Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Simone Luciani & Daniele Tascini

CGE 2012

No. of Players:
2 - 4

G@mebox Star



A game which was puzzling me right after seeing first images was Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar, since a gameboard with huge turning gears simply made me wonder what the editorial staff from CGE might be up to this time. Being created by Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini, two relatively unknown Italian authors who have also created Sheepland, this new game with a South American background promised to be a real brain-teaser due to the ever changing situation caused by the interconnected gears.

Indeed, Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar proved to be a fully grown-resource management game which was interwoven with an unusual mechanism of worker placement. The players take the roles of tribes during the high time of the Mayan culture, and each player tries to gain victory points by collecting resources, by erecting monuments, by engaging in specific victory point actions and by raising in the favour of the gods. As can be expected from a good resource management game, Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar offers well developed possibilities to turn resources into victory points, not forcing the players to follow one specific way but instead allowing them to test their own ideas and strategies.

However, and here the game is not just optically different - the traditional approach to the gathering and consumption of resources is changed quite dramatically by the huge gears on the gameboard, and so let's leave the somewhat well known parts of the resources, workers, buildings and victory points in order to give the big gears a closer scrutiny. There are five smaller gears available, and all of these gears are interconnected with the big "Tzolk'in"-gear in the middle of the gameboard. At the end of each round of play, this big gear will be rotated one step in a counter-clockwise direction, thus resulting in a one-step clockwise move of the five smaller gears. Due to this interrelation, the big gear effectively serves as a timekeeper in the game, since the game will end when the big gear has finished one full rotation. Spread evenly around the big gear special events are marked, and so the game actually is evenly divided into two ages, with each of the ages being subdivided into two "food"-days in the middle and at the end of each age. During all four food days the players will need to feed each of their workers with two units of corn, and they will loose victory points for each worker who cannot be fed.

However, these four days are even more important, since on all four food days the current positions of each players' markers in the three temples of the gods are evaluated. Each of the Mayan gods Quetzalcoatl, Chaac and Kukulcan (an ancestor of Kulkmann?) has his own temple on the gameboard, and during the course of the game the players may rise and fall in the esteem of each god, depending on the actions they perform. During food days 1 and 3 the players will receive material benefits like resources depending on their current position within each of the three temples, whereas food days 2 and 4 are accompanied with a scoring of victory points, with the highest ranking player in each temple receiving most points. Finally, the transition from the first age to the second age happens when the Tzolk'in gear has finished half a rotation, and this means that the display of avialble buildings will be changed so that now the buildings of the second age become available.

But let's return to the function of the smaller gears. During a round of play, each player is allowed to take a turn, and during his turn he must either place one or more of his available workers at the lowest free space(s) of the smaller gears, or - if he cannot or doesn't want to make such a placement - he must take back at least one worker from one of the gears. Next to each gear on the gameboard spaces with benefits can be found (resources or possible actions), and a benefit can be taken or an action can be performed only if a player possesses a worker who is positioned on a gear which is aligned in a way that the worker is standing directly adjacent to the gameboard space in question. Only if this constellation is met, the player can take his worker back, thus enabling him to take the benefit or perform the action. As indicated, a player even is allowed to take back more than one worker during the same turn, thus allowing him to take several benefits and perform actions in an order which he deems most favourable for his own designs.

Each of the five smaller gears on the gameboard represents one of the important Mayan centers of civilization like Tikal or Chichen Itza, and due to the diverse activities associated with each of these cities the actions available at each of the five gears differ quite considerably. So, one of the cities is the main source for corn, which is needed both for feeding a player's workers and as the general currency of the game. Another city focuses on other resources like stone, gold and Crystal Skulls, and these objects once again can be used in other cities where they can be invested into building activities or research. By research the players can gain benefits which will make their actions on specific gears more profitable. Of immense importance also is the gear representing Chichen Itza, since this is the place where the players can get rid of the rare Crystal Skulls, and the spending of a Crystal Skull usually will allow a player to raise in the favour of the gods. As a general rule concerning all gears, the benefits which a player can get are getting higher and higher with every step a worker is pushed forwards, so that it really pays off to leave a worker on a gear for several rounds.

Certain rules apply to the placement of workers on the gears, and so a worker must be placed on the first free space of a gear. This may mean that the worker may begin on an advanced space, but such a placement only can be made if the worker's owner is able to pay an additional amount of corn for making this placement. This is meant to counterbalance the fact that otherwise the player would receive a big advantage by placing a worker higher than the usual starting space. In addition, the players retain some flexibility how to use their workers, and so a worker actually may be used to perform any of the activities on the spaces which he has already passed. Once again, this comes at a price, and this time the player must spend one corn for each step the worker goes backwards. Finally, the situation may arise that a worker is moved too far, leaving the available spaces of his city. This location usually should be avoided because the last space in each city allows a freely-chosen action from that city to be performed without any additional cost, but if the player cannot avoid his worker being pushed out of the city the worker will go back to the personal stockpile of the player.

A mechanism of delayed availability is not new in the world of boardgames, and so games like The Circle or Macao have successfully challenged the players to plan their actions ahead by the use of a circular device. However, in Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar the whole matter is taken onto a whole new scale, because here the players have not one but actually five gears which they need to worry about. During the first few rounds it's still fairly easy to keep an overview on the positions and uses of each player's three starting workers, but during the course of the game the players may expand their workforce to up to six workers, and that's when things get somewhat more difficult to manage.

Still, judging from this first playtesting session, the game seems to be rather well balanced, and furthermore the abilities and benefits available at each of the five city gears are not too far fetched to make the players loose track of their possibilities. Quite interestingly, quite the opposite seems to be true, because the players just need to take the initial hurdle of getting to terms with the movement of the gears and its meaning for a player's workers. Once this first step is mastered, many of the activities found in the game are quite close to other build-and-develop games, and so especially seasoned players quickly will be able to find their way through this seemingly new territory.

I cannot remember a boardgame where interconnected gears were given such a decisive role, used as a "motor" to enhance the playing mechanism of the game. Here a big awards for originality should be given to Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini, since they succeeded in creating a game which has the potential to fascinate players for many hours to come.

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany