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Subject: What makes Taj Mahal a "Gamer's Game"? rss

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Jason Sample
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I recently became interested in Taj Mahal for reasons that are unclear to me. I went to its page and started to read about it. This led to checking into it further. Finally, I found the online version of it (which I happen to think is great) and I played it a couple of times.

I seem to remember in Fawkes' review that there is a sense of "Huh?" the first couple of times you play the game. I certainly felt that way the first time I played it. The second time I played it was much better and everything made more sense to me. I am not a "Gamer" in most senses of the word. I read another review that basically said it is a real Gamer's Game and that it would not appeal to the lighter weight gaming crowd. I usually find myself in the latter camp so I have become intrigued with the whole idea of a Gamer's Game.

So my question is this: What makes Taj Mahal a "Gamer's Game"?

A couple of thoughts:
1) Simple decisions that require much thought and planning make for a Gamer's Game. In bluetaj:Taj Mahaltantaj:, you have a simple choice: play a card(s) or withdraw. That "simple" decision has far reaching implications with many consequences. Does this make it gamer-ish? Is it the notion that a seemingly simple decision has so many different consequences necessary for a Gamer's Game?

2) The need to make sacrifices for later, larger gains makes it a Gamer's Game. In Taj Mahal, it is often necessary to withdraw from visits "early". Thereby sacrificing the spoils winnable in this visit for bigger gains later on. Does the non-gamer lack an appreciation for the larger game picture?

I would be interested to hear folks' thoughts. This is certainly a fun game that I recognize is not for everyone. I am not criticizing the person who made this statement, far from it. I am just trying to understand the concept of a Gamer's Game. I think that I can usually recognize one when I see it, but I am not always sure that I understand why.

Peace,
Jason
maroontaj:

P.S. This was just an excuse to use the cool Taj Mahal emoticons...
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Jim Cote
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You have touched on a topic that I will discuss in more detail in an upcoming blog article. Taj Mahal is one of my two 10's. However, I don't consider it a super-heavy game. You can explain the mechanics fairly easily. It will not become apparent how everything fits together until a game or two later. You are correct in your assessment of the choices. Each visit, a player has the following things to grapple with:

- hand management
- face up cards available
- withdrawing immediately to get an extra card
- withdraw/play each round
- which card(s) to play, what special cards to go after
- where to place palace(s) that are won
- preparation for game end scoring (color/white card collection)

Each choice, while simple in itself, interacts with all the others in a very elegant and pleasant way. I don't think "gamer's games" need to be complex in rules or mechanisms to qualify. I think a better description might be that they need to have subtle interactions.
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T. Rosen
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I've never played Taj Mahal, so I can't comment on what part of the actual gameplay makes Taj Mahal a "gamer's game," but I did have a thought. You say:

Quote:
I seem to remember in Fawkes' review that there is a sense of "Huh?" the first couple of times you play the game. I certainly felt that way the first time I played it. The second time I played it was much better and everything made more sense to me.


Maybe, the simple fact that you had to play the game multiple times before it really made sense in and of itself makes it a "gamer's game." If you think about it, this basic distinction between games that are clear the first time playing them and games that take at least an entire game (if not more) to understand and/or appreciate could be an easy way to draw the line between gamer's game and those that are not. I haven't thought this all the way through, so maybe someone can come up with some exceptions, or maybe those exceptions will just prove the "rule." Thoughts?
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Jason Sample
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Maybe, the simple fact that you had to play the game multiple times before it really made sense in and of itself makes it a "gamer's game." If you think about it, this basic distinction between games that are clear the first time playing them and games that take at least an entire game (if not more) to understand and/or appreciate could be an easy way to draw the line between gamer's game and those that are not.


I like the idea of that statement. But as with any statement, there are going to be exceptions. The other game that I had in my head while I was thinking and writing about Taj Mahal was Ra. This has also been held up as a Gamer's Game (I think), but I think it is very accessible. It becomes more of a Gamer's Game when you realize that the decision of whether or not to call Ra has so much effect on future actions and rounds. Which Sun will I get in return? Will my opponents benefit more by my not calling Ra?

I think the lead time necessary to "get" Taj Mahal has less to do with it's "weight" and more to do with the many intertwined mechanics. As ekted very nicely summarized, you have to manage your hand/figure out where to put palaces/etc. But I do not think the different mechanics make it a Gamer's Game.

Does a Gamer's Game necessarily have to be a Heavy game? Here is Taj Mahal's weight graph...



and Ra's...



and E&T's...



and TI3's...



