Since the War & Peace crew of Jerry Maus, Bill Sanders and Willerd Fann were waiting the arrival of Jon Comeaux, who wasn't scheduled to arrive until 8:30 PM or so due to a class at the University of New Orleans, we had enough folks to split into two tables. Taj Mahal, one of Knizia's latest and best, was the choice at our table. I was joined by Lenny Leo, Elizabeth Gonzales, Darren Arnold and Bill Sanders.
Lenny immediately began warning everyone to "not let Greg get the elephants!". Well, his admonitions worked, as I only managed to capture one province tile during the entire game! Much to Lenny's disgust, however, this predicament didn't prevent me from capturing a narrow victory as I altered my strategies accordingly.
Bill surprised everyone by immediately withdrawing from the first two regional conflicts without having played any cards. His idea was clear .. build up a large hand of cards so he could win the battles of his choosing. Initially, this seemed to be a faulty strategy as he fell further and further behind on the scoring track. Eventually, however, he was able to capture an impressive number of provincial tiles and move into contention.
I struck out to an early lead, based mainly on my holding of the '+2' special card, which I held for four turns. Darren, however, emerged as the leader as he, too, had captured a number of provincial tiles and commodity chits, all of which were earning him multiple points.
At the halfway point (following round 6), the victory point chart revealed the following:
Darren 18, Greg 16, Lenny 13, Bill 11, Elizabeth 6
From that point on it became a three-man race as Darren, Bill and I each threatened for the lead. Lenny and Elizabeth sunk further behind, but it became clear that Elizabeth was angling for a massive game-end score based on the cards in her hand. Indeed, she ultimately scored 16 points based on the cards she held, but it wasn't enough to catch the leaders.
As the game approached its end, the scores were extremely tight:
Round 10: Darren 31, Bill 29, Greg 28, Lenny 19, Elizabeth 17
Round 11: Bill 35, Darren 31, Greg 31, Lenny 21, Elizabeth 18
I had accumulated a decent collection of 'elephant' cards as I had my eyes on the final two provincial tiles. However, it wasn't to be as both Bill and Elizabeth clearly possessed many more cards than I did. So, I quickly cut my losses, satisfying myself with a quick majority and withdrawing early. This allowed me to place a palace in key locations in order to complete a decent chain of palaces. These placements scored me 5 and 6 points respectively over the final two rounds. Plus, during the final round, I withdrew after only having played one card, thereby conserving the cards I held in a sizable run of beige and white 'wild' cards.
At game's conclusion, we tallied the basic points, then added the points obtained from the cards each of us held. Here were the results BEFORE tallying the cards we held in our hands:
Bill 40, Darren 36, Greg 36, Lenny 26, Elizabeth 20
Once the points for cards held were added, here were the final results:
Greg 45, Bill 43, Darren 38, Elizabeth 36, Lenny 27
A narrow victory over Bill, proving that one doesn't necessarily need to capture numerous provincial tiles in order to win.
Taj Mahal continues to enthrall me and it has catapulted solidly into my Top 10 list of games.
Ratings: Greg 9, everyone else 7