The Princes of Machu Picchu doesn’t seem to be getting the love here on the ‘Geek that I feel it so richly deserves. I have decided, therefore, to make it the subject of my first review for the site. Hopefully, some people will find this piece useful or, at the very least (and trust me, we’re talking very, very least) entertaining. If you do, please tell me so below, because I am emotionally needy. If you don’t, please tell me below because, in addition to being emotionally needy, I am a self-loather and like to know I’m not the only one that hates me.
This year has been my biggest yet for board gaming. I have been flirting with the hobby for the last few years but hadn’t really made my move yet. In other words, I was just repeating the same vicious cycle I had lived out in high school with any number of cheerleaders, burnouts, or salutatorian candidates (the valedictorian hopefuls were always too busy to even pretend to ignore me). This year, much as I did at the end of high school, I decided to grab the bull by the horns. It worked out better for me now than it did back then, by the way. I would rather play any one of the games I obtained this year than spend any time with my one and only high school girlfriend. This fact is, of course, sad on many, many levels. However, the symmetry of the two situations gave me an idea for my review "hook". When I review games, I will rate the various categories on a scale of 0-5 High School Girlfriends. A score of 0 means that spending time with my high school girlfriend is more appealing than that specific aspect of the game. A score of 5 indicates that a particular aspect of the game is 5 times more appealing than hanging out with my high school girlfriend. See how that works? Simple. Also, cathartic.
Sussudio, my girlfriend and main partner in game, and I were at one of our local game stores in preparation for Christmas. She asked me if there were any new games that were good and I scanned the new releases area for titles I recognized. My eyes lit on the cover of The Princes of Machu Picchu and I immediately remembered hearing the name bandied about during the build-up to Essen 2008 (just rereading that sentence fills me with both pride and terror at how far into the hobby I have delved this year). I remember that, at the time, I had really just discovered the absolute and utter joy of Agricola and I had disregarded this game out of hand as another, and most probably far inferior, worker placement game. "I’ve heard decent buzz about that one," I said, pointing to the box, "but it strikes me as just another worker placement game and, really, when we’ve got Agricola, what other worker placement game do we need?"
Luckily, Sussudio picked up the box and read the back. "Says here it has over 100 wooden pieces," she said with a knowing smirk.
I love bits. I am a fool for bits. Bits bits bits bits bits bits bits. That’s a lot of bits.
We walked out of the store with a brand-spanking-new copy and headed right home to try it out. (As a side note, we also picked up Caylus on that trip and I have found that, while I still think Agricola is superior, there is always room for more than one fantastic worker placement game...)
CHAPTER ONE: The Bits
When we got home and opened the box we found that the publishers were not kidding around with their boast - there is an almost obscene amount of wooden bits inside. The wooden bits represent lots of different things: the little red shirts represent cloth, the little green leaves represent cocoa, the little brown vases represent pottery, and the little white llamas represent, well, llamas, all of which are goods that can be produced during the game. You have pieces for your Inca workers, scout, and prince, as well as a wooden round tracker and wooden Temple Stones that indicate when sacrifices can be made in the different temples on the board (don’t worry, you sacrifice llamas, not people).
There are also a bunch of cardboard chips and chits that need to be punched out from big sheets of cardboard (punching cardboard chips is pleasure...). First there are the chips representing Corn - these come in two different sizes/denominations (1 and 3) and function as money, more or less. The other chips are the Sun and Moon Tiles. The Sun tile is laid on the board covering the picture of the moon. The Moon Tiles are placed around the Sun Tile. The Sun and Moon tiles play a part in ending each round of the game.
