Posted by: gschloesser | August 12, 2011

Thurn und Taxis

Design by:  Andreas & Karen Seyfarth
Publisher:  Rio Grande Games & Hans im Glück
3 – 4 Players, 1 hour
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser  

Arguably the hit of Alan Moon’s Gathering of Friends, Thurn und Taxis from Karen & Andreas Seyfarth has been named as a finalist for the coveted Spiel des Jahre.  Many, if not most, consider it to be the favorite to capture the award.  I will have to agree with that sentiment. 

Set in the infancy of the German postal system, Thurn und Taxis challenges players to construct postal routes across the country.  Longer routes are initially more lucrative, but establishing postal stations in as many provinces and cities as possible is also a profitable goal.  The player who best able to accomplish these tasks shall rise to the German equivalent of Postmaster General and be renowned in letter-carrier lore for posterity. 

The attractive map depicts Deutschland and section of some neighboring countries.  The map is divided into eight provinces, each containing one or more cities.  The cities are connected by various land routes, and it is along these routes that players will build their postal networks. 

Each player receives 20 post offices and a player aid card, which is conveniently printed in both English and German.  Each turn, six city cards will be publicly displayed, and players will draft one or two of these cards into their hands.  The idea is to gather cards whose cities connect, forming a long network. 

A player’s turn is actually quite simple:  grab one or two cards, and play one or two cards.  In spite of the simple mechanics, however, the choices can be challenging.  You see, there are four postal employees offering the player some assistance.  Each turn, a player may request the assistance of ONE of the employees.  The special abilities granted by these characters include drawing an extra card, playing an extra card, clearing the display of city cards, or upgrading one’s postal carriage.  Choosing which character’s power to employ on a particular turn is a critical decision that must be made every turn. 

After selecting a card (or two cards, if the Postmaster’s aid is requested), the player MUST play one of his city cards in front of him (TWO cards if the player invokes the assistance of the Postal Carrier).  This card either begins or extends a route.  Cards played must be placed next to previously played cards, and form a contiguous route; i.e., the cities must be connected by a land route without any branches.  If a player is unable to accomplish this, previously played cards are discarded and a new route is begun.  That is why it is vital to collect cards which are connected.  Relying on luck to draw the needed cards can spell disaster. 

After playing a card, the player may opt to formally establish that route if it contains three or more cities in the network.  Doing so enables the player to place postal stations onto the board.  Again, the player must make a decision: 

1)      Place one postal station in each province of the route on one of the cities located on the route; OR
2)      Place one postal station on each city in the route, but only in ONE province. 

While this may sound a bit confusing, in reality it is easy to visualize and understand.  Players can earn points for completely filling a province with postal stations, so there is incentive to choose option two and place as many stations into a province as possible.  However, players also can earn points by having a presence in seven of the eight provinces, so placing stations in as many different provinces is often beneficial.  The points earned for achieving these results are greater for the first player to achieve these goals, and decline with each succeeding player.  So, there is a race element to the game.  Dilly-dalliers will pay the price! 

When a player establishes a route, he not only collects the point tokens for filling a province and/or establishing a presence in seven of the eight regions, he also may upgrade his carriage based on the length of the route.  Carriages are also worth points, with larger carriages earning more points.  Here, however, the player must progress in sequence.  Further bonus points are earned if the player establishes a lengthy network containing 5 -7 cities.  These bonuses are limited, however, and reward the players who are first to achieve this feat. 

If a player opts to NOT formally complete a route, the card or cards played remain in front of him, and on future turns additional cards will be added to the route.  While longer routes provide handsome profits and bonuses, they also carry the potential risk of failing if a player is unable to select and play city cards which continue the network.  So, a player must make sure he possesses the needed cards, and it is best to keep one’s options open by building routes that provide several possible paths.  Since there is a race element in collecting those bonus tokens, it is often wise to construct shorter routes, perhaps beating an opponent to a particular goal. 

When a player acquires the highest valued carriage – a “7” – the round is completed to assure everyone an equal number of turns.  At that point, the game ends, and players tally the value of their highest carriage and their bonus tokens.  From this, they subtract one point for each unused postal station, so there is a strong incentive to construct routes quickly in order to place those stations.  The player with the greatest total wins the game and rises to the top of the postal hierarchy. 

Andreas Seyfarth – this time teamed with his wife Karen – has done it again.  He has created an entertaining and challenging game, one that is suitable for both gamers and casual play.  The game has positioned itself nicely in his repertoire, falling somewhere between Puerto Rico and Manhattan on the complexity scale.  It forces players to make constant decisions, and offers them numerous paths to pursue.  These decisions are encompassed in a game that is not burdened with complex rules or mechanics that are difficult to understand.  The game is easy to learn and flows smoothly.  Indeed, it appears to have all of the elements that the Spiel des Jahre jury seeks in a game.  That bodes well for its chances.  Even if it does not ultimately capture the award, it is a solid game and worthy of being added to your collection.

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Responses

  1. Thurn and Taxis is easy to learn with nice components and nifty action choices. Conflict is minimal (far less than the similar Ticket to Ride) which makes it a touch bland but also friendlier for newbies. It also bogs in downtime, but Thurn and Taxis is a good choice for recruiting friends to network-building. (6/10)

  2. I like that you must play your cards in order. This makes the game one of planning at least one turn ahead. That alone makes it better than most other connection games. 8/10


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