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Subject: FOMO on Tzolk'in | Tzolk'in in Mayaland rss

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Shane Larsen
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FOMO on Tzolk'in | Tzolk'in in Mayaland

WHAT'S THE APPEAL?

My wife and I moved to Guatemala 7 months ago. Since then, we've been teaching English on a volunteer basis, soaking in the culture, visiting the highlights of the country--including numerous Mayan sites--, and occasionally playing games. We've played several 2-player games alone in the house before hitting the sack, and we've managed to turn a few Guatemalans into gamers. One game we've had particular luck with is Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar. Tzolk'in draws the Mayan people in an instant. The moment I mention the name, they're curious. Then, when they see the board and recognize the Tikal-styled temples, they're immediately curious to learn how it all comes together--even if they're still at the intro level of gaming. This has been a good thing. I'm always interested in adding another gamer among my friends.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?

Tzolk'in is a Euro game, based on the interaction between several of the predominant Mayan dwellings. Its driving elements are a worker-placement mechanic blended with a strong dose of strategic planning and timing. The stand-out feature is the use of gears that not only track the course of the game, but also represent the spending of time by the workers as they go away to collect goods, construct buildings, worship the gods, gather corn (the game's currency), and other things that help you build a stronger nation and eventually score VPs (victory points). There is a large, central gear that turns one notch at the end of each game round. This, in turn (pun intended), rotates the 5 outer gears where players are placing and removing their workers on their turns. The mechanic is very smart. It creates a simple way to advance the game, and reset each round with a simple switch of the board. It also delivers something unique in terms of its visual appeal and mechanical elegance. But I'm getting ahead of myself. In the end, Tzolk'in is all about building buildings and worshiping the Mayan gods in order to have the most VPs in the end. It's a true Euro at heart.

WHAT'S IT GOT?

Allow me to explain in detail the three stand-out features Tzolk'in offers in my view:

1. Beauty.

Let's start with the quick and easy stuff. The board is beautiful. It's piled high with wooden blocks of differing colors (I'm a Euro gamer at heart, colored cubes are beautiful to me). And then we get to the central focus of the board and appearance of the game: the gears. The board is comprised of a system of 6 gears, one large central gear surrounded by 5 other gears. One of the 5 gears is medium in size, while the other 4 are smaller. As you can imagine, they're all interlocked. If one moves (namely, the center one) all of them move. So not only is the game a beautiful site to behold, it's also a beauty to see the game evolve from turn to turn, when the gears all literally rotate (counter-clockwise for the center gear, and clock-wise for all the surrounding gears). So yes, it's unique. It's interesting. It's a stand-out presentation among board games. It draws passers-by in with ease. Simply put, it's Euro sexy.

It's also very functional. This bring us to our next point.

2. Non-fiddliness.

For a game with so many parts coming together, a game with so many different resources, different paths to take to victory, places to locate your workers, and decisions present, it's amazing how non-fiddly game play is. It's all due to the gears. Moving from one turn to the next is as easy as, well the turn of a wheel. When players advance the central wheel one tooth ahead, it resets the entire play space in an instant. This is shear brilliance, and it makes me wonder why it hasn't been done before. Compare this game to something like Agricola. In Agricola, between each round, every supply source must be filled. There are numerous places to find each resource. It's up to the players to place all those resources all over the board. It takes time, effort, and mistakes are often made. In this game, no mistakes. Turn the wheel once, and everything is set since all resources are printed on the board and the wheels do all the picking-up and/or putting down.

3. Thinky game play.

It's a worker-placement game. Okay, like we don't have enough of those already, right? But there's something special about this one. Workers can go away and come back the next turn if you'd like, but of course, if a worker only goes away one day, he's not going to come back with much. Whereas, if he goes away for several days, not only will he be able to find more great things, but he'll magically gain unimaginable human strength! Enough strength to be able to carry loads and loads of goods, jewels, building supplies, and--don't forget--food! This makes the game incredibly "thinky", as I like to call it. There's more than just deciding when to send your workers on a task and when to bring them back. There's the endless considerations of where you'll put them, what you want them to bring back specifically, and how to maximize bringing as many of them back at the same time as possible. Add to this the other players, who are doing the same thing as you, on the same tracks. So now you're thinking about what your opponents might be planning on doing, and how that is going to affect your plans, etc. etc.

