September 15, 2004

Session Report for September 2, 2004

by Susan Rozmiarek

I had to attend a meeting at my son’s school so I missed the first games of the evening. A pity, as the meeting turned out to be an utter waste of time. As a result, I only got to play two games tonight.


Taj Mahal

Marty suggested this old favorite and I certainly didn’t need any arm-twisting. This game completely “wowed” me back in my early days of discovering “German” games. While the shine has dulled a little bit, I still enjoy the game a lot. Too bad it had been so long since it hit the table. I had forgotten a lot of the minor rules details and I had to keep asking for reminders.

This game has always felt like I was playing two separate games at the same time – a poker–like card game and a board game of positioning. I never really was able to mentally connect the two very successfully. Well, it finally clicked. Instead of getting greedy and allowing myself to get sucked into fierce card battles that depleted my hand, I paid close attention to what I was trying to accomplish on the board. This time I looked ahead as the game went along and chose in which regions I either wanted first palace placement or the province tile. I then stayed out of some battles and hoarded cards for the ones that were more important to me. This strategy proved much more effective than the loose cannon strategy of my previous games. People often comment that whoever gets the most elephants wins the game, but that wasn’t the case here. Elephant victories were spread out amongst us and didn’t dominate the scoring completely as they can in some games.

Results: Susan 42, Mike 41, Marty 35, Adam 31, Mark 29 Woohoo! I pipped Mike!

Mike, Adam, Marty, Susan and Mark play Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal board late in the game.

Station Master

This is a new game from Mayfair, which appears to be in same economical line as the new edition of Modern Art in a small box and with serviceable, but not flashy components. The cards are of pretty good quality, which is most important, although the art is a bit on the bland side.

This is a quick and simple game of bluffing with a train theme. The cards are sorted into two piles, with Engine cards in one pile and Station Master cards - carriage and special cards - in the other. Players each have a set of tokens (small poker chips) with a number from 1-3 on each, representing passengers. They also start with a hand of three Station Master cards.

At the start of the game, a number of Engine cards are laid out on the table. Each card has a number on it that represents both the number of passenger tokens it can hold and the number of carriages it can pull. On a player’s turn, he can either add a facedown passenger token to an Engine card, add a carriage card to an Engine, or play a Special card. Carriage cards have a negative or positive value on them. Special cards do numerous things, such as shuffling passengers and carriages around, and change the train’s scoring, to name a few. They add some flavor, but also much chaos to the game.

Once a train has the maximum number of carriages, it “leaves the station” and is scored. The numbers on the carriages are added up to get the train’s value. The passenger tokens are revealed and the players add up the values on their tokens and multiply by the train’s value to get a score from that train. New Engine cards replace the old as they leave the station and the game ends when the last train is scored. The player with the highest total wins the game.

We played the game with lightning speed, so much so that as the scorekeeper, I found it hard to keep up. There was quite a bit of bashing on whoever was currently in the lead. I was keeping a running score. Perhaps it would be better to just total it at the end of the game to keep a bit of mystery about who’s leading. Unfortunately, I was in contention with Mike towards the end. Mike played a special card on a train in which I was heavily invested, moving all my passengers to a poor scoring train. This cost me any chance of beating him. I guess he got his revenge for my pipping him in Taj Mahal!

The game reminds me a bit an older Knizia game, Auf Heller und Pfennig, but with even more “take that!” plays due to the numerous Special cards. It has the same feel with the timing of not wanting to commit your tokens too early lest you get hosed by everyone else, yet trying to commit early enough to get in on the high scoring trains. Unlike Auf Heller, there is a bluffing element with the tokens being placed facedown. I like the bluffing, but it would have been nice to have a zero valued token to try and throw people off even more. Nonetheless, with one playing I’d say it was a decent, but not spectacular game. It does handle up to six players and it plays very quickly, making it a good candidate for a lunchtime game.

Results: Mike 251, Jon 200, Mark 193, Doug 184, Susan 155

Doug, Mike, Mark, Jon and Susan try out the new Mayfair game Station Master.

The Station Master cards.

Other games played: Fifth Avenue, Santa Fe Rails, Exxtra, Lost Valley

Mike, Adam, Marty and Mark break in Mike's brand new copy of Fifth Avenue.

Doug, Francesca, Peter, Jon and Ed build railroad lines in Sante Fa Rails.

For more pictures from this gaming session and others, see our Gaming Picture Gallery.

Posted by Susan Rozmiarek at September 15, 2004 7:37 PM

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