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JUST GAMING AROUND - First Impressions of 2012 Essen releases: Tzolk'in and P.I.

-matt s.
United States
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I'm lucky to have friends that go to Essen and pick up the latest and greatest. Thanks to Lorna for me being able to try these ones!

As a result I've been able to play a few of them, although there are several that I still really want to play such as Myrmes - just missed out playing it yesterday - and Keyflower - although my copy arrived recently so hopefully I can get it to the table soon.

Keep in mind I've only played P.I. only once so far and Tzolk'in I've only played twice, so these are just first impressions.

Board Game: Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar

This was the game I was most excited to try! As soon as I saw the gears and that it was a worker placement game, I knew I had to play it. After reading the rules it solidified my belief I would love it. I even carved my Halloween pumpkin to match the box cover:

Board Game: Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar
Board Game: Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar

From gallery of tasajara
Board Game: Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar

The basic game play is on your turn you either place workers to set them up for future actions, or you take them off to perform the actions. When you place workers you place them on 5 outer gears, each of which gives different sorts of abilities: one is for food or wood, one is for any of the resources or crystals skulls, one helps you improve your technology or build buildings and monuments, one allows you to trade goods, get a new worker, and do special actions with corn, and one of the gears has special one-time abilities that primarily give you VPs and also advance you in the temples.

The really interesting mechanism is that after each round of players placing workers or removing them to take actions, the central gear is rotated once, thus turning all the other gears and moving the workers up to better functions/abilities.

The key to being successful in the game is getting your timing correct - placing workers to get you the resources you need at the right time to perform building actions or advancement actions on the other gears. The buildings in turn advance you on the technology or temple tracks, get you resources or help feed your workers during the feeding phases (which occur 4 times in the game)

There are multiple ways to score points so there is a lot of flexibility in what you can do. This is the type of game I really like - placing workers, gathering resources, and finding ways to leverage those to get the most points possible.

The gears make it interesting here because you have to be able to see how you are going to get your timing right and really plan ahead well. And, its very difficult to be patient and let your workers make their way up to the better actions - the temptation is always to 'get something now'

The gears are also a fantastic timer mechanism (it IS about a calendar after all) in that you see exactly when the next scoring/feeding phase is coming up - usually sooner than you realize. This is especially important in the end-game because if you don't time things correctly you'll have nothing left to do on the final round when other players with better timing crank out a bunch of extra points!

I'm really excited about this game and hope to pick up my own copy soon - its tough to get now due to importing of the original printing, thus making the cost high, so I might have to wait until the English printing comes out (unless I can come across a good deal somehow). My first play I scored only 21 points but my second play was something like 58 points. I'm reading that strong winning scores are closer to 90-100 points, so there's definitely more play in it for me.

Some gamers will definitely see this as 'just another Euro' and write it off as being too similar to some other worker placement game out there, but this is the type of game I really enjoy and the gears mechanism provides enough of a change to keep it interesting for me and different than other similar games. There are enough layers/elements to it to keep me coming back to try different strategies including the gears, the technology tracks, the temple tracks, the gear that gets bonus points, the buildings and monuments, and even the crystal skulls themselves are worth points.

Verdict: 9 / 10 -

(and it might be a 10 for me if it keeps my interest with more plays)

Board Game: P.I.

This game is one of several new Martin Wallace games this year. I was interested in it as I'm always up for a good deduction game. This definitely fits the bill if you like deduction. The goal is to 'solve' the 'case' held by the neighbor on your right. The only real interaction is that all cases are solved on the same board and information from the others' case evidence can help you solve your own case, and you can somewhat interfere (or indirectly affect) other players by selecting evidence cards that might be more helpful to them if they could select them instead.

First, the board is seeded randomly with suspect and crime tiles at each of the 14 locations. Some tiles are No Suspect or No Crime. Then, 9 evidence cards are drawn and laid out for display at the top of the board. Also, each player is given a 'case' which consists of a suspect, location and a crime (sort of like Clue).

Board Game: P.I.

You attempt to solve the case to the right by making 'guesses' using either the evidence cards or one of your detective tiles.

You only have 5 detective tiles to use in solving 3 cases so you must use them sparingly. Thus, you usually will just be selecting an evidence card. Evidence cards represent locations, suspects and crimes - there is only 1 card available for each.

Once selected, the person to your right gives you information as to how close (in proximity on the board) that item is in relation to itself and the other 2 items of the case. Disc(s) are placed for exactly correct guesses and cubes are placed if the item is directly adjacent to the location of the evidence card (sort of like Mastermind)

Then, the game comes down to deducing from the evidence which suspect, location and crime are involved with your case.

In a way, this game is multi-player Mastermind but with a different sort of spacial element and a bit more depth. The two things that raise it a couple levels above Mastermind are the Detectives which give you (potentially) more specific information but are limited in number and have to be managed (i.e. you have to be careful how many you use on each case since you only have 5 for 3 cases) and the deck of evidence cards. The cards come out randomly but in a fairly significant number. They control where you can make good guesses in trying to get more information.

Interestingly, selecting an evidence card and getting NO specific clues also helps you in determining what is NOT part of your case.

Eventually, you have enough information to uncover your case elements and make a guess if you've solved your case. If you're right you get more points if you are first to solve your case and less points if you are after other players. If you guess incorrectly you are penalized.

Overall I really enjoyed the game trying to efficiently solve the puzzle of my case before the other players solved theirs.

The only major issue I really had with the game was that some cases seemed easier or more difficult depending on how close together the elements were for each case. Also, the board can be a bit busy as there's a lot going on with the artwork and then you add the element tiles and finally the player cubes and discs during the game.

I suspect that it is probably best with 2 or 3 players, because any more and you might be waiting a while as others puzzle over their case evidence.

We felt the rules were a bit dense and hard to understand for what really boils down to a very simple game mechanically.

Overall I really enjoyed it as I do have a soft spot for deduction games (Mastermind was actually a favorite growing up). Its not anything that really wowed me, but at the same time we found we were pulled in more and more as we played as the cleverness of it was certainly appealing and ultimately it was challenging trying to deduce your own case.

Verdict: 7.5 / 10 -

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