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Graham Dean
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Tzolk’in: Mayan calendar review

Overview

Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar is a game for 2-4 players claiming to play in about 90 minutes. I first became aware of this game at UK Expo 2012 back in May where an advanced prototype was demonstrated, and I wrote a review about it at the time. I have bought myself my own copy and played the final version, so I thought I would write a full review of the finished game.

Components



The components are all of a high standard, and it looks to me like a complicated game to manufacture with a lot of care being taken. The gears themselves are a strong solid plastic which I like, although to some extent they represent a missed opportunity. The moulding has extensive mayan style patterns on which are difficult to see, and there are already several pictures available where some people have painted theirs.

There was a small manufacturing problem with the first edition, where the holes for the child board were punched slightly too small and the areas around the holes not depressed to allow for easy turning of the gears. The only impact comes when the game is assembled, which is only done once.

The board has been cleverly cut into jigsaw pieces which allows the board to be packed away into a standard size box – something I was watching for.

The resource cubes are standard fare, although I found the gold and stone cubes a little hard to distinguish in poor light. The crystal skulls are good plastic sculpts, and overall the presentation is of a high standard.

Setup

The board is assembled in order, with the oddly cut piece holding the central wheel going in last. As long as a small amount of care is taken so that the teeth of the cogs mesh nicely and don’t clash on assembly, I see no problem with this. Everything fits together rather nicely.



The tokens representing the resources (wood, stone and gold) are left in handily accessible spaces on or next to the board for players to pick up. Crystal skulls are placed similarly, although technically they are not resources, and corn is placed on the central wheel (unless the person who owns the game starts getting twitchy and insists they sit by the edge).

Players choose their colour and determine who will be start player. Small disks in each player colour are placed on each of the Temples (three triangular shapes at the bottom of the image); on each technology track (four tracks next to the Temples coloured to match four of the five child wheels); and on the scoring track running around the edge of the board.

Building tiles are sorted into three stacks – Age 1, Age 2 and Monuments. Six of the Monuments are picked at random and laid out on the board – the rest are not used, which helps improve replayability a little. These six remain for the entire game and are not replenished. The first half of the game is played with Age 1 buildings – as one is built a new building is drawn to replace it. Halfway through the Age 1 buildings are withdrawn and replaced with Age 2 buildings which again are replenished as they are built.

Each player has a player aid which is placed in front of them lighter side up, and is given four starting tiles, which show the resources a player would start the game with. Two of these are kept and two discarded, with players taking the resources shown on the cards.



The Palenque wheel (coloured light green – each wheel has a name which helps when deciphering the rules) has spaces where small tiles are placed. These represent corn at the bottom and wood at the top. Thematically the idea is that in order to grow corn a section of forest has to be cleared first – however more on this later.

Finally the central wheel is positioned so that one of the red markers is next to the start section on the board.

With 2 or 3 players, blocking workers are placed on the outer gears based on the locations indicated on randomly drawn unused starting tiles.

All of this takes about 10 minutes or so and doesn’t seem to be unusually difficult.

Gameplay



Turn Wheel

At the start of every turn apart from the first the Parent wheel is turned, which has the effect of moving the five Child wheels. The main effect of turning this wheel is to promote already placed workers on the Child wheels onto potentially more valuable spaces. The central wheel also acts as a timing mechanism – one full revolution ends the game.

At four equally spaced intervals – marked by stickers on four cogs – workers need feeding at a rate of two corn per worker, although this can be modified during the game. Half way through the game is an intermediate scoring round, and a quarter and three quarters of the way through are resource acquisition stages which produce benefits based on temple position.

One rather nice touch is the way in which the Start Player position is handled. This can be claimed by placing a worker on the appropriate spot on the board – this is the only worker placement which is not on one of the Child wheels. At the end of the current round, that player gets their worker back without it counting as a retrieve and becomes the start player for the next round. If their player aid is light side up they may decide to move the wheel on two clicks instead of one, which can be used to great advantage if timed correctly. If the start player spot is not used, a corn token is placed on that cog tooth before the wheel is turned again. These corn tokens accumulate until the Start Player spot is used, at which point these corn tokens are claimed immediately.