In addition to all the wooden and cardboard bits, there is a spacious, nicely illustrated game board inside the box. The board has several areas. The main area is the mountain city of Machu Picchu itself, which depicts the various districts of the city. There are the five production districts (one each for Corn, Cloth, Cocoa, Pottery, and Llamas), the four Temples (the Main Temple and the Temples of The Sun, The Puma, and The Condor), the Central Plaza (which is home to the Market where you can trade goods for other goods), The House of Priests (where you can buy Priests of the Condor or Priests of the Puma), the House of Virgins (where you can purchase Virgins of the Sun), the Watchman’s Hut and Royal Palace (where you can assign you Inca workers to the various production districts), and finally the Sun Clock (which allows you to remove an already placed Inca Worker from the board). To the right of the city districts is the Inca Trail, a series of 20 steps that represents your Inca Scout’s trip up the mountain. Above the Inca Trail section is the area for Priests and Virgins to be stored/displayed prior to being acquired by players. Each type of Priest/Virgin has a set of spaces equal to the number available during the game. Each space has a number on it. As players acquire Priests/Virgins, they take from the left of the track. As more spaces are reveled on each track, the number on the space decreases. These revealed numbers figure into the use of the Temple Districts on the board (more on that later). On the left side of the board is the time track. This keeps track of which round you are currently playing, which is important for the endgame conditions.
There is one odd thing about the cardboard components and the board - both have an English and a German side. Now for me, this is no big deal at all. In fact, I think it’s a nice little touch. Also, when my friends make fun of my "little games", I can whip this out and say, "Little? Little? This game was designed by Germans, my friend! Germans!" and I’ll have the proof to back it up. However, some people may find it a drawback, so I’ll take time to mention it.
There is also a deck of cards - Sacrifice cards, to be exact. These are decent quality stock with a design that matches the rest of the components. The artwork is a little slapdash, but for what they are, they work perfectly well.
I have to say that, when all is said and done, I came for the quantity but stayed for the quality as far as the bits are concerned. This is much more than I can say for my high school girlfriend, so The Princes of Machu Picchu scores 5 High School Girlfriends.
CHAPTER TWO: The Game
In The Princes of Machu Picchu, each player takes on the role of, wait for it..a Prince of Machu Picchu. These Princes are ostensibly trying to keep the Spanish from discovering and exploiting their awesome city. The game is played over a series of rounds. Each round represents a Day. There are a variable number of possible Days each game depending on the number of players - the game starts on Day 1 with 2 players, Day 2 with 3 players, and Day3 with 4 or 5 players. The game ends immediately when the last Priest or Virgin is acquired by a player or at the end of Day 9, whichever comes first. If all the Priests and Virgins are acquired before the end of Day 9, the Princes have managed to keep the city hidden from the Spanish. If Day 9 ends and there are still Priests and/or Virgins available, the Spanish have found the city. The interesting thing is that a Spanish victory does not mean the players all lose, it simply alters the final scoring.
“Scoring," I imagine you asking. Yes, scoring. This is a Euro game, so there must be Victory Points, right? A player scores points both for Priests/Virgins acquired and for Incas placed in production districts in the city. The number of points given for any specific Priest, Virgin, or Inca depends on the Sacrifice cards the player acquires during the game. Each Sacrifice card depicts three things. On the top of the card is a Gold value. Below that are two different symbols, each corresponding to a different type of Priest/Virgin or production district. At the end of the game, you multiply the number of symbols of each type by the number of Priests/Virgins of that type you acquired during the game or by the number of Inca workers you have placed in that district. Therefore, you can score in each of 8 different categories: Priests of the Condor, Priests of the Puma, Virgins of the Sun, Pottery workers (Potters), Cloth workers (Weavers), Coca workers (Planters), Corn workers (Farmers), and Llama workers (Shepherds). If the Princes are successful at keeping Machu Picchu hidden (by acquiring all the Priests/Virgins before the end of Day 9), that’s the end of the scoring.
However, if the Spanish are victorious (because the players did not acquire all the Priests/Virgins by the end of Day 9) there is an added component to the scoring. After points are totaled normally, the player with the highest total Gold value of Sacrifice cards TRIPLES his/her score. The player with the second highest Gold value DOUBLES his/her score. This has the interesting effect of making a Spanish victory appealing to one or more Princes, depending on the Sacrifice cards they draw as the game progresses, which in turn adds additional tension to the game.
