Roman Taxi

Publisher Bucephalus Games
Design Credits Steven McLaughlin, Jeremy Holcomb, Karl Huber, Dan Tibbles
Art Credits Paul “Prof” Herbert, Zannah Aensland, Phil Lacefield, Jr., Dan Tibbles
Game Contents Travel board, Rome board, 160 cards (80 Travel, 57 Passenger, 23 Event), 25 “minute” tokens (20 white, 5 purple), score counters and Taxi tokens in five player colors, 5 reference aids, 5 gold Passenger tokens, rules
Guidelines Roman “Racing” Game
MSRP $29.99
Reviewer Andy Vetromile

“All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?” – Reg, Life of Brian

Rome, to hear it told, was a pretty busy place, what with being the center of western civilization and all. People had loci to go, populus to see, and res to do. That’s where the players of Roman Taxi come in. They’re not the movers and shakers, they’re the ones who get the upper crust to wherever they need to be to do their moving and shaking. They’re Roman chariot taxi drivers.

The object of the game is to make the most points from transporting people around town.

Two to five players start the game with a Passenger card in their chariot – your current client – and a Taxi token. One board shows the town and its surrounding streets, a maze of multicolored spaces flowing between buildings.

"This . . . is the city."

The other is preprinted with rows for cards: Three Travel cards and an Event fit in each one. The big board is seeded with additional Passengers to pick up when the current fare gets out or, if one has the entrepreneurial spirit, to double up one’s chariot occupancy and make better time. Then again, it may just spell twice the failure rate.

Taking turns, players draw a face-up Travel card to make headway through the crowded city streets. Spaces in the road are various colors, and the driver must move to the next space that matches his Travel card’s color. He can turn down side streets if it helps, but U-turns only happen at intersections or with special Travel cards. Passengers are transported to important purple buildings dotting the town, but pulling up to the curb demands a card that matches the space outside your destination. Without one you might end up circling the block, hoping it’s sitting face-up on the board on your next pass. Travel cards don’t replenish until the row is empty, meaning someone has to eventually take the Event card at the end of that line, and these are usually unpleasant for the driver forced to take it.

These snafus pile up. For every turn a fare rides in a chariot his card gets a minute counter. These VIPs have places to be, and if you can’t get them there post haste your bottom line suffers. They patiently ride things out for a while, but they stiff you for half what you’re owed or hop out and take their chances hoofing it depending on how far over their printed time limit you go. Only an efficiently executed trip earns full payment.

As clients are picked up and delivered, new ones pop up among the purple buildings. The game ends soon after the Passenger deck is empty, and the driver with the most money wins.

The game has the best of intentions where graphic design is concerned, but it’s also one of the sore spots. The box and boards are all sturdy and the latter are mounted. The whole thing is quite colorful, but interpreting the board means adjusting to the sensory overload of the rainbow-hued path system, and there are a couple of spots where it takes a moment to reassure yourself you’re doing it right. The cards are simple (the text is hard to read when printed on the blue-card backgrounds), but the real buzzkill here are the Taxi tokens. Little wooden triangles, something like flattened pyramids, these have a dab of paint on the end to indicate their facing when placed on the board.

They don't know if they're coming or going; they're just roamin'

On the blue pawn it’s really tough to see and on the black it’s impossible to tell it’s even there, but in every case they don’t fit the board spaces well at all. It’s an inelegant way to mark your position and direction of travel, though it’s also hard to imagine a replacement that works better given the narrow lanes of the playing surface. There’s certainly no way for two pieces to be on the same space at once (if that’s even allowed – the rules don’t specify).

There are plenty of “you can’t do that” moves and areas to frustrate drivers. Game play is solid and boasts some strategy regarding grabbing fares, selecting Travel cards, and holding up traffic on the one-way streets (again, assuming opponents cannot pass through you). The Event cards, however, the ones meant to jazz things up . . . don’t. They’re pretty anemic, it turns out, and mostly revolve around getting more points. A couple have to do with movement or adding a minute to your fare, but since part of the strategy centers on who gets (or is forced to take) these cards, the results ought to be a bit more critical. As it stands it’s just a bit of a nuisance, not a game-changer.

The fares are fun to read; they’re a good mix of tongue-in-cheek descriptions, in-jokes, and lighthearted presentations of real-life figures from the period. No one’s going to learn a lot of meaningful Roman history from playing but it’s an interesting jumping off point given the designers make use of less-well-known personalities. The mechanics are as inviting to the older gamers as they are to the younger generation, so it can hit the family game table and still please hoi polloi. Eagle-eyed veterans are going to zero in on the flaws, however, and should find the halfhearted Events deck the weak point that keeps the action in Roman Taxi from being a real standout.

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