Place or remove worker(s)

On any given turn a player must either place workers or remove them – never a mix of both. Each player will usually start the game with three workers, although more can be obtained as the game progresses. When placing or removing, any number from 1 to the maximum a player has can be placed or removed during a turn, provided that the player can pay the necessary cost in corn.

When placing, the cheapest available food spot must be used. Often this will be the lowest spot, which is free to place on. If the lowest vacant spot is a few notches around, the player must pay one additional corn for each notch. However I re-emphasise that the lowest vacant spot on a wheel must be used – a player cannot simply pay the corn and place anywhere they like.

Multiple workers can be placed on the same turn, with an expanding cost for each worker. Placing one worker costs one corn; placing two costs three corn, placing three costs six corn, and so on. Removing workers is always free.

As mentioned above, at four times during the game workers need to be fed two corn each, although this amount can be reduced through certain buildings. Corn is therefore vital – partly to feed workers and avoid losing points (three per unfed worker), but mostly to allow them to work efficiently.

What the ‘child’ wheels do

Apart from the start player spot, all workers are placed on one of the five child wheels. I will deal with these in order starting with the light green wheel and working my way clockwise.

In all cases there are a couple of spaces without icons before the turning of the child wheel would take the wheel back into the Parent wheel. When a worker reaches this point they can be used to trigger any effect of the wheel they rest on. If they go beyond that point the worker is removed without receiving a benefit, but I don’t think that would ever happen.

Also, players may if they wish pay extra corn to utilise the ability of spaces they have just passed.

Palenque Light Green – Wood and food



This wheel is all about getting wood and corn. The longer a worker is left on the wheel the more resources are produced when they are finally removed. The first production spot will always produce a little corn (actually fish, but fish are held to provide an identical benefit to corn, and so corn tokens are used for both). The second will produce more corn than the first, but will run out when the tiles are removed. Subsequent spots all have wood tiles on top of the corn tiles, and will also run out once the tiles are removed.

When removing a worker from one of these later positions a player often has a choice. Either remove the top wood tile and take wood resource, or ‘burn’ the forest down (discard the wood tile) and take the corn resource from underneath. All used tiles are kept and burnt tiles are discarded. However the latter option leaves the player concerned with a curse, dropping them one position on one of the Temples.

Once a corn tile is taken an empty space is left at that position on the board. If a player has advanced far enough on the light green coloured Agriculture track their tribe will have discovered crop rotation, and they will always be able to take food from the spot, without needing to remove a corn tile.

Yaxchilan Light brown – Resources

This wheel allows players to gain the resources available in the game, wood, stone, corn, gold and crystal skulls. This is the only wheel where a crystal skull may be obtained and, as with the light green wheel, the effects of removing a worker from this wheel can be boosted by advancing on the appropriately coloured track (see the section on Technology Tracks below).

Tikal Reddish brown – Advancement tracks, temples and buildings

This wheel allows a player to spend resources to buy benefits. A couple of spots allow a player to purchase an upgrade on one of the technology tracks. The Technology Tracks are important, so more on those later.

Other spots on this wheel allow a player to pay resources to buy buildings or monuments. Monuments are laid out at the start of the game and not replenished, and can be worth big points. Buildings (mainly) provide in-game benefits to advance you in other areas of the game, or reduce food costs.

Uxmal Light yellow – Commerce

This wheel is all about trading and exchanging resources you have for resources you need, hiring workers or making sacrifices to the gods. One space allows you to pay three corn to advance on a temple track. There are spaces for converting corn and resources freely according to fixed values, hiring an additional worker, paying for a building using corn, and finally to pay one corn to utilise any position on any child wheel apart from Chichen Itza.

Chichen Itza Dark purple – Place a crystal skull



Thematically this represents taking a crystal skull and offering it to the gods at the temple. Uniquely, each spot on this wheel has space for only one crystal skull, so once it has been used it is permanently blocked. Placing a skull will deliver victory points, advancement on one of the Temple tracks, and sometimes a resource of your choice.

