Ender Wiggins
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Introducing Turbo Taxi



So why might I ever be interested in a game featuring the green haired Friedemann Friese riding a bike on the front cover? Friese is a prolific designer, and in this game he offers a very quick and fun puzzle style game. Released in April 2005, this was first issued in 2000 under the name Flickwerk which had players organize a network of computer cables to try to form a valid network. In the rethemed version, Turbo Taxi, the real time puzzle challenge has been retained, with a new theme featuring city streets, as players race to place tiles in a layout that allows two taxis to be connected by road to their destination houses. It doesn't seem to have received a great deal of attention since it's release, so maybe it's about time you discovered this clever little puzzle-type game from 2005!




COMPONENTS

Game box

The game is published by Queen Games, and there indeed is our hero, resplendent in his green hair, tearing through city streets on a bicycle.



What could this game possibly be about? You're about to find out, and you need only be proficient in one of six languages to do so! The back of the box summarizes the theme as follows: A typical day in the city - loads of customers for ambitious taxi companies. Show your skill in guiding the taxi drivers' routes through the city and make sure that your passengers reach their destination quickly."



Sounds simple enough! So what's inside? Well I've always loved the marvellous attention to detail that Queen Games does with the artwork on their box inserts, and this is no exception!



I have no plans to turn my hair green, but even I have to admit that this is an uber-impressive box insert! But, you say, the box is empty! Well, you're quite right, that's because I took out all the components! Let's get to that next:

Component list

Here's what you all get in the box:
● board
● 4 playing pieces (2x taxi & 2x house meeples)
● 5 sets of 12 tiles (with different backs)
● Rulebook



Road tiles

Every player gets a set of 12 road tiles. Players will race against each other, each trying to arrange a layout of 9 of their 12 tiles so that their two taxis can reach their respective destination houses. Each player's set is identical, and consists of the following tiles.

3 straights:



3 bends:



3 t-junctions:



a double bend, crossroads, and cul-de-sac:



To make it easier for each player to find a complete set of these 12 tiles out of the box, each set has different artwork: a coach (orange), a taxi (blue), a cab (yellow), and a bicycle (green). There's also neutral fifth set (brown), which will be used to determine the starting tile for each round, and also used as "medals" for the victor of each round. Here's what the artwork on the back of the different sets of tiles looks like:



The tiles are made out of thick cardboard and are of a similar size and quality as the Carcassonne tiles.

Board

The game board is made out of thick cardboard, and its chief feature is the 3x3 layout for nine tiles.



The twelve `neutral' tiles will be placed in the middle of the board, to randomly determine the center starting tile that all the players will use each round.

Taxi & house meeples

Players have to get two taxis to houses of matching colour, so the game comes with wooden meeples in black and yellow:



Rulebook

The rulebook consists of a single sheet of paper, with instructions on both sides.



In typical Queen Games fashion, you do get six copies of the rules, in six different languages! There's ample illustrations, and let's be honest - you could learn the rules in less time than it would taxi to phone a cab and have it arrive in your driveway! If you want to check out the rules, you can download them from the publisher's website here.

GAME-PLAY

Set-up

Put the board in the middle of the table, with the set of 12 neutral tiles shuffled and face down in the center. Meanwhile all the players get a set of 12 tiles in their colour.



You're ready to play!

Objective

Players will have the job of constructing a route using their tiles so that there is a direct route for each taxi to its destination, and that the only roads leading off the board go to the taxis or the houses.



Using the same center tile as the one on the game-board, they must position eight tiles around it so that each taxi can get to its destination house. Here's an example of a successful puzzle (left), that meets the requirements of a particular board set-up (right):



Flow of Play

Ready... Set...

So how are the taxis and houses placed? Each round one player is designated the "customer" - which is just a clever way of saying that he gets to place the two taxi meeples and two houses on the 12 spaces on the edge of the board (with the restriction that at least two pieces are on the green corner spaces). This helps randomize the starting set-up each round. Now he turns over the top road tile in the middle of the board, and the race begins!



The reference below explains some of the conditions for correct placement:



Go!

All players get the same tile from their personal set, and this becomes the middle of their layout. You must now arrange eight of your tiles around your starting tile to make a 3x3 layout so that the taxis are connected by road with their correct destination. As mentioned already, tiles must connect so that roads are properly connected, and that roads only lead off the board where there is a wooden taxi or house meeple.



During this phase of the game, players will be frantically trying to arrange their tile pieces to try to be the first one to complete the `puzzle'! This is real-time competitive and simultaneous puzzling at its finest!



Stop!

As soon as someone completes a layout that meets the requirements, they yell "Stop!" Assuming it complies with the rules, that player gets the top tile from the middle of the board, and claims it as a "medal" of victory! He gets to be the `customer' that determines where the taxi meeples and houses are positioned for the next round, and this process is repeated. Pictured below is the end of a round in a three player game, where the player on the right (yellow) was the first to complete his puzzle.