“Alright, alright," you are undoubtedly muttering by now, "I get the theme, the endgame, and the scoring, but what do I do each turn?" The main action of the game consists of moving your Prince from District to District on the city section of the board. You can only move to adjacent Districts (unless you give a Llama back to the supply, in which case you can move to any other District on the board). Each District has an action associated with it. 9 of the 15 districts can only be used once per Day - the 5 Production districts and the 4 Temples. This is indicated by placing a bonus good (for Production Districts) or a Temple Stone (for Temples) on each of these Districts at the start of each Day. The first player to move his/her Prince into the District each Day takes the bonus good or Temple Stone and then the Districts action is triggered.
What are the actions of each district? Good question. Four of the five Production Districts (Llama’s Meadow, Coca Plantation, Potter’s Quarter, and Weaver’s Quarter) have the same basic action - when a Prince enters the District for the first time each Day, the player takes the bonus good from the board and puts it in his/her supply. Then each player that has any Inca workers placed in that District may pay one Corn per worker to the bank to take one good of the District’s kind per worker into their supply. The Corn Terraces (the Production District for Corn) is only slightly different in that players do not need to pay Corn to receive Corn; each player with any Inca workers in the Corn Terraces gets 3 Corn per worker when the District is activated (3 Corn is considered one good). The goods you produce are used to either acquire Priests/Virgins or to place more Inca workers into Production Districts. Since you score points at the end of the game for these two things, you can see why you might want to do either or both of them as the game progresses.
The Temples allow you to make sacrifices. Each sacrifice allows you to move your Inca scout up the Inca trail. Why do you want to push you little Inca scout all the way up the mountain, over and over again? Because you are a sadistic Prince of Machu Picchu? Because you are the creator of the Prince of Machu Picchu’s Fitness Plan? Because making other people run up mountains is funny? While any and all of these may be true (okay, maybe not the bit about the Fitness Plan...), the real reason to push that little Inca up the mountain is to get your Princely paws on more Sacrifice cards, which, as you no doubt remember from much earlier in this long-winded review, help you score points at the end of the game. Each time your Inca Scout reaches the summit of the mountain, you get to draw 3 new Sacrifice cards into your hand. Then you must discard 2, and that can include any cards you already had. This is a nice shot of hand management, allowing you to change gears mid-game, at least to a minor extent. There are two other stops on the way up the mountain, the Granary and the Llama Stable, which give you 3 Corn and 1 Llama, respectively.
“So, how do the Temples work?" Good question. Like the Production Districts, all but one of them work in basically the same way - the Temples of the Condor, the Puma, and the Sun. When a Prince enters one of these Temples for the first time each Day, the player takes the Temple Stone from the board, returns it to the supply, and moves his/her Inca Scout 3 steps up the Inca Trail. Then any player that has any Priests or Virgins of the type matching the Temple may sacrifice one Llama per Priest/Virgin. Each Llama sacrificed allows the player to move his/her Inca Scout a number of steps up the Inca Trail.
“How many steps?" My, aren’t you on top of things. Earlier, when I described the board, I mentioned the spaces to store/display the Priests/Virgins at the top right. I mentioned that each type of Priest/Virgin has its own track of spaces and as Priests/Virgins are removed from each track, numbered spaces are revealed. Well, the number in the furthest right space of the associated Priest/Virgin’s track is the number of spaces each sacrifice allows you to move up the Inca Trail.
The Main Temple has the same basic effect, moving a player’s Inca Scout up the Inca Trail, but it operates in a slightly different manner. When a Prince enters the Main Temple for the first time each Day, the Temple Stone is resolved normally (the player who own the Prince removes the Stone and moves his/her Inca Scout 3 steps up the Inca Trail). The, each player is allowed to sacrifice goods to gain steps on the Inca Trail. A player can only sacrifice one of each type of good. Each sacrificed good earns a player’s Inca Scout 2 steps up the Inca Trail.