The Temples



There are three differently coloured tracks to one side of the board, imposed on stepped pyramid artwork. These represent Temples and a player’s position on each of the three temples will confer points at the half way stage and at the end of the game. In addition there is a bonus for the player who is highest up each track. A rather nice touch is that the bonus priority for each temple changes dramatically from the half way stage to the end of the game. The temple which is worth least at the halfway stage is worth most at the final scoring.

A quarter and three quarters of the way through the game, position on these tracks will also generate some additional resources, which are cumulative.

In early games, new players often focus on the cogs and not the temples or technology tracks. I think this is a mistake. If you want to win, I believe you should regard the temple and technology as central to your strategy, rather than the cogs.

Technology Tracks



To one side of the board are four technology tracks. Each track boosts the abilities of the wheel with that colour. The light green track improves corn production and introduces the important ability of crop rotation, as mentioned above. Players will then always be able to produce corn, even if the corn tile has been removed leaving an empty square.

The Resource Extraction track boosts the number of resources a player received. Gathering stone and gold are particularly difficult, so advancing on this track is crucial to a buildings strategy, as is the Architecture track which gives benefits when completing buildings and reduces their resource cost.

The Theology track improves the capacity to produce and utilise crystal skulls, and at the most advanced spot doubles the ability to make them – two skulls instead of one when using the light brown wheel.

One resource allows a player to move up to the first position, a further two resources are required to move up to the second position, and a further three to move up to the third position. After that an additional resource triggers another benefit, depending on the track.

This additional benefit should not be overlooked. It takes six resources to advance to the third spot on a technology track, but once this rather heft commitment has been made, it only costs one resource to get a fairly significant benefit.

Again, as mentioned in the Temples section, I believe players should regard the Technology Track and Temple sections as integral to their strategic decisions, while the cogs are integral to their tactical decisions.

Ending the Game

The game ends when the Parent wheel has completed one full revolution. Workers must be fed four times during the game, including the end, and points from end game scoring (buildings, temples, skulls and unused resources) are added to points accumulated during the game. The player with the most points is the winner.

Features of the Game

These are aspects of the game which are neither good nor bad, but features which will affect the gaming groups this game would be suitable for.

d10-1 I would characterise Tzolk’in: Mayan Calendar as a medium weight game, although players would need to be able to plan ahead and some may find this slightly heavier than this if their personal aptitude do not run on those lines. It is one I would recommend for regular gamers – it is probably has too many rules to qualify as a gateway game.

d10-2 This is an interesting twist on a worker placement resource management game, and as such I have no hesitation in classifying this as a balanced (euro) style game and not a thematic (ameritrash) one.

d10-3 Tzolk’in: Mayan Calendar plays 2-4 players. I have only played the four player game, but the additional rules for fewer players look intriguing. Basically certain spots on the child wheels are permanently blocked, so I expect that this game will scale well across the stated number of players.

d10-4 The duration is given at 90 minutes, and I think this would be accurate for players who already know the game. I think the game would go longer than that for players new to the game, and a good 20 minutes should be allowed for rules explanation.

d10-5 There are no direct attack mechanisms. Player interaction is strong, but indirect

d10-6 Tzolk’in: Mayan Calendar is both a strategic game and tactical game. On BGG the Strategy Games category is used to mean games which favour well balanced game mechanics – what are commonly called Euro-style games. I use the term Strategy in the sense of there being approaches a player can decide upon at the start of the game and seek to carry through. In this game a player may decide to focus on placing skulls, advancing up the temples, constructing buildings, or advancing on the different advancement tracks to different degrees. I therefore feel it is genuinely a strategic game.

What’s good about this game?

thumbsup The rotating cog mechanism is innovative and very well realised mechanically – both in the game mechanic sense and the ease in which the wheels turn on the board.

thumbsup The concept of tying up a worker for along time to generate different or greater benefits combined with the rules on worker placement where workers may be placed or removed, but not both on the same turn, create some very interesting decisions which I have not encountered before.

thumbsup There are different strategies to try. I can’t claim to be an expert but I can see a crystal skull placement; building and temple strategies all being viable. It does offer a great deal, both in terms of playing the game and playing your opponents.

What’s bad about this game?

thumbsdown There is no catch up mechanism so if a player were to make a big mistake at the start, there is no mechanism where the game helps you recover to contest the win. This is a gamers’ game and if you screw up, you remain screwed till the end.

thumbsdown There were some minor production errors with the first edition. These are very slight and easily remedied, and should not deter anyone from purchasing.

