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Tekhenu Sheds Serious Light on Clever Dice Drafting

Candice Harris
United States
Los Angeles
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Board Game Publisher: Board&Dice
While I've played Tzolk'in, Teotihuacan, and Trismegistus only a handful of times collectively, I'm well aware that when Daniele Tascini designs a medium-heavy euro with a "T" name, it's bound to have interesting mechanisms and mesmerize my mind. Then you pair him up with Dávid Turczi and there's a high chance for cardboard gold. Enter Board&Dice's July 2020 release, Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun, a strategic dice-drafting game for 1 to 4 players set in Ancient Egypt.

Rainer Åhlfors from Board&Dice was kind enough to demo Tekhenu for me and a couple of friends on Tabletopia, then graciously sent me a physical copy of the game hot off the press, so I wanted to share my initial impressions since I've been playing it quite a bit.

Board Game: Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun

In Tekhenu, players take on the roles of nobles in Ancient Egypt as they build the Temple of Amun-Ra and the area that is to become Ipet-Isut. Players will draft sixteen dice from a nifty, rotating, obelisk wheel over the course of the game, using them for one of six different god actions or to simply produce resources.

Each round, players take one action in turn order. Every two rounds, there will be a rotation and restocking of dice. Every two rotations, there will be a Maat phase in which you check the balance of your scales and reset turn order. Then every two Maat phases brings a scoring round, and after two scoring rounds, the game ends, and the player with the most victory points wins.

From gallery of candidrum

Off the bat, the game board has a lot going on, and I got the same initial overwhelming feeling I got when I sat down to play Teotihuacan the first time. Similar to Teotihuacan, it's really not that crazy once someone gives a high-level overview of what you're looking at, then it gets even easier to digest after playing a round or two.

In the case of Tekhenu, the god action areas are conveniently positioned to line up where they are located on the obelisk wheel, which makes it easy to comprehend once someone explains it to you. I think it's pretty impressive that something so chaotic looking initially can make so much sense within minutes. Kudos to the team behind the art and graphic design: Jakub Fajtanowski, Michał Długaj, Zbigniew Umgelter, Kuba Polkowski, Aleksander Zawada.

From gallery of candidrum
Obelisk wheel
Tekhenu is centered around the rotating obelisk, which has sunny, dark, and shaded sides representing how the obelisk casts its shadow as it moves clockwise. During set-up, you roll and place three dice in each section of the obelisk wheel. Every two rounds, more dice come out, but depending on their colors and how the obelisk shadow falls, it might be slim pickings — so turn order is extremely important. At my table, dramatic sound effects are highly encouraged each time we rotate the obelisk.

Depending on the position of the obelisk's shadow, different colored dice will be placed on either the outer ring of the circle as pure, the middle ring as tainted, or the inner ring as forbidden. Dice are pure when they match in brightness. For example, on the sunny side white dice are considered pure, yellow and gray dice are considered tainted, while black and brown dice are forbidden. Alternatively, on the dark side, black dice are pure, brown and gray dice are tainted, and yellow and white dice are forbidden.

Each turn, players take exactly one pure or tainted die (not forbidden) from anywhere around the obelisk wheel. The chosen die is placed onto the corresponding scale (pure or tainted) on your player board. This is a key concept of the game since at the end of every four rounds during the Maat phase you check the balance of your scales — the total value on pure dice vs. total value on tainted dice — to determine the turn order for the following round. I'll say it again, turn order is extremely important in this game. The earlier you are on the turn order track, the better. When you're drafting a die, not only are you thinking about which action you want to take and in some cases, what the value or the color of that die is, but also which side of your scales it will be on since you want your scales to be as balanced as possible when a Maat phase is triggered to hopefully get the best turn order position for the next round.

From gallery of candidrum
Play board

After drafting a die on your turn, you perform either a god action corresponding to the area you drafted the die from or produce resources based on the color of the chosen die. Here's a summary of the six god actions available, some of which feel like mini games within the main game:
Taking the Horus god action allows the building of statues, either in honor of one of the gods or for the people. Building a statue in honor of a god grants you benefits when other players perform actions associated with that god. Building a statue for the people grants favorable benefits during scoring.

