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Subject: Tikal - Some Thoughts on Grave Robbing rss

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Eoin Corrigan
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I've owned Tikal for a few years now, played it 5 or 6 times and felt that I've never really given the game as much attention as it deserves.

Last night, seeking a reasonably rules-light, 90-minute-or-so game I had an opportunity to correct matters a little so we selecteded Tikal. My wife (yellow) and I (red) had played it before, our friend (white) was new to the game but is a strong gamer and absorbed the rules very quickly.

Tikal, as I'm sure you are aware is a tile laying, area control, set collection, periodic-scoring powerhouse of a game. During the early turns, as is usual, we each fanned out a little from the congested initial access point. Conscious of the proximity of the communal base camp I laid my tiles in a line stretching away from the base camp, with a view to opening up a silk road to the treasures hidden deep in the jungle interior. However, white pounced and built a camp at the furthest extension of my line of tiles, and then proceeded to discover some 4 and 5 step pyramids. Meanwhile, yellow was busy uncovering pyramids and we all diverted some resources to scampering about collecting treasures.

Initial scoring favoured white, partially due to some fortunate treasure set collections and some deft manouevring.

We cleared jungle, uncovered pyramids and claimed them for our own. found treasures, stole them. The board filled. The 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 pyramid steps were depleted quite early, just after the mid-point of the game.

A few observations on Tikal's play:

- I had forgotten how predatory Tikal's scoring is. In a sense it's forgiving, as each player is permitted to adjust his or her position prior to scoring. But, there's still a lot of zero sum calculations occurring and good players are maximising the pain they cause their opponents. Not unlike Carcassonne, there's a viciousness lurking beneath the non-threatening theme.

- Perhaps Tikal can seem a little scripted? Certainly, each game I've played has a pattern. The numbers of treasures decline in frequency. The scoring phases are roughly periodic. Later pyramids are higher. However, there is plenty of uncertainty. One may know that a volcano is due to appear soon, but whether that's in one turn or three is anybody's guess. I enjoy Tikal's bounded uncertainties.

- Tikal's economy is one of action points. Manouevre has a steep cost, and some of the skill of the game lies in laying tiles with a view to impeding the opposition's freedom of movement while easing your own. As such, I think the Tikal board has a zonal quality - it's usually very inefficient to bring about wholesale redeployments.

- It follows from the previous point that camp placement is crucial. You'll certainly need one, but a player might hope, if possible, to avoid paying for two new camps as at 5 action points apiece they're quite expensive. When and where to place a new camp are among the most important choices a Tikal player faces.

- I suspect that it's very difficult to win without devoting some attention to treasure collection. My own objective when collecting treasure is not so much to collect sets of three, but rather to disrupt the other players' set collections, because if I don't they are going to score well. I'm not sure whether a strategy which focuses on treasure colection, to the exclusion of pyramid control, is viable - I suspect not.

- Tikal has been criticised in the past for mixing badly with those players who have a propensity for analysis paralysis. Maybe so, but I think that's more of a player etiquette issue than a flaw in the game. We all enjoy thinking through our options, but there are other players waiting...

As in many games, I suspect, victory in last night's was decided through opportunistic placement of a new camp close to some juicy targets and use of the camp leader to appear and dominate the locality. Both yellow and white were perhaps a little premature in using their camp leaders and consequently were caught a little out of position. Caution is advised, as the impact of the 3-strength camp leaders can be decisive.

How did our game end? Red won on 133 points, white scored 123 and yellow scored 111. A close game, and the outcome was uncertain until the final scoring round was complete. Here's an end-game photo:



Tikal was published in 1999. There are many who might say that in the intervening 15 years game design has progressed quite a distance. There are others who might argue that games like Tikal have yet to be bettered.
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nice review, great game, makes we want to play right now
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Bill Eldard
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Eoin Corrigan wrote:
. . . Tikal was published in 1999. There are many who might say that in the intervening 15 years game design has progressed quite a distance. There are others who might argue that games like Tikal have yet to be bettered.


And I'm one of those others.

Nice review.
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Yours Truly,
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There must have been a moment at the beginning, where we could have said no. Somehow we missed it. Well, we'll know better next time.
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Nice write-up.
I would've actually put this as a review! Session reports are a niche interest and unfortunately some might miss out on this great read thinking it's just a run-of-the-mill session report.
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Larry Welborn
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Still one of my favorite games.
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Eoin Corrigan
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JohnnyDollar wrote:
I would've actually put this as a review!


Thanks - I had intended to write a session report with a few observations on Tikal's gameplay and a nod to just how excellent Tikal is, so the piece fell between a couple of stools.

Glad you enjoyed it
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