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Subject: Initial play + strategy observations rss

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Adam Skinner
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I got together with Paul and Luz last night at Paul’s place for some gaming. I’d brought along Taj Mahal (since I haven’t played it yet), and we ended up playing that.

I’d read the rules, but I basically went through the rulebook with them, expanding on points where I could to get appropriate context. Paul basically understood what was going on, but Luz was kind of lost (and Paul was a little lost), but after a couple of rounds they had it.

One of the mistakes that I’d made was counting the Princess on the +2 special card as a Princess when she’s played. It didn’t matter because I was tied with Luz for it when I withdrew on the first turn I played it, and once we saw that she had the oval backing on the image (and none of the other characters did on the normal cards) we decided that she didn’t count after all. The rulebook does state that the special cards give special abilities, but they don’t state that they don’t count the lower figure (as the normal cards lower figures are counted).

One round I started with a normal elephant + some other figure, and both Luz and Paul played non-elephant cards, and so I immediately withdrew to get the elephant (and I think I may have gotten the figure as well, I’m not sure). They both were astonished at me when I took the province hex and scored it. “But we’re not done with the round!!” Paul stated. “It doesn’t matter…” I replied. “Neither of you played elephants. I have a majority!”

Between keeping the +2 for most of the game, getting most of the province influence markers, and a couple of goods, I was sitting pretty for points. Way pretty. Luz and Paul were relatively near each other in points during the game, but I was way ahead of them due to goods scoring, the +2 card (which I’d almost always play first), and some road scoring. At the end of the game, I was about 4 points from lapping the board, and Luz and Paul were a little past the halfway point. Paul pulled second, and so was able to acquire the +4 Taj Mahal scoring piece, which denied it to Luz. That pretty much got him the swing points he needed. I’d played out my entire hand on the 11th round (and scored big with it, dashing Paul’s hopes as he netted nothing, iirc), and so had 3 special cards (for getting 3 double-influences), but I only had a single normal card, so I could only play one of them. I chose to play the Mogul/elephant combo, which netted me the Mogul when I had to withdraw. I played it adjacent to my 4 province road, and so scored 5 points.

Now that I think on it, I actually had 2 more points that I scored. I had those 2 special cards in my hand (the +2 Princess and the color changing monk), and both of those should have been worth another 2 VP together. A little closer to lapping =p

Some additional thoughts after my first play (3 player):

* The Princess gives +2VP each round she is played, and so it’s a great card to try and keep.

* Elephants are awesome. Getting as many goods as you can is an awesome way to score.

* The Monk is a doubled edged sword; probably the only “special bonus” card you need to use with care. Since cards are in fairly short supply, playing an off-color card can give you a boost of strength when you need it, but it’s still taking a card away from your hand (and hence at least 1VP at the end of the game, and inevitably weakening your position later in the game). You really need to do some comparative quantitative analysis before playing this.

* Road scoring is beneficial, but when given the choice between scoring roads and taking goods, I took the goods.

* Goods are good, but you really need to look at where the goods are on the board, what is still out there, what your scoring potential is, and what and when you need to make your play for them.

* Withdraw when you can make headway, unless you’re willing to get into a fight (and spend those valuable cards doing so) to get what you want. Determine how much you really want what you’re fighting for.

* Conversely, if you can outlast your opponents, you’re going to usually come out ahead on 2 of the majorities (at least in a 3p game). That’s pretty good.

* Going first has it’s advantages for withdrawing first/second, but if you go first you’re likely to be the one who runs out of cards first and hence is forced to withdraw. I outlasted Paul that way on the 11th round. He had a fist full of cards, but I’d played my entire hand out (including my color-changing Monk) and even though I had no other cards and was forced to withdraw the next turn, since he went first he had to withdraw before me (since he had no more cards of that color). Remember this, and play to your strength.

I enjoyed Taj Mahal. It’s got a nice weight to it – not too heavy, not too light, not too mathy, definitely not random. I’m looking forward to playing it again.
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Bill Eldard
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adam.skinner wrote:
I got together with Paul and Luz last night at Paul’s place for some gaming. I’d brought along Taj Mahal (since I haven’t played it yet), and we ended up playing that.


