Manilla and Thurn & Taxis – Learning the Rules

Noah and I broke out Manilla on Friday night. It’s designed for 3-5 players but we decided to just play a few sample rounds to get a feel for it.

The game is composed of long rectangular board depicting the harbor and shipyards of Manilla (supposedly), three wooden punts that hold a spice board and 3 to 4 pawns, commodity cards in four types of goods. Each turn requires players to bid pesos for the position of harbormaster. Once won, the player loads three of the four goods types onto three punts, places the punts at the beginning of the ‘river’. Players then go through a round of positioning their pawns on the board in hopes of being at that position when the punts end their journey. Different positions have a higher return on investment and therefore cost more.

There are positions in the harbor for those punts that make the complete journey (get to position 13 or above after three rolls of the dice). There are positions in the shipyard for those punts that don’t make it to the harbor, positions for pirates to board or plunder ships that stop on position 13, positions for two types of ‘pilots’ who can aid (or hinder) punts heading up the river, and a position as an insurance agent hoping that most punts will make it to the harbor requiring little to no repairs.

After three rounds of rolling dice, advancing punts, and placing pawns, you resolve the pay outs, move commodity values up in the goods chart and begin again auctioning off the position of harbormaster.

Manilla is said to play like the game of ‘Craps’ which I know nothing about but I’ll take their word for it. It appears to be a dice-fest with some light theme thrown in but I can see why some people get into it. Knowing and playing the odds of the dice in conjunction with the thematic addition of pirates and pilots seems like a ball of fun. I’m eager to play a full game with my gaming group to see what their reaction is.

On Saturday night, Sophie and I pulled out Thurn & Taxis, made short work of the rules and played a quick game for two. I’ve read on more than one occasion that Th&T is reminiscent of Ticket to Ride and I can see the resemblance but I must say that it is fleeting.

In Th&T you do build stagecoach postal mail routes across the map but there is very little conflict as there can be in TtR. You cannot directly block another player’s attempt to build a route in Th&T. There are no secret goal cards as in TtR but there is a stack of exposed cards that you can choose to select a card from on your turn. That’s about the extent of the similarities. Yep…that’s about it.

I may seem a little down on the game but in actuality I quite like the game and I’m glad I have it in my collection now. It does fit well as a Gateway game to be introduced to new gamers without fear of chasing them off with complex or confusing rules. It does, however, have enough meat to it to interest heavier gamers. Not much…but just enough.

The board depicts a series of cities, grouped by color-coded counties, connected through a network of roads. Most cities are connected to at least two other adjacent cities. On the side of the board are 6 exposed city cards available to players on their turn. Some counties hold small numbered chips available to each player when they’ve built a mail stop in all of the cities of the county (or pair of counties). Chips are also available to those that build routes of length 5 or greater. In addition, there are chips for other situations allowing players to vie for points as they complete routes. Along the top of the board are stagecoach cards numbered 3 through 7. Player complete routes through the game and attempt to gather each numbered stagecoach (in order, one per player).

A turn is composed of taking one card and playing a card onto the single route you’re building in your play area. Your route cards are laid down in front of you (in a line) and the card you lay must be placed at either end of your route and must represent a city adjacent to the city depicted on the last card of the row (no duplicated allowed). At the end of your turn you can optionally ‘cash in’ your route and position mail stops on the cities from your route.

The positioning of mail stops on the route can take one of two forms: you can either place all of your stops in a single county or you can lay a single stop in each county traversed by your route. It’s this rule that bites you right in the butt when you wish you could do both.

There are also four special powers available to each player and one of them must be used during each turn. One power lets you clear the 6 cards replenishing them from the draw pile (before you take your card). Another lets you take two cards instead of one. A third lets you lay down 2 cards instead of one. The final power lets you add up to two to the length of your ‘cashed in’ route allowing you to take the next higher valued stagecoach card that you wouldn’t normally be able to reach.

The first player who takes the ‘seven’ stagecoach card or builds his last mail stop triggers the end game. The round is played to the end, points are tallied and the player with the highest number wins.

I like the feel of the game but I’m not very fond of the color scheme. It’s difficult to determine which cities are adjacent at a glance and I can imagine the board can get pretty confusing when determining if you have covered all of the cities in the county. Sophie and I played several of the rules incorrectly but we did catch ourselves mid game. We initially missed the rule about decreasing your hand size down to 3 cards every time you cash in a route. No wonder we seemed to be able to stock up a large hand size pretty quickly. We also missed the rule that a route had to be at least 3 cards in size. We did manage to see the rule that requires you to throw your entire route away scoring nothing if you find yourself in the position of not being able to play a valid card on either end of your route. That bit both of us badly during the game.


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