I had a chance to play this a couple of times recently, and I will seize any chance to play it again. This is a good game: its fun, you have options, you don't get squeezed out, its good-looking, you get to make some tough choices. On the downside player interaction is a little less than I'd like, and there is an opportunity to nearly take yourself out of the game, but these are minor.
Thurn and Taxis is essentially a hand-management game. Each card has the name of one of the cities on it. There are, if memory serves, 21 cities, 3 cards per, therefor 63 cards, no specials. Each turn you draw one, then you MUST play one to the route your are building in front of you. Finally, if your route is at least three cards you can score it, but if you want to grow it some more your turn is over.
There are six face up cards, or you can draw blind.
You can only add to the beginning or the end of the route. If you don't have a card for a city adjacent to either end of your route, you have to toss the whole thing (without scoring it) and start a new route. If this is a long route in which you've invested a lot of cards (which is to say turns), that can hurt a lot. This is the mistake I spoke of earlier - losing a six or eight card route probably means you're not going to win. Ideally you end one turn already holding the card you will play next turn, but sometimes you have to depend on that draw. Frankly, this risk feels exactly right - you know what you're risking, you have some options, this is one of many fun parts of this game.
You score a route by placing one of your houses in some of the cities along your route. You're allowed to claim one city in each region, or all the cities in one region. Each player is allowed one house in each city - no one gets squeezed out.
If you route is at least one city longer than specified on your current carriage, you can upgrade one (only) carriage size. At the end of the game each successively larger carriage is worth more points.
When you've tagged all the cities in a region you get a scoring token from that region. The tokens for each region get successively smaller, eg 5, 4, 3, 2, so being the first to tag a region is good. Toward the end of the game completing some regions won't be worth the bother. I should also note that there's a stack of tokens for tagging one city in each region, and that each unplaced house (you start with twenty, I believe) is minus one point at the end of the game.
So far so good, but each turn you may call on one of four officials and take one of the special privileges: 1-Clear the six face up cards and replace them before making your draw, 2-draw two cards, 3-play two cards, 4-when scoring a route, count your route as two cities longer than it actually is for purposes of claiming a larger carriage.
Game end is triggered, if I recall correctly, when one player places his last house or grabs the largest carriage. The round is completed, so everyone gets the same number of plays. On the other hand, the player to the right of the start player can end the game on his turn and no one gets any warning, and if a certain player does that to me again I will make a hopefully witty remark that will take him down a peg.
Obviously, your dependent on your card draws, but the game is not particularly luck-driven, since you're holding several cards, you may choose from several cards, and you can sweep the cards before selecting (so in a pinch you're selecting from twelve cards). Also, you can approach point scoring several different ways - build a huge hand with draw-two-place-one, go for long routes and get that biggest carriage, or alternate draw-two with play-two, keeping your hand size small but hopefully claiming some early tokens. Conceivably, you could even sit on some city cards (there being only three of each) and prevent other people from getting anywhere (since your required to discard down to three cards after you claim a route, this tactic is limited, as it should be).
I think the game is balanced: known vs unknown, difficulty of various tasks vs their rewards, luck vs control. The game is fast-playing, and there are no dull patches - it neither starts slow nor finishes obviously. The only downside is that player interaction is limited to drawing/holding cards other people need and racing for the first tokens.
I enjoyed the game, I may buy it. I know its derivative, but its a very handsome set, and I think it might teach my kids to think ahead.
I'm giving it an 8.5.