Dale Yu: Review of Tajuto


  • Designer: Reiner Knizia
  • Publisher: Super Meeple
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age 10+
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Super Meeple

The story behind Tajuto – taken from the cover of the rules: “In 532, Buddhism arrived in Japan, and took its place alongside Shintoism, which is the official religion. Prince Shotoku, seduced by this new religion, commissioned Buddhist monks to construct a village endowed with an immense garden, in which 8 pagodas (tajuto) would be erected. He announced that once the fourth tajuto was complete, it would make this city an important pilgrimage destination for all Buddhists around the world. The Buddhist monk who has attained the highest level of Spirituality, through deep Meditation and other mental qualities, at this precise moment will be rewarded, and the Prince will name them “Great Guardian of the Sacred Garden of the Eight Pagodas”, and this monk will become the overseer of pilgrimage.”  In this game, players are Buddhist monks who are vying to score the most victory points… er, I mean, trying to have the highest level of Spirituality by channeling their Meditative powers to do great things.

The village site is depicted on an elongated board with the Tajuto sites dominating the right of the board; there are 8 different colors, and each player starts with an offering cube of matching color for each.  There are Wisdom tiles, Transcendence Tiles, Additional Action tiles, objective tiles and Tajuto inauguration tiles which are displayed on the board in the appropriate areas. There is a track on the left side for Meditation points – each player has a monk meeple that will move along this path – make sure to remember though that Meditation points are NOT victory points; Meditation points are simply a currency which are used to do things in the game.

In addition to the colored offering cubes, players also get a set of three action tiles.  The cost (if any) to use the tile is in the upper right corner, and then actions which could be done when the tile is activated are seen at the bottom of the tile.   The last part of setup is filling the giant cloth bag. As mentioned earlier, there are 8 different pagodas to be constructed, and each has six different sized pieces.  All 48 pieces are dropped into the bag and mixed around.

On a turn, the active player uses any/all of his Action tiles to perform actions.  At a minimum, one action must be performed, and this is always possible as one of the starting action tiles has no cost to use it.  Each of the three base action tiles (cost: 0, 4, 6 meditation points) allows you to do any of the three Basic Actions. If you have managed to purchase other Action tiles, they only allow you to do one specific action – though at low or no cost.  Each of your action tiles may be used at most once on your turn. The three actions are:

Draw a Pagoda Piece – take the bag, feel around as much as you like and draw out one piece.  I really like the way the rules describe this action – so I’ll copy it here: “You are welcome to blindly rummage around to try to recognize the floor by its size, but you aren’t likely to be able to detect the color this way. So, drawing the floor size you want depends on your tactile recognition, but drawing the color you want depends on luck.”  If you draw a piece you can build, you must build it before your turn ends (more on this later…) If you cannot build it now, place it in front of you, and at the end of your turn, you must return all but one of your unbuilt pieces to the bag.

Make an Offering – place one of your offering cubes on the top level of the matching colored unfinished pagoda so long as there is not already another cube on there. Earn Meditation points equal to the number of floors in the pagoda PLUS 2.

Acquire a tile – buy any tile that you can see in the display by paying the Meditation tile cost found in the upper left of the tile.  Note that the Objective tiles do not have numbers in the upper left as they cannot be bought; they must be earned.

In addition to these three actions which require you to use an action tile, there are two actions which are freely available to you.

Construct a Pagoda floor – at any point in your turn, you can construct part of a pagoda. If you have the correct sized piece, you may place it on the pagoda of matching color.  You score Meditation points equal to the height of the pagoda piece that you just placed (1-6 MPs). If you cover an offering cube, you score an additional 2 points for that piece.   You are allowed to build as many levels as you like, and per the rules, you are obligated to build levels if you have the right pieces at some point before the end of your turn. If you have built the 6th and final level to a pagoda, the player who has the inauguration tile for that pagoda can flip it over to hide the Spirituality points on it.

Complete an objective – if you meet the criteria on one of the objective tiles, take it and place it face down in front of you.

Turns continue around the board until the fourth pagoda is completed. At this point, the game ends immediately.  Two objective tiles are awarded at this moment – one to the player finishing the 4th pagoda and the other to the player that is furthest ahead on the meditation track.  Now, players flip over their tiles and sum up their Spirituality points. The player with the most spirituality points wins. There is no tiebreaker.

