Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Goodbye Taj Mahal... Hello Princes Of Florence!

My second trade in a fortnight. I wasn't always that keen to get rid of Taj Mahal unlike Mr. Jack but when an offer came along for a game that I had my eye on for quite some time, I had to take the plunge.

As usual, I thought I would provide a eulogy of sorts for the game traded away. Taj was an enigma cause this was a game I really thought I would like after doing my research on BGG. After eyeing it for sometime, I finally managed to get hold of a copy. While my first couple of plays didn't meet up to my lofty expectations, I did enjoy the unique mechanics (as typical of Knizia games). 

Here are some impressions:

1. Not as advertised

What attracted me to the game in the first place was that it was touted to possess poker-like gameplay. I am no gambler but I have always been intrigued by the game of poker but that's for another post. And while Taj did live up to that somewhat with a fair bit of bluffing and where you get to call each other's bluffs, that aspect of the game ultimately disappoints. 

What you have in Taj is sort of a reverse poker mechanism for here, the person who stays in to the very end of each province's play is often the one penalized the most heavily. While the player may have obtained some gains, it is highly likely that some of province's rewards have been absconded by players withdrawing early. Furthermore, by lasting the length of the 'battle', the player's hand is likely to be so severely depleted that he or she is unlikely to be a factor for the next couple of provinces.

2. Both Strategic & Tactical

Taj Mahal is one of the games that blends both strategic and tactical elements. The tactical elements are obvious during each province battle where deciding whether to withdraw early or stay in the fight is critical. 

However, strategic play comes in choosing your battles. For example, I tend to gear myself up for the provinces where I am due to go first. Often, the goods I choose to accumulate are based on what's available during the turns I go first. A triple elephant (assuming I've in possession the general's bonus card) is more often than not adequate to capture the economic power of the province with an early withdrawal. 

In addition, strategic play comes in when scoring connection points. A certain degree of planning ahead is necessary however I often find this strategy difficult to execute with more players and focusing on goods accumulation tends to be the dominant strategy.

3. Abstract & Repetitive

As with most Knizia games, this is highly abstract with the theme merely pasted on. I suppose that's one of the reasons the game while mechanically interesting does come across somewhat dry. Van is willing to play the game but is by no means thrilled by it. Sadly, I feel the same though I have often been the one trying to bring it to the table. I so want to like the game better than I actually do.

The nature of play is also repetitive as you seek to divide the spoils from one province to another. There is little development in gameplay. For example, in games such as Puerto Rico, the game progresses in such a way where you build your income engine early but focus on acquiring VPs towards the end of the game. The combination of card powers in Race for the Galaxy and Glory to Rome changes the dynamics of the game. In El Grande, the on-board situation changes as the game progresses. But here in Taj Mahal, more or less the same thing happens province after province and goals do not differ all that much.

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