Conclusion

I liked this game when I played the prototype, and if anything I like it more now as I have had a chance to think about it, and have now had a chance to play the finished version. Tzolk’in also has a high visual appeal, which I think will make it easier to get people interested in playing. It is solidly in the medium weight balanced (euro) game category, and so is not really suitable for new gamers. The rules are not overly complex, but a rules explanation will need to cover the cogs, the technology tracks, the temples and the buildings.

Tzolk’in is definitely a strategic game. Players can decide to focus on placing crystal skulls; constructing buildings; or producing food and converting it into temple position (to name but three), but it is also a very satisfying tactical game with significant elements of forward planning.

I would recommend it for players who regard the features listed above as positives, and who like resource management worker placement games with an action programming twist. There are a lot of resource management worker placement games already, but this one is sufficiently differentiated from the rest to be worth any fan of the genre investigating.

Rating


Strategy Tips

d10-1 New players appear to focus on the cogs and not the temple and technology tracks (I did so myself). I believe that this is caused by the position of the tracks on the board (tucked away to one side), and is a mistake. The Technology and Temple tracks should be at the heart of the players strategic decisions, and the cogs should be at the heart of the tactical decisions.

d10-2 Extra workers are not necessarily a good thing. In most worker placement games getting additional workers is usually an automatic choice – not so here. Workers have to be fed, and cannot be used without sufficient food. Also, getting a worker requires several turns, so make sure you can utilise the worker before getting one.

d10-3 Focus on one of the technology tracks. Get to the bottom and accumulate the bonus.

d10-4 Remember the double turn option for the player claiming the start player privilege. This can be devastating if timed correctly.
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Matt Tonks
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Good review, Graham. I agree with a lot of sentiment that you wrote about. I enjoyed our game last week - it is refreshing a worker placement game where having less workers can actually be a better option than having more.

I just need to work about how to beat you next time, or actually do a lot better!
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Markus Brauch
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Uncle G wrote:

When removing a worker from one of these later positions a player often has a choice. Either remove the top wood tile and take wood resource, or ‘burn’ the forest down (discard the wood tile) and take the corn resource from underneath. All burnt or used tiles are discarded. However the latter option leaves the player concerned with a curse, dropping them one position on one of the Temples.


Thanks for the real nice review. Only one littel error I found. Only burned woods get discard. The other tiles go to the player because there are some monuments you get points for them at the end of the game.
Here some examples for monuments:

- 4 points for each woodtile you own
- 4 points for each croptile you own
- 3 points for each placed skull (from all player) at Chichen Itza
- 2 points for each of your build monuments and buildings
- Points for workers you own

and others I dont remember.

So strategic decisions can involve the monuments too because they can give big points at the end of the game. You only need to be fast enough to build them
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Graham Dean
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Xaramir wrote:
Uncle G wrote:

When removing a worker from one of these later positions a player often has a choice. Either remove the top wood tile and take wood resource, or ‘burn’ the forest down (discard the wood tile) and take the corn resource from underneath. All burnt or used tiles are discarded. However the latter option leaves the player concerned with a curse, dropping them one position on one of the Temples.


Thanks for the real nice review. Only one littel error I found. Only burned woods get discard. The other tiles go to the player because there are some monuments you get points for them at the end of the game.
Here some examples for monuments:

- 4 points for each woodtile you own
- 4 points for each croptile you own
- 3 points for each placed skull (from all player) at Chichen Itza
- 2 points for each of your build monuments and buildings
- Points for workers you own

and others I dont remember.

So strategic decisions can involve the monuments too because they can give big points at the end of the game. You only need to be fast enough to build them

Thank you - I've fixed that. Just a mistake on my part. I did know better but copied some text from my review of the prototype when I was going from memory and didn't spot the error.
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Graham Dean
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tonksey wrote:
Good review, Graham. I agree with a lot of sentiment that you wrote about. I enjoyed our game last week - it is refreshing a worker placement game where having less workers can actually be a better option than having more.

I just need to work about how to beat you next time, or actually do a lot better!

