Taj Mahal Reveiw
Taj Mahal is an oldish game (first released in 2000 I think), designed by Reiner Knizia and first published by Alea, it was the 3rd game in Alea’s big box series of games.
The game is about the control of India at the beginning of the 18th century. Using cards players compete for Influence Points, available from 6 spheres, 12 times in a game. The board is divided into 12 provinces; each province has 4 cities except one, the Agra province (site of the Taj Mahal) that has 5 cities. A network of roads connects the cities. 16 of the 49 cities are fortress cities and have a bonus tile placed randomly face up on them, which can be a commodity (rice, tea, spice or jewels), draw an extra card, +2 Influence points, there is also one +4 Influence points Taj Malah bonus tile which is placed (yep you guessed it) on the Taj Mahal city. A scoring track runs around the out side of the board and in the top right of the board is the court of the Grand Moguls, which displays the 6 spheres of Influence.
There are 12 province tiles; each has a number, 1 to 12, and some amount of commodity. The number 12 tile is placed in the Agra province and the rest are placed randomly face up on the 11 remaining provinces. The provinces are visited just once, in the number order shown on the tiles starting with 1 and ending at 12, the Agra province.
There are 21 cards in 4 different colours (red, yellow, green and violet) and 12 white. The cards can have combinations of 6 different symbols, representing the 6 spheres of influence points, Vizier (political forces), General (military forces), Monk (religious forces), Princess (social forces), Grand Mogul (control of the crown) and Elephant (control of the economy). The cards have no more than 2 symbols and can have 2 of the same symbol. A number of cards (depending on the number of players) are laid face up next to the board and refreshed for each visited province.
On a players turn s/he may play one coloured card from his hand and may also play one white card (white cards can not be played on there own), on subsequent turns the player must play in the same colour as the first card played but only for the time spent in the current active province, when the next province is active (which happens when everybody has withdrawn from the current province and all cards have been discarded) the player can play a different colour. A player may also decide not to play a card and withdraw from the current active province (if they do so without having played a card they get to draw a card from the deck), when they do so they immediately compare the cards they have played with the other players played cards, if they have a majority in any of the symbols they win the influence of that symbol. For Vizier, General, Monk and Princess players get to place one of their palaces on an empty city in the current active province, if they can place a palace on a fortress city they take the bonus tile. For the Grand Mogul, players also get to place one of their palaces in the current active province, but this time it can be placed on any city even if the city already has a palace but it can not take a fortress city bonus tile. The Elephant allows a player to take the current active province tile. After the player has withdrawn and discarded their cards they get to pick up 2 cards form the available face up selection, the last player to withdraw will only be able to pick up 1 card.
Players can score Influence points every time they withdraw, they score one point for placing at least one palace on a city in the current active province but only one point, no matter how many palaces s/he places in the current active province. Players can score extra points for placing a palace on a city that is connected through an uninterrupted line of roads and their own palaces, to other palaces of their own in other provinces but again, this can only happen once per current active province. Players score one point for each commodity they pick up whether it's from the province tiles or from the bonus tiles, if they already have commodities of the same type then they score an extra point for each occurrence. The bonus tiles +2 and +4 also score when they are picked up. Points are also scored at the end of the game for the cards remaining in players hand, one point for each special and white card, and one point per a coloured card of the colour the player has the most in.
Lastly there are 4 special white cards that are played like other white cards but return back to the hand after withdrawing. To get hold of the cards players need to trade 2 of the Vizier, General, Monk, or Princess influence symbols. When a player achieves the 2 symbols they take control of the card even if that means taking it from another players hand. The Vizier will give an extra Grand Mogul symbol card, the General will give an extra Elephant symbol card, the Princess will give an extra +2 influence points when ever played, and finally the Monk special card will allow a player to play a different coloured card to the one currently needed.
Tactics in the game are fairly obvious, try and place palaces to make uninterrupted lines across several provinces, collect the same type of commodities on the provinces and bonus tiles, collect the +2 and +4 bonus tiles and try and get hold of the +2 white card. What make the game is the play of the cards, playing four cards and end up with no points would be a disaster, whilst playing one card and getting half a dozen or so points would be a great result. So it best to try and collect/play cards that no one else is playing whilst playing cards that stop other people getting points
Game play is fairly fast with there being just about the right amount of time, so you can think of what you're going to do next, before it's your turn again, although you can never be totally sure of what you're going to do next until every one else has had their turn. Also the games that I have played in have all been close finishes with just a couple of points in it. A classic Kniza that's very enjoyable to play and a game that I look forward to playing again.