But the single most important mechanic that makes this game a heavier experience is in the placement/removal rules of the game. In most worker placement games, all players place their workers in one phase, then all players remove their workers in another phase. Tzolk'in flips this idea on its head and requires that players EITHER place (additional) workers OR remove (any number of workers) on their turns. Why does that add such a challenge? Because--as I mentioned before--timing plays a huge part in a player's success in this game. Players must time when it is best to place so as to limit the number of actions used in removing their workers at the best moments--the fewer actions a player uses in removing workers, the more actions that players has to place workers. It's something I'm not sure you can fully understand/appreciate until you've played it, but it's a layer of thinking that really makes the game (1) pensive, and (2) unforgiving.

Some may find this a plus, while others may be turned off quickly. I personally think the layers of planning and heavy considerations of competition, timing, and strategizing make for a wonderfully fulfilling game for my brain. The negative side is that it will provoke what is known as Analysis Paralysis (AP). If you have a player in your group/family who struggles making up his/her mind, and sits staring at the board during his/her turn, then this might not be the best game to play with that person. And finally, as it can be fairly unforgiving, if you have a player who hates getting behind and has no chance to catch up, this probably won't work for that player either. But once again, I'm getting ahead of myself.

WHO'S IT FOR?

Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar has been a go-to game for me here in Patzicia, Guatemala. But I've chosen my audience carefully. I've actually had success teaching it to newbie gamers, although I wouldn't recommend it as an entry-level game. I would normally only introduce it to players who are already familiar with the worker-placement mechanic, and are stepping beyond gateway games.

The game does a great job of taking an overused mechanic (worker placement), and adding a special spark to make it stand out as different. The timing element that comes with the turning wheels brings a challenge that is both rewarding, and unforgiving. If you are the type of person who enjoys standing on a knife's edge of decision-making, and if you slip up you might not recover, than you will probably enjoy this game. If you are the type of person who likes to look several turns ahead and plan your moves, this might be a good game for you. Also, if you're the person who wants the only confrontation in the game to come from players "taking" spots on the board where other players wanted to go, this is a fit.

However, if you are the type of player who hates it when a game makes you feel like you'll never recover from one or two mistakes you make early on in the game, this might rub you the wrong way. If you are the type of person who gets frustrated when you have to think multiple turns in advance in order to do well, you probably won't like this game--or you'll be really bad at it. If you want more confrontation in the form of battles, armies, and attacking, this game has none of that; stay away.

WHAT ARE MY IMPRESSIONS?

If you can't tell, I like Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar. I don't rate it in my Top 10 games of all time, but it would probably be considered if I were choosing my Top 25. It brings a unique feel to the worker-placement genre. That's saying something, because there are a lot of worker-placement games trying, and even claiming, to do just that. Tzolk'in combines just the right amount of simple mechanics, non-fiddliness, brain-pressing decisions, and a high level of strategic planning that it works very well for the kind of gaming experience I enjoy.

I rate it an 8 out of 10 after 5 plays.

Thanks for reading and happy gaming!

--

NOTE: The copy of the game in the image to the right has been custom painted by yours truly.

[edits] grammar
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Bill Eldard
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Outstanding review, Shane! You've covered the game rather well.

I think one of its strong points is the fact that the entire game is unfolding in front of you. The only unknowns in the game are the replacement buildings drawn from the pile. The gears not only serve as a novel mechanic; they provide a complete visual for planning turns in advance.

This has been one of my favorite games this past year.
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Shane Larsen
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Eldard wrote:
Outstanding review, Shane! You've covered the game rather well.

I think one of its strong points is the fact that the entire game is unfolding in front of you. The only unknowns in the game are the replacement buildings drawn from the pile. The gears not only serve as a novel mechanic; they provide a complete visual for planning turns in advance.

This has been one of my favorite games this past year.


Agreed. The random order of the appearing buildings creates a great model for variety from game to game, without making it completely unpredictable in planning terms.

And your point about the gears providing a "visual for planning" coincides with my feelings. I often find myself counting the number of teeth left on the gears before the next income/food round so I can maximize my actions leading up to that moment. And I always do it as the end of the game comes around.
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Vercin GETORIX
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Wonderful review, smooth, fluid and complete. Like the game itself? It makes me feel like having it in my collection anyway.
Looking forward to reading your blog.
Cheers.
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Bill Eldard
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thedacker wrote:
I often find myself counting the number of teeth left on the gears before the next income/food round so I can maximize my actions leading up to that moment. And I always do it as the end of the game comes around.


Yep. That's critical, especially if one of the opponents can advance the gear twice to end that period.
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Shane Larsen
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Garcimore wrote:
Looking forward to reading your blog.
Cheers.


Thanks for the kind words, Vercin.

The blog is new, so there is a limited amount of content...for now. I plan on posting a lot of work I've done here and any new work I do in the future.

Thanks again for the compliment.
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