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Subject: Thurn and Taxis: Where's the love? rss

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Stephen Mould
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Thurn and Taxis

Thurn and Taxis is a game about the creation of the Bavarian postal service. Wait! Come back! It’s fine, honestly, it’s fine, the game is good. Really. Come on, sit down. That’s right.

Now, as I was saying, in this game you’ll be building up the postal service across Bavaria, by drawing cards into your hand, playing them in front of you in sequences and putting your little post office pieces on the board. If that sounds like Ticket to Ride, don’t be fooled. Ticket to Ride is a great simple game, that can be taught in minutes and is easy to play. Thurn and Taxis is easy to learn and to teach but that doesn’t mean it’s simple. There are layers of strategy to this game that bubble away beneath the surface, slowly coming into focus as the game plays out.

At one end of the board is a display of 6 cards, representing the different towns that appear on the board. The towns are divided into 8 coloured provinces. Each turn you’ll take one of these cards, or one face down from the deck. Then you’ll add a card to either the front or the back of the route you’re building in front of you. The towns on the board are connected in a web of roads and the town on the card you play must connect to the card next to it by one of these roads. Then, if the route is at least three cards long you can close it, placing post offices and taking point chits as required. If you ever can’t add a location to the chain in front of you, you lose the cards and have to start again.

There are also 4 ‘officials’, special rule changing powers, one of which you can use on each of your turns. The first, the Postmaster, allows you to take 2 cards instead of 1. The Postal Carrier allows you to add 2 cards to a route instead of 1. The Administrator allows you to clear all the cards from the display replacing them with 6 new cards. So if the town you need isn’t there, you can use this power for a second try at finding something useful. Finally you have the Cartwright. This power allows you to artificially increase the length of a route you build by 2 for the purposes of claiming the next carriage you need. The carriages are special point scoring cards that reward you for building longer and longer routes. You can only ever claim the next highest carriage, no matter how long your route and you only score the most valuable carriage you’ve claimed. If somebody claims the value 7 carriage, the game ends. So the cartwright allows you to claim the 7 carriage, despite you only having built a five card route.

When you complete a route, you gain points based on it’s length and also on having post offices in every town in a province. There are also bonus tiles available for having a post office in every region on the board and for finishing first.The trick is that you can only put your post offices on either 1 town in every different province you’ve passed through OR on all towns in 1 province. And those points, the ones for having a post office in every town in a particular region and for building long routes, they’re printed on chits. And not all chits are created equal. They are stacked in descending value and when they’re gone they’re gone. So there’s a time element there, a degree of pressure on each of those post office placement decisions. You could place 4 post offices, all in the grey province, with your six card route. This would score you no points now but would put you in a nice position to take that valuable grey province points chit in a few turns. Or, you could choose to put 1 post offices in each different province. This would score you the points for the blue region, as you only have 1 town left to fill in there but you’ll only be placing 2 post offices and Jeff over there, he’s only got a couple of post offices left and if he manages to place them, then the game ends. And how many points are unused post offices worth? That’s right Agricola fans; negative points!

So all this builds up nicely as you plan, thinking a turn or three ahead as you try and get the most efficiency possible out of your routes in terms of getting post offices out of your pool and onto the board, whilst making sure you get a share of the points. Strategies emerge quickly; players start out drawing two cards every turn or playing two in order finish routes quickly, before the value of the administrator becomes apparent. People start off choosing whatever placement method will let them put the most wood on the board, before becoming cagier and taking the points from the long route and only placing 1 or 2 post offices. The importance of Lodz emerges as the player who was going for that post office in every region bonus, suddenly realises he’s now waiting for that one province.

Not only is Thurn and Taxis easy to teach, it’s also easy to get better at. The strategies aren’t hidden, they show themselves quickly and the game quickly becomes one of those that demands more play in order to try out different tactics.

Positives:

Thurn and Taxis is easy to teach but has more meat than your standard gateway game, making it a good ‘next step’ game. The game plays quickly and rewards good planning. The luck of the draw keeps things interesting but can be mitigated so it doesn’t become decisive. It’s a good looking game, in a euro kinda way and is good value.

