For quite some time now I have taken it upon myself to give Skyler grief about his lack of board game experience. In return Skyler has taken every opportunity he can to bash on my beloved euro games. Up until recently we have simply agreed to disagree. But all this changed recently when Skyler informed me he had played “one of my games” and actually found it enjoyable. Much to my surprise the game he had played, and enjoyed none the less, was actually the classic euro game of Tzolk’in.
I don’t know if I’m allowed to do this, but I’m going ahead and dedicating this article to Skyler his newly found journey into the world of advanced strategy board games. So this week’s Battle of the Boards features Tzolk’in and it’s younger, and equally successful younger brother Teotihuacan. While the games feature similar themes, by the same designer, mechanically they are very different each one with outstanding components. Which one is best for you? Well, let’s see if we can’t help you, and Skyler decide.
Tzolk’in, at it’s heart, is a worker placement game. Each turn players will be placing workers out onto various spots on the game board. This will be done to collect resources, which in turn will be used to build things. and these things you build will score you points. Ok, so far this doesn’t sound very different from the plethora of other euro games on the market. What makes this game special will literally be the first thing that you see when you first look at the game board.
The majority of the board is made of covered with these 6 interlocking wheels. The center wheel represents the passage of time, while the 5 surrounding wheels each correspond to a location and its corresponding action spaces. You see, when placing workers you will need to select one of these 5 wheels onto which to place your worker at the start of the wheel. You have the option of spending corn to either place extra workers or to play your workers further down around the various wheels, but be careful corn is not easy to come by. If so, why would you spend it then? Well, the game is all about efficiency.
On your turn, rather than placing workers you can choose to retrieve all your workers placed in the previous rounds receiving the benefit of their current space one their wheel. These wheels will continually be spinning at the end of each and every round, moving your workers to more profitable and powerful action spaces. So placing more workers at a time and placing them further down the wheels will definitely be the quickest way to reap multiple powerful rewards. But remember that cost corn. At the end of every year players will be required to pay corn to feed their workers, losing points for each worker they are unable to feed.
The game is all about timing and efficiency. It can be tricky at first to plan well enough to have the resources at the exact opportune time you’ll need them to trigger the actions you want. There are a good number of ways to combo moves together moving up temple tracks to get resources that you’ll intern use to build building that will give you more resources to trade in for points and so forth. The game is incredibly unique and one that will take some turns to fully comprehend.
So thematically speaking these games are almost indistinguishable. In Teotihuacan you will also represent a native tribe, collecting resources, moving up temple tracks, and building things. Mechanically though, the games are quite different. Rather than worker placement, the game features a rondel of sorts. The game board is made up of 8 different locations. Each turn you will have the choice to move any one of your workers, represented by dice, between 1 and 3 three locations around the board, taking the action associate with the location. While that may seem pretty simple initially, there are quite a few things to consider.
The strength of the action you end up taking depends on two things. Firstly, how many of your dice are at that location, including the one you just moved there. Secondly, you need to look at how what is the lowest pip value of all the dice. Did I mention the cocoa? Just like the corn in Tzolk’in, you’re also going to need to manage your food supply. When moving a die you are required to pay 1 cocoa for each unique color of dice, including your own, present on the location to which your die just ended up at. Alternatively, you have the option forgoing the action and taking 1 cocoa plus an additional 1 for each unique colored die there. Once again, like corn, cocoa will be used to feed your workers multiple times throughout the game.
Just like Tzolk’in’s giant set of rotating wheels, Teotihuacan also has some standout components. One of the primary ways to score points in the game is contributing to the temple in the center of the board. The temple is build from these beautiful thick wooden blocks. And as the game progresses so does the size of the temple, really adding to the table presence and atmosphere of the whole game. And for the price of the game it is quite impressive that these are standard in the game and not some sort of deluxe upgrade.
What I enjoy most about Teotihuacan is that it is really easy to plan ahead. Aside from the added cocoa costs or possibly having a reward tile scooped up before you, your opponent’s actions don’t have quite the same impact on you like they do in a worker placement game. You still need to be efficient, because if you aren’t doing as many high pip, multi-dice actions as you can then will definitely start to feel like you are just spinning your wheels.
Now which one is for you? Tzolk’in is a classic for a reason. It is by far one of the most unique worker placement games I’ve ever played. It can also be one of the most punishing. When playing with competitive gamers you can really find it hard to time everything correctly, getting the actions you need. Also the corn can be difficult to come by and manage. There is a good amount of iconography, but the not as many moving parts (despite the wheels) as other games of similar complexities. Teotihuacan feels less original, but really comes together nicely. There are a lot of moving parts and it is important you understand them all from the get-go. But the actions are all fairly simple. What makes the game complex is the near infinite amount of options players face each turn when not only selecting which die to move, but how far and what do do when you get there. Also, cocoa is much easier to come by, making the task of feeding your workers much less stressful.
In the end I confess that I own both games. If I had to choose which one I like more, I wouldn’t hesitate in saying Teotihuacan. It has more variability. It is easier to feel like I’m doing well. And I love the options I have each turn. But I totally get those who love the tension and brain burn of Tzolk’in. It is worth mentioning that both games have expansions that provide players with unique players powers and penalties that will drastically change how your strategies develop.