Before I begin, I was sent a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This is not a paid review. If you would like to watch a video of this review check it out below, and learn more here.
One of the more highly anticipated games from 2020 was Pendulum, a game that had a core conceit of time, the longer the worker stays out on the board the more powerful it is. Whether or not that game worked is a different article, but the concept of time being part of the mechanic for the worker placement game had been done previously, and if popular opinion can be believed, had been done very well in Tzolk’in, a game which has been around since 2012.
While I was a little bit disappointed in Pendulum, it did make me extremely curious in exploring Tzolk’in, a game which supposedly did the idea “right”.
Tzolk’in is an old school euro game. There are various ways to score points, all of which require you to have collected various resources by placing and collecting your worker, which you will exchange for other resources to accomplish your goal…which is points! Sounds pretty bog standard right?
Well here is the big twist. When you place your workers out you place them on various gears, these gears each represent a different Mayan city, and after all players have either placed or collected their workers for the rounds, the central gear moves…which moves all the other city gears in the most satisfying of ways.
You see you always have to place your worker as low on the gear as possible, which will net the weakest action, but the more turns you leave the worker on the gear the stronger and stronger the action becomes. Of course this means that you do not have access to the worker for however long you leave them out.
So I know what you are thinking, and you are correct, a corn dog would be delicious right now, but what you should be thinking is “then I will just get more workers.” That is definitely a possibility…but here is the catch. As the gear in the center rotates around you will come to “feeding days” On those feeding days you will have to feed your workers, and if you cannot feed them…you lose points. So now you are thinking, “what if I had a corn dog stand?”, and that is also a good point, you can build a veritable corn dog stand, which will autofeed some workers.
Of course to do that you will have had to get enough wood, and stone, maybe some gold as well…which means you had to leave multiple workers on multiple gears for several turns, then you had to go onto another gear and hung out there for a bit until you got high enough on it to take the build action…so you see the puzzle becomes more complex as you play, and try to decide if you want to take a bunch of fast actions, and try to make those work for you, or if you want to play the long game.
Once the gear in the center has rotated completely, the game ends and whomever has the most points wins.
So what do I think?
The gears are sooo much fun. The toy factor is just a delight, it is neat to look at, fun to play with, and satisfying to see your workers reach the end of the gears, and take the perfect action. However, obviously, the best part of the game is the core mechanic of the worker placement, and pulling workers back at a later time. This truly is a delightful puzzle to solve, then when you combine that with the large variety of actions that you can take, you are hit with a delightfully maddening challenge of deciding what the heck you want to do. You want to do everything, but as with most good euro games, if you try to do everything you might as well do nothing.
The components are mostly generic. You do have the awesome gears, and cool skull components, but most everything else is cubes and cylinders. In other words this is an old school euro. If you are looking for bling, this is not it, but if you are looking for mechnical goodness, then this is it.
This is a euro that does not care about your feelings. I have played games and finish with, literally, zero points. It is hard, and the choices are brutal. There are many games out there nowasdays that have high scores, for example, I have lost games of Merchants Cove where I scored over 200 points, and even though I lost I still felt good about myself. Well in this game, you can get a good old fashioned beat down, and you will know it. This may or may not bother you…I found it a bit funny the games I finished with nothing, because I did that poorly.
Bringing it all together
Tzolk’in is a modern classic euro game for a reason. The rules are all very tight, the game is simple to understand and plays fairly quickly. The gears are great fun to play with, and the choices are awesome. As you play, you find yourself wanting to do everything, which is a path to abject failure…I know I have scored zero points for an entire game. The game is absolutely brutal, and getting smashed into a fine paste is absolutely possible. This is an older euro, and it looks like it, other than the cool gears, the components are all old school and generic, but if you are alright with non-blinged out games then this is a euro that should be on your shelf.
Yeah, I am one of those workers that does not like to stay on the wheel, on and off for me
* This game is a modern classic for a reason
* The toy factor is a delight, and the mechanics of leaving your workers on the gears for longer is just awesome
* Components are generic, so if you are looking for bling this is not it
* This game will let you know if you are playing poorly, it is very challenging to score points, and keep them
* The game makes everything seem like they are within reach, tempting you just enough to allow you to destroy yourself…it is delightfully frustrating
* This is a classic euro that should be on any euro fans shelf