Designer: Michael Kiesling, Wolfgang Kramer
Players: 2 – 4
Ages: 10 and Up
Time: 60 – 120 Minutes
Times Played: > 5
This is the 21st entry in a 37-part series reviewing each of the Spiel des Jahres winners. This series originally appeared on The Opinionated Gamers in 2015. I originally called the series "SdJ Revisited" and used the English names of the games, but the OG changed the title and went with German names. I'm updating these over the next few days and posting them here on BGG. If you have anything to add to the game history, I'd love to see your comments below.
Tikal: Kramer and Kiesling win the Triple Crown of board games…
After his success with Richard Ulrich on El Grande, Wolfgang Kramer was open to collaborating with other designers. Michael Kiesling had founded a game company and released a couple of games, but without much success. He phoned Kramer for advice, and after more than two hours, the two had the basics of the game “Haste Worte?” down. That game was published in 1997, and a legendary design team was born.
After their relationship took off, Kiesling approached Kramer about creating a game based on a city at the bottom of a lake which would occasionally rise to the surface. Kramer liked the idea, and the two started experimenting with mechanics to simulate the city emerging and then submerging again. One day, Kiesling faxed Kramer a picture of hexagonal tiles connected by ladders. The image reminded Kramer of the Mayan Temples, and he immediately contacted Kiesling to suggest that they change the theme to archaeologists excavating Mayan ruins. That game would become Tikal.
The German edition of Tikal was published by Ravensburger around the time of the Nuremberg Toy Fair in 1999. It immediately received critical acclaim. Ravensburger also released a multilingual edition that year, and Rio Grande published an English version for the U.S. market. Tikal wasn’t the first game to use an action point allowance system, but it revolutionized the mechanic, which Kramer and Kiesling subsequently used in Java and Mexica, the other games in the Mask Trilogy (so named because of the masks on the cover of the boxes). (Torres, the 2000 SdJ winner, is considered an honorary member of the Mask Trilogy.)
In awarding Tikal the 1999 SdJ, the jury cited the game’s excellent use of theme and stellar production value. Tikal was Kramer’s fourth win, tying him with Klaus Teuber for most SdJ wins. He would get his fifth a year later for Torres, and today he still holds the record for most SdJ titles.
Tikal won first place in Deutscher Spiele Preis voting that year, and it was the inaugural multiplayer winner of The Gamers’ Choice Award, which would later become the International Gamers Award. To date, Tikal is the only game that has won all three of the hobby’s major awards (although one could make an argument that 7 Wonders did so by winning the Kennerspiel des Jahres).
Kramer and Kiesling went on to become one of the most well-known duos in all of boardgaming. As mentioned above, they published the card game “Haste Worte?” together in 1997. They then did a couple more light card and board games before tackling Tikal. Post-Tikal they went on to design a number of popular and critically-acclaimed games, most notably Torres (winner of the 2000 Spiel des Jahres). Interestingly, the duo had only met once before their SdJ win, at Essen ‘97 for a cup of coffee. They instead collaborated by phone and fax, bouncing ideas off each other but doing playtesting independently. They had not actually played any game together until Essen ‘99.
There has never been a clear trend in the complexity of the games winning the Spiel des Jahres, but an argument can be made that the high-water mark came in the 1995-2000 years.
Tikal was illustrated by Franz Vohwinkel, who had also done Drunter und Drüber and Mississippi Queen. Vohwinkel would later do the artwork for the other games in the Mask Trilogy, as well as the artwork for 2000 SdJ winner Torres.
Tikal went on to sell about 600,000 copies, making it Kramer’s fifth best selling game of all time. The game is still in print today. It received a sequel in 2010 called Tikal II: The Lost Temple. In an interview with Andrea “Liga” Ligabue on The Opinionated Gamers, Kramer described Tikal as one of the games that defined his career.
The Gameplay: Uncovering Mayan temples with action point allowance and area control…
All rules (and pictures) are for the most recent Rio Grande games edition.
In Tikal, each player is the director of an expedition exploring an ancient Mayan city. Each player receives victory points during scoring rounds, and the player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.
At the start of the game, each player takes the tokens of their chosen color and a player aid. There are three types of tokens: 2 camps (which mark where a player can enter the board), 1 expedition leader (which counts as 3 expedition workers), and 18 expedition workers. The temple tiles are sorted and set aside, as are the hexagonal terrain tiles. (The terrains are arranged alphabetically from A to G, ensuring that scoring occurs near certain points in the game, and making higher-value temples available later in the game.)
On a player’s turn, he draws the top hexagonal terrain tile from the stack and places it on the board. The terrain tiles have “stones” set on one or more of the six sides. Players can only cross where there are stones, and moving from one tile to the next costs as many action points as there are stones. Hexes can only be placed so that they can be entered from an already-placed tile, but the movement stones to do this can be on the new tile, the already-placed one, or both.
