Game Buzz – Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar

Pre-Spiel, it seems that the game that has people the most interested is

image by BGG user karel_danek

Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar is one of two new standalone games coming out from Czech Games Edition.  This game is unique for CGE in that it is their first game designed by a non-Czech –  in this case, it was designed by two Italians, Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini.  It’s a game for 2-4 players aged 12 and up that takes 90 minutes to play.  It’s a worker placement game that features several gears that change where your workers are and what they can do.  I don’t know if it’s a coincidence that this Mayan calendar themed game is coming out in 2012, only two months before the dreaded winter solstice.  Probably not.

The game comes with a board that is made of four interlocking pieces.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I think this is the way to go when making boards.  It allows you make the board compact without having creases in the playing surface.  You also get six gears, a sticker sheet (sigh), six plastic fasteners, 24 worker cylinders, 28 round marker discs, 4 scoring counters, 65 wooden discs, 13 crystal skulls, 65 corn tokens, 28 harvest tiles, 21 starting wealth tiles, 13 monuments, 32 buildings divided into 2 ages, 4 two-sided player boards,and a starting player marker.

Board – image by BGG user karel_danek

At the start of the game, resources are placed on the board to form the bank, and harvest tiles are placed in the jungle.  The center gear is rotated so one the end of age Food Day teeth is pointing to an indicated arrow.  Each player is dealt four starting wealth tiles and secretly chooses two to keep.  Once everyone has chosen, players will get the indicated items.  Player markers are placed on the temples and the technology tracks.  6 monuments and 6 age 1 buildings are dealt face up to the board – you won’t use any more monuments, but the buildings (ages 1 and 2) get placed in a stack nearby.

Tzolk’in appears to be a four-player game with some variants for playing with fewer – you get fewer monuments, fewer harvest tiles, and dummy workers are distributed to random places on the gears.

Tzolk’in is played over a series of rounds – basically, the time it takes for you to make one full revolution of the central gear.  In each round, players will first take their turns, workers will be fed (if there is a Food Day), and the central gear rotates.

On your turn, you can either place workers on the gears, or you can pick up workers and do the indicated action.  If you have two or fewer corn at the start of your turn, you can always choose to beg for corn.  If you do, you discard all corn you do have, then take three corn and move down a step on one of the temples.  If you’re already on the bottom step, you can’t beg for corn.  However, if you also don’t have enough corn to place anywhere, you may place one worker for the cost of all corn you have.

To place workers, you simply place them on the lowest numbered space of one of the gears (0 is the lowest space).  You can place as many workers as you want.  You then pay money equal to the numbers on the spaces you placed, plus a cost based on the number of workers you placed (0 for 1, 1 for 2, 3 for 3, 6 for 4, 10 for 5, and 15 for 6).  If you choose to pick up workers, you’ll remove as many as you want and take the indicated action, or a lower action for one corn per step.  The highest numbered actions of each gear is a free action, so you can take any lower action for free.  Here are the gears, and each available action:

  • Palenque – A place to harvest corn or wood from the jungle.  Once depleted, these action spaces can’t be used again.
    • 1. Get three corn.
    • 2. Take one Corn Harvest tile for 4 corn.
    • 3. Take one Wood Harvest tile for 2 wood, or a Corn Harvest tile for 5 corn.  At the beginning, Wood Harvest tiles are piled on top of the Corn Harvest. If a Wood Harvest tile has previously been taken, you can take the Corn Harvest.
    • 4. Take one Wood Harvest tile for 3 wood, or a revealed Corn Harvest tile for 7 corn.
    • 5. Take one Wood Harvest tile for 4 wood, or a revealed Corn Harvest tile for 9 corn.
    • 6 and 7. Perform any action from the Palenque gear without paying anything extra.
  • Yaxchilan – A place to get other resources.
    • 1. Get 1 wood.
    • 2. Get 1 stone and 1 corn.
    • 3. Get 1 gold and 2 corn.
    • 4. Get a crystal skull.
    • 5. Get 1 gold, 1 stone, and 2 corn.
    • 6 and 7. Perform any action from the Yaxchilan gear without paying anything extra.
  • Tikal – A place for architectural and technological development.  Buildings and technologies give you in-game benefits, while monuments give you end-game benefits.
    • 1. Advance one level in one technology and pay the associated number of resource blocks.
    • 2. Construct one building after paying the appropriate cost.
    • 3. Advance one or two technology levels (either on one track or on two tracks), paying the cost for each advancement.
    • 4. Construct one or two buildings, or one monument.
    • 5. Climb up one step on two different temples (one resource block each).
    • 6 and 7. Perform any action from the Tikal gear without paying anything extra.
  • Uxmal – A place for commercial enterprises.
    • 1. Spend three corn to climb up one step on one temple.
    • 2. Exchange corn for resources, and vice versa.
    • 3. Take a worker from the bank and put it in front of you for later use.  You can’t have more than 6 total.
    • 4. Construct a building, paying corn instead of resource blocks.
    • 5. Spend 1 corn to perform any one action from the Palenque, Yaxchilan, Tikal, or Uxmal gears.
    • 6 and 7. Perform any action from the Uxmal gear without paying anything extra.  If you choose option 5, you still have to pay one corn.
  • Chichen Itza – Here, you can leave crystal skulls for points, a step up in a specific temple, and sometimes a resource of your choice.
  • Starting Player Space – Rather than placing a worker on a gear, you can place on the starting player space.  You can get any corn that has accumulated on the central gear, you’ll get your worker back at the end of the round, and you’ll be the starting player at the beginning of the next round.  You can also choose to advance the calendar two days rather than just one.

After everyone has taken their turn, the central gear advances one space (two if the player who chose the starting player action wills it).  This will rotate all other gears, and any worker that moves from the final space to 0 is automatically removed (dummy workers in the 2- and 3-player games are never removed).  If you reach a Food Day, you’ll have to spend two corn for each of your workers, losing three points for each worker you can’t feed.  The temple gods will hand out rewards.  After the second Food Day, the Age 1 buildings are replaced by 6 Age 2 buildings.

The game ends after the fourth Food Day.  Resources are converted to VPs (corn gets you 1/4 point, crystal skulls get you 3, monuments get you whatever).  The player with the most points wins.

The gears in this game are probably going to be the selling point, and it’s easy to see why.  What you have is a worker placement game where you’re placing workers more for future actions than for current ones.  You have to be wary of helping out others, and you also have to determine when to jump on a gear so you can get what you want.  There are 26 teeth on the central gear, so you’ve got some time to get what you need, but there’s a whole lot going on and it seems that there are many ways to get points.  So determining what strategy you want to pursue will be vital.  At this point, it’s hard to accurately predict how games will play out, especially with not knowing how anything will work together.  But it definitely looks like something I’m going to want to play.

In looking at pre-Spiel buzz, this game looked to me that it would be one of the big hits of the convention.  After looking at the rules, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is one of the big hits of the year.  Rio Grande will be publishing it domestically, and I think a lot of people will be lined up to grab it.  Czech Games Edition has consistently produced high quality products, even ones not designed by Vlaada Chvátil, and this looks to be another smash for them.  I know I’m eagerly anticipating my first play.  Thanks for reading.

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