Tag Archives: The Mayan Calendar

Turn! Turn! Turn! – Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar review

TzolkinBOX There’s little doubt that Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar was one of the hottest games to come out of Essen this year, and with good reason. It takes a much loved mechanic (worker placement) and does something entirely new with it, adding in the element of movement thanks to a series of cogs that dominate the board. However, now that the fuss has died down a bit – seriously, you couldn’t get a copy for love or money by the time the weekend rolled around at Spiel – we can take a more reasoned look at this one.

And, all told, it’s pretty positive – however, the game is not without its faults. Nothing major, granted, but Tzolk’in is far from perfect. Did the shiny newness of those massive plastic gears hypnotize us a little? Perhaps, but it’s still a very entertaining experience…

Put simply, between two and four players are attempting to score as many points as possible over the course of four rounds. By placing their workers on the ever rotating cogs, they’ll move further round as the turns progress, hopefully getting progressively more useful and lucrative. As each turn is completed, the huge central gear is twisted around one step, moving the five outer wheels around too. Once one of your workers is in a place that you like the look of, you may remove it in order to take the reward for that space. Leave them on the wheel for too long, however, and you’ll have wasted that particular worker. Knowing how hard it can be to get your hands on more workers, you really don’t want to be chucking these chances away.

The different gears will offer you a wide variety of different things to collect as well as plenty of opportunities to spend your resources. Working your way around the board from the top left, you can either grab wood or corn. This one’s important as corn is the game’s currency – it’s very important to have plenty coming in, but you will find during play that you will NEVER have enough. Wheel two offers a wider selection of resources including gold, stone and crystal skulls. The third wheel lets you start spending what you’ve collected on buildings and monuments, necessary if you want to have any chance of winning. It’s here where you can also start moving up the three temples that will get you a decent haul of points if you play skilfully, as well as progress along technology tracks that will reap plenty of rewards.

So much happening! How will you keep track of it all?

So much happening! How will you keep track of it all?

Wheel four is a bit of a mishmash of everything and is very useful for trading your resources for corn (and vice versa). It’s also the only place where you can start getting new workers, so it shouldn’t be ignored. Finally, the larger fifth wheel is where you get rid of those incredibly valuable crystal skulls; on this one, it’s all about big points and further progression up the temples. Play it right and you could wrap the whole thing up on this wheel alone.

As you can probably tell, there is an awful lot going on in your average game of Tzolk’in. Between working out the best placements for your workers and trying to discern when and where they’re going to end up, forward thinking is the order of the day – any loss of concentration will see you slip behind pretty swiftly. You must also consider the fact that at the end of each of the four rounds you need to feed your workers using the same corn that you need to buy better positions on the wheels with. Playing this game is like juggling cats and a lapse will see you cut to ribbons.

Like any good Euro, this is a game of balance where you will never be able to do everything you want to achieve. In fact, most of the time you may well end up taking actions that you didn’t really want to do in order to protect a single worker that could help trigger a long term plan. Constant reconsideration of your objectives is necessary; there’s no way of winning if you don’t adapt as the game evolves.

And it’s here where I find an issue with Tzolk’in – I like planning out how I’m going to tackle a game but managing to pull off anything major in this game feels often more like luck than judgement. In order to do well you’re looking at setting yourself a series of smaller, hopefully manageable goals, the re-evaluate your targets. This gives the game a bitty feel, as if it were a set of linked short stories rather than a glorious and sprawling novel. Not that this is a bad thing, of course, but I love games where you progress to a final achievement and with so many different ways to collect points, the endgame doesn’t feel like a worthy climax. It’s more like you’re hoovering up as many little bits and pieces as possible.

Not that I’m saying it’s a bad game! Not by any measure! However, unlike something like Agricola where you have this story developing before your eyes, the scattered nature of Tzolk’in means that I don’t get that same feeling of an arc under my control. It may be a small complaint but to me that’s an important aspect of any game where I’m investing a major amount of time, and with this you’re looking at least at a couple of hours of pretty solid thinking and strategising. Sure, you could allow yourself to be distracted by the very lovely board and high quality components (those gears are frankly awesome), but you mustn’t allow yourself to be sucked in by beauty…

While I’m not sure that Tzolk’in will be hitting my table on a regular basis, I can happily say that I’ve enjoyed my times playing it and I’ll be returning plenty of times in the future. Yes, it’s true that it can feel like a lot of hard work at times and it does feel like a near-constant struggle to complete any of your plans, but there’s definitely a large part of the gaming market that will praise it higher than I. To me, though? It’s solid. It’s a great way to spend your games evening but it’s not going to take the place of Agricola.

Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar is a 2012 release from Czech Games Edition, with other publishers handling other versions around the world. Designed by Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini, between two and four can play and games will take you around two hours or so. Copies are still a bit hard to come by, but should you be able to find one expect to pay around £40-45 (though Gameslore sell it for £34.99).

