Giant Fire Breathing Robot
I’m a big fan of Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar. So I eagerly anticipated the release of the first expansion, Tribes and Prophecies. The expansion adds variable player powers and a randomized objectives board. This made me initially skeptical. After all, many (not all) expansions that simply add additional variables are lazy and uninteresting, but upon playing, Tribes & Prophecies not only adds depth, but patched up my one major concern with the base game.
The Basics. Tribes and Prophecies, conveniently enough, adds both tribes and prophecies to the base game. It comes with thirteen tribes, each of which provides a variable player power. When the starting resource tiles are handed out, each player also gets two tribes at random. The player selects one to keep and one to return. That tribe will have an ongoing power throughout the game. Some give ongoing powers, while others allow a starting bonus with an associated detriment. So, one tribe might allow you to get extra corn for taking old actions, another might start you with five workers but cost you additional corn to feed them.
The prophecies operate very differently. A prophecy board is placed to the side of the main board and has space for three prophecies. The thirteen prophecy tiles are randomized and then three are placed on the board. During the first quarter of the game, through the first food day, there is no change. But, during the second quarter of the game, the first prophecy takes effect. The second and third prophecies take effect during the third and fourth quarters of the game.
Each prophecy generally follows a similar pattern. It makes one task in the game more difficult. Then, at the end of the food day of that quarter, points are gained or lost depending on the success of that task. For example, one task might state that all workers cost an extra corn to feed. Then, at the food day, if you feed 0-3 workers, you lose five points. Feed four and you net nothing. Feed five and you get six points. Feed all six and you get thirteen points. Another might say that gaining a crystal skull requires you to lose influence with the gods. But, at the food day, your number of crystal skulls determines whether you will lose or gain points from that prophecy.
The game also includes components for a fifth player as well as a “quick action” spot to use when playing with five. The quick action is a tile overlay placed on the board which introduces a new action space. Rather than a gear, it adds three spots, each of which costs one corn. The game also comes with thirteen quick action tiles divided into age one and age two. The age one tiles are placed on the main gear. Each will be available for two days and then, after a turn of the gear, the next tile replaces it on the quick action spot. It allows the player to get an immediate bonus. Often, it is various resources. But it can also be used to increase technology. After the first food day, the age two quick action tiles are added to the main gear so players can see them in advance. The main difference with the quick action is that the resources or event is carried out at the end of the turn – no need to wait and pull guys off later.
Finally, the game adds a few new buildings and monuments. Interestingly, several of the buildings now have an “upgrade” icon. This means that if a player later constructs a different building or monument, they can discard the upgradable building and reduce the cost of the new building by the old building’s cost.
The Feel. Tribes and Prophecies is fantastic. It does a wonderful job of not only breathing additional life into the title, but it blows the possibilities wide open. My one reservation about the base game was that players could easily fall into just a few main strategies. And, at least with regard to the Chichen Itza strategy, it could very well be dominant. In fact, my experience was that all players had to compete in Chichen Itza at least a little bit. If one person was allowed to run around in the sacred city by himself, that player would win by a country mile.
Tribes and Prophecies changes that dynamic entirely. Sure, the crystal skulls are still powerful, but now the Prophecies dramatically change the incentives during the game. The Famine prophecy is a great example. In the base game, you typically get a little corn at a time, or have a few big corn days, to ensure that you can feed your people and have enough to place workers efficiently. But with famine in play, you have to acquire even more corn. And you are encouraged to get more workers so that you can make use of the bonus points – and avoid the penalties. Planning becomes razor thin because you have extra burdens on top of your overall strategy.
And, because you need to take time mucking about in other areas of the board, executing the same crystal skull strategy each game becomes unappealing. Tribes and Prophecies’ greatest contribution to the base game is that it dramatically enhances replay value. I imagine it as a little machine with different levers and knobs that are used to adjust the incentives in the game. And, because the prophecies apply to all the players, it also can result in a lot more crowding. Suddenly, all of the players have the same goal for the quarter. Gears get crowded, resources get depleted, and the start player marker is viciously contested. This increased player interaction is also a welcome result of the prophecies.
Plus, the prophecies are implemented well. If each prophecy was revealed a piece at a time during the game, it might seem hokey or forced. Instead, all three prophecies are shown from the beginning. So, for example, if you know the Cursed Skulls prophecy is coming up, maybe you plan it out to get a skull or two before the prophecy takes effect – before the penalty kicks in. Save those skulls and reap the point rewards later. In essence, then, Prophecies enhances the planning aspect of Tzolk’in and creates ever more reason to plan the timing of your turns.
