Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review: Tzolk'in

Tzolk'in is a worker-placement set-collection game with a funny name from Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini, published by Czech Games Edition. It's a more complicated version of the popular semi-gateway game Stone Age, aimed at heavy gamers. It plays up to four - and appears to be best with four or three - and is supposed to take 2 to 3 hours, but in our group took 4 or so hours each time. This was not a bad thing: unlike other games during which you want to claw your brain out with a dull spoon when the game goes on too long, this game was interesting the entire time. While waiting for my opponents to make their moves, I was thinking about my own moves. I couldn't completely plan my moves, since I could not know the moves that would be left to me by my opponents. And sometimes my opponents really did take too long.

Tzolk'in is played on an unusual board with interlocking rotating gears representing the Mayan calendar or something.

Pretty, huh? This gimmick is actually necessary. The gears are all rotated one notch each round, which would be too much bookkeeping otherwise. Here's the gist of it: The game has 26 rounds (as does the central gear). Four times during the game you have to pay maintenance costs on your workers.

On each round, each player places or removes workers from the gears, but not both. On each round you place workers on the lowest spots in any of the gears. You must take the lowest spots available on each gear if you place on that gear. Placing multiple workers costs an increasing amount of money, so it is cheaper in terms of money (but not in terms of time) to place less each round. If the lowest spot available is not the actual lowest spot, you again need to pay extra - this costs you money, but you will more quickly reach the positions with the higher payouts. After each round, the gears are rotated and the workers move up to increasingly higher payoff locations (unless they fall off the board, which never happens).

When you take workers off the board, you either get points, resources, more workers, or the opportunity to use your resources: move up in the tracks (in the above image, the tracks are on the top and center right) that give you higher payoffs on the gears or points or extra actions, buy buildings or monuments that give you points (in the above image, the buildings and monuments are on the bottom right) or reduced maintenance costs , etc.

Three tracks are scored twice during the game (including a bonus for first place on each track). One of the gears (the blue one above) has locations that score points during the game (each location on this track can only be used once during the game). Buildings you buy during the game score as you buy them. Monuments score based on items collected or board positions by the end of the game. Player with the most points wins.

There are five different resources and scant opportunities to swap them around. Maintenance requires you to constantly support your workers, but there are ample opportunities to get these maintenance costs, so it did not present the kind of difficulty that it does in Stone Age or Agricola. Getting at least one extra worker seems pretty important, but owing to the amount of money you have to spend to place them it didn't seem to be as critical to get all of your available workers as it does in Hansa Tuetonica. After two plays, it looks like there are different paths to victory to explore; we chose different paths but the top scores were not too far apart. And they were all challenging.

There is not much player interaction except taking the spaces that you know others want, but those are nearly always the spaces you want anyway. There is some competition for bonus points on the three scoring tracks, but again not too much. This could be because, as new players, we are still learning the systems, playing against the board rather than the other players. As the game becomes more familiar, competition for certain actions, tracks, and buildings are likely to heat up.

I highly recommend that you DO NOT play this game with new players or with casual gamers, as they are likely to be quite confused. For gamers, so far I like what I've seen. The theme is not entirely absent due to the artwork and the necessary gear shapes in the board, but it's also not too present (so I can ignore the supposed "gods" theme attached to some of the tracks) and I had no idea what my actions were supposed to represent as far as real world activities. It's just a series of systems of: place, collect, compete, and maximize your points.

In our games, Mace concentrated on the gear that gave out points during the game and I concentrated on buildings and monuments; both of our choices were influenced by our starting position bonuses. I lost to him by 7 point from a single track in the final scoring.

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