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.
A few months ago a rep from Gryphon games visited the shop to demo some of their lesser-known titles, and one of the games I ended up taking off his hands was a loosely space-themed game called Charon, Inc. After many plays, this unassuming little game has captivated the interest of my gaming group, so I thought I’d give it a little press to honor its elegeance.
In Charon, Inc you play as a corporate space mogul attempting to turn one half of Pluto’s largest moon into a massive complex of factories and offices. Each building is worth a different number of points, so the best mogul will be the player with the most points, not necessarily the player with the most buildings.
Each player has a hand of building cards, and to construct buildings, you need moon resources in the form of gems scattered across the planet. There are 6 gem colors, and every round you will randomly seed the different regions of the planet with fresh gems. Now the planet is divided into multiple sectors, each with its own color of gem, and to collect the gems from a given sector you need to have the most influence over that region, and this is where the game gets very, very interesting.
See everyone has 5 flag pieces on the board, one flag on each of five different action spaces. On your turn, you simply remove a flag from an action space to place it on the planet. This continues until everyone has placed 4 out of their 5 flags; the final flags remain on their action spaces and determine what special ability each player can perform. Thus, every time you place a flag on the planet, you are also deciding not to use the action associated with that flag. For fans of worker placement games, this is a very nice twist on the mechanism.
Where to place your flag on the planet is also very fascinating. As I mentioned, the planet is divided into sectors, and flags can be placed on the lines dividing those sectors or in the sector itself. When it is time to tally who has the most influence over a sector, you simply count the number of each player’s flags within or bordering a given sector. If their is a tie, flags within sectors are more powerful than flags flanking sectors. Essentially, with every flag placement, you need to decide whether you really want to firmly influence fewer sectors, or spread your influence thinly over a larger region to try and acquire more gems. When making this decision, everyone I have played the game with groans in both frustration and delight. What appears so simple at first becomes a pleasantly challenging spatial exercise.
My gaming group and I highly recommend this game for its unique and interesting challenges as well as its nice play length, about an hour. If the game sounds at all interesting, we do have a copy in our rental library, so take it home and give it a try. Your brain may burn a bit, but Charon is far enough away from the sun that you’ll just walk away with a nice space tan.
Dominion is a wonderful game of deck-building, or constructing a small efficient engine out of a deck of cards. For some though, the term deck-building induces facial micro-expressions so powerful you don’t have to be Cal Lightman to sense the revulsion. Well, for both loathers and lovers of deck-building, two new games have hit the shelves that herald the next generation and are worth at least 10 or more trys: Eminent Domain (designer Seth Jaffe, publisher Tasty Minstrel Games) and A Few Acres of Snow (designer Martin Wallace, publisher Treefrog Games). Both of these games use deck-building as a single mechanic within a multi-faceted game experience.
In Eminent Domain, players are attempting to colonize or attack planets in order to expand their space empire. A large empire alone can win you the game, or you can use the planets to produce and trade resources, or acquire advanced technologies. In addition to deck-building, Eminent Domain combines role-selection (a la Puerto Rico, Glory to Rome, and Race for the Galaxy) with tableau development (a la Race for the Galaxy and 7 Wonders). I’ve played this puppy too many times to count and I still want more. Beware though, the role-selection aspect of the game throws many people off, so if that is a new element for you, approach Eminent Domain with extreme caution.
A Few Acres of Snow takes deck-building in a slightly different direction by combining it with area control in a region of North America during the time of the French-Indian War. Deck-building is accomplished in a standard fashion, by buying cards, but settling territories on the map also leads to the acquisition of territory cards, which often junk up your deck the same way Dominion property cards do. You’ll be using your cards during the game to collect money, develop territories, and, oh yeah, siege and raid opponent occupied locations. A Few Acres is 2-player only, and it has a certain cigar-smoking distinguished feel about it, like a chess duel. Oh, and the box art is stunning, you could face this baby out in your art gallery!