In addition to the Production and Temple Districts, there are several other Districts with actions assigned to them. These other 6 Districts can be used multiple times per Day. The Royal Palace and the Watchman’s Hut Districts allow a player to place Inca Workers is various Districts. Coca Planters, Weaver, and Potters are placed via the Royal Palace while Farmers and Shepherds are placed via the Watchman’s Hut. To place an Incan Worker, a player pays two goods to the bank. It costs a Llama and a Pottery to place a Farmer, a Corn and a Cocoa to place a Shepherd, a Pottery and a Cloth to place a Cocoa planter... It’s very cleverly done. The tension in placing Incan Workers comes from the fact that, in order to place Incan Workers in the Districts you will score for at the end of the game, you are probably going to need to place workers in Districts that you won’t score for at the end of the game in order to get the necessary goods.
There are two ways around that problem, however - the Central Plaza’s Market and the Sun Clock, two of the remaining four Districts on the board. Moving your Prince into the Central Plaza gives you access to the Market, where you can buy or sell Pottery, Cloth, Llamas, and Cocoa. To sell a good, you place one from your supply onto the first empty spot in the good’s column of the Market table at the lower right of the board and take the amount of corn indicated by the number your just covered. If there are no empty spots in the good’s column, you can still sell the good, you just have to return it directly to the bank and you take 3 Corn in return, the lowest value on the table. In order to buy a good, you take the bottommost good from the good’s column and pay the amount of Corn you just uncovered. If, for some reason, all the spots in the column are empty, you can still buy the good, you just need to pay 6 Corn and take one directly from the bank. You can buy and/or sell as many goods as you would like during one trip to the Market. The nice thing is that, when your Prince first enters the Central Plaza, you can influence the price of one good up or down by placing or removing one token from the good’s column on the table. The Market is a viable, if slightly expensive, way to avoid having to place Inca Workers in non-scoring Districts.
Moving your Prince into the Sun Clock District allows you to remove one already placed Inca Worker. When you enter the District, you may remove one Inca Worker from one District and place it on the Sun Clock District. Each time your Prince moves into the Sun Clock District, you can move ONE Inca Worker. You can, however, visit the Sun Clock more than one time per Day. At the end of the Day, you take any of your Inca Workers that are on the Sun Clock back into your supply, allowing you to place them in new Districts on subsequent Days. You also get a nice bonus of three different goods from the bank per Inca Worker removed. The Sun Clock let’s you invest in non-scoring Production Districts early in order to get the goods you need to place Inca Workers into your scoring Districts.
The Last two Districts are the House of Priests and the House of Virgins. When your Prince enters one of these Districts, you are allowed to acquire ONE Priest/Virgin by paying the requisite cost in goods - one Pottery and one Cocoa plus a variable number of Cloth (1 Cloth for Condor Priests, 2 Cloth for Puma Priests, and 3 Cloth for Sun Virgins). You can acquire more than one Priest/Virgin per Day by moving into and out of the District multiple times in a day.
At any point during a Day, if there are no more Districts you wish to visit, you can take one of the Moon Tiles from around the Sun at the top of the board. These tiles depict different bonuses - either bonus steps up the Inca Trail or free/cheap goods. The player who takes the third Moon Tile also takes the larger Sun Tile from the board. This indicates that, when the next day starts, this player will become the first player. Each other player takes one last action for the turn (usually taking a Moon Tile but sometimes visiting one more District) and then the Day ends. The player that took the Sun Tile moves the Day tracker to the next night space and takes the bonus Corn placed there. Then, each player puts any Moon Tiles they have back on the board and resolves the bonuses in whatever order they want. Once all Moon Tiles have been returned and resolved, the new first player puts the Sun Tile back on the board and moves the Day tracker to the next Day. All the Districts get new bonus goods and the Temples get new Temple Stones (if the bonus good/Temple Stone from the last round is still there, you simply add another one). Everyone then takes turns moving their Prince around again.
