one or two elephants, which are used to contest for the valuable province tiles.
Nine cards (or seven, if playing with just four players) are placed face-up in a row by the board. These cards will be selected by the players to re-fill their hands during the course of play for each region.
On a turn, the start player (which rotates for each region) begins by playing one colored card, or one colored card coupled with a white card, which acts as a 'wild' card. Each player, in turn, then does the same, choosing which colored card they wish to play. Players continue to play cards in this fashion until the region is settled. Any future cards a player plays during the round must be of the same color as the one he led the round with.
When a player has his turn, he has the option of playing cards as described above or withdrawing. When a player withdraws, if he has more of one or more types of symbols showing on his cards than any of his opponents, he may take the appropriate tile and/or individual tokens. For example, if Jon elects to withdraw and has more 'orange monks' showing than any of the other players, he may take the orange monk token and place it before him. He then discards all cards he played that round.
If the withdrawing player did, indeed, possess the most symbols in one or more categories, he gets to place into the contested region a number of palaces equal to the number of categories he captured. The only exception to this is the province tile, which does not allow a player to place a palace. Most regions have four spaces (representing cities or fortresses) upon which palaces may be placed, so it is quite possible, and even likely, that one or more players will be unable to place palaces in that region. When placing palaces, a player may take any chit which is on the space upon which he places a palace. A player scores one and only one victory point for placing a palace, even if he places more than one palace on a turn. He may also score victory points based upon any chits he acquired.
The placement of a palace must be considered carefully. It is tempting to place them so you can acquire a chit, but there are also long-term scoring possibilities to consider. If a palace connects via road to another of your palaces in a different region, an additional victory point is scored. Even more victory points are scored for each region you connect to in such a fashion. So, if you place your palace which connects via uninterrupted roadway to your own palaces in three different regions, you score a total of four points... one for placing the palace and one each for the three different regions it connects to. So, one must carefully choose the location(s) upon which to place palaces so as to optimize future points when subsequent regions are resolved. Of course, you can also place palaces to hinder your opponents' efforts at forming these links. So there is, indeed, a nasty element involved in the placement choices!
Commodities are scored a bit differently. Each commodity chit captured scores a victory point, plus an additional point for each commodity you have in your possession which matches the one just captured. Since the province tiles, which are captured by having the majority in the most elephant symbols, also depict either one or two commodities, these can be quite valuable. For example, if Tom captures a 'gems' commodity chit, he scores one point for that chit. Plus, if he had managed to capture two previous province tiles which also depict gems, he will score an additional two points, totaling three for the just acquired gems chit! This cumulative effect can have a substantial scoring impact as the game progresses and makes the province tiles highly sought after and coveted.
Over the course of several regions, if a player manages to capture two of a particular individual court token (vizier, general, monk or princess), he returns these two tokens to the general supply and earns the matching 'special power' card. These cards give the owner a special power which he can use once during the resolution of each region. These cards are played just like the white 'wild' cards; i.e., they must be played along with a colored card. The powers are:
The hold on these special cards is tenuous, however. As soon as another player acquires two identical court tokens corresponding to the special card, he may take that card from its present owner. So, use 'em while you've got 'em!
The final special item to be acquired is the crown. Normally, a player may not place a palace on a city or fortress already occupied by a palace. The crown allows you to do just this. Initially, it seems to be a very weak power, but it can be critical, especially when attempting to form the uninterrupted line of palaces.
The final action of a withdrawing player is to select two of the face-up cards with which to replenish his hand of cards. This selection is critical, as it will help determine the future card plays of the players. Ideally, one must concentrate on one or two colors so that he will be able to 'stay the course' and win the battles he sets out to win. Poor selection of these cards will doom the player to failure.
A player may opt to withdraw before playing any cards. As a consolation, he gets to draw a card from the face-down deck in addition to the two cards from the face-up row. However, the player cannot place any palaces and does not earn any victory points that round.
Following each round, the row of nine (or seven) cards is replenished, as are the 'court' tokens. The game continues in such a fashion until all twelve regions have been resolved. A final scoring round is then held wherein players receive:
Whew! That took quite a bit to explain. In reality, however, the game isn't that difficult to understand. However, it does involve some deliciously tough decisions throughout. One must, as stated earlier, know when to remain in the card play battles and go for victory, or when to withdraw and cut one's losses. The more cards you must play to capture the tiles and tokens you desire, the fewer cards you will have for the next round and the less likely you will be able to place palaces in the location(s) you desire. When placing the palace, do you go for the special 'chits' or place for the long-term in hopes of developing long, uninterrupted connections of palaces? Do you concentrate on acquiring the court tokens so you can gain the special power cards, or do you aim for the commodity chits and province tiles? Which cards do you select to replenish your hand? It is these consistently tough decisions which get the adrenaline flowing in me and elevates a game to greatness. So far, Taj Mahal does just that.
