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Subject: Tikal: A lost treasure in gaming rss

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Jake Conde
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My wife and I play a lot of games but we have three kids, so we shoot for medium weight and relatively quicker games to play. We often only have the ability to play with each other, but we usually get together with friends once a week as well. We currently own and play Carcassonne, Puerto Rico, Airlines Europe, Dominion, Stone Age. We also own the Star Trek TNG Deck Building game, but, well, um...

(SHUDDERS, FALLS SILENT, THEN AWKWARD PAUSE...)

So, anyway, I had the opportunity to visit fun again games in person in Ashalnd, Oregon (and it was so cool)and I found myself looking at, for the same price, two different games: Africana and Tikal. I like that Tikal won the Spiel award, I liked the theme a little better, and I saw that Tikal was rated quite well on the Geek. So I bought it.

No regrets, this game is sooo much fun. So much so that I thought I'd write a review and give a little love to an older game that may or may not be on the radar of gamers anymore.

When reviewing a game I give a brief overview of the game followed by a look at 1) the components, 2) the Rules and how easy they are to understand, 3) whether the gameplay is elegant or clunky, 4) the impact good strategy and tactics have on final outcome 5) how much fun it is to actually play the game, 6) how likely I am to replay this in the future. This is then followed by a Final Analysis and ranking.

Overview:
Tikal takes place in the jugles of Yucatan. You lead an expedition of archaeologists looking for lost ruins and temples in a forbidden and unkown jungle. You draw hexagonal jungle tiles and play them, then you deploy followers, swap treasures, etc. You earn points for having sets of treasure and for controlling temples. Scoring happens three times randomly and one more time after the last Hex Jungle tile is played.

The Components and Quality:
The followers and camps are nice wooden bits in clearly-differentiated color schemes and the temple, jungle and treasure tiles are thick cardboard and easy to manipulate. If the followers had been Meeples it would have been a little cooler (they're cylinders), but not really a minus so much as a missed opportunity. Only downside is that the box size is a little bit bigger than most, but a truly nerdtacular joy for me is when I get a game in a box that has a place for everything just right. The box in Tikal even has a special place for the rules! Overall, 8/10.

The Rules and Clarity thereof:
Probably the simplest rule book ever that manages to effectively convey gameplay. Nothing is unclear, everything is easily explained and we were less than halfway through our first rule and we had no problems at all. If it had included a strategy/tip section it would have been perfect, but still excellent for being brief and on point and easy to follow. Overall, 9/10.

The Gameplay
On every turn you draw a hexagon and place it, and you have 10 action points (APs) to spend during a variety of actions costing different amounts. You can move followers, establish a new base camp, excavate a temple, dig up treasure, claim a temple dig, or swap loot with another player. Spending your action points in a way to get the most bang for your buck is the key to everything in the game, as well as placing new tiles in the right spots.

The plethora of options, coupled with the scarcity of action points, leads to a lot of analysis paralysis in the game. Further, because each player adds a new tile and can move followers and improve the desirability of certain temple tiles, the board can look VERY different by the time your next turn comes You rarely can merely proceed with a preplanned set of moves. This can bog the game down, as players confronted with 2-3 new jungle tiles to explore will often stare at the board for a while trying to calculate possibilities and assess new risks. But it's not too bad, and usually a polite verbal nudge gets the ball rolling. Overall, 8/10 overall.

Strategy and Tactics:
Tikal is much heavier on tactics while allowing strategy to play a role. Just like a real dig in the jungle, you just don't know what you'll find (if anything) and you need to be prepared for anything.

Chief strategic concerns include Temple raiding. Some players decide to let others develop and excavate massive temples, and instead use their APs to send waves of followers to claim the site. This can create an arms race where each side is sending more and more followers to control and excavate an excellent temple site, with each hoping to avoid having to place a guard on it (placing a guard requires you to lock the temple at it's current value without further improvement and any other followers you had securing the site are taking out of your play pool, possibly leaving you shortanded later). Other players try to snatch up the treasures fast, and others still take a strategy of flooding the gameboard and moving followers early and using later rounds to claim several temples. Still others seek to find early temple sites and develop it quickly, because only a limited number of temples can be built to a certain value.

Still, your favorite long-term strategy is at best a framework for the one the ground tactical decisions. Each turn is usually full of various useful things you can do and you need to decide when and how to make your moves. You can try to place tiles you draw in a way to block your neighbors, sneak into a treasure site and steal treasures, join in a competition for a temple, position a base camp in a strategic part of the jungle, etc. And further, you don't know exactly when you'll get to a scoring round, so you need to be ready at all times. improve a temple too soon and you'll invite raiders, wait too long and you won't score the extra points. Treasure trading could invite reprisal, and maybe the extra point isn't work the action points you could have used elsewhere.