Negatives:

The theme will put some off. There is almost no player interaction, beyond keeping track of how close the game is to ending and perhaps the occasional Administrator related moans of dismay. Though it has some depth, you’re not going to be playing it every week.

Conclusion:

I think this game is somewhat overlooked. Ok, so that’s relative, it is ranked 208 which is not to be sneezed at but I’ve heard and read comments that make me think it is perhaps under-loved. It seems to be used as the exemplar of a dry, themeless euro and I think that’s unfair. It offers good strategy, a gentle learning curve and a good variety of ways to win. Sure, the theme’s not great but at least it isn’t about building castles or fighting zombies. Thurn and Taxis offers a lot of game at a small price. It allows for longer term planning and the satisfaction of watching those plans come together. Counting up the VP’s is usually quite tense with multiple players often having a chance. The extra point for finishing the game has been decisive on a number of occasions in our group. I would urge people to give it a try.
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Bart Spee
Netherlands
Rotterdam
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I stumbled upon this at our Vacation in Germany. It was discounted to 10 euro and I thought: what the heck? We played several times during our vacation and it became one of my wife's favourite games. She isn't much of a gamer, so that gives a bit more variety in what to play.
Our youngest son of 9 picked it up quit easily and liked it as well.
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Greg Cornell
United States
Corunna
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The love for this game is certainly at my house. We play it at least 6 or 7 times per year - which is a lot of play for a single game at my house. It's easy to teach to people and always interesting to play.
 
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Alex Drazen
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I don't know that I love Thurn and Taxis, but I like it and can usually get in a play every week or two, even if it's just 2P at home.

My favorite games tend to be a bit longer and deeper, but I would rank Thurn and Taxis quite highly in the category of "30-45 minute games."

I actually like the expansion map, Power & Glory, a bit better than the base game map. Some people don't like the new carriage rules (horses), but it can be played the "old" way too if you want.

Personally, I like the "horse" rules, and want a "horse" deck for the original!

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Keith Textor
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Nice review and good observations.

I've only played T&T 2 or 3 times, but I like it better each time I play. And although it's similar to TtR it definitely has its own personality. I like each game for what it individually brings to the table.

T&T is really not very thematic, in my opinion. The theme is pretty much pasted on to a game that could be abstract. But I personally don't find a problem with that. There are other games that play like abstracts with art and this one is one of the best.
 
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Joel Pettit
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Eggrocket wrote:

T&T is really not very thematic, in my opinion. The theme is pretty much pasted on to a game that could be abstract.


I agree, but I find that the artwork is so nice and the introductory information in the guidebook well written, that I am always thinking about the towns when I play rather than mechanics...OK, I never think about mail, but I do love looking at the pretty town paintings.

We really like this game at our house. It's probably the first Euro we bought (on sale at a toy store). And we play it a few times a year.
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James
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We shouldn't have to apologise for a theme that is, in my opinion, much more attractive than zombies and castles.
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Todd Kauk
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It is a good game. I think 208 it a tad high and thus I feel it is slightly overrated. I would much rather play other games, but would not refuse a play of T&T.
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Guy Riessen
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Todd Kauk wrote:
It is a good game. I think 208 it a tad high and thus I feel it is slightly overrated. I would much rather play other games, but would not refuse a play of T&T.


Yeah, how exactly does being in the top 1% of your industry equate to "underloved" Although I don't necessarily think it's overrated like Todd...seems about where it should fall.
 
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Tomello Visello
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Stevemould wrote:
I think this game is somewhat overlooked. Ok, so that’s relative, it is ranked 208 which is not to be sneezed at...
By another measure, it is currently 46th in the ranking of game ownership declared by participants at this site. That's out of tens of thousands of entries.


Stevemould wrote:
...but I’ve heard and read comments that make me think it is perhaps under-loved.It seems to be used as the exemplar of a dry,themeless euro and I think that’s unfair.
Informally, my own observation is that it gets plenty on mentions in Recommendations threads.

I think sneezing is not an issue.


Menu Picks:
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Man thinks, the river flows.
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    This came out in the shadow of Puerto Rico, by the same designer. PR was still the king at the time and I think this little sister was seen as disappointing because of it. Thurns und Taxis is a good little game, fun with folks that are looking for a lighter rule set and about as pretty as they get.

