This is part of my Spiel des Jahres winner series. If you would like to comment on the 2006 winner, Thurn and Taxis, then please do so on this post. If you would like to discuss or comment on the Spiel des Jahres award in general, please do so on the Spiel des Jahres series post.
I had not planned on rewriting any game reviews but my previous posts regarding Thurn and Taxis just do not do the game any justice at all. I will draw on some of the good parts of those posts and the associated comments to try and make this post a more worthy review of this great game.
Thurn and Taxis was designed by Karen and Andreas Seyfarth, and simulates all of the nail-biting excitement and thrills of the expansion of the German postal service in the 17th century. Seriously. Published by Hans im Glück, the game is for 2 to 4 players aged 10 and up. I have the Rio Grande English language edition.
Inside the box you find a fairly large game board, showing a map that includes 22 cities that interconnect through a series of roads. The map is broken into 9 provinces. Some provinces have many cities and a few only have one. There is also space on the game board to place 6 of the 66 city cards. There are 3 city cards for each of the 22 cities on the board. There are 80 small wooden post houses in the four player colors, with 20 for each player. There are four principal firm cards that serve no purpose other than to remind you what color you are. Oh wait, the huge pile of colored houses in front of you does that, so they serve no purpose at all. Each player also receives a summary card/tile which is very nice. I always appreciate it when I get a player aid with the game. There are also 20 carriage cards and 30 bonus tiles.
In addition to a very clear set of rules, you also get a bit of history about the Thurn and Taxis family, an example of play, and a guide to the historical buildings that are featured on the game board. When I finally get to travel to Germany, I will say, “Hey, there’s Freiburg Minster! I have placed many small wooden post houses on that!” Then my wife and kids will roll their eyes and suddenly act interested in something far away.
The object of the game is to build the most effective postal network. I know that doesn’t sound all that exciting, but not every game can be about fighting zombies or blowing your opponents to smithereens. During a turn, the player may call upon a postal official to help them in some way. Only one official can be called upon each turn. A player’s turn is broken into two mandatory actions and one optional action that are taken in order.
- Draw a city card (mandatory).
- Play a card into their play area (mandatory).
- Complete a route (optional).
The player then plays a card from their hand to either start a new route or to continue a route. Remember the routes correspond to the city locations on the map and a route must contain a row of cities that are adjacent to each other. A new city is added to an existing route by placing the new city card to the right or left. If a player cannot add to the current route, it must be discarded and a new route must started. By calling upon the Postal Carrier, a player may add a second card to the route.
The player may now choose to complete a route if they wish. When a route is completed, a player places post houses on the cities which are part of the route. A player may place one post house in a single city in each province through which the route passes, or they may choose a single province and place a post house on each city along the route in that province. By calling upon the Cartwright, the player may get Hoss and Little Joe to give them a tour of the Ponderosa. No, wait. That’s wrong. The player may score a higher carriage card than they would have otherwise. Sorry. A player may also score bonus tiles depending on the distribution of their post houses across the board.
Once one player has obtained the 7 carriage card, that is they have completed a route that is 7 cities long, then this will signal the final turn of the game. This can also occur when a player places the last of their post houses. Scoring is fairly simple. A player scores the value of their highest carriage plus the value of their bonus tiles minus the number of unplaced post houses.
The more I play Thurn and Taxis, the more I enjoy it. I like the artwork and I like the theme of the game. It has the card drawing set completion mechanisms that are always winners for me. I think what I enjoy the most about Thurn and Taxis is how everything is so well balanced. You can’t just focus on a single aspect of the game and hope to do well. You have to make sure you are drawing good cards for yourself and keeping good cards away from your opponent if possible. You have to maximize your use of a postal official each turn. You need to watch how the bonus chips are going to change the score. I play it at least twice a month on yucata.de. I don’t always record my online plays so I have no idea how many times I’ve played this game. If I had to slim down my game collection to a hundred titles, I know this would make the cut.
There are expansions for Thurn and Taxis, but I do not own them and have not played them. I like the base game just fine. Mark Johnson, host of the Board Games To Go podcast, had this comment about the expansions a couple of years ago.
The T&T expansion I’ve got is the first* one, called Power & Glory. For such a grandiose name, it’s really just the same game, only set in northern Germany instead of the southern region of the original game. Besides the alternate map (with similar nice artwork), there’s an optional new mechanic than I’ve ever tried. It’s something about the number of horseshoes shown on the new city cards, which relate to the number of horses in your carriage, the number of cities in your route, or something. I never bothered with it because I think the SdJ-winning original game doesn’t need modification–I just like the alternate map. And you can certainly play the new map with the original rules, like we do.
Then there was another boxed expansion, All Roads Lead to Rome. Despite the thematic temptation of the historically relevant and compelling title, I heard mostly bad things about this one, so have never bought it. I’m still curious and would welcome an opportunity to try sometime, though. (I don’t think the online T&T implementations at Yucata or BSW include this expansion.)
* Technically there was a freebie expansion before Power & Glory, but it’s forgettable.