A majority of the original reviews were submitted by Charles Bahl and Robert Waters...Thanks!!!
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Game: Taj Mahal (Rio Grande Games)
Submitted By: Charles Bahl (The Quake Coast Game Club, San Jose, CA)
I was somewhat disappointed by Taj Mahal, Alea/Rio Grande's latest boardgame by the incredibly prolific designer Reiner Knizia. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that it is a bad game, only that it doesn't contain much that's new. It's more like a variation on the "set collecting" theme that we have seen many times from Knizia. Probably his most famous (and some would say his best) game of this type is Modern Art. Others include Ra and Quandary. (My personal favorite is Quandary; it's the simplest of the bunch, but gets to the heart of the "collecting" theme beautifully and directly.) At any rate, Taj Mahal is a card-based kissin' cousin to all the above games, and although some of its mechanics are different from previous offerings, I found little in it that is strikingly original or particularly compelling.
Without going into all the details of play (complete rules may be found at www.riograndegames.com), the game basically proceeds as a series of 12 short card battles, the goal of each being the collection of bonus tiles, commodity tiles, and the occupation of cities on the game board. Bonus tiles give a player an immediate award of points. Commodity tiles are collected into sets which can increase in value during the course of the game and which can potentially be scored multiple times. The occupation of cities allows players to build up "chains" of provinces connected by roads; these chains score 1 point for each province. Card play can become quite complicated as players must not only decide about what commodities to collect and what cities to occupy, but also must jockey for the right to acquire the best cards for the subsequent card battles.
If you just can't get enough of games of this sort, you will probably enjoy Taj Mahal immensely. If you've never played one (but are interested), you are probably better off buying Modern Art. As for myself, I wish I had not spent my money on a game that was such a rehash of old ideas.