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Subject: Do's, Dont's, but mostly Maybe's - Tikal Tips and Tricks rss

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Phyll
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Well, I’m a fan of this game. I checked out the BGG entry for the game the other day and I was a little surprised to see that there were so few Strategy Guides for Tikal given its award winning status and high ranking on the Geek. There are some good reviews, and frikkin awesome photos, but unfortunately not much in the way of tips and tricks. So I thought I should do my bit to help out so here I go with various thoughts as they pop into my head in no particular order.

Note there is some good discussion at:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/116689

but for ease I’ve decided to open up a new thread.

Firstly, A quick note about me and my Tikalness: My first game of Tikal was about a year ago, face to face. I enjoyed it and discovered I could play it turn-based online at speilbyweb.com. I checked it out and it definitely scratched my itch. Since then I’ve racked up over a hundred games online with a win rate hovering around 65% for four-player games. I’m not saying that to tootle my own trumpet, there are guys out there with a lot more plays and better stats than me, but I reckon I can mostly hold my own most of the time and thought perhaps I’d have something to add which may help someone, somewhere, somehow, someday, maybe.

Secondly, I’m only going to be talking about the random tile draw basic rules, no auction variant for me. I concede that there is less luck when you all have the opportunity to bid on the tiles, it’s just that it doesn’t float my boat (besides, the 2 or 3 games I’ve played of it I really sucked ) Never played it face-to-face, but I’m concerned that the Auction rules could really bog down. Perhaps. Me? I prefer the excitement of the draw and having to deal with whatever gets served up on your plate as best as you can. Sure there’s more luck, but for me, trying to mitigate dealing with some bad draws and finding a way to make it work for you is where this game shines. Some games, no doubt, you’ll go down simply due to some dud draws (and others you may sneak perhaps an undeserving victory) – or you’ll be beaten simply because one of your opponents drew that tile, whereas if you'd drawn that tile you would’ve won, but generally things are fairly balanced and I just plain enjoy the challenge of making the best of what I’ve got to work with.

And thirdly, I’m only commenting on 4-player games. Again, I acknowledge that 2 player and it’s head-to-head nature is probably more ‘skillful’, but it’s too dry for me and I love the cut, thrust and chaos of playing with 4, trying to break free of the mess and tangle and never quite knowing what will be coming your way.

Using tile laying and piece movement to try to get your opponents to do what you want them to do is what it’s all about. Most of the time you can be about as accurate with it as playing billiards with marshmallows, but when you get it right it sure is sweet.

A quick note on Analysis Paralysis: Yeah this game can suffer from it, which is a large reason why playing on spielbyweb can be so attractive and I’d recommend checking it out if you’re interested. I find that probably about 80% of my moves are very quick – I’ll make them in a couple of minutes or less. Usually I have to have a think about the 2nd last turn and final scoring, but by and large I find that it’s not too bad. Sometimes however you’ll get a situation where your brain just keeps going around in circles of doubt and confusion and no matter how hard you try there just ain’t no easy solution and the grey matter in the noggin just seizes up. If you’re playing face to face, AP (Analysis Paralysis that is – not Action Points) could well be a large issue depending upon your crowd (which is a major complaint about this game) – but that’s up to you to decide which circle of friends you should bring it out with. Me? I like the game and don’t seem to be bothered too much by it. No problems with bringing out a sandtimer if you need to give things a wriggle along.

So please, read, take what you want from it, ignore what you don’t like or agree with, feel free to comment and tell me I’m wrong, and I hope you enjoy my varied unstructured ramblings.

SCORES

What’s an average score you ask? Well, good question. Kinda futile though really as each game plays differently, but for some reason it’s still something we all like to know and it can give us an idea of what we should be shooting for. Obviously it depends upon a whole stack of stuff and some games will be much lower scoring than others, but of all the 4 player games I’ve played I’ve crunched some numbers and can say that:

Average winning score: 108.3
Average losing score: 75.5

Highest score: 134
Lowest score: 42

Average score for player going 1st: 93.7
Average score for player going 2nd: 94.9
Average score for player going 3rd: 91.4
Average score for player going 4th: 90.1

Player going 1st percent wins: 22% (26/117)
Player going 2nd percent wins: 38% (44/117)
Player going 3rd percent wins: 26% (30/117)
Player going 4th percent wins: 19% (22/117)

(You’ll note that this adds up to over a 100% due to some shared victories)

As a rule of thumb, a score in the lowish-hundreds will be competitive. And this seems to roughly correspond to scoring about 10 points in the first scoring round, 20 in the 2nd, 30 in the 3rd and surprise, surprise about 40 in the 4th.

