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TAJ MAHAL

EXCERPTS FROM THE SPRING 2000 GA REPORT

 

FROM “BITS & PIECES”:

 

TAJ MAHAL (Rio Grande Games; $39.95)

 

Reiner Knizia is at it again and this time he’s brought his flair for designing games that incorporate multiple scoring conditions to the exotic locale of India. In Taj Mahal, players try to gain control over the region by controlling combinations of economic, military, political, religious, and social forces through clever card play and building management.

The game components are beautiful, evoking a flavor of the region during the early half o the 18 century. The game board includes a scoring track and a region (termed the “Court of the Grand Moguls”) for placing influence markers up for bid as the game unfolds. These markers include tokens for the Vizier (representing political power), the General (military control), a Monk (religious influence), a Princess (social influence), a gold ring (control of the crown and extra building privileges) and the current province tile (building privileges and the acquisition of commodities). Each city is connected to cities in adjoining provinces through a network of roads. As the game begins, 11 numerical province tiles are randomly placed on each province, with the twelfth tile always placed in Agra. The province tiles are revealed at the onset. Each round, players visit a single province and the randomly placed province tiles detail the order of visitation. Each player receives a starting hand of six bidding cards…. some cards are also placed face up near the board each round.

Players use their bidding cards to gain the influence of the various powers in the Grand Mogul’s court, allowing them to build palaces, collect commodities and gain bonuses. Gaining influence involves a bidding mechanic…

There are four basic colors/suits of cards and each card within a suit depicts symbols with some combination of Viziers, Generals, Monks, Princesses, Crowns and Elephants (representing economic power). Players bid by playing a card… If they wish to continue bidding, cards of the same suit must be played. The goal here is to be the player displaying more symbols of any of the six major forces influencing India.

After the first bidding turn, a player has two options. He may continue to play cards, attempting to increase his influence and outbid opponents OR he may elect to withdraw… If withdrawing, a player with the most symbols of a particular type collects the matching influence marker(s)…Following a withdrawal, bid cards are discarded and players receive their bountiful rewards.

First, all players except the last withdrawing player receive two cards from the face up cards near the board. Competitive bidding can therefore decrease your chances of adequately replenishing your supply of cards. The last player left bidding only receives one card…. Second, each player receives rewards for influence. Control of Viziers, Generals, Monks or Princesses grants a player the respective tile from the Grand Mogul’s Court. Players who gain a tile get to place a palace onto a city… in the currently active province. Control of the Crown allows a player to to place a castle anywhere in the active province, even within an already occupied city. This is important because players score for chains of castles connecting adjacent provinces. Finally, control of the Elephant grants the player the province tile. Tiles depict commodities that are important for later scoring.

Scoring and placement of palaces occur immediately as each player withdraws from the auction. Players score a point per placed palace in a province and a point for each commodity shown on the province tile won…. if player’s manage to connect provinces through skillful palace placement, scoring increases by one for each connected province…. scores increase cumulatively for matching commodities…

When a player collects a pair of Vizier, General, Monk or Princess tiles, he gets to trade in the tiles for a special bidding card granting them extra power! If player during a bidding round (and you’d be crazy not to use them right away), these four bonus cards grant either +1 to economic influence, +1 to Crown influence, +2 immediately scored bonus points or an opportunity for a single color change (allowing a suit different than the lead suit to be played once in bidding). Bonus cards are NOT discarded after being played making them very useful. (My only complaint is that the +2 bonus card may be a bit TOO powerful.) If another player collects a pair of control tiles, that player takes control of the bonus card from the previous player. And there are more potential bonuses!

Certain cities contain randomly placed chits that my grant you a free point, a free card from the deck or a single commodity. The Taj Mahal in Agra is worth a fat 4 points if you grab the city… Finally, after touring all of the provinces in India, players cash in their hands and receive one point for each white card held and one point for each card in their longest suit. In the end, holding cards may help as much as bidding them!

Choices are always filled with delightful dilemmas. Place a palace to position yourself to create a chain? Or grab the city with the free +1 scoring tile? The pleasing bidding mechanic, multiple scoring opportunities, and the difficulty of managing a hand of all-important cards provide players with a refreshingly strategic game. Taj Mahal is a wonderful game. Don’t leave this one untouched. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Dave Rapp


 

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