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Subject: For two players - Very Nice rss

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cvlw Lebron
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Thurn and Taxis, in the spirit of games like Ticket to Ride, is a game about collecting routes of set numbers of points and monetizing them into various classes of points depending on the nature of the route in question. This is a game that has been discussed many times on BGG, and there are good forums on the nature of the rules. For this review, I will only briefly summarize the rules and focus more on the nature of play, particularly from the point of view of two players.

COMPONENTS
The components for Thurn are well produced. The cards are of the smaller Ticket to Ride type; houses are small wooden affairs. There are heavy stock cardboard reference cards, but after a couple of plays, it is unlikely they’ll make it to the game table. Where Thurn goes right is in the general aesthetic sense. From the actual box design to board design, both the colors and graphics are pleasing and inviting. If there is one complaint, the four men in the upper left corner representing the various privileges could have been left out.

RULES (quality thereof)
I find that many games that make it the states could have done better with the translation of the rules. Maybe it’s because I am an academic, but it’s really surprising how many typographical errors one will find in instruction booklets. Thurn’s suffers from lack of clarity. I had to consult forums to get clear on the cart cards for instance and when they are awarded. The examples in the instruction are fairly obtuse and offer little clarity. Anyone looking to get into this game will do well to consult the forums. But do not let this be discouragement. The minor inconvenience is well worth it. Below is the game in a nutshell.


GAMEPLAY
A good way to explain Thurn is maybe to begin at the end. There are cart cards numbered from 3-7. The end of the game is triggered when a player completes a route in a way that allows for them to claim the 7 card. All others players are allowed to do what they can in their current turn, i.e. close out any open routes and collecting any relevant bonuses. The winner when all is said and done is the person who has collected the most points. How does one go about accumulating points?


The theme of Thurn is that of a postal system that one is in charge of building out in order to serve various cities. It is a game that challenges people to weigh payoffs and maximize efficient route building. Whereas Ticket to Ride easily awards pure quantity, simply stringing routes together is a losing strategy, and this is what lends the game it’s depth.

There are a number of bonuses that are earned in Thurn. First, the board is separated into color-coded each comprised of varying amounts of towns. Each color-coded area has a stack of bonus point chits with the highest number on top and in decreasing order. The bonus points go to players as they place houses for complete routes. When completes a route, a decision is made as whether to place houses in one color district or one per district. Hypothetically, let’s say your route runs from Basel to Freiburg to Carlsruhe to Stuttgart. This represents a route that contains three areas. In one of those areas there are two houses with one in each of the remaining. You can either place a house in each area forcing you to choose between Freiburg and Carlsruhe or you can place houses only on these two towns. What does one base the calculation on. One is the color-coded area completion bonuses. If you choose the latter option, you only need a route with Mannheim in it to complete the purple area and get the bonus when your route is closed. But the decision isn’t that easy.

Another bonus is gained in placing at least one house in each color-coded area with the top bonus equaling 6 points, and again, decreasing. When one closes a route and tries to decide how to place their houses, there are serious considerations as to the tactics to be employed in spreading your bets across the board. A wrong decision can find you scrambling later in the game to build a whole route just to get a house on one town. This is where efficiency matters – such a decision can let your opponent gain a significant advantage over you.

There are also route length bonuses, beginning with a five town route, and again, in decreasing order.

What above means is that, although Thurn is ostensibly about building out routes, it’s reliance on various bonuses with one point differentials potentially adding up in the end to a loss, the game is in some ways a race, albeit a very intelligent one – rushing ahead won’t do one much good either. This is mostly because of the cart cards. Players can only collect cart cards in order and the card always represents one less than the route (unless the Cartwright privilege is invoked). So, if the first route you complete is a five town route, you will get to collect the topmost 5 town bonus but you still wind up with the value 3 cart card. If on your next route you complete a 6 town route, you still only get the 4 value cart card. The problem here is that the chances of being able to complete such long routes and still get to the seven value before your partner becomes difficult without you simply retracing your steps across the board. Very nice design on the part of the Seyfarths.

The last aspect of the game design to remark upon are the various privileges one may invoke to try and gain an advantage. When players draw cards into their hands, they may either blind draw or they may take on of the 6 face-up cards. If they invoke the Post Master, they can take two cards. If the Administrator is invoked, the player is allowed to replace all 6 cards and then take one. If the Postal Carrier is invoked, one may lay down to town cards in constructing their route. It bears mentioning that routes are built in a very particular way – cards must be laid down in an order such as the route will be. One may not lay down a card between two town cards that have already been laid down, so one must be mindful of which side they lay a card on – Thurn is very much about path dependency. Last, one may invoke the Cartwright which allows you to bump up the number of the route you have completed. Hypothetically, if you have already obtained a value 6 cart card and now have a six card route and want to close out to force the hand of your opponent and trigger the end of the game, you can close your route and invoke the Cartwright to claim the value 7 cart card. Only one privilege may be invoked per turn and one privilege MUST be invoked during a turn.

VERDICT
Thurn and Taxis has garnered acclaim for a reason. All of its mechanics are straightforward and time tested. There are no innovations here. Where the game goes right is in combining them in such a way as to raise the tension level and compelling players to really think out their actions. An aspect that may turn off some gamers is that more than one bad decision early on can cost in a small but significant way at game’s end. If you play against very efficient thinkers, beware.

My fiancé and I game with each other and play this as a two-player affair. I can say that tensions can run high with just us two. Also, the pace stays nice and brisk – games run about 45 minutes. What’s good about Thurn is that the board is small enough for the whole thing to be relevant to the player but large enough that there are definitely options. Moreover, the tension is all in the timing. Hypothetically, players can lay the same route down at the same exact time. It’s all about what decisions are made about house placement. It’s worth mentioning that one reason efficiency matters so much is that the houses you have left over are subtracted from your total. You could race ahead and just build routes getting bonuses and finishing the game quickly, but if you have 5 houses left over, it’s going to hurt. In this way the game is a race yet is one that is possibly won by the tortoise. In a nutshell, this game loses nothing for two players and I can only imagine that an additional player or two makes it just as good if not better.
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Andrew Breitenbach
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This is exactly what I needed to read! Since I usually play games as two-player affairs, I have been wondering how this one would hold up. Thanks for the vote of confidence!
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Paul Bryant
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13 games 1 win as the second player.
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Karl Schmit
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riledguy wrote:
13 games 1 win as the second player.

Hmm, I don't keep track of my wins or loses based on seating order, but I detest going first. I think mostly I hate having to be in the situation of ending routes early because the 2nd player can trigger the end of the game.
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