My thoughts on the game

I really like the mix of risk/reward here in the pagoda drawing.  It’s an interesting sort of push your luck mechanism. You could always feel around the bag to find the largest pieces, which are likely guaranteed to be playable – but of course, you’ll score very few points for it.  On the other hand, you can go for a larger reward by drawing a smaller piece which would therefore be placed higher up – but you might end up with a piece that you can’t play. Players also need to balance their usage of Meditation points – some of the tiles have a fairly high cost, and those points could otherwise be used to take more actions.

I very much like the pacing of the game.  Everything starts out slow at the beginning as most plays will only score you a few Meditation points (as all the pagodas will start at Level 1); but as the game progresses, you now have more options as each pagoda piece and/or offering will reward you with more MPs.   But, this system still rewards efficient play at the start of the game as getting one or two actions ahead of your opponents early on may allow you to take more advantage of the higher payoffs as they come available.

I also like the risk/reward of the alternative action tiles.  The cost seems high at first, spending 10-16 Meditation points on a tile just to let you take another free action – but given that a “regular” second action costs you 4 meditation points, you’re going to break even after 4 uses at minimum.  And near the end of the game, you might really need/want those extra actions while keeping your MP available to buy tiles.

The plastic pieces are nice, and thankfully (unlike many other SPIEL 2019 games) there are no color identification issues.  Also, I’m thankful that the bag is an appropriate size so that it can hold all the pieces as well as allow even the largest of hands space to search around inside the bag.   The wooden cubes/color scheme are another story. To my poor eyes, the red, orange, and pink cubes essentially look the same. The pieces can be confused at times too. In the end, it’s probably not too big of a deal, but I was surprised at just how similar those three colors turned out to be.

The game plays quickly, and while there’s not much to do when it’s not your turn, all the players seem to remain engaged with the game due to the short turnaround to the next turn.  The only sort of house rule that we’ve had to establish is to designate a single person to be in charge of the MP track. The spaces are fairly small and the meeples have to stack on top of each other, and we had a lot of bumped meeples with four hands reaching over the board to move stuff; things are much safer with just one hand worrying about the track.

Tajuto is a very interesting and challenging light strategy game.  The rules are simple enough for just about anyone to pick up quickly, but there are a lot of decisions to be made in this game.  There is always the constant turmoil in trying to decide if it is worth it (at the present moment) to spend some of your precious Meditation points to take an extra action now; or if you’d be better off saving those points, deferring that action until next turn, and saving up the points to buy the tiles.  As ultimately, you win through the tile buys; you have to make sure that you leave yourself enough opportunity to do that. (Yes, I know that you can earn VPs through the objective tiles, but their overall total will certainly be eclipsed by tiles that you must buy).

Thus far, this is one of the games I plan to keep long-term from SPIEL 2019, and it would not surprise me to hear this one be mentioned for game awards in the coming year.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Joe Huber (1 play): Tajuto is, without doubt, one of the best games to come out of Essen 2019 for me.  Unfortunately, that’s just enough to put it on the high end of neutral for me – but it still may be enough for it to wind up as the very best of the crop.  It’s new, it’s unique, it’s interesting – and I like it enough to want to try it a second time, to see if it has a chance of moving up for me.

Craig Massey (5 plays):

Dan Blum (3 plays): Tajuto is different, not only from other Knizia designs but from other games – it doesn’t feel quite like anything else I can think of. It’s also surprising – at first everyone’s impression seems to be that it can’t work properly, but of course it does. So far I am enjoying it quite a bit. 

I expect some people will complain that it’s the same every time, and there is indeed no variance in the setup. Early turns will tend to be a bit same-y from game to game, but after that things definitely have diverged so far.

I also expect this game will not stop people from saying that Knizia just recycles his old designs, because nothing stops those people.

Tery (1 play): My first game was with Dan, and as he mentions above, I did not have high expectations after the rules explanation. However, I was very wrong. There were many interesting choices to be made, and people had different strategies that mostly seemed to work well – it didn’t seem to be essential that you added a particular tower piece or placed a cube earlier or later. I ended up enjoying it quite a bit, and look forward to trying it again. 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Dale Y, Craig M., Dan Blum, Eric M.
  • I like it.  John P, Craig V, Tery
  • Neutral. Joe H., Lorna, Steph
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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