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Subject: Why I Love Taj Mahal rss

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John Farrell
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Does a game published 13 years ago need another review? Probably not. So why am I writing one? Because this game is timeless and it's one that I really want to talk about. Also, you get geekgold for doing this ninja.

Taj Mahal is one of the games that made Reiner Knizia a legend. There are a dozen or two such games, and which you value most will vary from anyone else, but for me Taj Mahal is up there with Lord of the Rings, Tigris & Euphrates, Rheinländer and Through the Desert as legendary games from the master. Others will value Amun-Re, Ra or Modern Art more, but in any case you can see this game's astonishing pedigree.



At this point I'll tell you about the game's theme, but the best I can say is "there's a taj mahal in it". In fact, BGG has the built-in: bluetaj: browntaj: graytaj: maroontaj: tantaj: whitetaj:. However, having been to the Taj Mahal in Agra, I can see no correlation between what's there and what's in this game. So instead of claiming that the game has any meaningful theme, let me say it's an auction game where you place taj mahals on a map. My Hindi-speaking wife tells me that "taj mahal" literally means something like "big building which is a crowning glory", so is we assume that it refers to all grand buildings in Northern India, maybe it makes sense.



The game takes place over 12 rounds, one for each region on the map. Each round is just an auction, so there are 12 auctions. By the way, I hate auction games. This one's different.



There's a deck of cards in 5 suits - pink, yellow, green, purple, and white. Each coloured card has two symbols chosen from yellow lady, green man, orange monk, purple man, elephant and king. Each white card has just one of those symbols. There are also 4 special cards I'll get to below.



To start the game, there are 12 elephant tiles which are placed on the 12 regions. The tiles are numbered 1 to 12, and that's the order in which the auctions for the regions will take place. The region containing Agra is always number 12. In an auction there will be 6 prizes - a yellow lady, a green man, an orange monk, a purple man, the elephant tile, and a king's crown. Yes, they do correspond to the symbols on the cards. Also for each auction there will be 2n-1 cards to be gained, where n is the number of players.

The start player (which role rotates each round) starts the bidding for an auction. When you bid, you MUST play a coloured card and you MAY play one white card with it. You place the cards in front of you, announce the total number of green, yellow, purple, orange, kings and elephants you have, and that's the end of your turn. On a subsequent turn if you wish to add to your bid, the coloured card you play MUST be the same as the coloured cards you have previously played in this auction. If you can't bid, you must withdraw from the auction.

You can always choose to withdraw from an auction instead of bidding. In fact if you withdraw before making any bid at all, you draw a card for free, and that's often a sensible thing to do. Otherwise, when you withdraw, you may claim the prize for any of the prizes for which you're leading the contest. That is, if you've currently bid more green than anyone else, you win the green tile, and same for the other 3 colours. If you've bid more kings than anyone else you win the crown, and if you've bid more elephants than anyone else you win the elephant tile.



The yellow, orange, green and purple tiles also allow you to place a palace on the board on any node in the current region where there is not already a palace. As there are only (usually) 4 of those, it's best to win one of those spots early in the auction if that's what you want. The crown lets you place on of your palaces in the current region, not on a spot but next to it, which counts equally as being on the spot. The elephant tile gives you one or two trade goods. These prizes are taken immediately, which means that if win an auction and place a palace on the board, that palace location is blocked for other players.

Now we're up to scoring. When you place palaces (using the crown or not) on the board, you can score some points. You get 1 point for having a palace in the current region, plus one extra point for each region connected to that region by an unbroken chain of your palaces (following the connecting lines on the board). When win a trade good you score one point for that trade good plus one point for each other trade good of that type you've already won. Sometimes when you build a palace in a spot which is bad for making connections, there will be a tile there which gives you a bonus 2 points, or a card, or a trade good. The king's crowned palace can not claim this tile. This is a brilliant design element, as it encourages people who aren't competing for palace connection points to stay out of the way of those who are.

After you've withdrawn from the auction and claimed your rewards or not - yes, getting nothing can happen - you choose 2 cards from 2n-1 on display. This means that the last player, who won every remaining prize he had a bid on, only gets one card. And then we start the next round.



Now, remember the green, yellow, purple and orange tiles you were bidding for? If at the end of a round you have two of them, you must trade them in and instead get a special card corresponding to that colour. These are white cards, and must be played as white cards. The yellow lady card says "you get 2 points right now!". This is a very valued card, but there's an opportunity cost in that you can't play another white card with her and you may fall behind in an auction because of it. The purple card is just one elephant, the green card is one king, and the orange card says "the coloured card you play this white card with is allowed to be the wrong colour!". These cards slightly orient the suits towards being better suited to different strategies, a subtlety which I have not yet incorporated into my gameplay. The best thing about these cards is that at the end of the auction after you've played them you get them back into your hand... until someone else gathers the two tokens to take them from you.

