Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar Review by Cayt Mirra
Tzolk’in is a worker placement game for 2-4 players themed around the Mayan calendar. Players compete to earn victory points by collecting resources, advancing their technology and building monuments. It works a lot like other worker placements, but with a delightful catch. The board consists of a series of gears which move throughout the game. When you place a worker, it will move each turn, earning you better rewards the longer you leave it there. This requires you to think several moves ahead and get your timing exactly right. There’s a fair bit of brain power involved here. Like many WPs, a lot of the challenge comes from balancing the achievement of objectives with the need to feed your workers. Part of this challenge comes from the way the turns work. Each turn, you can either place or pull your workers. It is when you pull them that you get to utilise the effect of the space. You don’t have to move all your workers at once (although you can) but you can’t pass entirely. This requires you to make tough decisions about which workers to move and which to leave in place for longer to get the better rewards.
The unique mechanics are definitely the highlight of the game because they are not just a gimmick but genuinely become the central factor for how the game works – anticipating where the cogs will move and planning your moves accordingly is the central challenge of the game and this is a new type of thinking that I haven’t seen in a board game before. The Mayan theme makes sense with the gameplay; it’s a great theme which hasn’t (yet) been overdone.
The game is balanced well and there are several paths to victory giving it high re-playability. The first time I played I did badly because I didn’t have a clear sense of what I should be doing to win. Sometimes this would put me off, but I played again very soon afterwards and it was great to be able to play with a clear strategy in mind. I definitely found it better the second time around, but I think that the theme and mechanics are original enough to keep people on side for a second play.
Occasionally it feels like there’s a fair bit of grinding. There’s no fast way to earn points so the last few turns can feel pointless if you have finished what you are doing, as there isn’t time to start something new. There’s a lot of iconography to learn and it takes a few plays to remember which spaces do what. But the basic gameplay is very easy to learn. The artwork is what you would expect. The gears are very plain and seem like a missed opportunity – there are some beautiful ones online that have been hand-painted.
Overall, this is a great worker placement game that will get a lot of table time at my house.