Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar – Revolutionary?

11 11 2012

Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar
Age: 12+
Players: 2-4 players
Duration: 90 minutes


As with the recent SdJ Kennerspiel winner, Village, designers and publishers appear to be putting more thought in how to keep the worker placement mechanism fresh at a time when I’m reading more posts/articles on people becoming bored of this mechanic.

Whereas Village sees meeples dying off; one of Essen’s most eagerly awaited Euros, Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar, has them taking a ride on cogs which form the main focus of an otherwise already busy board.

In essence, each of the smaller cogs represent a different location, and each location allows the workers different benefits. These benefits come into play when a worker is removed – rather than added to the board. So, taking a worker from Palenque may result in corn (currency) or wood.
Removing a worker from Chichen Itza on the other hand, allows you to donate a crystal skull which pleases the Gods and allows you to ascend their temple as well as gain instant VIPs. There are three other of the small cogs each offering a variety of options such as building monuments and buildings, or progressing up a technology track which brings added benefits to chosen actions, for example.

There are three types of resource; gold, wood and stone. Corn is multi-functional (currency/food).

There are costs associated with each action (in most cases). When placing a worker the further around the cog you are, the more expensive it is to do so. Also, you need to remember that placing multiple workers in a turn will cost more: Not only do you pay for the spaces you lay at, you pay an increasing additional cost. This is 0 for 1 worker, 1 for two, 3 for three, 6 for four, 10 for five and 15 for six workers. There is a starting player space which costs 0 to place at, but of course, only one person can occupy that at a time.


So, on a turn, you simply have two main choices: are you placing or removing workers? As placing workers generally has a corn cost attached, you may find you become short of cash from time to time. At this time of crisis, you can make a beg for corn prior to your turn. This will bring your corn tally up to 3, but will anger the Gods! The price you pay is a demotion in a temple of your choice (temples bring resources and VIPs at various points in the game). In Palenque, you can also anger the Gods if you find corn is not available yet so burn forests to get to it. Again, the same penalty befalls you! Woe be to anyone angering those deities!

The Gears
What about the gears then? Well, they aren’t just a gimmick – they are an integral part of the game. After each player has a turn, the day ends and a new one begins. The wheels of time turn, quite literally. One ‘click’ of the larger central cog sees the dawning of a new day.

Each worker already on a cog thus find themselves one more spot further than they were. This is usually to a more lucrative space and at no additional cost. Be warned though: spend too long on a cog and a worker may get bumped off and will have wasted many days’ worth of work! Timing is therefore very important. Jump off too early and only minimal rewards are gained. Leave it too long and others are progressing in the meantime and you run the risk of falling off; however, the rewards can be large.

With this, a new round starts. If no-one took the 0 start player action space then the current player begins the new round. However, if any player did use that action, then they begin the round (unless they already held the token – in this instance it passes to the next player). They also take any accumulated corn which builds up on days where no-one took that action. Finally, they have the chance to speed up time and progress two days instead of one, provided they haven’t done so already.

Feeding Days
Each quarter-turn of the cog results in a feeding day. You must pay 2 corn for each worker in play (initially 3 but max of 6). There are buildings which can help, but if you can’t feed a worker it’s three VIPs down the track for each.

There are benefits on feeding day too though. At 1/4 and 3/4 stages you receive resources printed on various steps up each temple in which you’ve progressed. At the halfway and end of game, instead you receive VIPs based on where you’re placed in each temple, with a bonus for those highest up the top.

I won’t go into the benefits of each of the buildings or monuments here. But, like the cards in Stone Age, some bring instant VIPs, resources or upgrades; whereas others are for end-game benefits such as most brown buildings built. Also, one half-turn of the wheel is considered Age 1, and the second half is Age 2. Any buildings left from the first age get replaced with new buildings in the second age.

Game end
The game ends at the end of one full revolution of the central cog (ie after 4 food days). Temple scoring occurs as described before. Any leftover resources are converted to corn and 4 corn equate to one VIP. Crystal skulls can also be converted at 3 VIPs each. Finally, monument points are calculated and the winner determined.


Game Play

I took part in a four player game at the Pasteboard and Plastic convention in Saltdean, UK, on Saturday 10th November. With none of us having played before, the rules took some going through before we were ready to begin.

We each took our 4 starting tiles and then the resources printed upon the two we liked the most. Some of us had a lot of corn whereas others had other benefits like starting technologies. Being the first game we weren’t sure what to go for really!

