You are the leader of a Mayan tribe in a race against time. You must gather resources, build mighty structures and collect crystal skulls to please the gods before the calendar ends!
Alternatively you place wooden cylinders on gears which move around to give you small wooden cubes, plastic skulls and cardboard buildings.
This game is primarily an abstract puzzle of which the theme is mostly present in the artwork. It is a pretty typical euro game in that sense.
How many players?
2-4. I have mostly played it with 2 but I think it works equally well with 3 or 4 due to the placement of dummy workers at lower player counts. The only thing that doesn't scale in the game is the number of crystal skulls. With 4 players these may be harder to come by if everyone tries to get a lot of skulls.
Each turn you have 2 options. You can put workers on a gear or you can take them off. This sounds quite simple but it is not because the longer workers are on a gear the better reward you will get. So you will want to leave them all on the gears until they reach the end of the wheel however you have to do something each turn. So you need to plan out a sequence of plays. To be good at this game you need to be able to plan several moves ahead.
This game does not have much luck to it. The only thing that is random in the game is the starting wealth tiles. However luck is even mitigated here in that you get 4 tiles and choose 2. Overall I think the starting tiles are pretty well balanced considering how many of them there are. I would need to play and record a lot more games to see if some of them give a better advantage. Even still this advantage depends on which buildings are in play at the time.
Overall I would say this game is very strategy based.
Tzolk'in has a high replayability due to having the different starting tiles, different buildings being available and lots of different strategies to attempt. The time for the game is quite short so you can only achieve a small portion of the game in any one play through. That being said I don't think it is infinitely replayable. This is not the sort of game you could play every week for years on end. This is more a game that you play every now and then and havea lot of fun in doing so.
There is no direct interaction in this game. Unfortunately you can't capture opponent workers and sacrifice them instead. There is a reasonable amount of indirect interaction though. In placing your workers (and skulls) you will block your opponents from being able to place there. This helps promote everyone taking a different approach and not using the same strategy.
Path to Victory
I have not played this enough times to know if there is an unbeatable strategy. I have won the game using several different approaches which i think is a good sign.
This is possibly the most complex game I own for a couple of reasons.
-Lots of iconography. The board is full of symbols and for a new player to understand them all takes time. It will take a couple of games for them to really feel comfortable with the core game concepts.
-Foresight. You have to think a couple of moves ahead otherwise you will end up going I need to put this worker on this turn and take this worker off this turn and I can't do both. Or even worse realising you need 12 corn to feed your workers next turn and not having any corn at all.
-Time. Every game I have played has felt really short. I have only just started to get my engine working and the game is over. This is even worse in your first game. You can get to the end of the game and have achieved literally nothing.
-Lots of options. While you only have to choose between putting workers on and taking workers off there are 30 odd different available actions to choose from when you take the worker off. Which one should you go for first? It is a bit intimidating when you don't even know what any of the funny symbols mean.
I think most people can get to grips with this game but it will just take a couple of games and in that time there is a decent chance they will throw their hands in the air and refuse to play it anymore unfortunately.
Upsides -Mayan theme is undeniably cool -Gear mechanism looks and feels awesome and gives a sense of impending doom -Game makes for a very challenging puzzle -Rules are clear and easy to follow
Downsides -This game is a brain burner and not suitable for casual play -Feels like it ends a bit prematurely (i.e Possible for everyone to get to the end and have not built anything, researched anything or moved up any temples and scored few points) -No combat or violence may make the game less entertaining for some
You should buy this game if -You love puzzles -You like Mayan culture but are not pedantic on whether it is an accurate historical reflection -You dislike direct confrontation -You enjoy removing a wooden cylinder and picking up a selection of wooden cubes to represent chopping down trees and then using those wooden cubes to build a cardboard building which gives you plastic crystal skull that you can then use to gain favour with Chaac.
I briefly owned this game. But I hate the timing puzzle in this game. It's not that I can't do it, but I don't find it enjoyable. I likewise hate video game puzzles that rely on timing and aligning multiple moving pieces to line up at the correct time. To me, the fun part of the puzzle is finding the solution, not trying to time it properly.
Too often in this game I got to the last couple turns and realized I wasn't going to be able to do what I wanted. I found it very unsatisfying. I don't mind planning ahead, but I don't like it when you get punished severely if you don't do it just right.
Having said that, it's the only thing about the game I don't like. So while I don't own it anymore, I would play it if someone asked me to. I just know I'm going to screw up terribly.