TAJ is a two- to four-player strategy game from designer Chris Handy. It works with ages 12 and up and takes about 10 minutes to play.
TAJ is part of Perpext Games’ Pack O Game, a set of eight games, each about the size of a small pack of chewing gum. It’s $6, or it can be purchased with the set and a pod to carry the games in for $50 from the company’s website. You can read my review of HUE, another of the games in the series.
In TAJ, players are rug collectors trying to put their rugs on display in the Taj Mahal.
How it works:
The 10 rug cards are placed randomly in a line, with the Taj Mahal over the three in the center. (There will be one rug that is offset.)
Each rug has three colors. The center color is worth three points, the next is worth two, and the outside is worth one. The colors are also accompanied by symbols, so colorblind players can also participate.
Players are given a card that tells how they will get — and lose — points at the end of the game based on the colors of the three rugs under the Taj Mahal. One color will be multiplied by two, one will receive its regular points, and one color will give negative points.
The first player pulls down two rugs, the positions of which she would like to switch.
All the players use a voting card to approve or not. The vote is tallied. If the majority agrees, the rugs are swapped. If the majority disagrees, the rugs stay in their current locations and the rug farthest from the Taj Mahal is removed from the game.
Either way, the rugs are rotated so the Curator’s Eye symbol on the rug is up, marking that the rug has been looked at.
Unanimous votes have additional effects, as do using an “All” or “Nix” voting card, each of which can be used only once during the game.
The game ends when all the rugs have the Curator’s Eye symbol turned up or there are five rugs left on the table.
The score is calculated, and the player with the most points wins.
Why you might buy TAJ:
TAJ is a unique game. The voting requires reading the other players at the table, trying to determine if they really want the changes they’re proposing or if they’re bluffing to try to get information from the other players.
The game is quick, and the art is beautiful.
It’s tiny, so you can put it in a purse, or even a pocket.
Three players seems like a sweet spot for the game. There’s enough time for each player to get a couple of turns, and it’s easier to get a majority vote than it is in a two-player game.
The strategy has some surprising subtleties. Revealing what you want too early will likely make you lose the game, but if you don’t get your rugs where you need them, the game can end too quickly for you to recover.
Every decision matters a lot. One mistake can throw the game. That seems appropriate in such a short game.
Because every player votes every turn, players are always engaged, even when it’s not their turn.
Why you might not buy TAJ:
The game is easy to teach, but what you need to do isn’t intuitive. It will take a few plays to understand what’s happening.
The order the cards comes out largely determines how difficult it will be to get the points you need. If someone suspects you need a card at the end of the line of rugs, they can get it removed from the game before you have a chance to move it out of danger.
With four players, the last player can be at a disadvantage, since the game can end before he gets a chance to take more than a couple of turns.
With two players, the “All/Nix” card, which a player can use only once during the game to force a majority vote, becomes extremely important. Using it too soon will likely cost the game.
I like TAJ, especially with three players.
But those players need to be patient with the game. It doesn’t grab you. People aren’t likely to say, “Let’s play again!” like they will with lighter games.
Because it’s small, cute, and short, people expect the game to be easy. You need to make sure people understand this is a game that requires a lot of thought.
The mix of luck and strategy in the game is a bit problematic. Generally, games with as much strategy and bluffing as TAJ has use less of the luck factor.
The card that determines the points you’ll get at the end will determine every move you make. And some combinations are just easier to work toward than others. You’ll have to decide if you can live with that. I can, because the game is so short.
If TAJ intrigues you, $6 is likely worth the investment.
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of TAJ from Perplext Games. I was not required to write a positive review. These are my honest opinions.