As for the tribes, those are OK. While I haven’t seen all of the combinations in play, it does seem like some tribes are a tad more powerful or easier to use than others. Others are definitely more powerful, but come with a penalty. One tribe gets to start the game with five workers. But, their workers always cost an extra corn to feed. And failure to feed them is -5 points instead of -3. Others might let you use a corn to take the next action up – allowing you to be more efficient with turns. Another might let you take past actions without costing corn, and give you a corn to boot. The power does seem a little variable, and probably even varies from game to game depending on the strategies employed by your opponents. Still, it can be a great way to anchor your main strategy and allow additional viability to other actions.
The one part of the game that doesn’t work as well is the addition of a fifth player. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that this is in here. A fifth player gives some flexibility so that Tzolk’in can be played if someone extra shows up to game night. But it does add to the playing time. Plus, the board can get very, very crowded – especially if everyone is making a last ditch effort to avoid the harsh consequences of a prophecy. While the quick action does offer a bit of a release valve, it effectively only adds three spaces to the board. So, while I’m glad this includes the option, it isn’t a reason, by itself, to snap up this expansion.
Finally, the new monuments and buildings are nice additions. In fact, I’m really happy about the buildings with the “upgrade” icon. Being able to upgrade old buildings into new ones – especially buildings that provide a one time bonus, is a huge boon to the building strategy. It makes them more desirable and also encourages players to explore that path a little more.
Negatives are, frankly, difficult to find for Tribes & Prophecies. While I enjoy the base game by itself, the addition of the prophecies really extends this game and provides another level of interesting decisions. With three prophecies out, players have to choose which to really target, which to squeak by, and potentially which to simply suck up some negative points. It not only adds to the base game, but fills in just the right gaps.
Components: 4.5 of 5.The new pieces are great. The new player color – orange – is distinct from the old ones and fits the gears nicely. The new monuments and buildings have a fantastic color match to the old ones. The artwork on the tribe tiles is also pretty great. It does help to evoke some of the theme that has always been muted in this game.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 5 of 5. Tribes and Prophecies adds in plenty of randomization, but very little luck. Sure, everyone starts with a random player power. But players are dealt two and can choose between them. Yes, the prophecies are randomly placed. But they are revealed at the beginning of the game and players have every opportunity to take advantage of them or plan around them. Though elements are random, players are given every opportunity to adapt. Plus, as with the base game, random elements (other than tribes and starting resources) are dispersed evenly among all players.
Mechanics: 4.5 of 5. As if it wasn’t clear by this point, the prophecies are amazing. They mesh well with the feel of the existing game and not only improve the situation, but mend possible problematic areas. That module is absolutely wonderful. Tribes are also good and having the additional advantage can be interesting – especially for experienced players. The fifth player pieces are nice, but they do come with additional downtime and significant crowding.
Replayability: 4.5 of 5. This is really where the prophecies shine. Tzolk’in, though a wonderful game, could fall into the trap of repetitive play. There were certain semi-mandatory considerations and, any time that exists it is problematic. I want to explore when I play games. Going through the motions of known elements is much less exciting. But prophecies shakes that up entirely. Now, the Chichen Itza strategy is mitigated and no longer bears the mandatory flavor it once did. Other strategies may be enhanced or hindered based on prophecies. Adaptability is key, and planning becomes even more important. The game not only loses problems, but gains depth.
Spite: 1 of 5. Tribes and Prophecies, by itself, doesn’t really add any spite to the game. There are no “take that” elements or powers. However, sometimes items become more important because of a prophecy or tribe power. In those instances, a conniving player might take the spots his opponents need in order to deprive them of the necessary material or cost them too much corn. So, it’s the same spiteful action available in the base game, it just might have deeper consequences now.
Overall: 5 of 5. This is a fantastic, fantastic addition to the base game. It does a wonderful job of adding depth and strategic considerations. Players now not only need to plan their own turns, but also look at their opponents and get a feel for where they are going – and what they are capable of. The crush as prophecies become due is highly enjoyable, and the attention paid to expanding relevant considerations is wonderful. If you are a fan, at all, of the base game, then this is a must-have expansion. Get Tribes and Prophecies to the table.
(A special thanks to Czech Games Edition for providing a review copy of Tribes & Prophecies)
(Originally posted, with pictures, at the Giant Fire Breathing Robot. Check out and subscribe to my Geeklist of reviews, updated weekly)
I've yet to try out quick action/5th player and have a sneaking feeling I will never play this game with 5.
That being said, wow the prophecies and tribes give another life to this game. It completes the experience! We've had runaway game issues with a couple particular strats and this really evens the playing field for experienced players (Though time will tell who might find ways of being devious)
Enjoyed reading it, great review!
Excellent review! It pretty much sums up the expansion completely. I do think the tribes are more than just ok, but completely agree about the balanced issue. I particularly hate that the tribe with all the workers has such a major penalty on feeding AND losing extra points. I wish that tribe would've just been you get four workers but have no extra food cost or something more to that effect. The prophecies are my favorite part of this expansion...the add so much to your strategy.
- Last edited Sat Apr 5, 2014 12:08 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Sat Apr 5, 2014 12:07 am