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It’s the (second) most wonderful time of the year…

Oh yes indeed – GenCon is nearly here! The USA’s best board games show is approaching once again, kicking off this Thursday for four days of gaming in Indianapolis, Indiana. Once again it’ll be stacked with the usual pile of new releases and exclusive previews as pretty much every major American publisher will be present along with plenty of the larger European names – but what are the big titles people are looking forward to?

Libertalia from Marabunta / Asmodee is one that I think will probably be under many people’s radars but I have a feeling it’s going to end up being one of the year’s best releases. A role selection game at heart with up to six players acting as pirate captains on their way to retirement and looking for a final hurrah, it’s a sneaky extravaganza of treasure hunting and back stabbing with a great level of player interaction. I’ve already managed to get my hands on a copy so expect a review in the very near future. Also, if you get a copy early enough, you’ll get metal doubloons! Who wouldn’t want it?!

Tzolkin: The Mayan Calendar by CGE was available to play in early prototype form at the UK Games Expo, but it looks like a near finished version should be at GenCon. It’s a worker placement extravaganza with a really interesting mechanism where cogs turn and interact with each other on the board. Stay on the board too long and your guys could well end up a wasted placing as they move past the resources that you’re aiming for. CGE’s games are always beautifully produced so you know this will be incredible to behold – there’s no other company out there who I’d trust to make such an involved and creative board concept.

Fantasy Flight will be there with wheelbarrows filled with stuff, of course, but the new versions of Merchant of Venus and Netrunner are both due for release at the show. Early reports say that these two remakes are amazing, managing to capture the brilliance of the original games while giving them a shiny makeover, though MoV will include the rules to play both the old and new versions. Netrunner’s asymmetric gameplay has long been a favourite of mine and I can’t wait to get my hands on this modernised version to see how it compares to Richard Garfield’s classic. Also, there’s the small matter of a little game called X-Wing finally seeing the light of day…

Village, the Kennerspiel des Jahres winner for 2012, has been picked up by Tasty Minstrel Games and looks like it’ll be this year’s go to game for those who want to scratch their Euro itch. Players need to find fame and fortune for their family members in order to keep their name immortalised in the village’s chronicles – make the right moves and your legacy will live on. Screw it up and your future generations will fade into obscurity. It’s a very clever worker placement game and probably the only one I know where death is used to limit a character’s time. This will only be available in very limited amounts – apparently there’ll only be fifty at the show – so if you want a copy, head to TMG’s booth early.

AEG’s Tempest line is also due for its first public viewing at the show with the initial three games in the series getting a release. Courtier, Dominare and Mercante all promise very different playing experiences but the interesting element will be seeing how the public react to the storybuilding aspects of the world. As characters change, further games in the series will reflect these developments – for example, should the story necessitate that a major role needs to be wiped out, later games will reference back to whatever happened. We’re not looking at a Risk Legacy effort here where every person’s game will be different as time goes on; AEG will run the story along the lines of their Legend of the Five Rings property, controlling it from their end with input from players and designers. This could prove a very interesting experiment…

AEG also have the light-as-a-feather but very entertaining Smash Up ready for release at GenCon. The world’s first shufflebuilding game sees players combine two twenty card decks (ninjas with robots, pirates with aliens, that kind of thing) and utilise their joint powers to take over bases in order to score points. It’s a very quick little game but has a surprising level of depth to it as you try and work out which sets work particularly well against your opponents’ selections. I think this one will do pretty well at the show, especially as it clocks in well under that magical 45 minute mark for playtime.

Of course, one of the best things about any gaming convention is the discovery of those releases from smaller companies. 5th Street Games will be showing off their rather splendid Farmageddon while Asmadi should have copies of their very limited Origins hit FlowerFall available too. The new Enhanced Edition of Sentinels of the Multiverse will be selling at the Greater Than Games booth, while Leviathans, the steampunky miniatures air-combat game that I’ve been waiting since the beginning of time for, is finally due – albeit in very limited numbers. Last of all, Morels from Two Lanterns Games will definitely be available and it looks utterly lovely.

Oh yeah. One final thing.

I’m very excited about is the fact that my new game, Pocket Universe, will be on show at the Game Salute booth. I’m finding it very nerve-wracking that it’s being shown at all but it’s even worse when you consider that I’m not actually going to be there. You may well have tried it out yourself by downloading the files from the site (there’s been a few, honest!) but that version is light years away from the one you’ll be able to check out at GenCon. While it’s still in prototype format, the gameplay is 99.99% finished – I’m considering tweaking maybe one or two very tiny elements – so why not have a look at it yourself? Just ask one of the GS team at the Sneak Peeks booth (#2035) and tell them I sent you.

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