Tajuto is a game from renowned designer Reiner Knizia, in which 2-4 players compete to earn the most points by building pagodas, meditating, and acquiring wisdom. True to form for publisher Super Meeple, the game’s production quality is amazing, but the gameplay has several major issues that drag it down.
Tajuto is a euro-style family game of action selection, in which 2-4 players construct cool, 3D pagodas. The goal of the game is to earn the most victory points, something players accomplish by buying wisdom tiles, accomplishing objectives, and betting on which pagodas will be completed.
At the start of the game, all 48 building pieces are placed in a draw bag and mixed around. When players reach in the bag, they will be able to feel the relative size of pieces, but they won’t know which color they will draw.
The game is played on a central board consisting of a tile market, a meditation track (the game’s currency), and spaces for the 8 buildings. Each player starts the game with 8 cubes – 1 in each pagoda color – and 3 action tiles. Throughout the game, players take turns using their tiles to perform actions. The first action each turn is always free, but the second and third ones cost money, if players wish to use them. As the game progresses, players can purchase better tiles, which can help them to maximize their turns.
Tajuto‘s 3 core actions are:
- Draw a pagoda piece from the bag
- Make an offering, by placing a cube atop the pagoda of the same color
- Purchase a tile
When a player draws a pagoda piece, they add it to the board if it fits (that is, if it’s either the first level of a building or the next level up for one that has already been started). In the early game, when few or no pagoda pieces are out, players will obviously want to feel around in the bag for the large, first-level pieces.
When adding a piece, players earn 1 meditation point (i.e. $1) for each level of the pagoda. This means if a player was adding a 4th-level piece, she would earn $4. Additionally, if a newly-placed piece covers a cube, the player earns an extra $2. Placing an offering cube earns the player $2, plus $1 for each level of the pagoda.
The market offers action tiles that are free to use, victory point tiles, and special advantage tiles. The latter either reduce the cost of future purchases or increase the value of point tiles.
Players can also bet on which pagodas will be finished by the end of the game. Next to each building is a tile that costs $8 to purchase and grants 4 points if that pagoda is finished by the end. However, the game ends when the 4th pagoda is completed, so only half of these tiles will award points.
Throughout the the game, players can accomplish objectives, which help to boost their scores. The objective tiles are shown below:
As soon as a player meets the requirements for one of these tiles, he/she can claim it.
Play continues until the 4th pagoda is completed. At this time, the game ends and the player with the most points wins.
I consider Reiner Knizia to be among the greatest game designers ever, but it seems that even he can strike out from time to time. While almost all of his games are fascinating and engaging, Tajuto is a slog to play. Despite looking amazing on the table, this game is rife with issues.
For starters, the first few turns of the game are basically pre-prescribed for the players. Because they start with no money, they will usually be limited to 1 action for the first several rounds. However, since they need money to make progress, and since placing offering cubes tends to be better later in the game, the first few turns usually boil down to “you draw a piece and take $1, I draw a piece and take $1.” It’s a very uninteresting early game.
Then, as things move on, the drawing of pagoda pieces becomes problematic. The physical size difference between the building pieces gets less obvious as the towers get taller, so players have to try to differentiate between small pieces and smaller pieces using their sense of touch. I actually measured it – the size difference between the top 2 pieces of each pagoda is less than a quarter-inch. If players have a keen sense of touch, they may have no problem distinguishing between them, but others will likely become frustrated.
Additionally, since players can only keep 1 pagoda piece between turns, the game can start to feel like the bag-drawing equivalent of Go Fish. If a player spends all their offering cubes early – a reasonable strategy given that doing so can award points – they can get into a situation where they can’t do anything unless they happen to draw a particular piece. In a game I played, my opponent spent 4 turns unsuccessfully fishing for a usable piece, because he had neither the money nor the cubes to do anything else. Needless to say, he quickly got bored and irritated.
Tajuto is a major miss for me, and as a huge Knizia fan, that’s especially unfortunate. I really wanted to like this game, but in practice, I found it to be entirely unfulfilling.
A review copy was provided by Luma Imports.
The Bottom Line
Tajuto is a rare miss from Reiner Knizia. This game looks great on the table, but its gameplay is extremely flawed.