Thurn and Taxis is a surprisingly engrossing game in which players compete to build a postal system across provinces of the Kingdoms of Germany and Bohemia, the Archduchy of Austria, the Swiss Confederation, and Poland. The game is named after the Thurn und Taxis family, whose ancestor Lamoral von Taxis was in 1615 named hereditary Postmaster General by the Holy Roman Emperor.
The game has a distinctly early-nineteenth or late-eighteenth century feel by virtue of the illustrations, which resemble old engraved maps, and the characters and goals.
The game mechanic is straightforward: on his turn, a player
- must add a city card to his hand;
- must play a city card to a route; and
- may close and score a route.
Routes are built by laying down city cards on the table before the player. The routes must be composed of cities (represented by cards) that are connected directly to one another. Cities may be added to either end of a route, but never inserted between two existing cities. If a player is unable to add a city card to an existing route, and cannot score the route, the route must be discarded and a new one begun by placing a city card.
Pretty straightforward so far, right?
Scoring of routes is also reasonably easy to figure out. Routes containing at least 3 city cards may be closed and scored. The player
- Places houses (post offices?)
- Collects bonus tiles (if any)
- Collects a new carriage card if one has been earned
- Discards the city cards on his route and in his hand.
I did find the rules for placement of houses to be a little confusing. When closing a route, the player may opt either to place one house in one city in each province of the route; or may in one province, place one house in each city of the route. The number and location of houses is important both during game play, when players can acquire bonus victory point tiles by placing houses on all cities of a province (or all cities of a grouped pair of provinces), and at the game’s end, when unplaced houses are subtracted from the player’s total victory points.
On his turn, a player may also seek support from one of a quartet of Postal Officials. The Postmaster allows the player to take two cards rather than one from the face-up supply or the face-down deck; the Administrator allows the player to exchange all the cards in the face-up supply for a new batch; the Postal Carrier allows the player to place two cities in his route rather than one; and the Cartwright allows the player, when scoring a route, to acquire the next higher carriage even if his route is one or two cities short. Only one of these special abilities may be used per turn.
The game ends when one player acquires a level seven carriage, or places his final house. Each subsequent player has one final turn, before scoring starts.
Our first three games played fairly briskly, even with a good deal of rule-checking (and patient reiteration of house-placement guidelines. We finally evolved a sort of Three Musketeers mnemonic to help us remember when it came time to score routes: “All in one, or one in each (province).) Thurn and Taxis is not directly confrontational, in that players do not compete to cut one another off from desirable routes or resources. Instead, each player races to acquire valuable points bonuses and to deploy his houses — there is a definite merit to speed and efficiency in this game.
Thurn and Taxis is definitely growing on me. I like the array of options open to the player on every turn, and that the game is an interesting mixture of luck and skill. It’s easy to learn, even for non-gamers. The fact that you can easily get in one or two games in an evening makes it even more appealing to me. (I get up early, and late nights make me cranky.)
Note: According to the Rio Grande Games website, Thurn and Taxis is currently out-of-print. If you can find a German copy (publisher: Hans im Glück), you can certainly still play it, as the game is relatively language-independent. Here’s a link to a PDF file of the Thurn and Taxis Rules — in English — just in case.
- Thurn and Taxis (Rio Grande Games). Currently out-of-print in English.
- Spiel des Jahres Winner 2006
- Karen & Andreas Seyfarth (designers)
- 2-4 players
- Ages 10 and up
- My rating: 8 out of 10