E&T, Ra, Taj Mahal, and TI3 are certainly all very different games (except for the fact that 3 of them were designed by Knizia (oops)) with different weights. But I think that many people would agree that not all of these games are Gamer's Games. I would certainly say that E&T and Taj Mahal are.

Is it the different paths to victory that make it a Gamer's Game? Granted, everyone is trying to score more influence points than the next guy, but they may be going about it in completely different ways. As an example, the second time I played Taj Mahal with the computer, I played to win provinces. I concentrated on winning provinces that would get me more bonus points as I accumulated tea, sugar, etc. I let several provinces go as they would not benefit me as much as the next one might. At the same time, while I placed palaces, I placed them more to block others than to get a lot of points for myself. If I got a few points by placing them, cool. This felt very Gamer-ish to me. I enjoyed that feeling. I enjoyed the thought process that went into each decision.

Does a Gamer's Game have to have nice bits? Would Taj Mahal be classified differently if it had crummy bits? Pieces of torn paper with crudely drawn palaces, a board with lines and dots instead of nice artwork, and flimsy cards?

I am probably just babbling at this point. I should shut up.

Quote:
I always defined a "gamer's game" as a game that only a gamer would love.


I am not sure that this is true either. I may have missed the tongue in your cheek, but I think that there are Gamer's Games that are enjoyed by people who would not consider themselves Gamers. No?

With respect to ekted, I should probably stop this discussion and direct you all to his blog. If he prefers that I do that, I would do it gladly and without a grudge.

Peace,
Jason

P.S. Sorry that those graphs are all so big.


 
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Jim Cote
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queequeg wrote:
With respect to ekted, I should probably stop this discussion and direct you all to his blog. If he prefers that I do that, I would do it gladly and without a grudge.


Please don't. My blog is for my opinion. BGG is for public discussion, of which this is a fantastic one. Keep it coming!...

Are casual/new gamers intimidated by Taj Mahal? If so, is it the number of rules (as compared to lighter games), the fact that how to do well is not obvious? I found Amun-Re and Princes of Florence to be beyond my ability to grasp on the first couple of plays, yet I could still see their greatness. Getting crushed every time, and not knowing why, is something that inspires me to like a game.

I certainly think of Ra as a gamer's game, even though it is lighter. Again the decision each turn is simple: draw a tile or invoke Ra. And like Taj Mahal, the results of this simple decision are far-reaching.
 
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If you want the quick summary for why I would call Taj a "gamer's game" it is this:

1) Card play is extremely high risk, and a single large mistake can easily cost you the game. Unlike lighter games, the fact that you just screwed yourself utterly is not hidden at all either, as a decimated hand in Taj means that you have no ability to participate effectively in the auctions, and will need to spend time simply rebuilding your hand, all while the other players rake in items.

2) Almost all of the scoring systems in Taj require long term planning. Creating long chains, collecting certain types of goods...really the only exception to this is the Princess card, and even going after that can dominate your auction choices (dropping out earlier to get cards that will help, &c.). Again, if you choose a certain strategic path in this game, you must figure out a way to most effectively navigate that path, and there isn't a lot of wiggle room. On top of this, you usually have to understand the stakes at each given area, and try to keep track of how hard the competition is going to fight you for that particular zone, and when it is better to simply give up.
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I've yet to play Taj - though I have it for Christmas.

Off the top of my head, if you said name 5 "gamers games" I'd say:

T and E
Struggle of Empires
Die Macher
Caylus
PoF

What have these got in common? Well, they're all NOT easy to get into on first play, they have medium-tough to tough rule learning and they have lots of complex strategy.

There are others, but they were the first 5 I thought of.

Note, it needn't be about being theme vs dry or abstractness. Some of those games have a fair amount of theme...but let's not make that an excuse to discuss theme and what it constitutes again - that would be unfair on the questioner.

 
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First, I call somebody a gamer if they are willing to study a game and figure out what makes it tick. A nongamer may play games, but they'll want to be having fun within a few minutes of the start.

Most people agree that Taj Mahal has that "Huh?" factor you spoke about, where for the first game or two (or three...) they have no idea what way to go in the auctions. This makes it clearly a gamer's game.

This also means that heavier games are more likely to be gamer's games...but that all depends on how you define "heavy" games I guess.
 
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Jason Sample
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First, I call somebody a gamer if they are willing to study a game and figure out what makes it tick. A nongamer may play games, but they'll want to be having fun within a few minutes of the start.


I guess I should have thought about what a Gamer is before I tried to think about what makes Taj Mahal a Gamer's Game. I enjoy playing games and I enjoy thinking about games but I am not sure that I am a Gamer. I think that Gamers want to have fun too. Gamers, however, are willing to invest some time in the whole process.

