Monday, January 17, 2011

Miscellany: Thurn and Taxis review

American board games are zero-sum, dog-eat-dog affairs, in that what helps you also hurts your opponents. Whether it's ambushing people with hotels in "Monopoly," knocking someone's butt back to start in "Sorry," or sadistically making them "Draw Four" in "Uno," players are expected to hinder and attack each other in American games. European board games, on the other hand, mostly eschew cutthroat competition. A perfect example of this passive sensibility is "Thurn and Taxis," a board game designed by Andreas Seyfarth.

T&T's theme is the Renaissance-era Bavarian postal system(!). In the game, players build postal networks across Europe, choosing and playing various city cards that represent stations along the postal routes. On each turn, players choose a role that gives them a special privilege (a wrinkle borrowed from Seyfarth's masterpiece, "Puerto Rico"): taking an extra card, laying down an extra postal station, etc. Victory points (VPs) are earned for building routes of specific lengths, or for having postal networks that span the territories in the game (if your network covers, say, every city in Switzerland, you get VPs for the feat).

Like most of these European board games, the physical game components are top-notch. You get a deck of plastic-coated city cards, real wooden houses that represent your postal stations, and even an insert that describes the real life House of Thurn and Taxis. I was particularly impressed by the board; it's made of heavy cardboard stock and features a neat map of 16th century Bavaria:

The biggest problem with "Thurn and Taxis" is, ironically, the lack of player interaction. Though the turn-to-turn gameplay is fun because of Seyfarth's signature role-choosing mechanic, it's nearly impossible to actually interfere with another player's route. For that reason, T&T often feels like multiplayer solitaire; building a postal network and collecting VPs isn't terribly complicated, and you're essentially just racing the other players to the finish. Depending on your tastes, this may not be a big issue, but I found the game a bit boring. Competition might be messy and acrimonious, but at least it's interesting.


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