When taking the Ra god action, you add a pillar to the Amun-Ra temple grid, scoring victory points and gaining resources and possibly powerful bonus actions.

The Hathor god action results in the construction of buildings around the Amun-Ra temple complex, providing rich resources and considerable influence during scoring. This action also increases the current population.

By taking the Bastet god action, a festival takes place, increasing the happiness of the people. However, the happiness marker can never overtake the population marker, making it necessary to strike a balance between different actions. Keeping your people happy unlocks powerful one-time benefits as well as bonus victory points during scoring and more options when taking the Thoth god action.

The game includes three types of cards: blessings, technologies, and decrees. Taking the Thoth god action allows you to gain these cards, the type of which is determined by the happiness of your people. Also, the happier your people are, the greater the selection of cards available from which you can choose.

Taking the Osiris god action allows you to construct workshops and quarries, each of which increases your production of one of the four resources: papyrus, bread, limestone, and granite. During scoring, you are rewarded for having the most workshops or quarries of each type.

From gallery of candidrum
Temple Complex
Tekhenu has many interesting mechanisms in play, and it's awesome that each game will be a bit different depending on the players and which strategies everyone pursues. For example, in the temple complex, whenever you build pillars performing a Ra action, you get points when you match the color of the edges of the tile borders. The value of the die you take dictates which tile you can take to place your pillar on, and if the tile you choose matches the current shadow lighting of the Ra action on the obelisk wheel, you get the bonus on the tile, too. You have to make sure you have the right resources to pay the cost of a tile that you want, in addition to having it aligned with the right dice value that corresponds to one of the dice available for that action.

Once all those stars align, then you can start thinking about placement to maximize your points by matching the edge colors. You can also gain resources depending on where you place the tile and pillar, so sometimes you have to decide whether it's more important to get more resources or more points, etc.

From gallery of candidrum
Osiris action area
With the Osiris action, it's essentially an area control battle with placing your buildings. The value of the die you use for the Osiris action dictates which row you can place your building on. While higher value dice give you more production and resources, the lower value spots at the top position you better for potential ties since the player with the building or statue closest to the top of each column breaks ties.

Instead of performing a god action, you can choose to take any pure or tainted die and produce, generating resources based on the color of the die (yellow = papyrus, brown = bread, white = limestone, and black = granite) and the current production value of that resource, which is tracked on your player board. Gray dice can never be used for production since they don't correspond to any of the resources, but they are also always tainted and never forbidden, so they're typically more available for drafting, which often makes them essential.

One little caveat with producing resources is that any resources you produce in excess of your production level will be added to the tainted side of your scale — which can be a whole nother monkey wrench to deal with when trying to keep your scales as balanced as possible. Producing isn't the most optimal option, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta to do to gain some extra resources or potentially to snag the right die for balancing your scales.

You can also gain scribes throughout the game that you can spend to modify the dice you draft +/- 1 or 2. Even better, you can spend two scribes to perform a powerful Anubis action. With this action, you can draft a die from anywhere on the obelisk wheel, including forbidden dice, and perform any action. It's quite awesome when you can perform an Anubis action. I can't tell you how many times there have been only forbidden dice left in areas where I needed to take an action. It's really helpful to have this option and flexibility with the scribes, but of course, they aren't easy to come by when you're trying to do a million other actions throughout the game.

Tekhenu has three types of cards that you can gain by performing a Thoth god action, and they all seem juicy, even potentially a bit swingy, though it's too soon to say. You have blessing cards that are one-time use, technology cards that provide ongoing effects, and decree cards for endgame scoring. In two of my games, I was able to snag the card that doesn't require you to pay bread for your buildings during the scoring phases. There are also many sweet combos to be made with some of the cards, e.g., Matt had a decree card that gave him 3 VP per statue at the end of the game in conjunction with a technology card that gave him 2 VP and 1 granite every time he performed the Horus god action, which lets you build statues! The cards can be very powerful.