Once again, all gross generalisations, and personally it’s rare for me that I’d score 10 in the first round or even 20 in the 2nd, (although I think I’m actually a bit of a slow starter) but you get the picture.

So how do you win? Get lots of big temples where no one else can score them and also collect lots of treasures of the same kind. And also make sure you don’t go last

But if that doesn’t work out, you can try a few other things that probably sound obvious, but if you’re new to the game hopefully they may help you out a bit.

SECURE YOUR TEMPLES

OK, this is a big one. If you’re going to spend the AP’s to develop temples, you better make sure that your opponents can’t gazump you ‘cause that’s AP’s you’ve spent straight down the drain. It’s money for jam for your opponents and you’re giving away your advantage. If you let them take advantage of temples that that you’ve been developing and spending AP’s on you’ll be giving them a great benefit.

As Jackie Stewart said on an episode of ‘Top Gear’ regarding cornering (or rather, accelerating out of a corner) “Don’t put the power on until you know you can keep it on”….. same rule applies. If you’re going to develop your temples you want to make sure that either (a) It’s already under your control or (b) You are willing to commit to expending the AP’s to make it yours.

Assuming you have a camp close by, if you flood your temples with workers there’s a good chance that your opponents won’t contest you for them as they’ll need to spend a whole lot of points just to break even with you, and then you can just cheaply win it back which makes the whole exercise rather futile for them and should mean that they’ll leave you alone in the first place (although beware the Kamikaze player – more details later).

If you make it impossible for them to score it, often they’ll move their guys away to hassle your other opponents without ever trying.

Secure your temple BEFORE you build it up. You may be a victory point or two down to start with, but more often than not the safety will pay dividends. Your opponents won’t pester you and contest you for control of it. This means that you can then build it up in your own good time and cap it when it’s convenient for you, and that your opponents won’t feel that they have to keep throwing good workers after the bad to get some return on the investment they’d made earlier. The result is less long-term cost for you. Often the kamikaze situation could have been avoided if you’d spent 2AP’s putting an extra worker on the temple rather than exploring it to the next level.

Likewise always keep an eye out for taking advantage of someone else’s efforts.

Try to make sure that if your opponents can strip control of the temple off you – they can’t do it for a cost of 5 or fewer AP’s….. if they get the majority there and still have 5 AP’s to spend you could well kiss it goodbye once they’ve capped it off.

Don’t be shy about locking away your Leader if it’s worthwhile. If you can get your leader on to someone else’s temple that they’ve been building up to 7 or 8, I usually won’t hesitate to plop the leader there and sacrifice him to the hungry Gods. I mean, what are you going to use him for anyway beyond scoring a high value temple? So he’s kind of spoken for anyway and this way you ensure that he does score, you hinder your opponents and rob all the AP’s they’ve spent. We all love to hang on to the leader, but just keep an open mind to sacrificing him.

On the leader – try to keep him near your power base if possible. Often this won’t work out, but he sure can help to keep people away from the temple you’re laboriously exploring, and then with the base next door he’s just a hop or two to your other camp on the other side of the board to pick up some cheap unprotected temples.

Other times you’ll want your leader floating about, picking up scraps where he can – just beware it can really suck to have him stranded in a place where he has become redundant and it will cost you 7AP’s just to get him back into play.

TREASURES

They’re good. And of course, the earlier you can pick them up the better. Sure, sometimes the way the board develops means that it’s going to be a struggle to get your hands on them, and even though you can still win with only having collected 1 or 2 treasures throughout the entire game, it makes it a hell of a lot harder.

Often it seems that they’re not worth it… then halfway through the game you’re well thankful ‘cause the points start adding up.

If I’ve managed to secure a couple of sets of 3 treasures by mid-game I probably won’t be going out of my way to pick up more treasures, not that I’ll pass them by if they’re easy pickings.

One of the most important things though is to make sure that no one player gets a monopoly of them. If this happens, chances are that they will run away with the game.

