Strategically Thematic: Tzolk'in

January 11, 2018

Strategically Thematic is a segment featured on The Dice Tower's bi-weekly Throat Punch Lunch videos about games where the theme and mechanics go together really well.

BGG  Amazon

Hi! This is Ambie from Board Game Blitz, and this is Strategically Thematic, a segment where I try to talk about theme in different strategic games. This time, I’m talking about Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar.

Tzolk’in is a game with almost no theme. But I’ll try to talk about it anyway. Tzolk’in is a worker placement game. There are a bunch of different spots were you can get resources, and you use the resources to build things like buildings, which normally give you in-game benefits and some points, or monuments, which give you end game scoring. You also need to feed your workers throughout the game with the food you gather, and it costs food to place extra workers, since they need more food if they’re working harder.

There are a bunch of different sections on the board for different things. In this one, you can get corn by fishing or harvesting corn. But in some spaces, there are forests that you need to cut down first before you can get to the corn. So first you can get wood, and then the next time you can get corn. One interesting thing you can do is burn down the forest if you really want to get to the corn, since naturally, corn thrives in the ashes of a burnt forest. But when you burn the forest, you also anger the gods. Throughout the game, you’ll be moving up these three different temple tracks, and depending on how high you are, you’ll be rewarded with resources and points. But when you anger the gods, you have to move one space down on a temple, so you have to gauge whether the tradeoff is worth it.

I knew nothing about the Mayan calendar before playing Tzolk’in, and I still know pretty much nothing about it. But apparently the Tzolk’in is a 260-day calendar made up of 20 groups of 13 days each. And the one thing people remember about this board game, the gears, are a simplified version of this calendar - there are two halves of 13 days each, for a total of 26 turns. What’s really cool about the game is that after each turn, the calendar advances a space, and all workers who are on the gears move up a space to a better action. You can either place workers or remove workers on your turn, and you get the benefits when you remove them, so you end up leaving your workers on spaces in order for them to spend more time there and get better actions. You can also stack a bunch of workers on the same gear, which pushes some of your workers to the better spaces more quickly.

Even though Tzolk’in has very little theme, it’s still a great worker placement game. There’s a lot of planning you can do to get the right resources to build what you want, and it’s really fun using the gears to your advantage to get the best actions in each track. Thanks for watching Strategically Thematic! Let me know if there’s some theme that I missed!
© Board Game Blitz 2016.
PodcastsVideosBlogAboutSupport UsBlitz ConArchives