We did misinterpret some of the decree cards because their wording wasn't clear. One card, for example, says, "Gain 2 VP per Statue and 2 VP per Pillar within the Temple Complex", so when scoring, we totaled all of the statues and pillars at the temple complex. Seems obvious, right? Turns out the card is supposed to score only the statues and pillars of the player who has the decree card. The game board uses an icon in multiple places that indicates something scores only "your" buildings/pillars/etc., so I'm not sure why they didn't include that icon on the decree cards or at least make the verbiage crystal clear: "Gain 2 VP per Statue you have built and 2 VP per Pillar you have raised within the Temple Complex". The good news is that the rulebook is excellent and has an awesome appendix clarifying all of the cards and now that we know it, we won't make that mistake again.

One of the many things I dig about Tekhenu is that it plays fast for a meatier, thinkier game. We knocked out a casual three-player game in just under two hours, and I can see it playing even faster the more experienced the players are. Player count-wise, I would say four players feels toughest, especially if you end up last in turn order, but timing-wise, it doesn't drag unless players are getting bogged down with AP. In all cases, the ending of the game sneaks up on you, so beware. Every time I've played, I always end up thinking I'll have more time to do this or that, but then all of sudden, we're drafting our final two dice and it's crunch time.

Tekhenu also includes a great solo mode, designed by Dávid Turczi and Nick Shaw, in which you compete against the Botankhamun bot, choosing one of three difficulty levels (easy, medium, or hard) for it. The Botankhamun bot's turns are driven by ten action tiles placed randomly in a pyramid shape during set-up, and again at the end of the first three Maat phases. You take your turns as normal, and when it's Botankhamun's turn, you flip the Deben token to determine where the progress token moves on the pyramid of action tiles, either to the right-side-adjacent tile or the top-right-adjacent tile. This dictates which action Botankhamun performs next. Just like a human opponent, Botankhamun scores points during the game from certain actions and also during the scoring phase.

From gallery of candidrum
Botankhamun action tile pyramid

You'll likely have to reference the rulebook for most of Botankhamun's turns as I did with my first solo play, but the system is straightforward, which made the game move along. More importantly, I felt the same struggles I've felt from my previous games against human opponents. This is not one of those solo modes in which you're trying to just get a high score for giggles; you are working hard to beat Botankhamun's score just as if it were a human opponent. You get just as frustrated when Botankhamun takes a die you needed, or grabs a technology or decree card you were hoping to nab, or simply takes an action that jeopardizes your position for scoring, especially right before the scoring phase.

Overall my solo Tekhenu experience on medium difficulty was challenging and stressful in the best way possible. I honestly enjoyed the gameplay as much as I do when I play with human opponents, minus the lack of social interaction.

While Tekhenu doesn't necessarily feel thematic from a gameplay standpoint, the art and graphic design pushes it in the right direction, and the mechanisms are so fun I don't even care that the theme isn't quite popping. What does help, though, is the right music. A couple of times I played, we put on some mellow Ancient Egyptian music in the background, which enhanced the game experience, then followed it up with the original The Mummy soundtrack which intensified moments of the the game quite a bit.

Tekhenu comes down to clever mechanisms, a wealth of interesting decisions, plenty of different strategies to explore, and consequently, many paths to victory. There are lots of things to juggle and think about every turn. You can roughly plan ahead each round, but you have to be able to adapt because it's very likely someone may take that die you really needed.

Every action you take feels rewarding since you're usually getting points, resources, or both. It's one of those games in which you want to do everything, but you're better off focusing on something and doing it well to maximize your points vs. dabbling a little bit all over the place. From my four plays so far, I typically find it best to build my strategy around my initially selected decree card (the secret endgame scoring objective) because I feel it gives you focus. Otherwise, you could be overwhelmed by all the options and fall down the AP rabbit hole.

While your mind is working through optimizing each separate action, again you also have to spend attention balancing your scales from round to round. I think that helps give players some focus since you're going to more than likely target certain dice to help keep your scales balanced and that limits your options. It can definitely get super puzzley...

Overall, I've been enjoying playing Tekhenu, and I'm looking forward to trying to figure it out even more. It could be that Tascini and Turczi make a killer game design duo, or maybe I just love clever dice-drafting games. I'm sure it's a bit of both. Either way, Tekhenu is worth checking out, especially if you're already a fan of any of Tascini's other "T" games: T'zolkin, Teotihuacan, or Trismegistus.

Board Game: Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar
Board Game: Teotihuacan: City of Gods
Board Game: Trismegistus: The Ultimate Formula
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