Come mid-late-game, I often won’t spend 3 or 4 AP’s on movement to get to the treasure tile if all I’m going to get is one treasure, but it may well be worthwhile if (a) you have a lot of treasures yourself or (b) if you need to slow down someone else from collecting too many.

When it comes to swapping treasures, try not to help your opponents complete their collections unless they’re not a threat to you.

TILE PLACEMENT

Make it count. This is probably the single most important aspect of the game. If you can’t make the tile work for you, then you’ve gotta try to find a way to make it work against your opponents.

This is the way you can try to control your opponents’ moves. If you see an opponent getting a free ride with an uncontested temple or two – think about putting the vacant tile with easy access (1 stepping stone) next to this so that another one of your opponents will be tempted to build a camp there and start contesting the temple.

I can’t overstate this enough – TRY TO CONTROL THE ACTIONS OF OTHERS THROUGH TILE PLACEMENT.

You can block off routes, open others, and re-direct traffic. Not very well sometimes, but it can be all you’ve got to work with.

Sometimes you’ll pick up a really juicy 5 or 6 temple which you’d love to place next to an empty spot and build a camp then and there and pop a worker or 2 down as your go. This is what we all hope for. There’s a very real chance however that when you put it down it’ll be exposed, or you’re still trying to fend off a challenger on the other side of the board, or whatever. Sometimes it’ll be a risk worth taking, but you should also think about using it to try to get other opponents fighting over it while you’re busy securing your own temples. If you get them throwing their workers at it, you can be all freed up to start seeing what you can poach off your opponents. Meanwhile they’re throwing their workers at it and their rate of scoring will start to drop off.

Often to stop opponents hassling you on a temple you’re trying to work on, the only way to get rid of them is by enticing them away with a tempting temple.

Sometimes placing a temple near an opponent can put him in a precarious situation whereby he or she will try to get some men on it, meaning that other temples they’re trying to hold don’t get the workers they require, and the next thing you know they’re being swamped by everyone with all the half-protected temples about them.

On this, often it can be worthwhile not trying for a temple that you know will just be taken off you. Of course, other times you need to make others spend the AP’s if they want to take control of it off you, thereby falling into your cunning trap!

It’s not all about optimising your moves for maximum efficiency and maximum scoring on every individual turn. A more holistic approach is required. You’ve got to identify your competition and try and influence the play of others by tile placement if possible. You’ve gotta metagame it within the limited scope that you can.

You’ve gotta be able to let go of those tasty temple tiles or vacant jungle tiles with easy access out of there and think about not how to use them for your own benefit, but how to use them to get others to do your dirty work for you. Sometimes you’ve gotta give another player a bit of a free ride to get them contesting your closest threat.

Of course, sometimes it will backfire because a player obviously doesn’t think the same as you do and will spend all 10 AP’s just to take your 6 temple off you when he could have spent 5AP’s to take a 7 temple off another player which is closer to his own camp… but that’s all part of the game and the chaos of 4 players.

CAMP PLACEMENT

Usually closer to the edges is best so you can try and get sole mining rights to a corner or edge of the board. When you can quarantine a section you can develop any temples there in your own time without being pressured into rushing it, then cap the temples off, or not cap off as the case may be whenever you like.

Often an opponent will have some workers on a temple near your camp and you’ve got lots of workers on another temple close by. Assuming you’re before him/her in turn order, it’s nice to move your workers from the one you’ve had control over, cap it off and swarm on to the other one. Alternatively, think about saving it to final scoring, not capping it off and just flood the other one anyway. Chances are you won’t mind if he spends 6 AP’s or so and goes and scores it after you’ve vacated (assuming he’s going after you that is), as long as you can score both you’ll probably be in front.

You won’t always get both camps out in a game, but you should try. Sometimes it’s worthwhile placing a 2nd camp near or next to your 1st camp if this 1st camp has access to enough temples simply in order to stop someone else placing their’s there if you can see that coming. Never say always of course, but it’s worth considering. 5AP’s may be a cheap price to pay to ensure you’re not hassled and retain your monopoly. You don’t want to leave it much longer than round 4 before getting your first camp out though – the game can quickly get away from you if you’ve got no power centre.

Think about taking a risk if the chance arises to use one of the vacant jungle tiles with a few access points out by placing it somewhere in the open and popping a camp on it even if, at that stage, there’re no temples about. You may get creamed by other players’ tile placement, but you should hopefully get at least one temple you can work with. I find that usually going last you need to make some risky moves to try to stay competitive. It can also put pressure on the other players. Of course it can backfire but often you’ve got not much else to do anyway, so it may pay to take a shot at it.

