♪ Isaäc Bickërstaff ♫
The results of a five yeer studee ntu the sekund lw uf thurmodynamiks aand itz inevibl fxt hon shewb rt nslpn raq liot.
I like strategy games, but I don't always like games that play for hours on end. If a game can keep you involved for the amount of time it takes to play, then I can justify its length (Age of Steam, anyone?), but I feel like there are so many games out there I want to play, and I have too little time to play them all. Unfortunately, most of the games that play quickly are luck-based, with little satisfaction associated with a win. So when I find a game that plays quickly, but has some significant strategy involved as well, I'm happier than a bloated tick!
Maya is a game that falls into this category for me. The game plays over three rounds, and experienced players should be able to finish it in 30-45 minutes. The game is a combination of semi-blind bidding mechanics, special actions, and building up "influence" by building pyramids in the ancient Mayan civilization. The more influence you have, the more gold you receive, and gold is what you count for victory points in this game.
When the game starts, each player has an identical hand of bid cards, ranging from 3 to 8, along with a special -3 card. Depending on the number of players, you bid on a number of special actions. These actions can range from being the start player to getting free actions to negating a -3 card on one of your bids. For the first bid, you have to play one of the low cards, between 3 and 5, but you can play a higher card on any subsequent bidding round (the -3 card is considered one of the higher valued cards). The locations of these special actions are in a quarry, so along with winning the special action up for bid, you also win a certain number of stones from that quarry, depending on where you place in the bidding. This number can range from 5 to 1.
Once the bidding has been resolved, you now have to be able to move your stones from the quarry to the pyramid site, and this is where the first balancing mechanism comes into play. You have to have enough bid cards left in your hand whose value adds up to the number of blocks you have won through auction. If you cannot meet that number, then you have to put any excess stones back into your supply. In relation to the theme, the bid cards represent workers, and if you devote too many workers to the quarry, then you won't have enough workers left to carry your stones to the work site. It's important to estimate the number of stones you plan to win and place your bid cards appropriately to both win the auctions and also have enough workers left over to transport the stones. In addition, the quarries only have a limited number of cards that can be played to them, and once that limit has been reached, that quarry is locked out. Ties are broken by placement order -- whoever placed the first bid card on that quarry wins the tie.
Once you have your blocks, players take turns placing them on the different pyramid sites. You place one stone at a time, and you have to start on the lowest level. Players cannot play to a higher level until ALL pyramids have their lower levels complete (i.e., you can't play to the third level of a pyramid until the first and second levels of ALL pyramids are complete). You can play two stones on a single turn, but you have to discard a third stone back into your supply to do so. (There is also a special action that allows you to play two on a turn for free.) Also, there is a mechanic that states if you complete a level of a pyramid, and have the majority of stones on that level, you get a free stone from your supply to place on the next-highest level on that pyramid, regardless of whether or not the lower levels of all pyramids are complete. Clever play will allow you to discard a stone to play two, and then receive that discarded stone back immediately to place higher.
Once all stones have been placed to pyramids, you score your gold. Each level of a pyramid is scored separately, and only those players who score first and second score for those levels. If there is a tie, all players get the amount of gold as if they had first place. After everyone collects their gold, the pyramids decay -- that is, all players who scored gold on any level of a pyramid have to remove one block from that level back into their supply. If the removal of any stones leaves that player with no blocks on that level, all of that player's stones on higher levels also go back to the supply (sort of like The Bucket King, only they don't have to be adjacent). After this happens, the next round begins, and you follow all these steps again.
There's not a lot of opportunity for heavy strategizing in this game, since there's really only one road to victory -- you have to have gold, and the only way to get gold is by having the majority of stones in any given level of a pyramid. The strategy of this game comes from the way that you play your stones to the pyramids. You have to know which actions will help you toward your goal, you have to know when is the best time to play those actions, and you have to know when to bid high for certain actions or for the correct number of stones to accomplish your goal. It's a fine balancing act, and the mechanisms of the game maximize the tensions inherent in the game.
I commented in my rating of the game that there wasn't enough "meat" in this game, and I think this comes from the single road to victory. It's a bit limiting in one respect, but the length of the game, paired with the choices you make along the way, make this a minor quibble. This is a filler boardgame with teeth, which puts it in the company of games like Web of Power, and the fact that it is a good game for three players gives it a further nudge in the right direction for me.