             S.

 
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K DTLK
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This is a good game. Not as heavy as PR. Good with new players.
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Jeff Weber
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I've owned this for a few years, but have recently been on a playing binge since I discovered I could play it online at www.yucata.de . Previous to this it had been on the shelf for too long! Guess I had forgotten about it after playing shiny, newer, complex euros.

This game is so easy to learn for a new player, yet still offers a satisfying level of depth after many plays. I still feel like I'm improving my level of play.
I much prefer historical themes to fantasy since I feel like I learn a little something, so the theme works for me. The artwork is nicely done and doesn't distract.
Best of all, it gets it all done in a reasonable amount of time.
All in all, a great design.
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Jon G
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The real issue with the theme is that it's basically a satire of German euros. This is a game about who can build the most efficient postal network, by making the most efficient routes and efficiently using the postal officials to efficiently collect VP chips.

When I teach Thurn, I embrace that and make it a joke about eurogames, but it's also helpful for basic strategy- don't do that- it's not efficient!
 
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Russ Williams
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dr.mrow wrote:
The real issue with the theme is that it's basically a satire of German euros. This is a game about who can build the most efficient postal network, by making the most efficient routes and efficiently using the postal officials to efficiently collect VP chips.

When I teach Thurn, I embrace that and make it a joke about eurogames, but it's also helpful for basic strategy- don't do that- it's not efficient!

Hm? In every strategy game (German/euro or wargame or abstract or whatever), it is better to do things efficiently.
 
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Jon G
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Sure, but in Thurn, it's clear that every route *should* place one house per city, just barely get a cart, and never waste a card. There's no attempt to disguise the goal of efficiency above all else.

I like the game, and if you're going to make a raw efficiency game, mail is a pretty accurate theme. But it's not leaping off the shelf at... really anyone.
 
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Oliver Stegen
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I've picked up T&T over the last couple of months, often playing it just with 2 players. As we're getting close to 20 games, we notice that in well over 90% of our cases, it's the starting player who wins. Is that just a fluke? Or have others observed similar biases?
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Russ Williams
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Baba Tabita wrote:
I've picked up T&T over the last couple of months, often playing it just with 2 players. As we're getting close to 20 games, we notice that in well over 90% of our cases, it's the starting player who wins. Is that just a fluke? Or have others observed similar biases?

"Well over 90%" out of "close to 20 games" means, what, 18 of 19 games the first player won? I haven't kept careful statistics, but I don't recall seeing such extreme results. Looking over my play notes, I see multiple times the first player didn't win a 2-player game.
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Man thinks, the river flows.
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    Have someone else go first, because that guy kicks ass!

             S.


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Wally Jones
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Glad to see another raving about the beauty of this game.

I have always enjoyed this game and continue to sing its praise.

But this game very often gets knocked down and shoved in the corner by the bigger, newer games.
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Oliver Stegen
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"multiple times the first player didn't win a 2-player game" -
Thanks, Russ, that's good to know. We've actually taken turns in start player after we noticed after 8 or 9 games - and still, the start player won (so it's not due to one of us being the better strategist). However, based on your records, we may simply have hit a statistical fluke. We'll continue to play and observe ...
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Gillum the Stoor
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Baba Tabita wrote:
I've picked up T&T over the last couple of months, often playing it just with 2 players. As we're getting close to 20 games, we notice that in well over 90% of our cases, it's the starting player who wins. Is that just a fluke? Or have others observed similar biases?

Are you taking care to give all players an equal turn?

If the start player triggers the end of the game, do you give the other player one last turn?

If the second player triggers the end of the game, are you making sure that the start player does not get an extra turn?
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Oliver Stegen
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Thanks, Gillum, for drawing my attention to that but yes, we've been taking care of that. As I wrote, probably just a statistical fluke - but we'll continue playing and counting ...
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Oliver Stegen
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Update:
We have since had a few more 2-player games where start player lost decidedly. And anyway, when playing with 4 players, no start-player advantage has been observed (as seemingly with 2-player games).
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