I noticed you spent a lot of time getting extra workers which didn't work out well at all. I got one extra worker because I was planning on leaving workers for a long time on the Chichen Itza wheel (placing crystal skulls), and I thought that was quite a long time to be losing a worker.

I've given you a few strategic tips at the bottom of this review! What do you think? First plays do seem to go quite badly most of the time. It does seem that the penny doesn't drop until about halfway through the first game, by which time it's too late to make up for lost time.
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Matt Tonks
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Uncle G wrote:
[q="tonksey"]
I noticed you spent a lot of time getting extra workers which didn't work out well at all. I got one extra worker because I was planning on leaving workers for a long time on the Chichen Itza wheel (placing crystal skulls), and I thought that was quite a long time to be losing a worker.

I've given you a few strategic tips at the bottom of this review! What do you think? First plays do seem to go quite badly most of the time. It does seem that the penny doesn't drop until about halfway through the first game, by which time it's too late to make up for lost time.


Well, having extra workers mean you can continue to put a single worker on each time & leave for an extra turn to 'power up' per worker you have left. I think my problem was trying to put too many down in one go & not letting them power up as much as I possibly could have done.

I think the extra worker would be good on the starting wealth tile that gives you just one worker or if the Age 2 building comes out early enough that gives you a worker. That way, you don't tie up a worker to get a worker.

I think next time I'd try to be top dog on at least one of the temples for the extra points & get a few steps up the others to get the extra resources. I also agree about advancing the clock - that was one of the things that worked really well for me when I did that.

I'd agree it may be best to focus on one, or perhaps two, of the tech tracks & maximise their potential.

Good tips from you
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Graham Dean
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ldsdbomber wrote:
Does the game try to justify the use of the wheels by the way, i.e. is it supposed to represent a length of time or commitment to praying to explain the higher rewards with time?

I don't think so, although I haven't done more than flick through the rules. I sort of do that myself, though, if that makes any sense. I start rationalising the benefits along those lines without the game telling me to.

Having said that, this is a balanced (euro) style game, so the goal is to produce a game with well balanced tactical decisions and strategies, rather than an involving dramatic experience.
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Petr Murmak
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ldsdbomber wrote:
Does the game try to justify the use of the wheels by the way, i.e. is it supposed to represent a length of time or commitment to praying to explain the higher rewards with time?


Try to look how actual Mayan calendar looks like and you probably will see the inspiration there
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Paul Grogan
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And apologies again for my image of the Palenque gear. There should not be any forest tiles on the "4 corn" space.
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I have a few thoughts on this games and understand that I have a soft spot for worker placement games in general:


1. Cardboard and dynamic plastic parts in my experience do NOT hold up together. For example, the Mouse Trap game has been destroyed multiple times in out home.

2. Looks very expensive

3. The bits look very nice and the theme is DEFINATELY inviting


I will look to try it one day, but will not invest in it until I am convinced it will last.


Peace meeple
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Graham Dean
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pratchettfan777 wrote:
I have a few thoughts on this games and understand that I have a soft spot for worker placement games in general:


1. Cardboard and dynamic plastic parts in my experience do NOT hold up together. For example, the Mouse Trap game has been destroyed multiple times in out home.

2. Looks very expensive

3. The bits look very nice and the theme is DEFINATELY inviting


I will look to try it one day, but will not invest in it until I am convinced it will last.


Peace meeple

I guess only time will tell, but I have a good feeling about the durability. Potential issues I was concerned about involved having to repeatedly disassemble the cogs from the board, which I think would have caused the damage we both remember from Mouse Trap. However this doesn't happen - a very elegant solution in dividing the board up means the wheels stay attached permanently. For me I think this is going to be OK - we'll see in a year's time.

I also was surprised at how affordable the game was - it looks pricey but costs about £30 + p&p.

I'm really happy with my purchase. I might try to pimp the resource cubes a bit, if I'm at the wooden cube areas at Essen next year and see just the right thing. I also wish I knew how to give the central wheel a 'stone wash' - whatever that means. I've seen the pictures of people who have painted theirs, and it does look fantastic.
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boardgamemuse
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I see the pre-release price here in the US @ 72.99 USD, albeit that is from a more costly distributor on average.

