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Subject: Great game, bad theme rss

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g s
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The theme allows for attractive components, but otherwise it is just confusing...for me. Maybe if I knew more about India of the period it would make more sense.

The conceit of controlling the different factions just doesn't seem to get any traction. I wonder how many other groups are like ours...we never refer to the Grand Mogul, Vizier, etc. They are just the green guys, yellow guys, elephants, etc. A better theme would have made this seem less abstract.

Another sign of a bad theme: when explaining the rules, it is better just to drop most of the theme ideas, they just seem to confuse new players.

I really like this game, but wish it could get re-themed.
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Bill Eldard
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Taj Mahal is still my favorite game, and the theme never bothered me. The components are excellent; if I were to make a change to them, it would be to the cards, taking the second (right-hand) set of symbols and turning them upside down (like conventional playing cards in the US) to avoid confusion for newcomers.

Changing the theme won't make it any more or less of a game.
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g s
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It is a great game. One of my favorites. But a better theme would make it easier to explain to new players and just easier to grasp overall.

Eldard wrote:
Taj Mahal is still my favorite game, and the theme never bothered me. The components are excellent; if I were to make a change to them, it would be to the cards, taking the second (right-hand) set of symbols and turning them upside down (like conventional playing cards in the US) to avoid confusion for newcomers.

Changing the theme won't make it any more or less of a game.
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Bruce Murphy
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You do realise who designed it, don't you? You're lucky to have any theme at all. You even get elephants!
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g s
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thepackrat wrote:
You do realise who designed it, don't you? You're lucky to have any theme at all. You even get elephants!




I'm a big fan of Knizia. I bet this theme wasn't his idea.
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Bruce Murphy
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I'd be really interested to see what sort of theme actually would have been his idea. Do you know of any interviews or specific examples?

B>
 
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g s
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thepackrat wrote:
I'd be really interested to see what sort of theme actually would have been his idea. Do you know of any interviews or specific examples?

B>


No, not off hand, but if I recall correctly this game did start off with a different theme.
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For argument's sake, what theme would work well for you?
 
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g s
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spearjr wrote:
For argument's sake, what theme would work well for you?


Just something that is more familiar.

According to Bruno Faidutti, the original theme for this game was medieval England.

See item 5 on this geeklist: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/16285

Gola sums it up for me. The theme just makes the game harder to understand and explain.
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Maarten D. de Jong
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+1 with Jason, with the addition 'bearing in mind that you can actually do very little with cardboard, cards and little plastic chits, and that things will always be huge abstractions to begin with'.
 
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cymric wrote:
+1 with Jason, with the addition 'bearing in mind that you can actually do very little with cardboard, cards and little plastic chits, and that things will always be huge abstractions to begin with'.


Yes, I agree, all games are abstract. But some themes work better than others in lending a "feel" to the game. And especially in allowing one to absorb the rules. Taj Mahal's theme just doesn't work well...for me. But, as I've said before, I still love the game.
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Железный комиссар
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So, to come full circle, this is a good game with a lame theme.

Round 2: Fight!
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Peter Mumford
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gesa wrote:

According to Bruno Faidutti, the original theme for this game was medieval England.

Building castles in England, or palaces in India.. is there a big difference? I like the way Franz Volwinkle drew this - very pretty - and I don't see the problem.

That's what german games are: abstract with a historic theme painted on. Have you seen China, which is a re-theme of Web of Power? Same diff.
 
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Bill Eldard
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gesa wrote:
. . . Gola sums it up for me. The theme just makes the game harder to understand and explain.


It hasn't been my experience that the theme makes the game hard to teach. I don't dwell on the theme when teaching new players because it's irrelevent to play. Everything is color-coded, so it's easier to explain the game in those terms; it's not long after that newcomers start using the actual names (e.g. mogul; vizier; princess).

The game mechanics can seem rather confusing to newcomers, so what I always do is deal out hands and run through a game turn with the hands open on the table. After answering questions, we start over playing the actual game. Newcomers say the dry run helps a lot.

Do you have a suggestion for a better theme?
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g s
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No big argument. Yes, all games are abstract. Yes this game is pretty. No, it is not a huge deal. I have just noticed that it is hard to explain to others, in part because the theme is not familiar. That's all. We are quite happy to just refer to the green guys, yellow guys, etc.

photocurio wrote:
gesa wrote:

According to Bruno Faidutti, the original theme for this game was medieval England.

Building castles in England, or palaces in India.. is there a big difference? I like the way Franz Volwinkle drew this - very pretty - and I don't see the problem.

That's what german games are: abstract with a historic theme painted on. Have you seen China, which is a re-theme of Web of Power? Same diff.
 
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Agreed. I spend almost no time on trying to explain the theme. It just doesn't help with learning, it hinders.

Better theme? Knizia's original idea: medieval England.

Eldard wrote:
gesa wrote:
. . . Gola sums it up for me. The theme just makes the game harder to understand and explain.


It hasn't been my experience that the theme makes the game hard to teach. I don't dwell on the theme when teaching new players because it's irrelevent to play. Everything is color-coded, so it's easier to explain the game in those terms; it's not long after that newcomers start using the actual names (e.g. mogul; vizier; princess).