Most Reiner games are about forcing players to make exquisite trade-offs with limited resources. TM, with its winner-take-most competition system, escalates this to an unusually high level. The subtle trade-offs between position, card expenditure, bonus collection, and spatial placement are simple enough to facilitate a fast game, but complicated enough to support a very rich set of possibilities.
I particularly appreciate the minimal role of luck (much less than even other RK games), and the degree to which the game rewards sharp observation of the prior actions and status of other players. Understanding which 'road to victory' each player is aspiring to, and which games resources they are furtively accumulating, is key to winning the key conflicts and thereby the game. As a corollary, the game dynamics shift interestingly with 3, 4, 5, or 6 players; in each case the game remains fascinating.
Very, very highly recommended.
One hundred points if you know the group and album the lyrics in my headline for this review come from. I am not sure why I started using lyrics to open my game reviews (I'm sure the people who read my reviews think the same thing), but once committed, I forge ahead. Speaking of one hundred points, give it to Reiner Knizia's Taj Mahal.
Three to five players bid to control the twelve Indian provinces and their cities, one province at a time. Each province offers players multiple scoring opportunities, either by winning one or more of the prominent forces (Military, Social, Religious, Political, Crown) and/or the province itself. When a player wins one or more of the prominent forces, he places a palace of his color on the board in the contested province. As the game progresses, having palaces connected by roads to other provinces increases your point score. Controlling the province and its goods (Tea, Spice, Gems, Rice) scores points and multiple goods in your posession increase your score as well. Players are dealt six cards (cards show symbols representing the forces or province in various amounts) from the deck and are kept hidden from the other players. In turn, players bid for control of the forces and province by placing 1 or 2 cards face up or 'withdraw'. When a player decides to 'withdraw' from the bidding action, if his cards show a majority of symbols of ANY of the forces and/or the elephant (representing the province itself) he takes control of them and either places a palace(s) or takes the province tile or possibly both. As card play is extremely limited, a player may be forced to withdraw without winning anything. After withdrawing, the player discards his hand (very important as this may change who has a majority with the other symbols in play) scores his points, adds a maximum of two cards to his hand and is finished for that province. This continues for each province till the board is filled with palaces and the provinces are all gone. Highest score wins.
The mechanics of Taj Mahal and its card play is straight-forward and easy to comprehend. This enables the 'heart' of the game to really shine through, the bidding. As a semi-pro poker player in Reno, I can tell you, the intensity of trying to outbid / second guess your opponants with a limited amount of cards in this game is electric. You MUST pace your card play for the entire game. Trying to wait and play a 'killer' hand will only win you one province and lead to sure defeat. Every choice you make (bidding or withdrawing) effects everyone's play. The player who wins a balanced mix of palaces and goods, over the duration of the entire game will emerge the victor.
Like Matt Damon in 'Rounders' (a great poker movie by the way) says, luck is not a part of the game. Foresight, planning, and game savvy are the only factors in this game.
The playing cards are beautiful, the game tile pieces clean, the palace pieces sharp, the gameboard effective. I truly hope to see this game up for German Game of the Year and believe it should give Torres a run for its money for the title. A must buy!
I've owned this game for a while, and while it never seemed that compelling to me, a lot of my friends actually request to play this game.
It's essentially two games. A card game to choose order of placement, and a strategic placement game that determines how points our divvied out.
The card game is a meld game, where single cards are laid out in turn. Once a color is chosen, you must continue the turn playing cards from that color to capture as many of the available "tricks" as you can. If you have a hold on a trick you can step out of the game, but you only win spots you are clearly leading in. Staying in longer may provide you with more placement options, but cards are scarce commodities, and the latter tricks get to place their pieces on the board later than the initial wins. Last person out gets fewer cards from the pool, so you end up limiting your future victories.
The placement game involves creating chains of pieces on the board so that subsequent places earn you more victory points. There is also an integral way to exponentially increase your victory points by continuing to dominate one type of tricks known as the "Trade Concession". The placement game is how you earn your points, but it is heavily tied to the card game, making it feel like a singular gaming experience despite the initial impression.