You’ll probably find that the “bottom left” corner of the board (if the general base camp is at bottom right) is a nice place to try and get a camp as there’s not too much room for more than one camp and if you get one there you’ll probably have the whole game to try and work on that section of the board in your own good time. I will often take the chance and put a camp there even if there’s nothing there at the time to develop in the hope that things look up. Like I say though, it can be risky and you can get smothered. If you don’t get smothered though you may well be standing in a fairly comfortable position.

Oooh, another thing worth considering….. when you have a camp in a nice quiet spot and you’ve got some treasures next door that it’s just too expensive for the others to try for…. Think about not taking the last treasure until the last or 2nd to last round. The newly-created vacant jungle may be a great place for an opponent to place a temple which could well screw you up. I know I’ve shot myself in the foot by just snatching up the last treasure because it was just sitting there, all nice and pretty and shiny. Tempting little trinkets. As long as you don’t take the treasure, they can’t build a camp there.


GUARDING TEMPLES

Try not to sacrifice too many workers to cap off a temple unless you really need to as it could well hurt you later in the game.

Think about capping it off at about 5 or 6 if you’ve got a couple of workers there but you think that you’re not going to be able to hang on to it. If you can’t maintain it or sustain a barrage of workers from an opponent because they can move workers there a lot cheaper, call it a day and cap it off if you get the chance.

A mid-size temple capped off early can lead to a fairly large accumulation of points come end-game.

FLOATERS

Having a couple of ‘floaters’ about is very handy. Firstly, it keeps your opponents on their toes and if they leave temples in precarious positions you may be able to pounce. They can’t get away with building up temples and having minimum guards on there if you can strip it off them.

Secondly – you’ll be using them to pick up treasures. Your opponents aren’t going to put treasure tiles near your power source, but if you have a few floaters about you should be able to stay competitive in the Treasure Hunt.

Thirdly – it keeps open the option of what I think is probably the most powerful move of the game…. The draw-a-5-or-6-temple-and-put-a-worker-on-there-build-it-up-a-level-and-cap-it-off-straight-away. You spend all 10 AP’s (less if you’re lucky) doing this, but it is generally well worth it. You can usually pop it directly next to an opponents camp which means not only are you putting 5 or 6 or 7 points into the bank for a scoring round or 2, you’re cutting off your opponents options.

BEWARE

The Kamikaze player who will just keep throwing themselves at you in a battle you know (and they should too) they can’t win. If you see this happening you’ve got a couple of options:

(a) Get involved in a land war.

“NEVER GET INVLOVLED IN A LAND WAR IN ASIA”. Nobody wants this and it will usually ensure that you’ll go down as you keep expending more and more resources and other players go uncontested. Of course this may happen at the very end of the game when it’s probably not an issue, but in the mid-game when you’ve got a nice camp and temple placement with easy access and one of your opponents keeps on throwing workers on to your temple you have to re-think, so instead think about (b), (c) and (d).

(b) Cap off the temple and end the argument.

It may be an expensive one if you’ve got a lot of workers there, but if otherwise you’re just going to have to keep on adding more and more workers there just to secure the investment you’ve already made, well, the workers already there are as good as gone anyway so you might as well just sacrifice them and make sure you’re the only one who scores and your opponent’s effort is wasted.

Of course – this could be dangerous as you may find you’ve got a bunch of enemies all around your camp who can just jump on to your next temple and the whole thing starts over again. You need to play it by ear. (Sometimes you yourself will be the kamikaze looking for this kind of result).

(c) Run away

Discretion is the better part of valour and cowardice is the better part of discretion so don’t be afraid to cut your losses and chicken out. Sometimes it can be the only way to stay competitive in the game, as galling as the idea is.

(d) Controlled sacrifice

If they’ve got one more worker on it that you, chances are they won’t keep escalating the situation as they’ve reached their annoying objective. So if they leave it be, on your scoring turn you can drop a couple of workers on there and score it. Chances are they will follow suit, but it can be a not too expensive way of maintaining some measure of control over the temple in question.

I’ve even moved a worker off a temple just to ensure that they won’t throw more workers at it if I couldn’t afford to match the outlay, then pop a couple on it when it comes to scoring.