And thus play proceeds through 12 rounds. In the Agra region, the last, there are 5 places for palaces. One of them gets a +4 points marker. As at this stage of the game the connection points players and the trade goods players are battling for big points, 4 points is an only fair bonus for anyone who can afford to defect from the competition.

There are two final bonuses at the end of the game. For each white card remaining in your hand, you get 1 point. For the colour you have most cards of in your hand, you get 1 point per card. If you've been abstemious throughout the game you can collect a decent swag of points from those bonuses as well.



Enough rules! Why is this such an awesome game? Well, I like it because rewards experience, thought and strategy. This game will reward as much thought as you can throw at it. For example, I'll look at the board at the start of the game and consider what order the auctions will happen in. Say the left hand column of regions are numbers 1, 8 and 10. This is a good game in which to pursue a connection strategy on the right hand side of the board. I would then sit out the first auction (gaining 3 cards), and the 8th and the 10th (gaining 3 more cards each time). For the 11th and 12th auctions I'll have a fistful of cards to be able to outlast most determined opponents.

In particular, when I'm sitting out a turn I'll be ensuring that I draw white cards, to be able to bid higher sooner, cards that match what I have in my hand, to be able to last longer in tied auctions, and kings, to ensure that I can occasionally win a crown to be able to link together my network of connections more effectively. And I will particularly not be entering into an auction if I don't know what I want to win, or don't think I can win anything.

If I had the memory and the stamina, I'd also be looking at which cards my opponents are drawing. If someone takes elephants, there's not much point competing with them for the trade goods. A card with two different coloured people is much more likely to win you at least one thing.

For a game that really only goes for about an hour, there's a lot to think about here. Players can evolve from the "let's see if I can win something" type to the "I know what I'm going to win and I know when I'm going to do it" type. There's always more to learn. And that's why I love Taj Mahal.



Thank you to all of the BGGers who unwittingly supplied images for this review. Please go give them thumbs.
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Kirk Thomas
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Very nice review! Absolutely a classic game.
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Ken Dilloo
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Bothell
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Everything is relative to perception, and your perception is limited.
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The Ginger Ninja
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Hey, I recognize that last pic! Great review. This is the game that hooked me on the hobby. It will always hold a special place in my collection.
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Bill Eldard
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Though, being an older game, it rarely gets to the table in our group anymore, Taj Mahal remains my favorite Euro-game, and IMHO, Knizia's best design.
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Erin Sparks
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One of my few 10s. Not terribly complicated rules but lots of tough decisions.
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Eric Brosius
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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I love this game too. It has tension few Euros can match.

I often complain about the fact that Knizia has jumped the shark, but the other side is that my favorite game is Medici and my second favorite game is Taj Mahal. (I rate Lost Cities a '10' as well.) When he was at his peak, he was terrific.
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Jim Cote
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Friendless wrote:
Now, remember the green, yellow, purple and orange tiles you were bidding for? If at the end of a round you have two of them, you must trade them in and instead get a special card corresponding to that colour.

I love how the fight for the special cards quickly becomes asymmetric. If, for example, 2 players already have Princess tiles but no one has any Monk tiles, then you know that if you win the Princess card that you will likely lose it sooner than the Monk card.
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John Farrell
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bigloo33 wrote:
Hey, I recognize that last pic!


It didn't really fit into my review, but it was too good to leave out.
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Joe Gola
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One of the rare games that is fun and engaging on a tactical level, a strategic level, and an interpersonal level. A 10 for me.
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Ik ben een kleine boefje
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Madrid
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2006/2011 (Amsterdam - Maastricht - Apeldoorn - Den Haag -Delft) Vijf jaar dat ik ga nooit vergeten.
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Yep, it is a fantastic classic eurogame. Knizia´s best IMHO.
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Martin G
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Don't fall in love with me yet, we only recently met
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Re-use them.
 
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Wendy McILroy
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Point Roberts
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A most enjoyable read, thank you. Knizia will always be my fav game designer even though Stefan and Ewe are kings of the gaming world at present,(and rightfully deserved!) I just wish I could get my family to play Taj Mahal more often. On Mother's Day if I'm awarded an afternoon of boardgaming with no complaining you can bet this is first to hit the table!..
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Christopher Dearlove
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Chelmsford
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SoRCon 11 23-25 Feb 2018 Basildon UK http://www.sorcon.co.uk
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Wendy wrote:
Stefan and Ewe are kings of the gaming world at present


Look at Vlaada's range. Who else has done an equivalent of from Codenames to Mage Knight via Galaxy Trucker, Dungeon Lords and Through the Ages?

(I'm not actually keen on all of those, but that's not the point. All highly rated and as I note, over a range I'm not sure I can place an equal to.)
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