The hard part is getting everyone on the same page to begin with. People who haven't played the game before will be confused how the two games integrate. I really recommend running a tester game for a couple of rounds just so people know what's going on. After that second turn, newbies to the game will be frustrated by the poor decisions they made early, so you might as well just start fresh.
I like this game, but it's a bit dry. I don't find the theme or game pieces compelling enough to make me want to play it repeatedly, but I'm happy when a friend picks it as something they want to play. It's chewy enough to satisfy me as a real challenge and not feel like fluff.
Taj Mahal is of the better new releases of 2000. This Reiner Knizia game combines the wonderful tactile feel of a big board game with the clever mechanics of a card game. The key to the game lies in the hand management decisions. You need to know when to enter into a battle for territory and when to pack up for the round and take additional cards for use on a later round. There are so many different things going during the game that I will agree with Mark's mini-review in that you must play more than once to really appreciate it. I've played a half dozen times now, and it still seems very fresh and fun. The bits are mostly plastic, but are highly detailed and there are so many pieces! It's a fine title--worthy of owning. Highly recommended.
Dr. Knizia has said that he will rarely re-visit a game setting, so this is probably the only time we will see the good doctor visiting India. How fortunate that his single foray into this mysterious and exotic land is such a solid game.
To be honest, Dr. K does seem to have problems in making his games fit their purported themes, and this holds true for Taj Mahal as well. What we have at its heart is an abstract game combining set collection with tile placement built around a very good card mechanic not too distant from poker.
The components of the game are quite nice, with a colorful game board, some tiles that are perhaps a bit small, and a satisfying number of plastic palaces which are actually more detailed than wood would have permitted. The cards could stand to be a little thicker, or coated in some way, but are lovely to look at and easy to use.
Players attempt to gain influence in the twelve provinces of India. The cards show one or two symbols from a palette of six different areas of influence. Four of these areas of influence work very similarly, and having the most of that symbol shown will grant a castle in one of that province's cities. Influence in the fifth area will allow a player to place a palace into an already-occupied city, effectively co-owning it. The sixth area grants economic control of the province, and rewards from cornering one of the commodity markets can lead to a substantial number of victory points.
Points are meted out for connecting up unbroken chains of palaces on the board, linking the provinces, They are also gained for acquiring commodities, either from palace placement or from acquiring economic control of the province.
The cardplay is very interesting, and owes a real debt of lineage to poker. Players play one or two cards each turn, and since cards are quite limited, a player will never have as many resources as one would like. Players must decide between dropping out early and allowing the other players easier access to the remaining realms of influence, or staying in the fray and hoping other players drop out first before running out of cards.
While I agree in part with another reviewer who complained about Dr. Knizia's rather sadistic glee in creating arcane scoring systems, I think that Taj Mahal is simple enough that most players can pick it up in a round or two, and the whole game moves along at a good pace.
This is quite a good game, and I recommend it.
I was somewhat disappointed by Taj Mahal, Alea/Rio Grande's latest boardgame by the incredibly prolific designer Reiner Knizia. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that it is a bad game, only that it doesn't contain much that's new. It's more like a variation on the 'set collecting' theme that we have seen many times from Knizia. Probably his most famous (and some would say his best) game of this type is Modern Art. Others include Samurai, Ra, and Quandary. (My personal favorite is Quandary; it's the simplest of the bunch, but gets to the heart of the 'collecting' theme beautifully and directly.) At any rate, Taj Mahal is a card-based kissin' cousin to all the above games, and although some of its mechanics are different from previous offerings, I found little in it that is strikingly original or particularly compelling.
Without going into all the details of play, the game basically proceeds as a series of 12 short card battles, the goal of each being the collection of bonus tiles, commodity tiles, and the occupation of cities on the game board. Bonus tiles give a player an immediate award of points. Commodity tiles are collected into sets which can increase in value during the course of the game and which can potentially be scored multiple times. The occupation of cities allows players to build up 'chains' of provinces connected by roads; these chains score 1 point for each province. Card play can become quite complicated as players must not only decide about what commodities to collect and what cities to occupy, but also must jockey for the right to acquire the best cards for the subsequent card battles.
If you just can't get enough of games of this sort, you will probably enjoy Taj Mahal immensely. If you've never played one (but are interested), you are probably better off buying Modern Art. As for myself, I wish I had not spent my money on a game that was such a rehash of old ideas.
