Gaming Unplugged: Thurn and Taxis

August 28, 2010

Modern strategy games can make a game out of just about any theme you could imagine. Farming, virulent outbreaks, colonial settlements, electric grid management… the list goes on. So it should come as little surprise when you learn that Thurn and Taxis is about setting up a postal carriage service in 16th-century Bavaria and its surroundings. 

Thurn and Taxis, designed in 2006 by Andreas Seyfarth (the creator of the top-rated Puerto Rico, among other titles) and his wife Karyn, earned several awards in 2006-7, including the prestigious 2006 Spiel des Jahres. 

The board consists of twenty-two cities connected by a network of roads and spread over nine color-coded regions. Each city is represented in the deck by three cards; six of these cards are arranged face-up as options for your mandatory draw each turn (or you could take a gamble with the top card of the deck, sight unseen). You must then place one card from your hand either on one end of your current route (towns must be connected by a road and the route cannot cross itself) or on a new route (trashing any previous route you may have at the time). Finally, you may then close your current route (if it is at least three cities long) and set up offices along it in one of two ways: 1) place in office all cities within a single region of the route; or 2) place one office in a city of each region spanned by the route. After closing a route discard down to three cards in your hand. If you close a region of sufficient length, starting at three cities and working up to seven, you may upgrade your carriage house one level.

In addition to the unique office placement rules, Thurn and Taxis also makes one of four special abilities, represented by various post office personnel, available on each turn: the cartwright allows you to virtually extend your current route by two cities for the purposes of upgrading your carriage house (the route must still be at least three actual adjacent cities); the postal carrier allows you to place two cards on to your current route (on either end); the administrator allows you to discard all six of the face-up cards and replace them with new ones before you draw for the turn; and finally there is the postmaster, who allows you to draw two cards in the same turn — and which must be selected if you begin the turn with no cards in hand, such as on each player’s first turn.

The game ends at the end of the round in which at least one player either obtains his fifth carriage house or places his last office; the highest carriage house obtained by each player is the only one scored. Setting up an office in each city within a region (or within two smaller neighboring regions) earns bonus points, as does having at least one office in each region. Additional points can be awarded by completing routes of certain lengths. All of these bonus points decrease in value as subsequent players earn them, rewarding those who can accomplish the various challenges with speed. There is also one final bonus point awarded to the player who first achieves a game-ending condition. Unplaced offices are then deducted from your total — a potentially harsh penalty if you’re not ready for the game to end — and whoever has the highest score wins. 

What makes Thurn and Taxis fun to play are all of the strategic choices at every turn. Which power will help you the most? Do you want to close your route now or try to extend it another turn for additional points and offices?Can you even extend your route with any of the cards available to you… and will those cards still be there by the time you get to draw them? What’s the most efficient way to score this route that contains two cities in three different regions? Careful use of the various powers usually helps to mitigate the luck factor in not drawing any useable cards, but trashing a route does still happen from time to time. 

A typical game of Thurn and Taxis will last from 45 minutes to an hour, and is best with three or four players (two is also supported) of ages 10 and up. Copies can usually be picked up for under $30 at gaming stores, or for under $25 on Amazon.