That coveted Spiel des Jahres pawn. For some it signals the pinnacle of gaming awesomeness. For others it signals simple games for the uninitiated, something one puts behind oneself once one becomes more mature. (One, one, one.) Regardless of how you feel about the red pawn, publishers welcome it as they might Oprah’s imprimatur on books, because many customers have come to rely on the belaureled red pawn as a symbol of what to buy after Settlers of Catan.
Indeed, once I got more into gaming, the Spiel des Jahres award was my guide for what to try next. I’ve loved most of my interactions with Spiel des Jahres-winning games. So how does Thurn and Taxis, which won the award in 2006, stack up against others? Find out below!
How It Works
Thurn and Taxis is a route playing and scoring game for 2-4 players. The goal of Thurn and Taxis is to score the most points through the clever placement of postal offices in Germany and the surrounding countries.
A player’s turn consists of three phases: 1) draw a destination card, 2) play a destination card as part of a route, 3) score your route (optional). Players may also invoke one special ability per turn: drawing an extra card, playing an extra card, discarding and refilling the draw display, or taking a higher cart than a player would otherwise be entitled to.
A player’s first move is to draw a card. Cards may be drawn either from the deck or from the display of six cards. Then a player must play a card. Cards must be played at either end of the route and must connect to the city the card is played next to. If a player has no connecting destination cards, the player must discard his route without scoring it and start a new one.
After playing a card, the player has the option to score his route. Only routes that are at least three cards long may be scored. Each card has a color corresponding to its region on the game board map, and the scoring player may choose to either 1) place one postal office in each route destination of a single color, or 2) place one postal office in each destination color represented in his route. After placing postal offices, a player may take the next cart (if he is enitled to) and any other bonus victory point chits and play passes to the left.
The carts in the game range from 3 to 7. A player is entitled to take carts in order from 3 to 7 based on the number of cards in a scored route. (For example, three cards earns the the 3 cart. But carts must be gained in order, so a player’s first scored route gets the 3 card regardless of the size. The next cart gained must be the 4, and so on.) These carts are worth victory points at the end of the game.
Players also earn victory points by placing postal offices in all the cities of a region. The VP chits are stacked in descending order, so it behooves players to place their offices before the other players. There are also VP chits (in descending value) for five-, six-, and seven-card routes, beyond the usual carts.
The game ends after the round when either one player earns the 7 cart or one player places his last postal office. The first player to do so gets one bonus point, and players count their VPs. The player with the most points wins.
Thurn and Taxis is as simple as it sounds, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The game offers some good tension and tough decisions all within a ruleset that can be explained within minutes. And the board is an old-timey map of Germany, which is awesome.
I like that Thurn and Taxis, like most other Spiel des Jahres winners I’ve played, can be played and enjoyed by newbies, but has a depth that makes it fun for experienced players as well. For example, new players tend to play it safe, only choosing and playing destination cards that definitely connect to the route they are making. They also tend to play the game nicely. More experienced players might press their luck a little more. There’s more risk involved for the potential of greater rewards. There is also the option to choose cards from the display that don’t directly benefit a player in order to keep other players from getting them. Lodz, Poland, is an example. By withholding this card, a player can prevent others from completing the “aus Bayern” points, which rewards a player for getting one postal office in each of the colored regions outside Bavaria. This isn’t something newbies typically think about, but it can be done and usually is done by players who are more familiar with the game.
I like the push-your-luck element of scoring routes. You can only score routes after you’ve played a card, so you have to decide: do you score a route now or risk losing the points in the next round in pursuit of even more points? It can be a tough decision sometimes, at least if you are not playing cautiously. I also really like the scoring decision, that a player may only place all offices in one color or one in each color. With the exception of Bavaria, all scoring areas involve two colors in order to receive the scoring chit for that area. Thus, it’s impossible (again, Bavaria excluded) to fill a single scoring area in a turn.
The player interaction in Thurn and Taxis is subtle, more like a normal car race than Mario Kart. There’s not a lot that players can do to intentionally harm their opponents, but they can get the bonus chits first. All this to say, this isn’t quite multiplayer solitaire, but it might feel like it at times.
There’s a lot to like in Thurn and Taxis, and while I do enjoy the game, it has lost some of its luster through repeated plays. The game begins to feel the same after a while. While the order of the cards coming out changes each game, the basic strategy doesn’t change much. Players must work with the cards they are given, but there isn’t much to differentiate one game from another. Also, the theme is dry and doesn’t usually get players excited. While I like looking at the old map, I know this is a turn-off for some others. And really, postal routes in Germany? More novel than Mediterranean trading, perhaps, but it’s not exactly a recipe for enthusiastic gamers.
In sum, Thurn and Taxis isn’t a bad game. It provides interesting decisions and is easy to teach. It falls firmly into the “gateway” category for me, and while that will be exactly what other people (possibly those shopping for Spiel des Jahres titles or for specifically family-oriented games) are looking for, it isn’t one that I’m anxious to replay over and over…unlike some other SdJ winners (Ticket to Ride, Dominion, and El Grande come readily to mind), which in my case, at least, have retained their depth and interest longer.