I like the card play in Taj Mahal. It has some of the 'playing chicken' aspect of Condotierre, spread between six different goals. Do you pull out now and take a very minor victory? Or do you push on, use up all your cards going for a major win in this region, only to be edged out by an opponent who is just as wasteful with his resources as you are?
If the prizes for winning these skirmishes were immediately gratifying, this might be enough for an interesting little game. But Knizia obscures these goals by miring them in his most convoluted and unintuitive scoring system yet. Those who know Knizia's later works (Tigris and Euphrates, Samurai, Ra) know that he has been creating scoring systems that have been getting more and more complex and counterintuitive as he goes along. I long for the simpler scoring of Modern Art, or better yet Medici, which I consider his masterpiece.
In short, people who can't get enough of Reiner Knizia's latest chapter in 'How to make scoring even more complex than my last game,' will delight in Taj Mahal. The rest of us will find something better to do.
When the tension of poker meets one of Dr. Knizia's awesome multilevel scoring systems, the result is an experience your opponents might find Agra-vating. Indian provinces await your scheming designs to control their influential forces, with cards showing combinations of the symbols representing them. Deal six cards to each player, lay out the required faceup supply, and settle one province per round. Play one card per turn until you decide to quit. You then control a provincial force if your revealed cards show more of its symbols than any other contestant's cards. Your rewards are commodities, tiles to be accumulated for special privileges, a palace built in a city which might offer a bonus, and related Victory Points. Add one or two faceup cards to your hand for the next round. The last player left may keep playing cards to increase his fortune. The thrilling card play, plus a bewildering menu of elusive strategies, makes for two hours of exotic fun.
I'm sure there is nothing that can be said about Reiner that has not been said before; so I'll simply say that, whether you buy it in Germany, Great Britain or the U.S.A., this game is excellent value for money.
I must admit, the theme appeals to me immensely--anything to do with this area, the Himalayas, the Silk Road, Tibet, etc. Taj Mahal is, not surprisingly, set in North West India, in the early 18th century. The power of the Moguls is rapidly diminishing, so the Maharajas and Princes are vying for control.
So, what do we get for our money? Firstly, the board, which represents 12 provinces, 11 of which contain 4 cities, whilst the 12th one has 5 as it includes the site of the Taj Mahal at Agra. 16 of the cities represent fortresses and all the cities are connected by roads. In one corner is a small area--the Court of the Grand Moguls--and, as appears to be par for the course these days, a score track runs around the edge of the board. I should mention here that the board has given rise to the one single gripe (as opposed to whinge) that I've heard about the game. The provinces are shown in various pastel(ish) colours which, to some eyes, may not be too readily distinguishable. I agree that Ravensburger could possibly have done better here, although it causes me no problems and, once the game gets under way, you will have other more important things to worry about.
There are 20 palaces in each of five drabbish but probably realistic colours, which look as though they should interlock but don't--and don't need to! We also have 100 cards (illustrations only, no text!); 12 octagonal province tiles which also depict a province's economic power commodity-wise--rice, tea, spices and jewels; 24 influence tiles representing the political, military, religious and social forces; and 16 bonus tiles, plus a few other bits and bobs.
The cards have background shades in one of four different colours or white. Each card carries a combination of six different symbols (not six per card, though) which represent the four forces shown on the influence tiles together with the Grand Moguls (control of the Crown) and Elephants (control of the province and its economic resources).
After the set-up, each province on the board contains a numbered tile placed at random, except that the province with Agra is always number 12. Each fortress city contains a bonus tile, again randomly placed; and the Court of the Grand Moguls contains one of each type of influence tile, plus a gold ring (OK, plastic) which ring represents the Crown. Each player starts with his stock of 20 palaces in front of him, and a hand of six cards; a card supply equal to one less than twice the number of players is placed in a row face-up next to the board. Number 1 province tile is now placed in the Court of the Grand Moguls, and we're ready to go.
Each province is visited in numerical sequence in the following way. In turn, clockwise, each player either plays 1 or 2 cards or withdraws. This continues until all except one have withdrawn. The remaining player can then choose to play more cards before he too withdraws. If a player chooses to play cards, he must play one coloured card and, if he wishes, either one white card or one special card (more about these later). In other words, he can play 1 or 2, but exactly one must be coloured. In all subsequent turns during a visit to that province, his coloured cards must be the same colour as the one he first played. In visiting the next province, he can again choose any colour for his first card and stick to that colour for that province. Cards are laid openly for all to see.
