Tuesday, June 14, 2016

TAJ is a remarkably complicated Rug of War

TAJ is possibly the most complicated and intricate game of the first series of pack of games. Note that I didn't say it was one of the best games or the deepest game.

A Rug of War, TAJ is about moving oriental rugs about in order to manipulate their prices. Everyone has a secret goal card, letting them know which colors on the rugs will earn them points. 

Like every game in the Pack O Game series, Taj consists of thirty skinny little cards. The whole game looks like a pack of gum, hence the sales pitch. In TAJ's case, the cards come in a bunch of varieties.

There are two voting cards for every player, a regular yea/nay card and a special, one-time override card. There are ten rug cards. Each one shows three colors with a value of one to three for each color. The rugs also have eyes on one end, to mark that they've been appraised. There are ten secret goal cards, showing three colors. One color will be worth x2, one x1, and one x-1. Finally, there is the Taj Mahal card. It is an image of the Taj Mahal long ways on each side with a plus one on different ends.

All 10 of the rug cards are placed in the eyes facing down. The Taj Mahal card is placed above the row, which means it will be above three rugs. When the game ends, only the rugs below the Taj Majal will score points.

On a player's turn, they will propose to switch two rugs. Everyone then vote on whether or not to swap those two rugs. If the yea's win, the rugs swap. If the nays win the vote, there is no swap and the rug farthest from the Taj Mahal is removed from the game. Yes, even if it wasn't one of the two rugs proposed for swapping. No matter what, the rugs that were proposed get rotated so the eyes are on top.

If the vote is unanimous either way, the active player must either move the Taj Mahal one space or flip it over so the plus one is on the other end. As I've already mentioned, every player gets a one time use override card which forces the vote to be unanimous.

When there are either only five rugs left or every rug has been turned so the eye is on top, the game ends. Only the rugs under the Taj Mahal count for scoring and the value for each color is added up with a plus one for whichever rug is under the plus one and of the Taj Mahal. And the high score wins.

With an estimated playing time of ten minutes.

Honestly, TAJ has a number of strikes against it. For one thing, my primary gaming group is my wife and two is clearly TAJ's weakest number of players. For another thing, teaching it could take as long as playing it, which is not desirable in what is intrinsically a travel game.

However, the biggest problem with TAJ is that it is too intricate for its playing time and for what you get out of it. The rules aren't intuitive and the decisions are opaque, particularly in the early game. Which wouldn't be so bad in a longer game where elements have time to develop but it's frustrating in a game this short. Too much of the game is spent taking care of the moving parts.

You know, I'm someone who is always on the lookout for micro games that offer some real depth and legitimate tough decisions. So it feels weird knocking TAJ for being too complex. However, complex doesn't necessarily translate to depth. I feel that both GEM and BUS, also in Pack of Game, offer some real depth to their play time and they are much easier to teach.

I don't dislike TAJ, although it probably sounds like I do. It's just that it hasn't delivered the way that the other games that I've played in the series have. I do hope to keep on playing it and seeing if it has hidden virtues. It is staying in my travel library.

TAJ is a legitimately ambitious and unusual game. It has some interesting ideas. However, I think the sheer number of moving parts overcomes the gameplay. At the same time, I have seen a lot of micro games that try and get away with being so simple they offer no actual choices. TAJ is brave to err on the other side of that equation.


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