It's a blast to try and accomplish a lot with your limited APs. Further, there is a lot of potential interaction between players. The tactical elements are in full form, but long term strategy can still play a role. Overall, 9/10.

Fun Factor:
The ability to interact with other players coupled with the nice theme turns this into a total winner. The mechanics of this game really mesh with theme, you truly feel you're an explorer and in a tight race for artifacts and prestige. I love that it is so interactive, what one player is doing really affects all others, and the competition can be fierce or relatively benign. The wait between turns is a turn off, but not much. You'll love plotting your every move, and you'll always have something to do. Scores stay close and with a little effort it can be anyone's game at the end. Overall, 9/10.

Replayability:
The fact that the board changes every time, the routes through the jungle change every time, the scoring rounds occur randomly, and the excellently tied-in theme make this an awesome game. Further, it's simplicity and elegant design make it easy to introduce to new gamers, while it's hard to master AP system make it fun for veterans. There is no "sure fire" strategy that makes it boring. Overall, 10/10.

Final Analysis:
A great game that scales well with 2-4 players. Fun game systems promote interaction and tactical thinking, a killer theme and great artwork/components really make the game come alive. Combine this with an ever-shifting board with new possibilities each time, and you realize you have a truly unique game. Worth the money and far better than some other games I've played recently. Overall, 9/10.
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United Kingdom
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I'm not sure about "great" but certainly very good (I still enjoy it); apart from that nitpick a good review.
 
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Matthew Roskam
United States
Birmingham
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I think Tikal is underrated as well. I think no game looks better on the table, and I also agree that replayability is very high- excellent review!
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Alexander Portland
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I know them both well Africana & Tikal. And you have IMO choosen the right game in sight of the long term playing value.
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Jake Conde
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Bundyman wrote:
I know them both well Africana & Tikal. And you have IMO choosen the right game in sight of the long term playing value.


Yeah. I think the next game will be a little heavier and maybe scale back the direct conflict. My wife likes games where by and large she just tries to do her own thing effectively and blocking/raiding is minimal (Dominion, Airlines Europe, Thurn and Taxis). Although we actually just played a game of Tikal and ended up tied, which was pretty cool.

 
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Warren Davis
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Jacksonville
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For my opinion, just read my comments in my profile. That says it all for me.
 
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RoyN
United States
Skokie
Illinois
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I once met a native of this island and asked him, "Does 'Bal' mean yes?" He replied, "Bal."
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Thanks for the review. I like the look of the game: its board, components, and even the rules have nice art. Even the language-independent player aids are pretty intuitive.

seasnake wrote:
Only downside is that the box size is a little bit bigger than most, but a truly nerdtacular joy for me is when I get a game in a box that has a place for everything just right. The box in Tikal even has a special place for the rules!

Unfortunately, I find the box more than a "bit bigger." I don't usually bring this game out because it won't fit in my bag. It's theoretically nice that there are spots for each type of component, but in the end because they aren't "locked" into place, the components all end up jumbled together in the box anyway by the time I take it anywhere.

Other things I wish they could've dealt with in a more thematic way are the rules that let expedition members teleport between camps (they call it "secret paths," but apparently these are secret paths with high-speed monorails), and enable camps to be helicopter-dropped into locations that your expedition members have not yet reached.

seasnake wrote:
Tikal takes place in the jugles of Yucatan.

Geographical nitpick: Yucatán is a state in Mexico, while Tikal is in Guatemala. However, Tikal might be considered to be in the region called the Yucatán Peninsula (not sure about that); maybe that's what you meant.
 
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Andrew Bellavie
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Calgary
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Good review, well thought out and good insights.
 
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Randall Bart
United States
Winnetka
California
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RoyN wrote:
seasnake wrote:
Tikal takes place in the jugles of Yucatan.

Geographical nitpick: Yucatán is a state in Mexico, while Tikal is in Guatemala. However, Tikal might be considered to be in the region called the Yucatán Peninsula (not sure about that); maybe that's what you meant.

Wikipedia wrote:
The peninsula comprises the Mexican states of Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo; the northern part of the nation of Belize; and Guatemala's northern El Petén Department.

If you claim that Tikal is not in the Yucatan, I could also point out that Saint Lo is not in Normandy, since the Duchy of Normandy is just the Channel Islands, and the French province of Normandie was abolished after the Revolution.
 
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