I see this game upwards of 60 USD here in the future zombie


ldsdbomber wrote:
It's surprisingly cheap actually, I got mine online from the UK via boardgameguru at just over 30 quid. I think from the look of it, maybe you get some issues with putting the wheels in the first time or it being too tight but it looks like the board fits together cardboard to cardboard, so the wheels sit fast after that, so I wouldn't be too concerned (if they're your only concerns). I've picked up a copy and am keen to see if the wheels mechanic is just a gimmick or if the interplay of pieces coming on and off has any real controllable meaning. But that's not going to be answered quickly without some table time, so i am trying to stay away from the usual insta fanboy bandwagon until I've hammered it a bit myself.
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boardgamemuse
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AGREED cool

ldsdbomber wrote:
the crystal skulls are pretty awesome at least
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Brian McCarty
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pratchettfan777 wrote:
I see the pre-release price here in the US @ 72.99 USD, albeit that is from a more costly distributor on average.

I see this game upwards of 60 USD here in the future zombie




Rio Grande has the MSPR set to $59.99 (Funagain is adding the cost of international shipping).

http://www.riograndegames.com/games.html?id=424

Brian
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Pirata Malo
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In Spain 34€ in:

http://www.lapcra.org/ESSEN-2012/?page=4

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Teik Oh
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I had a choice to take starting resource of a 4th worker which I decided was worth the risk. A building which allows me to feed every worker 1 (instead of 2 corn) came out and after buying that, I was set and went for all 6 workers, feeding only 6 maximum. This was a huge advantage overall and won me the game.

One of key aspects which catch you out is 'wasting time' putting 1 or taking 1 worker off as your only action, something more likely the fewer workers you have.

So, I would agree that it is not an automatic choice to get more workers but if you have a building (there are others making 1 or more workers free to feed too) to support feeding, it is a great advantage having these workers.
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Geoff Burkman
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Quote:
Placing one worker costs one corn; placing two costs three corn, placing three costs six corn, and so on.


I'm surprised no one has caught this yet, as it is incorrect. Placing one worker costs zero corn; placing two costs one corn; placing three costs three, placing four costs six corn, and so on, plus the cost of the positions occupied.

Otherwise, excellent overview/review! I just played it for the first time last night and found the game to be fascinating.
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Christopher Dearlove
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This is, so far, my game of the year, though of course there are plenty I haven't played (some of which I even own).

The important point is that the cogs both work mechanically and game mechanism-wise. Someone I know who takes a strong interest in "handling" aspects of the game nots that the time-delayed actions could have been implemented by sliding workers down tracks each turn. But instead one simple small rotation, and it's all done. In particular this means it's not just a gimmick.

The main point I wanted to make however is the strategy area. First inspection, lots of points for skulls. Very shortly thereafter (before you start playing) quite a lot of points for gods. Obviously there are points for monuments, but in the first game I played (not counting a quarter game at Spiel - but that was enough to give me a head start in my first game) no one bought a monument.

That changed in my second game, where I didn't play a single skull, but still won by a decent margin, as two monuments worth 31 points is a good contribution. And my third went similarly. (I keep playing with people new to the game, so I've got a one draw, rest all wins record. This will change when I play someone else in the same situation.) But my fourth game (three player, like third) was the eye opener. I did put down one skull, and I did get some excellent return on gods. But all my major points were from buildings - with no monuments. Started one up the second and third development tracks, and went up to three up on the third track in about turn three. Then I built some buildings to advantage, and when the second set of buildings came up, I built a lot of buildings for a battery of victory points (and yes, I did only take the +2 points on first building when building two).

Now I never expect to make that many points from buildings, or build as many, ever again, as I will have more competition for them from people who also rate them. But my point is - more routes to victory than are obvious at first (and which monuments are available will affect the game too).

In short, four games in, and I'm still scoping out the options. I think this one is going to be have been a good buy on the time/money front. And it should get better tomorrow. In fact the biggest problem is that it's taking me away from other games that need playing.
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Paul Doherty
United States
McKinney
Texas
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The way in which you must either hop workers off or on the different cogs reminds me a lot of Feld's Luna.
 
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