The game itself flowed very nicely. There was the usual conundrum of which of the many options to do for the best. Do you put all workers out? Some? Do you take them all back? Some? Do you go for resources for building, or for technology to help in the long-game?
Then, at the heart of it all, we have this cog which means that workers placed can gain better rewards, but what to do in the meantime? After all, you have to take something off or put something on, so they can’t just all ride along to greater things!

There appeared to be a bit of scope for AP, but it was more other distractions such as a prize raffle, rules lookup, loo breaks and essential coffee refills which slowed things down! I don’t suggest that 90 minutes is unachievable at all, but the game did last longer for our first turn. However, for me, it was all great fun and I am already looking forward to my next game.

With many options, random buildings/monuments/starting tiles, along with the fun factor, there is great scope for replayability. For me, the novelty of the dying characters in Village wore off pretty quick and I traded the game, whereas at the moment, I can see this being a game which stays firmly in the collection for a good few years, if not ever!

Points of note

1) Our Czech Games Edition pre-ordered Essen version came with a sticker on the front advising that a slight adjustment needs to be made to the board. In the haste of unwrapping and putting it together, the excitement meant we applied stickers to the cogs. This meant we couldn’t make the adjustments to the cog holes as the website referred to suggested. We are finding our cogs stick a little at times, but do think they will ease up over time, so are not overly worried.
2) 2/3 player games. These see the non-played workers placed on the board as ‘blockers’ – although I have yet to play a two-player, I’m sure this will work well. I will post back to let you all know!



The Climbers: Mount Everest or Mariana Trench?

6 11 2012

The Climbers / Die Aufsteiger
Age: 8+
Players: 2-5 players
Duration: 45 minutes

The Climbers

Die Aufsteiger aka The Climbers – Box

Die Aufsteiger, or The Climbers, is an abstract game by Holger Lanz which sees you trying to make your meeple reach the highest point, or if equal in height, then to have made it there first.This is a three-dimensional game made entirely of wooden pieces. Yes, even your meeples are wooden! The box contains a large variety of blocks of different sizes, as well as large and small ladders for each player. Each block has six faces, each coloured differently to match player colour (with one side left grey to represent a wildcard colour). Opposite faces will always be consistent (e.g. Blue on the other side of light-blue).

You begin the game by finding the two large grey pieces and align them vertically on the table. The remaining blocks are placed randomly around these structures until no parts of the two towers are visible. When I say randomly, there are – of course – building rules to adhere to. For example, no gaps underneath blocks. It is at this point that player order is randomly selected and meeples/ladders distributed. Oh dear, you didn’t get your favourite colour? Never mind, it may be to your benefit! You see, those random blocks you’ve all just laid out form the basis of the ‘mountain’ upon which your little meeples will begin their adventure skywards.

The Climbers box contents

The Climbers box contents

Put simply, they are only allowed to step upon matching coloured faces of face-up blocks, or the grey wildcard faces). There is no rule as to how high a meeple can move up – or down – in a player’s turn, but you can’t climb an adjacent block if your meeple is shorter than it.

Hmm – there are only a select quantity of the blocks which your meeple can climb onto as the others are two large. So what do you do? Well, firstly, on your turn you can move a block (as long as the previous player didn’t move it directly before you). This allows placement or removal of a block to help you on your way. Or indeed, you might already have a path upwards, in which case, you might decide to move a block to hinder an opponent, such as to make a potentially reachable area – unreachable. You may just wish to rotate a block instead so that the upwards colour is prefential. All would be legal as long as you stick to the (few) building rules (not all mentioned here).

You also have the option to use your ladders, for those hard-to-reach locations. As long as your ladder starts on a legal colour for your meeple, and ends on similar, then you can climb higher than usual. Be careful though, as these are one-time use only! You have one short and one long ladder.

There is one other nasty trick up the sleeve – the blocking stones! Again, these are one-time  use only and each player has one. By placing one of these instead of moving a block as step one of your turn, you prevent a player from using/moving that block for the duration of that round (until it is your turn once again).

Game in progress

A game of The Climbers in progress. Blue is looking good!

Playing the game
So, how does it play? We’ve played this once as a 2 player and a couple of times as a 4. There is no real difference in rules at all. Each game has been entertaining and has gone down well with the players concerned. As the initial tower is built randomly and then colours chosen, no player can complain of bias or accused of stacking the sides up in their favour.

In the same way as 3D Blokus needs it, we felt like the games we played could have benefited from the use of a ‘lazy Susan’ in order for players to be able to see around the entirety of the structure. As it was, players find themselves manoeuvering around the table and peeking over the top to see what the optimal move is. That’s not to say the producers should supply one, it would just have been good if we had one to hand!

