Maharaja: Palace Building in India
Sophie, Noah, and I played our first game of Maharaja: Palace Building in India. Raja is an excellent Wolfgang Kramer/Michael Kiesling offering from 2004.
The game covers an indeterminate number of rounds but ends when a player builds their last palace or when scoring has taken place in the city where the governor is sitting on the 10th position of the governor's track. The board contains 7 cities connected by a network of roads containing one or two villages. Your colored wooden pawn represents an architect that is attempting to build palaces and houses in the region. Your architect travels around the board by traversing the roads that connect the cities and at times you must pay gold coins for their movement.
Each player has an action selection wheel and all players choose their two actions simultaneously. Each player also possesses a role card (from a pool of 6 cards - for the basic game, 7 for the advanced game). Players take turns in the order determined by the number of their role card. On your turn you may build houses in villages (required to travel on the road) or in cities, build palaces on one of the 7 locations in the city (your architect must be present to build anything in a city), move houses, move houses from the quarry to your pool, take gold, modify the order of the governors on the governor track, and take another player's role card (giving yours to the bank and forcing the other player to take a replacement role card from the bank).
Role cards not only determine turn order but they also grant the holder a special privilege. For example, if you hold the #4 Travelling Monk role card, you can travel the roads for free but any fees that you would have incurred are still paid but instead by the bank.
After each round of turns, the city where the Maharaja sits (the large black pawn) is scored for gold coins. Palaces, cities, and your architect can earn you points and the gold payouts come on a graduated scale for 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on. If you don't make any points in the city you get no gold for that round.
After each round, the governor chips are adjusted and the Maharaja is moved to the next city where scoring will take place (indicated by the governor at the top of the track). The governor at the bottom of the track indicates where scoring will take place after the current round of scoring but you must be careful not to depend on that too much since one of the actions can adjust which city will be scored after the current round.
I liked my first game of Raja but didn't really get the full effect of the tactics and strategy as expected. I really think the game will change dramatically with more players and in a good way. I now know that you have to be careful to not depend on where houses are in the villages since players can move them during their turn severing your ability to move in some situations. Going earlier in the round can be advantageous at times but so can going later. Stealing a role card and moving the governors on the track can be very advantageous but also costly if you're a little behind in the current scoring.
The game requires you to make many agonizing decisions and wonderfully captures what I like about Himalaya in that you have to try to predict what other players will do and in what order so that your plans aren't thwarted. I like being able to play in two different ways by playing in the 'now' working towards the current scoring round or playing in the 'tomorrow' by leaving behind a legacy of points in the hopes of building a good base for a subsequent scoring round. Add to that the fact that some cities will come around a second time in the game and it's crucial to leave behind a legacy of points so that you can build on them later in the game.