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Tzolk’in Board Game Review – One of the Best Games Ever

My wife and I flew to Machu Picchu this past summer on a whim and were able to see one of the most breathtaking sites known to man. We walked up the long and overly steep trail from Aguas Caliente to the top and had to stop once or twice (ok, maybe a few more times) just to take everything in (along with the limited amount of Oxygen in that altitude). The Indiana Jones movies were based on the guy who first discovered Machu Picchu and the seemingly ancient stone steps we traversed gave us an appreciation for the genius of the Incan Empire.

Though I had always had a slight obsession with the Incan, Mayan, and Aztec Empires, this trip solidified it for me. So when I came home, one of the first things I wanted to do (besides eating In and Out) was take out any of the games I owned (Mexica, Tikal, and Tzolk’in) and play them. This review comes from that passion, for Tzolk’in is one of my favorites.

The Game Itself

Let’s just get this out of the way quickly; Tzolk’in is a beautiful game. The game components are second to none, and the artwork is crazy good. After the set up of the game that’s easy once you have done it a few times, you can jump right into playing a truly rewarding game.

One of the cool things I love about this game is the resource tiles you are given at the beginning of the game. From the get go, you need to be strategic with your options and this allows for a great beginning. Think of it as your starting hand, only this is your starting resources.

Then you go on and place your workers (your first is free but you only get three to begin with) as this is your only option for turn one. But here is where you already need to be planning out your strategy. Which wheel are you going to choose? Do you place them in the free spots where you don’t have to pay corn, or do you take better strategic positions on other gears? This is only the beginning of the dilemmas you must work through.

On the second turn, after everyone has placed their workers, you move the central gear representing a day, and your can either place more workers, keep them there, or pull them off to get the rewards. Pulling the worker off the spot gives you certain actions, and the longer the turns go and the more you leave your workers on the gears, the better the prizes or resources.

Each of the wheels does different things and focuses on giving you different resources or abilities that go along with the game. There have been a few reviews done, however, that didn’t fully appreciate the wheels or gears turning, but this is the one thing that drew me to the game and the main thing that drives me back to the game. I absolutely love it. I love how one move changes the dynamic in all of the different wheels (that represent cities in the Mayan Empire) and you really have to manage how long you keep your workers on certain wheels before you pull them.

Now, a word must be said about management. To me, there isn’t a game like this where you have to constantly manage so many different things. First, there’s the feeding of your workers. You must have enough food to play your workers, or you suffer in the temple area. You need to move up in the temple area too so that you can gain victory points there. But in order to move up on the temple track, you need to be able to build your own temples and structures. But in order to build things, you need resources to do so, and this is only done when you have enough workers strategically placed.

This may sound overly complicated. It isn’t; but reading the rule book will only be the first step in learning the game. It takes several play throughs to really master, and when you do get to that level, it becomes one of the best games you will ever play. At least, that’s my thought, along with thousands who rank this game in the top fifty of board games ever created.

Oh The Joy of Tension

The real joy for me with this game is how the theme is so powerfully integrated. For many games out there, it seems as though the theme is secondary, but this really places it front and center as you manage your workers and place them strategically to gain all that you need.

This all speaks so powerfully on the tension you will feel while playing this game. The only game I have seen play with tension like this is Twilight Struggle that themes strongly on the politics of the cold war. So this game has that; but more than that, it is really a very deep game. It isn’t something crazy simple like King of Tokyo, but it indeed is just as much fun for those who want a serious challenge to their brains. The anti is only exacerbated when you play other serious thinkers. To tell you the truth, this game reminded me a bit of chess only with a much better theme. The planning, the thinking ahead, and the one wrong move to seriously hurt your chances makes this one of my favorite games depending on my mood.

If you are up for a challenge, then I can’t recommend this game enough. Can you pick it up and teach someone who has never played a game before? No. But with a little patience and kindness, you will find this to be a lifelong game that will always be a mountain to climb that rewards those who reach the top.

Get this game; I promise you won’t be disappointed. And for the time being, Dualist Gaming is offering this game at a great price for those who are willing to take the plunge. We would love to hear you comments on this game and if you have any advice from your own play through. For now, I hope you will seriously consider it; it is one of the best!

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