Played Tikal for real for the first time last night. Actually, it was the Mini-Tikal varient recently posted by Edward (Spire), not the real full version. It's my understanding that Spire has preserved the feel of full Tikal but just scaled it back to about 25 or 30 per cent. We choose to play this version because there were just 2 of us playing, both for the first time.
I'm not entirely sure what the full version with 3 or 4 people feels like, but even with it's shortened time and reduced resources (1 guard, 1 camp, 12 workers, 4 treasures) there was a lot of tension and concentration on our moves as we played. I could really get the sense of the scope and weight of the full game, and even though the mini version was created specifically to be much shorter, both my brother-in-law and myself were surprised (and a little bummed) at how quickly the end came.
I had at least read the rules and tried a solo game or two before the session, so I had a bit of a tactical advantage as to how to use workers and budget action points. The auction rules are used in mini-Tikal, and that was interesting since we had never played before and didn't know the value of anything yet, but I think we did okay. The only thing that was a little hard was remembering who bid first on the tiles previously. I can imagine this would be harder in the full game.
The game developed into a race for temples, mainly, with both of us moving for position and excavation of levels. I unearthed a couple or treasures right away, but my opponent ignored them for the most part electing to get his workers on to the temples as fast as possible. Some of this, I think was due to the more immediately obvious value of the temples, and some was because a couple of the treasure tiles got buried behind temple tiles and were hard (or expensive) to get to.
By the first (and only) scoring round, I was ahead of my brother-in-law by just a couple of points mainly due to the amount of VPs he bid for initiative and the fact that he had 1 treasure point to my 4. The real decisive point in the game came when a temple and blank terrain hex came up for bid. He won the initiative with 4 vps and chose to place the temple. I had been hoping to place the empty terrain hex, however, because I was able to establish a camp in a prime location to access the 5 point temple he just placed. He also established his camp on his next turn, but in a spot with much less access. This positioning, I think, was the key to the game as I was able to just dump workers quickly into some high value temples and take them over.
An interesting thing happened during the final scoring round. We had been jockeying for position on a 7 value temple with both of our leaders on it, and with his final 10 scoring APs, he managed to make it impossible for me to take the temple back over on my scoring turn. So I abandoned the temple during my scoring phase and deployed my workers to score in several different close temples of lesser value. Maybe an obvious move, but it seemed shrewd to me at the time. I ended up winning 52 to 44.
We both enjoyed the mini-Tikal varient (thanks Spire!) and it really served to wet our appetites for the full game. I can't wait to see how the game changes when you add another couple of players to the mix.