In the most recent game, two players were quite clearly in front and the result seemed clearcut. However, I still had my ladders and blocking stone and was able to use these to good effect to claim the victory! Equally, in another game, I started slowly and paid dearly for it. So it seems like there could be multiple ways back into (or out of) the game.

With all the different options to move/place blocks, there is plenty of scope for some slow turns. However, this didn’t seem to matter or occur with us too much and the game flowed very well.

All in all it is a fun gaming experience. There’s enough there to give the thinkers of the group enough to get along with, but also enough for the doers to get stuck into too. I don’t think it’ll be the sort of game you’ll play repeatedly of an evening, as one play seems ‘enough’, but we can see this one making it to the table when we fancy something a little different

The Climbers Demonstration

The Climbers / Die Aufsteiger being demonstrated

Which game is your banner picture from?

30 10 2012

I’ve been often asked since starting this blog, “Which game is being portrayed in the header banner for the site?”

I haven’t.

But just in case anyone does become inquisitive, this is the main image I took it from:
And the name of the game?
Carcassonne Mayflower (or New World: A Carcassonne Game as it’s more commonly known in England). This is a standalone game from the Carcassonne range which we picked up last year in Germany. A review will follow once we have gotten through all the new (to us) games first!

Card City

29 10 2012

Card City
Age: 12+
Players: 2-4 players
Duration: 15 to 45 minutes

Mrs Boxfart and I have been suffering with bouts of whatever name it is for what’s going around. In need of some entertainment after a day of lethargically doing nothing other than recharging the batteries (not literally; now that would be dull), we decided on playing something which involved minimal movement from the sofa.

Card City by Alban Biard appeared to fit the bill:

  • Small enough to fit on the coffee table
  • Plays with two
  • New one from Essen
  • Within easy reach
  • Short enough that we wouldn’t have to give up due to feeling bleugghhh

This is a game for 2 to 4 players who each take on the role of mayor. Each has to

“encourage the growth of the residential, commercial, industrial and cultural districts that make up your home, and to satisfy the demands of the city’s residents”

Each player begins the game with 3 coins and a starting card, the city hall. There are various cards:
-Two types of development building: Commercial and Residential
-Two types of cultural buildings: City Hall and Leisure
-Two types of other buildings: Industrial and Parking

A set quantity of each of these cards are mixed to form the draw deck and the game begins.
A nice mechanic involves drawing twice the number of cards as players and the start player ‘offers’ two of these face-up to the next player. The remaining cards are shown half face-up and half face-down. If the player being offered takes the face up cards, the same process occurs for the next player. However if the player chooses the half up/down cards then it is the offering player who must take the cards.

I won’t go into all of the rules as these can be found here, but needless to say it’s not as simple as just laying cards out willy-nilly due to the construction restrictions, such as residential buildings being unable to be sited next to industrial ones.

Prior to an income phase there is a city expansion phase which, again subject to rules, allows your city to grow. In essence, commercial buildings earn you income throughout the game, residential earn you VIPs at the end of the game.

Close up of a city

Our game
In our game this evening we found that for a small, short card game, there were a fair number of items to take into consideration and remember.
I seemed to struggle initially as just couldn’t get my hands on any residential or leisure buildings, whereas Mrs Boxfart couldn’t acquire Commercial or Industrial ones, but seemed to have no problem in gaining the near-useless Parking buildings. Nevertheless, we each made progress in our own cities.

In the end, Mrs Boxfart’s residential blocks scored multiple VIPs compared to my lacklustre 5! She had to lose 3pts (and I, 1pt) due to gaps in our 5×5 sized cities. However, my many and large Commercial districts left me with much income left over, and at 1pt for each 5 coins, I managed to win the game by 5 or so VIPs.

Despite its small size, there’s a lot of game held in the little box. There’s just enough interaction so it doesn’t feel completely solo in building your own cities. The playing time is great and there’s enough to remember in the rules with regards placement and development so you don’t just feel you’re playing a puzzle game. It played fine with two people with no changes to standard rules, however we felt that the drafting-type phase was better with 4.

We bought the game at Essen Spieltage 2012 and got a promo card which we have yet to play with. At €15 (about £13.50) we feel the game was priced just right for what it is and are certainly pleased with our purchase!

Ludibay shop Promo card
Ludibay shop Promo card

4 player game at hotel in Essen 2012

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