There are four types of hexes in the game. Jungle tiles have nothing printed on them, but camps (which allow a player to move expedition workers onto the board from that location) can be placed on them. Temples have a number of points for the player that controls the temple during a scoring round. The value of a temple can be increased via excavation. Treasure tiles receive a pre-determined amount of treasure, and when that treasure is exhausted, the tile functions just like a jungle and can have a camp placed on it. Lastly, volcano tiles trigger scoring. Volcano tiles are impassable.
After the player places a tile, he plays through ten action points. The following are the game’s action points:
1 Point: Place one expedition worker or leader in either in the base camp or one of that player’s camp. Expedition workers and leaders cannot be placed in other players’ camps.
1 Point: Move a worker or leader one stone to another tile. Keep in mind that moving over multiple stones costs multiple action points. A player must end his turn on a tile, so it is not possible to use action points to partially cross to another tile.
2 Points: Uncover one temple, which increases the value of the temple for scoring. Only two levels may be uncovered per temple per turn.
3 Points: Recover one treasure from a treasure hex. A maximum of two can be taken per turn, and a player must have as many workers in the hex as treasures he takes.
3 Points: Exchange a treasure with another player. The exchange cannot be declined, but pairs and triplets cannot be broken.
5 Points: Establish a camp on either a jungle hex or an exhausted treasure hex.
5 Points: Place a guard on a temple, which means that player permanently controls it. This can only be used if the player has control of the hex.
The action points are represented graphically on the game’s player aid:
During scoring rounds, the player receiving the volcano tile puts it aside, uses his ten action points, and then scores. Each player clockwise then takes ten action points and scores. The value of a temple is the topmost number on a temple. To win, a player must have a plurality of workers on that temple, with expedition leaders counting as three. (A player automatically wins if he has a temple guard.) Additionally, points are awarded for treasure: a single treasure scores 1 point, a set of two scores 3 points, and a set of three scores 6 points.
There are three scoring rounds in the game. After the third, the player with the most points wins.
There are a few variants to Tikal, including a set of rules that add auctions to the game.
Does it stand the test of time? My thoughts on the game…
I like Tikal, and I’ve always enjoyed my plays. I a big fan of the game’s theme, and I love how the actions I take make me feel like I’m actually exploring jungle and uncovering lost Mayan temples. Watching the temples emerge from the jungle is eye-catching, and the overall presentation value of the game is high. Franz Vohwinkel truly showed off his artistic talent on both the game’s box and the game’s board.
I’m a big fan of action point allowance and area control, and Tikal implements both in a clever manner. As I said above, it wasn’t the first game to use action point allowance, but it was one of the most influential games in the earlier days of the hobby. I think Tikal compares favorably with games using the same mechanics today.
That said, though I like it, this isn’t one of my favorite Kramer and Kiesling games. From my vantage point, the game has two interrelated problems: there is significant downtime between turns, and the game seems to go on a bit long for what it is. This keeps me from playing the game in physical form, although I still love the iPad version (which has a decent AI) and the web version (at SpielbyWeb).
BGG says Tikal is best with four players. I disagree: I much prefer the two-player version. Calculating how to efficiently use ten action points can take a while, and in a four player game, there might be five or even ten minutes between turns. And this game can cause even fast players to slow down. I’m generally a quick player, but for me, the AP referenced so often in Tikal’s rules (as an acronym for “action points”) might as well stand for “analysis paralysis.”
The game is easy enough to learn, although like most action point allowance and area control games, it is difficult to master. Despite having a higher weight than most SdJ games, I’ve always found Tikal to be quite approachable, and I’ve taught it successfully to a few non-gamers. It can be difficult to remember all of the actions at your disposal, but the player aid is helpful and well-designed.
Would Tikal win the SdJ today? I highly doubt it. The game is original, easy-to-learn, and well presented, so it does hit some of the right notes, but I think the complexity of the game would make it a better candidate for the Kennerspiel des Jahres than the Spiel des Jahres.
Green Bay area
Tikal is my favorite all time game, sitting at #1 on my top 100.
As you like it at two players, I am curious whether you have tried the variants like the Mini-Tikal one, which from what I understand makes the game shorter and provides more tension.
I'm quite interested in this game, so I would like to know whether the game stands the test of time given these variants.
"The only thing you are going to see, is the burning hand of overdue justice." - Lobster Johnson
“There are only three forms of high art: the symphony, the illustrated children's book and the board game.” - Saga
Tikal was one of the games that I started with in this hobby. I haven't played it in years, but I played it a lot then and I loved it.
I loved the AP-system and the theme (perfectly transported by the artwork). I just recently played Java and this was a lot slower and heavier then I remembered. This might be the case with Tikal too. There is only one way to be sure.
I'm very much enjoying this series. Although the question "Would this win the Spiel des Jahres today?" is an interesting and obviously relevant one, it would also be interesting to address "Would this win the Kennerspiel des Jahres today?" As the Spiel prize has arguably been "split" into two prizes, and as users of BGG are likely at least interested in the kennerspiel winners (if not more), I wish you would take this on for the games that are too complex for today's Spiel award.