The rulebook makes this game seem much more complex than it really is. Once you see it in action, the mechanics are simple and elegant. However, the strategy and game play are anything but simple. Mac Gerdts, the designer of The Princes of Machu Picchu, is famous for his "rondel" games, where players take actions based on moving a marker around a wheel of actions. While this game lacks a distinct rondel (although the city itself is a sort of rondel, since you can normally only move your Prince to adjacent Districts), the game has a very circular, self-contained design. Players must acquire Sacrifice Cards to score, they must acquire Priests/Virgins to make Sacrifices in order to get cards, they need to acquire goods to acquire Priests/Virgins, and they need Priests/Virgins and Inca Workers in order to score points from their cards. This tension, and managing it, is the primary driver of the game. It’s always hard to decide what to do next because, really, you could do anything and in some way improve your standing. The trick is in choosing the move that most improves your chances of winning. My high school girlfriend was exactly the opposite of this - no matter what choice you made, it was destined to make things worse and therefore, you were always trying to pick the least awful of your awful choices. Therefore, in terms of game play, The Princes of Machu Picchu scores 5 High School Girlfriends.
This has been a wild year in terms of gaming for me. I have been exposed to all sorts of new games. I discovered Agricola and Race for the Galaxy and Dominion and...
The Princes of Machu Picchu has been slowly, quietly, inexorably climbing up my top games list since day one. Each time I play it, I see new paths, new choices, new strategies. The truly elegant design makes this game a joy to wander around inside. I am constantly impressed by the fact that, even when I can clearly see a path to victory, I still have to weigh all sorts of sub-optimal choices in order to follow it. I love the tension the game creates around even the simplest decisions in the game. By contrast, I never once loved the tension that my high school girlfriend caused. In my book, that makes this one a keeper.
EDIT FOR CLARITY
It has been pointed out that it may not be clear what my rating for the game actually is. The Princes of Machu Picchu scored 5 High School Girlfriends for both Bits and Game Play. That is an overall score of 5 High School Girlfriends for The Princes of Machu Picchu. Which means that, had I chosen my college based on its proximity to the game, it probably wouldn't have broken up with me my first weekend back.
- Last edited Thu Feb 5, 2009 7:01 pm (Total Number of Edits: 3)
- Posted Fri Jan 23, 2009 10:52 pm
Nice review! But what was the score? How did the girlfriend compare? Did I miss it in the body of the review? I've got to know!
Nice review! But what was the score? How did the girlfriend compare? Did I miss it in the body of the review? I've got to know! :)
last sentence before the epilogue sez...
Therefore, in terms of game play, The Princes of Machu Picchu scores 5 High School Girlfriends.
My copy is winging its way here. I'm looking forward to giving it a try!
- Last edited Sat Jan 24, 2009 3:42 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Sat Jan 24, 2009 3:42 am
I love the tension the game creates around even the simplest decisions in the game. By contrast, I never once loved the tension that my high school girlfriend caused.
I must admit I skip-read through a lot of the review - but I only rarely look at reviews at all. I thought this sentence was wonderful so I'm tipping you a couple of GG for this sentence alone!
Frammin' at the jim-jam
Frippin' in the krotz
(don’t worry, you sacrifice llamas, not people).
As a sociopathic vegetarian, I find this clarification horrifying.
I thought this sentence was wonderful so I'm tipping you a couple of GG for this sentence alone!
My Creative Writing professor in college used to do that. He called it the "A Sentence". You could get an A in the class for just one sentence. The only time I pulled it off was in my final class with him, an independent study course. I had been sort of dry in the writing department and really pushed my story off to the last minute. Thankfully, in the mess that was my final submission, there was one sentence that he believed warranted the "A" all by itself.
Anyway, thanks for the tip. I am busily working on my next review...
- Last edited Tue Jan 27, 2009 11:26 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Jan 27, 2009 11:25 pm
It's not a damn moped!
This excellent and well written review enticed me into buying the game at my FLGS. My copy should arrive in time for the weekend!
Great review! (three gold stars for you)