The issue of weight continues to come up and I am not sure that it is as important as I thought at first. Weight is all over the charts for these "Gamer's Games". Anywhere from 2.41 (Ra) to 4.38 (Die Macher). Most of them seem to be in the range of 3-3.8 or so.

I showed up at BGG because I read an article by Skip Maloney in Games magazine about Puerto Rico. From there, I read the strategy articles about PR and then tried my hand at a few games on BSW. When I look at AlexFrog's analysis of the first few turns in PR I am amazed. In fact, I am amazed by the depth to which folks have analyzed this game. I could never do that, nor do I wish to do that. But I still enjoy PR and I do not mind losing.

Peace,
Jason
 
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Jim Cote
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queequeg wrote:
I showed up at BGG because I read an article by Skip Maloney in Games magazine about Puerto Rico. From there, I read the strategy articles about PR and then tried my hand at a few games on BSW. When I look at AlexFrog's analysis of the first few turns in PR I am amazed. In fact, I am amazed by the depth to which folks have analyzed this game. I could never do that, nor do I wish to do that. But I still enjoy PR and I do not mind losing.


I think the fact that you had interest enough to read game articles and strategy analyses, or to even make a post such as this, makes you a gamer. laugh
 
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Jason Sample
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As I was writing, I thought top myself, "Wouldn't this question better be asked by a Gamer?" You are right, to a certain extent, I suppose I AM a Gamer. But as they say...

In the World, a Yankee is someone from the United States.
In the United States, a Yankee is someone from the Northern United States.
In the Northern United States, a Yankee is someone from New England.
In New England, a Yankee is usually someone from Maine, New Hampshire, or Vermont.
...and it is said that in those three states, a Yankee is someone who has pie for breakfast.


That being said, I am not a Gamer among Gamers. I find that I am frequently hesitant to play a game if I hear it is considered a "Gamer's Game". I get the crap kicked out of me when I play most games at BSW. I am only a K10 at BSW and it seems that everyone else is a W15 or better. In the Venn Diagram of life I am in the Gamer circle of the populace at large but I am in the non-Gamer circle within the Gamer circle.

Plus, I like to hold shiny things and I often lose at bowling.

Peace,
Jason
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Your quest should not be to be in the most elite group, but the group that you are the most comfortable in, where you have the most fun. I love a good 3-hour game, but I also like the occasional 30-minute game. I looked at your game list and ratings. I think there are lots of games you would like that you don't own. Try as many as you are able/willing to experience, and see what falls out.
 
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queequeg wrote:

In the World, a Yankee is someone from the United States.
In the United States, a Yankee is someone from the Northern United States.
In the Northern United States, a Yankee is someone from New England.
In New England, a Yankee is usually someone from Maine, New Hampshire, or Vermont.
...and it is said that in those three states, a Yankee is someone who has pie for breakfast.



I find it quite humourous that a Boston Red Sox fan doesn't even mention that a Yankee is someone from New York City

Sorry for the Off Topic. Great thread by the way.
 
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I think that phrases like "gamer" and "gamer's game" are total BS and borders on snobbery. There is nothing in the definition of "game" that applies to Puerto Rico more than it does to, say, Monopoly, and arguably there are definitions that apply more to the latter.

I realize that this response is a bit off-topic for the thread but I get a pass since Taj is my favorite Euro, and it felt good to get it off my chest. tantaj:
 
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Jason Sample
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I have several more games that are not on my list of games owned. I did not add them because I am lazy and my concentration is elsewhere. Thanks for the encouragement.

In the end, I enjoy this game (Taj Mahal that is) and whether that makes me a Gamer or not, so be it. All that said, your point about finding where you are comfortable is well taken.

Quote:
I find it quite humourous that a Boston Red Sox fan doesn't even mention that a Yankee is someone from New York City

Sorry for the Off Topic. Great thread by the way.


I am wary to bite on this one but...the ebb and flow of the Yankees and Red Sox over the past few years is well documented in other places. Though I detest the New York Yankees to the very root of my being, I have the utmost respect for a franchise that continues to win division title after division title. Also, they have more championships than any other professional sports franchise.

My definition of a Yankee comes from and old comedy routine by a fella who tells stories about "Bert and I..." I do not recall his name, but it is very funny Down East humor.

Nevertheless, the last time I checked, neither my Red Sox nor the Yankees won the World Series this year. So no one can say nuthin' 'bout nobody...see you in April.

Peace,
Jason
 
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Jim Cote
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queequeg wrote:
My definition of a Yankee comes from and old comedy routine by a fella who tells stories about "Bert and I..." I do not recall his name, but it is very funny Down East humor.


