Theme and What is it?
*Note* Copy of the game provided by the publisher for review purposes.
You are one of the Princes seeking to gain control and influence in Northwest India at the beginning of the 18th century. Through a mix of card play and area control you will work to gain the most influence with members of the royal court. With their support you can build palaces, gain goods, and get control of trade routes.
Taj Mahal uses a couple of different methods to help players gather victory points. The principal mechanics revolve around card play. Every player has a hand of cards featuring various colors and court members. Cards featuring one of four colors will represent two different court members and white cards will represent one. On your turn you may play one card of a color and can play one white card with it. Play continues in clockwise order with players either playing cards or withdrawing from the round. When someone withdraws from the round they check to see if they have a majority influence with one or more of the court members gain the benefit with them.
Once players have checked for majorities they get to choose cards from an array, place palaces on the board, and collect other rewards that might be available. All of these pieces are used to set up different things. Getting influence with the court members will give you special bonus cards that remain in your hand even after being played. Building palaces can lead to bonus points for uninterrupted trade routes. Goods can be used to build exponential points scores.
I’ll be honest, I’m leery of Reiner Knizia games. He tends to focus heavily on math and not a lot on theme. Going in to this I was a bit hesitant about the game. However, on opening the box and looking at the rules I felt a bit better about the game. When I sat down to play I was feeling pretty good about what lay ahead of me.
Game Build Quality
This is an exceptionally well done game. I was happy with the pieces and how well everything looked. The plastic parts are very well done, the cards are beautiful and easy to read, and the board looks really good. Every piece of this is sturdy.
There are several pieces that are made from cardboard fitted together. I put the cardboard pieces together and drove to my regular game night. I chucked the box into my car, carried it around willy nilly, and even shook it upside down. The pieces arrived intact.
The rules are very well written and easy to follow. We did have one question about how to claim the Palace bonus space at the end of the games. We were able to put it together and figure out how to play it. It would have been nice if the rules had covered it a little bit more clearly.
I think the art for the game is nice. It’s very colorful and clear. The art on the board is well done. It’s pretty impressive; bright and colorful it made the board very distinct. Each of the regions on the board is colored and patterned to look like scraps of cloth sewn together. The overall look is very distinct and striking.
The type of fun you’re going to have here comes from the interaction with the other players. There is a lot to think about in what you play and when. How many of your cards do you commit to a round? Do you cut your losses in a round or play more and try and win majority with some of the court members. Which cards do you draw from the market? Do you focus on having one or two colors or do you try for specific court members?
One of the worries I had going in was that the game would lend itself to take that play. However, in practice that never happened. While competitive, the game never felt aggressive.
Age Range & Weight
The box says 14+ and I think it’s pretty dead on. The decisions feel a bit too advanced for someone younger but just right for mid-teens.
For weight, I think the game is just on the lighter side of middle. The rules didn’t take more than a couple of rounds to understand and the strategy was pretty easy to work through. After a round or two we had everything just right. That said, the timing on when to do things could lead younger players to get frustrated.
I really like this game. I found the different strategies and paths to victory really fun. There’s a lot going on here. Like I said before, trying to figure out when to stay in on a round and when to bow out is great decision. You can even skip an entire round in order to get an extra card. The one card doesn’t sound like a lot but, you combine that with not having played cards in a round you come out much farther ahead than the other players.
Also important is which one of the court members you’re going after. If you focus on one or two you can build up a collection of cards that point you that way. You can also work towards other goals. Do you want to build a longer road, gather better goods, or work towards gaining special cards? All of these things are viable ways to win. That’s what makes the game work so well.
I had a lot of fun with this game and am adding it to my collection. It’s a lot of fun with good decisions. Our first game rolled in at ninety minutes, which is the outside end of the games length. It was a learning game and I’m that will drop with future plays. With that, the game was remarkably fast. Turns were quick, easy to play, and the game moved at a good clip.
All in all I recommend this game. As always, try before you buy, but if you have a choice between trying this or a different game, I might throw my opinion behind this one.