When a player withdraws, his visit to that province is over and he lays no more cards. He compares the cards he has played with those of his opponents. If his are showing more of one or more types of the four symbols--Vizier, General, Monk or Princess--he takes the relevant influence tile(s) from the Court of the Grand Moguls. Then, for each tile he takes, he places one of his palaces on any empty city in the current province. If he puts it on a fortress city, he takes the bonus tile from it and scores it immediately. If his cards show more Grand Moguls, he takes the Crown, puts it on one of his palaces, then places the palace on a city; but, being a Crown palace, it can go on any city, including an occupied one--but it does not qualify for any bonus tile which may be there. If the withdrawing player has more Elephant symbols, he gains control of the province and its economy. He takes the province tile and scores for that immediately.
When a player withdraws, he moves his score marker accordingly, discards his played cards (if any) and then draws two cards from the face-up supply (the last player gets only one). If he withdraws without playing a card, he draws an extra card from the face-down stack. Not until he has done this, do the remaining players continue laying cards or withdrawing.
As this is a Knizia game, scoring is achieved in more than one way; and you don't always benefit from more than one method each time. Firstly, there are the bonus tiles. According to type, these give you either 2 points (4 for the one on Agra), one extra card from the face-down stack, or 1 point for a commodity. Commodity tiles can be quite useful because, whenever you pick up another one or a province tile, you score again for any of that commodity which you already have in front of you. As all province tiles except the first one depict two different commodities, your score can move along at a decent rate if you can regularly pick up province and/or bonus tiles. But, of course, as soon as other players foresee this happening, you soon find out who your friends are!
The other main method of scoring depends on the placement of your palaces. Basically you score 1 point if you build at least 1 palace in the current province--even if you build four palaces, you still score just 1 point for the province. But you also score 1 point for each additional province (not city) where you have a palace directly connected by roads and your own palaces to your own palace(s) in the current province. Any city without one of your own palaces, breaks the connection. It's not unusual to score half a dozen points in this way.
When the last remaining player has finally withdrawn, scored, discarded and taken the last card, the visit to that province ends. Then the Court of the Grand Moguls is set up again ready for the next province, and so on.
But, just before that happens, if any player now has two influence tiles of the same type--Vizier, General, Monk or Princess--he hands them in and gains control of the relevant special card. These four cards are also white, but are set aside at the beginning of the game. When a player has control of one or more of them, he can play them just like any other white card (only with a colour card, and then only one white card per turn). However, when a player withdraws, he takes the special card back into his hand instead of discarding it. But, if another player has two of the relevant influence tiles at the end of a visit, that player then gains the card. Each special card gives a different advantage
The game ends after the visit to the twelfth province has been completed. And we now have a further (and sometimes decisive) means of scoring. Each player scores for cards still in his hand; 1 point for each special card, 1 point for each white card, and 1 point for each card of his longest colour.
And that's it really. The player furthest round the score track wins, while the others probably whinge, and first-timers usually say "I'll play completely differently next time".
Decisions, decisions, decisions!. Firstly, do you withdraw without playing a card, thus getting a better choice of card pick-ups plus an extra one unseen? It can be very important to build up your hand in this way, particularly if if an upcoming province has something crucial for you, but then what do you pick up? If you decide to play, what do you aim for? And then when do you withdraw? (You've got to eventually!). How many cards are you prepared to risk--perhaps for nothing? When do you play a white card or a special card? Do you stay in and hope to force others to withdraw? If others withdraw before you, will they build in a particular city and ruin your planned network? (In that case, you nee the Crown if it hasn't already gone ). Do you try for a particular influence tile, either to enable you to control a special card or to prevent another player from taking one which you already control? Then, when you've sorted all that out, where do you build your palaces? Do you go for bonus tiles? Is it worth missing an opportunity to extend your own network so that you can prevent an opponent from building in a city to his own advantage? A final decision when visiting province number 12--can you gain more points by picking up cards to increase your longest colour, or by playing cards to hopefully gain points in other ways but at the cost of running down your longest colour? My brain hurts!!
But, despite all this, the game rolls along at a decent pace. The only pure luck is in the six cards you are dealt at the very beginning; but, because of the choices available, you can't really have a duff hand. In my book, Taj Mahal is Reiner at his brilliant best. If this doesn't get him a well-deserved SdJ, then either there ain't no justice, or else something beyond my highest hopes will have to appear during the next few months. BUY, PLAY, ENJOY!