That would be Marshall Dodge.
 
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ekted wrote:
Are casual/new gamers intimidated by Taj Mahal?


It's not a gateway game, but it works fine with casual gamers. If they have a "Huh?" moment, just tell them to not worry about it and go for whatever they want.
 
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rodspade wrote:
ekted wrote:
Are casual/new gamers intimidated by Taj Mahal?


It's not a gateway game, but it works fine with casual gamers. If they have a "Huh?" moment, just tell them to not worry about it and go for whatever they want.



And just to play the Devil's Advocate: casual gamers that I have played Taj with disliked it because they felt it was dry and boring.

And these people like Princes of Florence....
 
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generalpf wrote:
I always defined a "gamer's game" as a game that only a gamer would love.


Then if that's the case. What's a "gamer"? I think it might help better define a "gamer's game".
 
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Axelfudge wrote:
generalpf wrote:
I always defined a "gamer's game" as a game that only a gamer would love.


Then if that's the case. What's a "gamer"? I think it might help better define a "gamer's game".


A gamer is a person who thinks about games when not playing.
 
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Quote:

A gamer is a person who thinks about games when not playing.


Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, we have a winner.

Also to expand upon this a gamer's game is one that when enough players are serious the gameplay is taken to another level. In Puerto Rice I can decide to play with a strategy but if everyone else is a newbie and doesn't grasp it it makes no difference, the person to the left of the weak player will have the advantage. Whereas if everyone else is sufficiently familiar with strategys and ploys it becomes a whole new game, ergo a gamer's game.

On that note I haven't played Taj Mahal to comment if it is a gamer's game.
 
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CortexBomb wrote:
If you want the quick summary for why I would call Taj a "gamer's game" it is this:

1) Card play is extremely high risk, and a single large mistake can easily cost you the game. Unlike lighter games, the fact that you just screwed yourself utterly is not hidden at all either, as a decimated hand in Taj means that you have no ability to participate effectively in the auctions, and will need to spend time simply rebuilding your hand, all while the other players rake in items.

2) Almost all of the scoring systems in Taj require long term planning. Creating long chains, collecting certain types of goods...really the only exception to this is the Princess card, and even going after that can dominate your auction choices (dropping out earlier to get cards that will help, &c.). Again, if you choose a certain strategic path in this game, you must figure out a way to most effectively navigate that path, and there isn't a lot of wiggle room. On top of this, you usually have to understand the stakes at each given area, and try to keep track of how hard the competition is going to fight you for that particular zone, and when it is better to simply give up.


I think this pretty much hits the nail on the head as to why Taj Mahal is a gamers game, i.e. will not appeal to non-gamers.

The ways to effectively score points are simple way too subtle and complex for a non-gamer to assimilate and thus he will feel like his actions don't matter and thus that the game is stupid...
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If gamer's games were martial arts shcools, they would be the ones where after you get punched in the gut several times, you might figure out how to put up a fight.
 
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I don't think its particularly a 'gamers game.' I'm fairly new to games and I like the Thurn and taxis, St. Petersburgs and For Sales of this world as a rule. But I 'got' Taj mahal after one play, in fact after about the 3rd area. I did read the rules, so that may help, but I would find it hard to think of it as a heavier game.

For me and Taj it was love at first play. Awesome game....
 
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I recently recieved Taj Mahal. I have not yet played. I do not find the rules to Taj Mahal within the "huh?" category of games. They were pretty much clear with one read, and a quick re-overview. Not only did I find the mechanics easy to understand, but the scoring, and possible tactics and strategies appeared clear. I believe I could explain it to a couple of attentive people in about 15 minutes and we'd would be on our way.

Now, Compared to Caylus, which I have owned for probably almost a year, and still have not gotten it to the table, or ever played a game otherwise - I have read the through the rules probably at least 10 times and I have not thoroughly grasped them, nor have not been able to speculate on tactics and strategies, without playing.



Okay, so what is my point? Well I believe both of these games have been considered as 'gamers' games. One, in my opinion was easy to grasp and learn and the other, well, I place it in the 'huh' category and really wonder if it well ever get played by me. Not that I don't think I'd like Caylus, but simply because I doubt I will find anyone patient enough to get through the rules. But the difficulty of the rules do not make it a 'gamers' game, nor necesarily a weighty game.


I have often wondered what other geeks mean when they say a game is weighty. A gamer's game should have only to do with the depth and length of play couple with its tactics and strategy. I view the weight of the game as the same.

It just so happens that 'gamers' are the only ones patient enough to read through tough rules. But that doesn't mean that a 'gamer' likes the game simply because the rules are long and tough to get through.

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