THE GOLDEN RULE

There are no hard and fast rules. I know this sounds like a cop-out, but it’s true. Judge each situation individually, adjust as required and don’t be afraid to break any of the ‘rules’ mentioned above. Never say never.

And although it may sound, I realise reading all the above - that I’m claiming that the heart of it is all about defensive play…. Well that just ain’t right. You’ve also gotta learn when to take the log to the beaver.

Time and again it will be worthwhile to use your troops – especially your leader to harry your opponents and to rush them into capping off a temple earlier than they’d like. Having your leader sitting on top of them or close by can make them nervous and afraid that you’re gonna pounce. You’ve got to try and slow down their scoring rate.

Often it’s worthwhile not even spending your efforts on developing temples when you can keep using your leader or other workers just to mooch points off the other players. So you don’t have a strong base? Who cares when you can simply move your leader for a few AP’s come scoring time to get you another 6 or 7 VP’s in the bank.

Sometimes you’ll find that you need to act like the kamikaze to keep them on their toes and suck up their workers or to keep them distracted and occupied so you can work unhindered on whatever it is that’s important to you. And sometimes you may unfortunately just find yourself being the kamikaze without ever really meaning to – it’s just that you’ve had nothing more worthwhile to invest in.

Sometimes it’s worthwhile just to go for some big points not bothering about securing ‘your’ temples because the cost benefit is just too big and even if they take control of ‘your’ temple off you, you’ve opened up enough of a lead that it won’t make any difference. Sometimes you’ve just gotta be a greedy slob, go for the easy points and try and sprint to the finish line. It may not matter if they outscore you in the final round, just so long as you can collapse over the line in first place come final scoring.

And that’s about the end of my ramblings. Nothing else springs to mind. Hopefully you can take something from it. Feel free to tell me I got it wrong.

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Brad Miller
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Certainly covered a lot of ground with that. I'd never use a guard on a 5 temple, and rarely a 6. You only get two, so I save those for 7-10s. The key is to realize when you can steal someone's temple with a minimum of effort, and waiting until the scoring rounds to do so. Keep your workers in fluid positions, while attempting to hold a couple for yourself. Never build up temples in the early going. Let others do that for you and then steal their work.
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Phyll
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Windopaene wrote:
Certainly covered a lot of ground with that. I'd never use a guard on a 5 temple, and rarely a 6. You only get two, so I save those for 7-10s. The key is to realize when you can steal someone's temple with a minimum of effort, and waiting until the scoring rounds to do so. Keep your workers in fluid positions, while attempting to hold a couple for yourself. Never build up temples in the early going. Let others do that for you and then steal their work.


I agree with everything you've said Brad. I generally won't cap off a temple at 6 unless it looks like someone else will take control of it off me and I won't readily be able to get it back. In this instance I generally reckon you might as well cap it off to get the points in the bank and a return on the points you've already expended before they're wasted.

One other thing I realise I didn't mention - sometimes you should be careful about making a temple too tempting. If you've got say a 4 or 5 temple sitting out of the way with a worker or two on it - there's every chance you don't want to make it any more of a target.... often it will be cost prohibitive for an opponent to spend the AP's to strip control of it off you.... when they could get more points for the same outlay elsewhere.... if you develop it up to 6, 7 or 8 however there's a very good chance that it will be too tempting for your opponents and they'll move their leader (or other workers) there then not only you don't score a few easy points for the remaining scoring rounds, you've gone and wasted precious AP's.

Sometimes it will be tempting - but if you're not willing to spend another 10AP's or so to win control of it back (for only a few extra VP's that you would have been scoring) - don't make it more of a target than it needs to be.

The same can apply for smaller temples too. You may have a small temple of 3 or so with a couple of workers on it which people aren't willing to spend the AP's to get 3 of their own workers on it. If you take up to level 4 or 5 chances are it will be a completely different story then you'll be needing to throw another 2 or more workers on it yourself just to score it and you're in the situation where your opponent probably isn't going to want you to nullify his expenditure and will look at ways of getting control of it again.... and the escalation continues much to your detriment. Watch out for this.
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Patrick Rowland
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Well this discussion is old and still one of the few out there. It is too bad. I played this for the first time four player and loved it even though I got killed. Thanks for all he advice,it can do nothing but help me.
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