This is what happens when you track too many blogs. Someone started a discussion about board games that peter out with anti-climactic endings, but I can't remember who. I search back a week in bloglines to no avail.
Anyhoo, I just wanted to add a confirmation of this phenomenon. Lately, even some excellent games seem to end with a dawning slow realization that the game is over slightly before it should be.
Power Grid. It comes down to some positioning that happens a few rounds before the last. Even if you don't realize this until the last round, once the person with the most plant capacity has built an equivalent amount of cities, everyone else just tosses their cards in without finishing the round. Bleah.
Maharaja. Similar situation. Someone pulls ahead in palaces and then the last three rounds are useless attempts to catch up, since the leader probably has enough money already to drop the last palaces, and it is really difficult to stop this. Again, cards are figuratively tossed in at the beginning of the last round, rather than finishing out the round.
Taj Mahal. Another major offender in runaway leader, if the lead is far enough.
In extreme cases of Settlers of Catan this can also happen, but generally speaking with enough lucky dice and a trade embargo it always remains possible to catch up. In Puerto Rico, you may know that you've lost, but the two leading players almost never know who has won.
So what is wrong here? What is the pattern?
In Power Grid, it's that there is no hidden scoring. In Maharaja, not only is there no hidden scoring, the victory condition is just too easy to fulfill once you are leading. In Taj, it's that there are not enough points to earn each round, even with the hand points (a poor attempt to add hidden points to the game, in my opinion).
There's no pattern. It's just a slight negative feature of otherwise great games. You would think that they could have gone back to the drawing board and added something to fix this, but either it didn't matter enough to them to fix, or they didn't consider it a problem.
Whatever it is, now that it has been pointed out, it bothers me. Don't you hate when that happens?