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Subject: Lend Me Your Ears, and I'll Tell You This Game Is Not Fun rss

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W. Eric Martin
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First published on BoardgameNews.com with images to highlight the graphic awfulness

My opponent for all three games of Roman Taxi dismissed the design with a cutting non-review review: "It's a game." As in, the contents of the box meet all the qualifications of a game, and someone looking at these contents won't mistake them for anything other than a game, but that's as far as he'll go. "It's a game" is the verbal equivalent of a bored hand shooing away a non-existent bug, a teenager waving off a parent, a spouse shooing an unwanted partner. "How'd you like that movie?" "It's a movie." "What did you think of dinner?" "It was food." You don't want to watch it, eat it or – in this case – play it ever again.

Veni, Vidi, Ludo

The theme of Roman Taxi can be deduced from the title: You're in Rome, and you're driving a taxi. You must pick up Roman citizens and move them from point A to point B in order to earn money. More accurately, you move them from point A-T to point A-T, with each passenger having a specific starting and ending destination, as well as a fare he will pay and a time he will allow you to make the delivery. Cross that time threshold, and he'll pay only half the fare initially promised. Take twice as much time as he allows, and he'll get out and walk, leaving you one sad cabbie.

The gameboard is a crazy quilt of colors, with the purple destination buildings being surrounded by one- and two-lane brick roads that are colored white, yellow, red, blue and green. Each player starts with a passenger, with five more standing on various corners waiting for a ride. On a turn, you draw a travel card from one of three columns of cards and move your taxi to the next space on the road of that color; most travel cards feature only a single color – yellow, blue, red or green – while some offer a double move or a U-turn. (The rules mention white cards in passing in an example, but the game includes no white travel cards. If those cards don't exist, why have white spaces on the roads at all? Enlarge the colored spaces to remove the unexplained and superfluous game element.)

Each travel column has three cards in it, and whoever takes the final card in a column takes the face-up event card showing above it. The events are mostly positive – score 1-3 points, earn points if you deliver to these destinations, make an extra move, remove a time counter – while a few are not.

So you drive and drive and drive and drive, and eventually the passenger deck runs out. The game ends after the next delivery, and the hack who's earned the most money wins.

When in Rome, Don't Do This

Roman Taxi suffers from problems with both the game design and the graphic design. To start with, you will take the same action from turn one onward: Pick a travel card and move. Sure, you'll draw an event card every so often, but the game has no escalation, no story arc, to steal a term from Jonathan Degann. You always have five passengers waiting somewhere on the board, and aside from the rare double move, you putt-putt along as if you're pulling the chariot by hand. Leo Colovini's Cartagena uses a similar "play a card to move" mechanism, but in that game you have multiple pieces to move, multiple moves on a turn, a private stash of cards, a leapfrog aspect that lets you set up big plays, and a hand-refilling mechanism that has everyone second-guessing one another in who's moving what where. None of those tactical elements exist in Roman Taxi.

More frustrating than the slow pace of play are the passenger cards that present you with a nigh impossible challenge of moving from A to B in the time allowed due to three circumstances:

The one-lane roads are all one-way.
The two-lane roads require you to travel on the right, which makes it tough to reach some destinations without one of the rare U-turn cards or without making a giant time-consuming loop.
The central passageways are clogged with colored bricks, which have you stopping and starting worse than an afternoon drive on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.As a result, you flat out ignore certain passengers because you know they'll give you only half the promised fare, if that. This clogs the passenger queue and leads to people (very slowly) fighting to reach passengers who are viable.

With two players, you have some idea of which travel cards your opponent might play, which lets you try to set up future moves to some degree, given the small number of movement options available. I can't imagine playing this game with even three players, much less five, as the travel board would change tremendously from one turn to the next, leaving you floating from card to card and daydreaming in the meantime.

As for the graphic design, the gameboard is a bad imitation of Piet Mondrian crossed with Romper Room. Everything is intensely colored, leaving your eyes nowhere to focus and making it difficult to even make out where the roads are compared with the background landscape that has no purpose in play. Jiggle the board slowly in front of someone with motion sickness, and she'll be searching for an open window…

The rules don't explain how to navigate through intersections, with an example contradicting the written explanation: Do I have to stop on the yellow brick on the wrong side of the road when I'm passing through an intersection? What about when I'm turning left onto a street and hit a colored brick matching the travel card? How can I make a U-turn in an intersection, when I can't make one elsewhere without using a U-turn card? All of these questions are aggravated by colored spaces that look like they might touch a destination, but do not clearly do so.

The taxi tokens are narrow pyramids that are too large for the brick spaces in the road. To let you pinpoint the space on which the taxi stands, one tip of the pyramid is painted black – except on the pyramid that is itself entirely black. Even the score tokens don't work, being too large for the spaces on the scoring track.

All complaints aside, Roman Taxi is a game. No lie.
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Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
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I was really hoping for Bucephalus to do some good games. And maybe they still will. They seem like a bunch of guys who know how to do things, but until now the results haven't been great
 
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Scott Caputo
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Surya wrote:
I was really hoping for Bucephalus to do some good games. And maybe they still will. They seem like a bunch of guys who know how to do things, but until now the results haven't been great


My game Kachina (coming from Bucephalus Games in July 2009) may change your mind. I'll let you be the judge.
 
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Eric Martin
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Great title for the review! (And great title for you, as well!)
 
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Chris Blakeley
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I demo-ed a copy of Michelangelo last weekend and it was a lot of fun with the four other players I was with. A good mix of politics and art that managed to be very intuitive and fluid.

Of course it didn't hurt that I won laugh
 
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Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
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I'll surely be keeping an eye on their upcoming tiles!
 
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Remi LeClair
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It's really unfortunate, because at first glance, the game looks like and colorful... but it does seem to be lacking on the "playtesting" side of things.

The roads are a little confusing, even when you use the "Road Rules" rule for what direction to go and turning corners and what not.

Also, the game is horribly slow at times... when thing are going well, it's fine, but chances are at least one person is going to be stuck in a corner and 10 turns away from doing anything other than picking cards and moving along at a snails pace.

I almost feel like trying to game again, but moving double or triple speed just to see what would happen.
 
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Lori
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I agree. It does not seem like there was enough play testing done for Roman Taxi; when I played this game, all of the players had similar reactions.

The white spaces on the street are irrelevant. The movement forward is what I would call "Candy Land style" -- you pick a color card and move to the next space that has that color. However, there are usually two sides to the street so you also have to figure out how to get to the correct side of the street in order to pick up or drop off passengers.

With four players, the game dragged on for over an hour and, as previously mentioned, there is no escalation or development to keep the game interesting. In fact, I was less and less inclined to pick up passengers (the only way to get points!), because getting to certain parts of "town" became simply vexing rather than challenging.

I also think the publisher should change the tokens that identify waiting passengers on the game board. I missed picking up several passengers because I didn't notice the flat yellow discs amidst all the other colors on the board. A meeple-style token would be more visible.

We had only gone about 1/2 way around the score track when everyone agreed that they'd had enough and ended the game prematurely.

It's a shame, because I think there is potentially a nice lightweight game here and the designers obviously put some work into it.
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Rob Judy
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No one mentioned here that the white cab has no corisponding score token (it has red instead)... On a positive note, the cards are high quality! All in all, a very disappointing game.yuk

I too had high hopes for this new company.
 
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Jeff Scott
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Alas! I got this as a mystery game selection on a Tanga buy. I don't think I'll remove the shrink wrap and trade it instead. (Shhh)
 
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