Thurn and Taxis, by Rio Grande Games, is a very interesting game. In this game, each player is trying to build a competing postal system in Bavaria (which is now a southeast German state) in the 17th century when travel relied on (horse-drawn) carriages. In order to do this, she must build post offices in as many of the 22 major cities as she is able to, before someone else builds her 20th, and last, post office or acquires a carriage worth 7 points (which will be the 17th carriage acquired in the game). Like Ticket to Ride and Camelot, the Build, the game is very easy to learn, and the basic rules can be picked up by a new player in just a few minutes. But also like both of these games, mastery is considerably more difficult as your options depend not only on the cards available to you but what your opponents choose to do as well.
In Thurn and Taxis, you are trying to build post offices that establish a postal system, and you do so by building postal routes of three or more cities. When you have a route of 3 or more cities, you may close the route and place post offices in every city on the route that is contained in one province or in one city from every province that is covered by the route. A “good” route, when closed, will allow you to place a post office in every city on the route, but a “poor” route will only let you place post offices in some of the cities. Furthermore, the identification of the “right” route is hampered by the fact that the first player to build a post office in every city in a province gets a high score for doing so, the first player to build a post office in every province gets a high score for doing so, the first player to close a route of length 5, 6, and 7 also gets a high score for doing so, and the player to trigger the game end condition gets an additional 1 point. (Subsequent players to do the same score less.) Not only do you have to build routes, like in Ticket to Ride, but you have to build effective routes. Furthermore, to add an extra level of complexity, once you begin to build a route you must add to the route on every turn (until you close it) or you lose the route. (If you have a route of 6 you can close but decide to go for the route of length 7 for the biggest bonus, and you aren’t able to extend it in your next turn, your gamble could cost you everything, and anywhere between 3 and 6 turns of effort will vanish.)
The rules of Thurn and Taxi are easily summed up as follows. On her turn, a player, who can only use the special ability of one of the four postal officials (Administrator, PostMaster, Postal Carrier, and Cartwright) on her turn, will:
- Optionally use the special ability of the Administrator to replace the six cards available to him to build a route.
- Add a city card to her hand, and, optionally (unless it is the player’s first turn, then she must), use the special ability of the PostMaster to add a second city card to her hand.
- Play a city card from her hand to create a new, or add to an existing, route, and, optionally, use the Postal Carrier to play a second city card to her route.
If she has no cards in play, or cannot add to an existing route, she starts a new route and the previous route, if there was one, is discarded.
- If the route is of length 3 or more, close and score her current route (by placing post offices and collecting any bonus tiles and/or carriages earned) and, optionally, use the Cartwright to acquire a carriage that is associated with a route up to two cities longer than the route she closed. If the player has more than three cards in her hand when she closes a route, she must discard down to three cards.
The only other rule is that the carriages must be acquired in value order, even if a player closes a longer route. (And that is why the first carriage of value 7, for a route of length 7, will always be the 17th carriage acquired.)
It’s simple, but just like in real supply chains, timing is everything. It mimics some of the intricacies and complexities of trying to coordinate shipments through multiple cross-docks and stops across multiple carriers. With capacity tight, do you try to acquire extra options (by taking a second city card) to guarantee capacity later? When you have extra capacity, do you expedite some goods (by playing a second city card) in the hopes of preventing inventory build-ups and storefront stock-outs later? If your current options look less-than promising, do you instead focus efforts on finding new options (by wiping the board and turning up six new city cards) instead of trying to develop your current options? Or, do you maximize the one option available to you and give a marquis customer better than expected service in exchange for goodwill and quicker payment (by using the ability of the Cartwright to score more). Like Ticket to Ride and Camelot, the Build, this game can also be played during lunch-hour and also exercises your strategic thinking, because each opponent is trying to do what’s best for them, and in doing so might undermine your best efforts (just like a competitor can swoop in and tie up all remaining capacity on a lane if you don’t get the paperwork in before them).
Plus, the base game supports a couple of expansions, including All Roads Lead to Rome which includes two mini-expansions to the game that give you even more options to balance. In the mini “Offices of Honor” expansion, nothing changes in the base gameplay but if a player balances her usage of the different postal staff members, she will occasionally get extra help. Each time a player uses a postal staff member, she gets a token indicating her use thereof. When the tokens for a particular staff member run out, each player must turn in 1 to 4 different tiles to the supply. If a player returns 2 different tiles, she gets to take an extra face-up city card. If a player returns 3 different tiles, she gets a victory point. And if a player returns a set of 4 different tiles, she may place one of her post offices anywhere on the game board, even if such placement triggers the generation of victory points in her favour. (In real life, if you use each of your carriers for routes and modes they are best at, and use them wisely, your on-time delivery percentage shoots up.)
In “The Audience”, in addition to having to build postal routes, you are also transporting 5 clergymen to attend an audience with the Pope in 5 different carriages. When a route is closed, for each city card in the close route in which a post office was not built, the corresponding carriage transporting a clergyman is moved one city closer to Rome. Your goal is to not only get your clergymen to Rome, but get them their in the right order. The ministrant should arrive before the priest who should arrive before the deacon who should arrive before the bishop who should arrive before the cardinals. Sounds easy, but your clergyman share a carriage with one clergyman of each other player, and you don’t know which clergyman the other players have assigned to each carriage. In other words, while you are trying to advance a particular carriage to get your ministrant there first, the other player is trying to hold it back because it contains her cardinal whom she wants to get there last. So the choice of routes gets even more strategic because if you build a route that ends up advancing the carriage with your cardinal and bishop too fast, you’re not going to score many bonus points at the end of the game. This expansion serves to add another element of randomness to the game, just like unexpected disruptions add another element of randomness to logistics planning.
It’s a good, simple, logistics-themed game to play when you have a lunch hour to spare.