Hi. My name is Nathan of njc.games I've been playing boardgames since my childhood and I remember playing Flutter, a 70s stocks and shares version of Camel Up with my parents. Although I work full-time in the NHS, I make time to enjoy games with my family. While I love abstract games, my wife prefers worker placement genres. Most of all, I enjoy getting to grips with new games, learning how to play them well and then reviewing or publishing my thoughts. It's great to be a part of the big board gaming family and an honour to be part of the gaming community and especially WBG.
Who is the best Heavyweight box(er)?
Like a pair of heavyweight boxers, slogging it out in the ring for supremacy, Tzolk’in and Teotihuacan look at first glance quite similar, but they have very different strengths. The question though, if you enjoy worker placement games, is which is best?
What Board Game gives you a ring-side seat and the chance to see these games trade blows from the initial weigh-in, through the first few rounds and then to the final bell. Sit back, enjoy the hype and imagine yourself at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas as we answer which of these two is worthy to raise their arm in victory.
Tzolk’in burst onto the scene eight years ago, announcing itself as a Euro heavyweight with its standard size box and bizarre stage name which refers to a unit of time, the division of the 260-day cycle of the Mayan calendar. This is a large game won the 2013 “Spiele Hit Für Experten” [Game for Experts]. The makers say it is suitable for 12 years + and a game lasts 90 minutes. In reality, this game has more stamina – probably nearer two hours for a four-player battle and is best for older children, teenagers and adults.
Teotihuacan is the upstart with a training camp hailing from the ancient pyramid city of that name that was taken over by the Aztecs in what is now, modern-day Mexico. This game obviously packs some serious components. The box artwork is not as brash or colourful as Tzolk’in. There are no Lonsdale belts or Spiele des Jahres awards but it did get voted the best strategy game of 2018 by Dice Tower Reviews. The slightly muted colours still draw the eye and depict wonder images of the ancient central American pyramids and temples. This game comes with a 14+ rating and will almost certainly take two hours to complete (as a four-player contest). What it does have as USP over its sibling is a solo game.
The Opening Bell
The first thing that confronts you in opening Tzolk’in is the gears. The game board is a mosaic of large, inter-connecting pieces, each of which contains a gear wheel. These fit together like a mechanical clock. The larger central cog meshes nicely with the five surrounding wheels at the sides. The board is bright and full of primary colours that depict different zones. Each of the five smaller cogs are named according to their activities. Players have some starting tiles from which they chose basic resources. Rather than raw eggs and high-protein supplements, this game is all about corn. Without corn you cannot survive in the Mayan civilisation that is Tzolk’in.
Teotihuacan, not only carries more weight, but has a longer reach that its older rival. Unboxing this Aztec wonder reveals a huge board and components galore. This game demands plenty of space to work. The board area is about 50% larger. For the Aztecs, their fighter is being fuelled by cocoa. This is the currency that enables you to work in this game. Pivotal to this game’s success is pyramid building. From the outset your eye is drawn to the half-finished pyramid of tiles in the middle of the playing area. Surrounding this 3D structure are eight working areas. The relative positions of these can be changed in every game just to keep opponents on their toes and improve replayability.
At the beginning of every turn in Tzolk’in you must make an initial decision. Either send your workers out or retrieve them. You may not do both and you cannot pass your turn. Your minions can be sent to one of the five areas depicted by the smaller cogs. Each one has their own workspace on the wheel and cannot be forcibly removed from it. The five key areas are; clearing jungle with corn harvesting, resource acquisition, developing technologies, spending time to appease the gods, and an amalgam of the other four zones. However, there are limits where your men may work. Placing workers will cost corn. The more you send out, the more corn it costs. If any workers are already occupying certain areas it will cost even more corn just to play. Sometimes, through other’s actions you might have insufficient corn funds to pay for all of your workers. If you have no corn to pay and play, you can always grab first player, save your corn and then take the first opportunity to take control by landing the first punch. At the end of each round the central wheel is turned by one notch. This moves the smaller cogs and advances your workers to more “profitable” areas. This is Tzolk’in’s party piece. The key to doing well and holding your own in this game is forward planning. You need to ensure that you align your workers in various gears so that they can be retrieved at an optimal time.
Teotihuacan, at first, seems to have little in its armoury to offer. With only three worker dice per player, the choices on offer seem limited. Similarly, only one worker may be moved each turn, and then, by only a maximum of three spaces. This might seem like trying to fight with one hand tied behind your back. The Aztec workers are depicted by D6 dice, the number of pips showing the experience and efficiency of each worker. The one-two “sucker punch” of Teotihuacan is that you can align two or three workers in the same zone. Then they can work like a tag team, and with careful planning a huge number of resources or additional points might be gained. With each action your natives gain experience, “power-up” and increase their value. The pressure to earn cocoa is still there, but is not all consuming.
In Tzolk’in your actions could be determined by other’s gameplay; in Teotihuacan you are the playmaker. Your performance is fully dependent on your ability to plan your personal moves and optimise worker placement for resources.
Going the Distance
For Tzolk’in a whole game is determined by a complete rotation of the central cog (or 28 turns). At every quarter turn (seven rounds) all of your workers need feeding with yet more corn. This can mean that during preceding turns, your focus gets distracted by the quest for corn. Rather than leaving this to the last minute, this is best managed by a slow steady build up over many turns before reaping the benefits.
Teotihuacan is a similarly paced game. The length is about 30 turns. Victory points and rewards are gained at the first, second and final eclipse. Cocoa is required for worker payment, but these mid-break reckonings are more about rewarding good play decisions rather than a scramble for survival. The key for preparing for the eclipse is to optimise your ability to be handsomely rewarded for previous actions.
The Final Bell
Tzolk’in continues to pursue a relentless onslaught of corn collection to survive right up to the final bell. If you have worked well and had an efficient “engine” going then the technologies and upgrades will work too. This allows you to have more favour with the gods. If the gods want you more than others then this is translated into additional victory points.
Teotihuacan’s big weapon is the pyramid. The ultimate aim is to work together to complete a four-layered temple with embellishments. Every brick laid will score more favours (points).The taller the pyramid the greater the rewards. In the event that the pyramid is completed, the game ends immediately. This is uncommon. Instead, like its older brother, this game has a tenacity that will persist until the end of final round (the third eclipse). At this day of reckoning, additional points are scored depending on how your community of workers have lived and contributed to the building projects.
Both games are evenly matched in terms of time commitment, table-top presence and even player engagement. The final outcome will have to go to a point’s decision.
Tzolk’in is much more dependent on other’s actions. With a three or four player count the others will have a greater influence on your options and choices. This means there is more of a shared playing experience.
Teotihuacan feels as though you are playing against the game. Whether it is with two, three or four players, there seems little change in your approach. This is not so much about survival but about gaining more victory points than others.
Ultimately this is more of a mental workout in forward planning and using your personal workers together to achieve the best outcome. If you fancy a game that also offers a solo variant then this could be your choice.
Our family has been split straight down the middle (three: three). However, we are unanimous that both games should remain in our gaming collection. Both will be played (when time allows) and the choice will probably be determined by who shouts loudest at the time.
WBG Score: 8/10
Player Count: 2-4
You'll like this if you like: Viticulture, A Feast for Odin, Teotihuacan!
Published by Czech Games Edition
Player Count: 1-4
You'll like this if you like: Mexica, Cacao, Tzolk'in!
Published by NSKN Games
Designed by Daniele Tascini
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