Welcome to Taj Mahal. It's still my favorite game after all the years.

adam.skinner wrote:
. . . * Elephants are awesome. Getting as many goods as you can is an awesome way to score.


True. But don't forget that others are accumulating monks, princesses, viziers, et al which convert to special white cards that can be very influencial.

adam.skinner wrote:
* Road scoring is beneficial, but when given the choice between scoring roads and taking goods, I took the goods.


The more you play, the more you'll see that building a vast road network can be a very viable strategy. In the last couple of games I won, I concentrated on the road scoring. This means that tactically, you must time your withdrawal to get number and locations of palaces you need to keep the network growing. And of course, this requires that you study the board at the beginning of the game so you can decide which provinces to contest and which to ignore during the course of play. Withdrawing on the first round -- giving you choice of two face-up cards plus one face-down card -- is critical to keeping your hand strong for contested provinces.

adam.skinner wrote:
* Goods are good, but you really need to look at where the goods are on the board, what is still out there, what your scoring potential is, and what and when you need to make your play for them.


Of course, this is tied to the elephant strategy -- grabbing multiple goods chits.

adam.skinner wrote:
* Withdraw when you can make headway, unless you’re willing to get into a fight (and spend those valuable cards doing so) to get what you want. Determine how much you really want what you’re fighting for.


Deciding where and when to withdraw is the heart of the game, and can be very tense. Unlike poker, where withdrawal ("folding") causes a player to lose everything he/she has invested in the pot, withdrawing after playing just one or two cards can yield more than hanging tough with 5 or 6 cards that gain you nothing. Expending a lot of cards for little or no gain can damage or at least delay your competitiveness in the next couple of provinces, so timing the withdrawal is everything.

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Darrell Hanning
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Taj Mahal is my favorite Knizia game, and Bill has already touched on most of the points I would mention. While Reiner has come up with some equally clever game designs, I think this one is his best at integrating inter-player dynamics with the gaming mechanisms.

While the goods are something concretely identifiable from the beginning of the game, concentrating on the road network will usually yield you more points, than concentrating on taking all the provinces you can. The reason for this is because your basic philosophy in this game should not be how long you can stay in a contest, but how soon you can get out with what you want. You're bound to pick up some provinces along the way, but if you're focusing on getting your road network set up, you can really rack up some points.
 
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Bill Koens
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Man, this game drives me nuts. I lose every time. But for lovers of this game, check out the first entry on this excellent geeklist:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/3895
 
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Quote:
* The Monk is a doubled edged sword; probably the only “special bonus” card you need to use with care. Since cards are in fairly short supply, playing an off-color card can give you a boost of strength when you need it, but it’s still taking a card away from your hand (and hence at least 1VP at the end of the game, and inevitably weakening your position later in the game). You really need to do some comparative quantitative analysis before playing this.


Did you score this correctly? Cards do not equal VPs at end game. Only your strongest colour. So the Monk is a great way to use up cards (especially endgame) in a colour you only have one or two of.



 
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Jim Cote
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One thing I'd like to add to your list of thoughts:

The value of gaining a special white card is partially affected by the tokens possessed by the other players. For example, if I will the +2 Princess card and no one else has any Princess tokens, then I know I will get to play it at least twice, probably more. But if every other player has one already, then I will likely lose it this round.
 
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Adam Skinner
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GeneSteeler wrote:
Quote:
* The Monk is a doubled edged sword; probably the only “special bonus” card you need to use with care. Since cards are in fairly short supply, playing an off-color card can give you a boost of strength when you need it, but it’s still taking a card away from your hand (and hence at least 1VP at the end of the game, and inevitably weakening your position later in the game). You really need to do some comparative quantitative analysis before playing this.


Did you score this correctly? Cards do not equal VPs at end game. Only your strongest colour. So the Monk is a great way to use up cards (especially endgame) in a colour you only have one or two of.


Yeah, we did score it correctly, and you're right; it's not at least 1VP - just possibly one VP. Now that I think on it, the card is also good for some intimidation factor, since other players should *know* that you *can* come in with at least one more card. Probably most valuable when you're the last player in that respect.
 
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