At the end of 12 rounds, the player with the most medal tiles is the winner! Because there's 12 victory tiles (which is divisibly evenly by 2, 3 and 4), it is possible to end in a tie, and this does happen from time to time. The game doesn't provide a tie-breaker, but our solution has been to play an extra "decider" round between players who are tied for the lead after 12 rounds.

CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

It is quick. You can set up and play the game in a matter of 15-20 minutes, and whether you're playing with 2, 3 or 4 players, the game will take just as long. Each round only lasts one or two minutes at most!
It is frantic. Because players are solving puzzles simultaneously, there's no time to sit around and develop analysis paralysis! Game play is fast and frantic, because you have to puzzle your tiles in the correct configurations as quickly as you can! Most of the time someone will come up with a solution in a minute or two at most!
It is unique. The only game that I've played before which has a very similar feel is Ubongo. Like Ubongo, Turbo Taxi pits players against each other in a head-to-head competitive race to be the first player to arrange their tiles correctly. For most people, this will be unlike anything else in their collection.
It has wide appeal. Because of the simple rules and easy-to-explain gameplay, it's ideal for non-gamers, children and families.
It is replayable. There's a wide variety of possible configurations as a result of the different placement options for the taxis and houses. Combined with the fact that the center tile is one of 12 possibilities, and the fact that each puzzle has multiple solutions, you won't be in a position to "memorize" particular set-ups any time soon!
It is very puzzle-like. In the puzzle category, Ubongo ranks as #3, after Zendo and Ricochet Robots. Turbo Taxi is a much lesser known title than these, and although while it misses some of the charm offered by the unique components of Ubongo, it makes up for that by having a fun theme. I've also seen quite a few favourable comparisons with Ricochet Robot - so perhaps it can be considered a close cousin to both games. It has to be admitted that puzzle games aren't for everyone, so you'll want to give this game a miss if you absolutely can't stand games with a puzzle aspect. But the fact that it will appeal strongly to non-gamers and families makes it worth considering, even if you don't expect to play it much personally. At most, it's something that will be on the table for 15-20 minutes anyway, so what it offers in that time frame is excellent.
It rewards skill. Some people are just better and quicker at doing puzzles than others - these kind of folks will usually emerge as the leader quite quickly in a game of this sort. And unlike Ubongo, you can get to know the tiles and certain common placement tricks. You can adopt a house rule to handicap better players if you need to - just have the super-puzzlers close their eyes for 10-15 seconds after the new tile is first revealed, and before they can begin working on solving the puzzle.
It isn't perfect. Occasionally you'll get a puzzle that has no possible solution (this is acknowledged in the rules), so sometimes you'll have to mutually agree to quit a challenge and place the taxis and houses differently. The colours of some of the board are a bit garish for my taste, and I wonder if it would have been a good move to provide enough taxi meeples and houses and a player board for all the players (younger children will have difficulty comprehending the concept, while in comparison Ubongo is more intuitive and easier to explain). But none of these points are game-breaking by any means.



What do others think?

The criticism

Browsing through the negative comments associated with low ratings, it's quite clear why some people didn't like this game: the real-time game-play and the puzzle solving. Real-time competitive/simultaneous puzzle games just aren't for everyone - so this is no fault of the game, but just indicates that it won't be to everyone's taste.

The praise

Aside from the matter of taste, there's also a considerable amount of positive comments about Turbo Taxi:
"This is a much better game than the box size and theme would suggest. Very clever game and like any simultaneous build game, the tension amongst the players is what makes it work." - Neil Thomson
"This is a lot of fun even if it can feel like a little bit of a brain burner. If you like puzzle games this one is a must have." - Angus the Bull
"Great realtime puzzle solving." - Scott Russell
"Nice puzzle tile laying game that is a real brain burner and fast thinking." - Mike Jones
"Wonderful little speed-spatial relationship game. Anyone who likes Richochet Robot or Take it Easy would like this." - David Fair
"A spatial relations puzzle--fabulous!!!" - Valerie Putman
"A really neat little game of logic and puzzling. Very quick to learn and play." - Sabine K
"So much stress, so much fun to align your roads before the other players. Great idea, great execution." - Ted Alspach
"Great fast filler!" - Ladislav Dobias
"Completely different game you'll either get or don't. Quick but cerebral filler." - Sven Baumer




Recommendation

So is Turbo Taxi a game for you? That will depend somewhat on your tastes, because while the puzzle genre has a very broad appeal outside the circle of gamers, hardcore eurogamers often find themselves shying away from this type of game, particularly if it's fast paced and frantic. But then again, aren't we always on the lookout for something that we can pull out when non-gamer Aunt Joan is visiting, or those rascally cousins? Turbo Taxi is very easy to get to the table with a variety of people, and therein lies its appeal, even if it might not be your own personal first choice. And if you are the puzzle-loving type, then you really should check this out! It's a great little filler for all types of gamers. So paint your hair green, hop on your bike, and join designer Friedemann Friese in Turbo Taxi!



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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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