Well I finally got a chance to play Tzolk’in last night, one the new hot games from the world’s largest tabletop game convention in Essen, Germany. When I first heard about this game I quickly forgot about it because the board was covered in gears that looked to be a gimmicky trick to disguise a crappy game. When the game hit the demo tables in Essen, folks went crazy, not just for the gears, but for the honest to goodness great game that the gears brought to life.
Tzolk’in is a fairly typical euro-style worker placement board game in the sense that you are sending workers out to gather resources, construct buildings, or perform other actions with the ultimate goal of acquiring heaps of victory points. What sets Tzolk’in apart is of course the gear mechanism, which forces you to plan ahead as your worker rides around the gear, and it can take several turns before it is at the right spot to remove it and perform the desired action. This requires a fair bit of planning to get the timing right when your workers are moving along different gears, and the actions on some gears are necessary before you can perform actions on others. While this planning is challenging, it is also a ton of fun, and the execution of it all is so simple that you can focus on the strategy rather than the rules.
As with any great euro, Tzolk’in also offers a variety of paths to victory. Points can be earned by constructing buildings or monuments, advancing along different technology tracks, working on 3 different temples, converting resources, and making sacrifices to different gods. As for buildings and monuments, no two games will have identical sets on offer, providing variety to replays. Each player also starts with a unique and somewhat randomly determined set of resources, adding even more replay value.
While I am a fan of both euro-style and Amerifun games, I am not a fan of blandness in theme and presentation (Dominion and Kingdom Builder are exceptions there). Caylus, for example, is heralded as a masterpiece, but lordy what a drab bit of work that game is. I feel that Tzolk’in is a tight and well-built euro with flavorful theme and artwork. The unique mechanisms and strategic variety leave me hungry for more play. If you like your mid-weight euros, I can highly recommend Tzolk’in.