The game mechanics can seem rather confusing to newcomers, so what I always do is deal out hands and run through a game turn with the hands open on the table. After answering questions, we start over playing the actual game. Newcomers say the dry run helps a lot.

Do you have a suggestion for a better theme?
 
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Maarten D. de Jong
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gesa wrote:
Yes, I agree, all games are abstract. But some themes work better than others in lending a "feel" to the game. And especially in allowing one to absorb the rules. Taj Mahal's theme just doesn't work well...for me. But, as I've said before, I still love the game.

Just to be clear: my question was not meant to be patronising: I (and I presume Jason too) am just interested in finding out what then 'works' for you. Since these discussions are by nature very subjective, it is simply hard for others to understand what makes a person 'tick'. I hope I didn't cause offense, and if I did, please accept my apologies.
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g s
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No offense taken.

What would work for me is something more familiar. India in the 1700's, Grand Moguls, Viziers, etc, are just not something I easily relate to. Knizia's original theme based in medieval England would almost certainly have been better from my point of view.

I'm sort of sorry about this thread because it really doesn't matter much. The game is fantastic. I just was thinking of this after teaching the game to others. I found there was little point in doing anything more than glossing over the theme, because it just confused things.

An example of a game where theme fits with rules explanation: The Downfall of Pompeii. Or even In the Year of the Dragon.

cymric wrote:
gesa wrote:
Yes, I agree, all games are abstract. But some themes work better than others in lending a "feel" to the game. And especially in allowing one to absorb the rules. Taj Mahal's theme just doesn't work well...for me. But, as I've said before, I still love the game.

Just to be clear: my question was not meant to be patronising: I (and I presume Jason too) am just interested in finding out what then 'works' for you. Since these discussions are by nature very subjective, it is simply hard for others to understand what makes a person 'tick'. I hope I didn't cause offense, and if I did, please accept my apologies.
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I really like this game and I quite enjoy the theme as well, which is somewhat unique, especially when it was first published in 2000. I think part of the issue, which the OP stated in his original post, is lack of familiarity with the theme, not just for people teaching the game but for people learning the game. It feels more foreign because, well, it is.

Is there a similar issue with Maharaja: The Game of Palace Building in India? I'm not aware of any complaint about theme but haven't gone through the boards carefully. I also find it interesting that In the Year of the Dragon is provided as a game where the theme fits the rules better. To me, both are equal in their abstractions and I enjoy playing Taj Mahal more. Perhaps people are more familiar with the presentation of medieval China in In the Year of the Dragon than they are with eighteenth century India.

Maybe the game should include a documentary on India during the time period that could be shown to people before they play the game for the first time.
 
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I've taught this game to new players at a convention. I've taught it to five players who previously did not go beyond Settlers. In all cases the game went smoothly and no one questioned the theme. The hand management and bidding are so fun that no one pays attention to the rest. The same goes for El Grande, and that is arguably much less "fun". It's all about teaching it effectively.
 
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Yes, the game play is so good, the theme doesn't matter. So, I don't have much to say about the theme when teaching it.

Dave wrote:
I've taught this game to new players at a convention. I've taught it to five players who previously did not go beyond Settlers. In all cases the game went smoothly and no one questioned the theme. The hand management and bidding are so fun that no one pays attention to the rest. The same goes for El Grande, and that is arguably much less "fun". It's all about teaching it effectively.
 
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Hank Meyer
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I have to disagree a little -- while it is true that many of RK's games have a thin veneer of a theme pasted over some complex mathematical operations, Taj Mahal's scoring mechanism is easy to comprehend, actually makes some sense (in an abstract way) as does the building of a palace through the use of influence (rather than mere money).
The cards, with the various symbols, representing one's influence in one or more dimensions, are a dear asset and cannot be tossed in the center with reckless abandon (one would not want to use up all of one's influence at once, generally speaking, in real life (i.e. 'cashing in one's chips' to get a favor) and in Taj Mahal, you don't normally get to restore your hand to the full complement of 6 cards every turn...sometimes less. I think this game is very clever because of the tension each turn....how many cards do I play or give up to gain something, is that something worth it both now and in the future, what do I sacrifice on the short and long term by not playing a card or by withdrawing quickly (or slowly), while watching your palaces go up across the landscape and dabbling in the various commodities common to India. Taj Mahal touches a lot of different things about India in a remarkably short playing time.

Maharaja, on the other hand, gives players a lot more freedom of choice over their actions, but they must still weigh those choices carefully against what they believe (or anticipate) their opponents will do. A different kind of turn angst, and one that may be more readily understood (money is important!) and less nebulous than those of TM.

Both games are excellent, in theme and mechanisms.
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Daniel Corban
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I don't see how you could possibly come up with any theme that would make sense within the context of this game. Not all games need a tight theme.
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Krzysztof Budny
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thepackrat wrote:
I'd be really interested to see what sort of theme actually would have been his idea. Do you know of any interviews or specific examples?

B>


In example E&T.
 
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Eddie the Cranky Gamer
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dcorban wrote:
I don't see how you could possibly come up with any theme that would make sense within the context of this game. Not all games need a tight theme.


I additionally do not see how the theme can be considered confusing, unless you are the sort who would rather not talk about "foreign things". It is simple network building + competing for the "favour" of political groups. I can't see a single way the theme adds confusion unless you are proudly ethnocentric.
 
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