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Derek Thompson
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Hey look, a time machine! Not only is this a review of a five-year-old game, it’s a game about postal routes in the 16th century! It’s like a double wormhole! Thurn & Taxis, designed by Karen & Andreas Seyfarth (San Juan, Manhattan, Puerto Rico) and published by Rio Grande Games / Hans im Glück, deservedly won the German Game of the Year award in 2006. Since then, though, I don’t feel the game has garnered much attention, and maybe you’ve never even heard of it. So let’s take a look. Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:

Components - Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility - How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth - Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme - Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine the setting described in the game?
Fun - Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over

Components: The actual components of Thurn & Taxis are fairly sparse. They consist of a central board, a few scoring tokens to place on the board, a pile of small (mini-Euro size) cards that are also placed on the board, and 20 wooden houses for each player. The game is quick and easy to set up, with very little information to read during the game, all of which is a cinch. The components are perfectly functional. My problem, though, is with the dreary artwork. It’s purely subjective so you should judge for yourself, but I cannot stand Michael Menzel’s artwork - he only works in sad browns, greys, and oranges. Here, at least, the faded look goes hand-in-hand with the theme, but I think it’s more important for a game’s artwork to pop and draw attention and feel fun than to be thematically appropriate. The dour artwork makes me want to ding the game’s score despite the functionality, but I also factor in the price to this category, and $35 MSRP is more than fair for this game - it’s available for $20 and change at some online retailers.

Accessibility: Comparison with Ticket to Ride is unavoidable simply because they’re both family-oriented route-connection games, though the gameplay is fundamentally different. In a sense, Thurn & Taxis is Ticket to Ride with the rummy element deleted. Players instead pick up city cards and play them in a row, and at hopefully the right time, discard their connected pile of city cards to claim those cities. This means that the game flow is quite fast; players are heading directly for their routes without having to find tools to do so. In addition, all information in Thurn & Taxis is known or trackable except for the occasional blind draw. This means that Thurn & Taxis is super easy to explain, and from the very first turn you’re quickly able to assess everyone’s goals and the worth of your decisions.

Depth: Though Thurn & Taxis is a simple game that’s easy to learn, it’s still full of subtle strategy. What’s strange about the game is that there are very few actual victory points available, and the method to maximize those few points isn’t easily revealed. The strategy is also subtle because the player interaction is quite indirect - no blocking is possible here. Rather, it’s a race to be the first to claim better VP tokens in each area or feat. Despite the lack of blocking, the game still carries a high sense of risk that keeps it tight and tense. Players risk losing their entire route if they cannot extend it, and other players can punish you for pushing your luck by taking city cards you need. However, you can still play and have a good time without paying much attention to your neighbors - but you aren’t likely to win. It takes several plays to uncover the subtlety of the game, but if you take the time to look, you’ll find a game rich with strategy and tactics under the surface.

Theme: If anything has deterred me from trying this game out, it’s the theme. Postal routes? 16th century? Really? While it’s not a particularly evocative theme, it’s somewhat irrelevant as the game isn’t a very thematic one regardless. Your whole goal is to place houses to fill regions for points, and nothing about that feels very thematic - the houses could have been plastic trains, or abstract cubes, or anything, really. Although the mechanics do little to drive the theme home, the artwork fits the theme very well, like a sepia photograph leading us to imagine the lives of our ancestors. The problem with that is I tend to end those thoughts by thinking "Man, I’m glad I wasn’t around back then."

Fun: What inspired me to write this review is that despite Thurn & Taxis being an old (by today’s definition), ugly, sad-looking game with a dreary theme, it is intensely fun. The game is tight and exciting, because working on your routes is direct and transparent - you don’t have to do a bunch of extra work to accomplish your goals, but at the same time your intentions become dangerously clear to the other players. The game is tense but not frustrating, and that’s a very difficult line to walk. The game especially shines with two players, which I personally find important.

If you enjoy route connection games but dislike blocking and/or high amounts of luck, I can’t recommend Thurn & Taxis highly enough. And even if you’ve never played a route connection game in your life, Thurn & Taxis is a brilliant and simple game that’s equally enjoyable with two, three, or four players. I only wish that it wasn’t so thematically and aesthetically boring.

Originally posted on http://meepletown.com
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p55carroll
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"Really don't mind if you sit this one out. My word's but a whisper, your deafness a shout."
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Re: Review: Thurn and Taxis
Nice review of a truly excellent game. I've so far played only three times, but it's definitely a keeper.

I myself would not complain nearly as much about the theme or aesthetics, though. It's true that I was somewhat put off at first, before I bought the game: the title is odd and not readily pronounceable; postal routes sounded boring; the setting is a region that's neither familiar nor exotic to me; and the time period is one of my least favorite in history. But once I opened up the game and got ready to play, all those reservations went out the window. It's a beautiful game, actually.

The sepia tones and design notes remind players that there's real history behind the game. Yet the friendly-looking caricatures help create a light, fun mood. A nice balance of the serious and entertaining.

I'd give T&T a thumbs-up on all counts.
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wayne r
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Re: Review: Thurn and Taxis
If it didn't win the German award this would never have come under my radar. I'm glad that the award brought this game to my attention. I've since played it more than 10x and enjoyed every game of it.

I actually liked the artwork. The components were nice. I only wished the cards were normal size but I'm getting used to Euro games producing small sized cards.

The game also comes with an insert showing the history of the first postal service in Europe. I loved that little touch.

I prefer T&T over TtR. It took several plays before I began to enjoy it as opposed to enjoying my first play of TtR. Once I realized the subtle depth of strategies, my enjoyment of T&T increased and now I prefer playing this over TtR. The only thing that has disappointed me were the expansions. They didn't do enough for me to warrent a buy from me.
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Keith Textor
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Re: Review: Thurn and Taxis
Nice review. This is a very eye-catching game with interesting gameplay.
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