This is a worker-placement game, where players place workers on various resource wheels, and the wheels move forward every turn, increasing the value of each worker, and giving players different play options when they pull those workers off each wheel.
This game takes about an hour per player to play the first time (including rule-reading), and then speeds up to about 30 mins per player once players are more experienced.
Game balance and Replayability
The game has a mediocre replay value due to the “few best strategies” , despite the variety of Buildings and Monuments that can come into play during the game. There is also an element of trying to play around your opponents’ strategies, as too many players pursuing the same goals tends to punish the competing players and make that path less lucrative.
The variations of “what wins you the game” are fairly narrow. We’ve also found that while the game DOES vary slightly based on which monuments are available, but they are the gravy at the end, not what you should form your whole strategy around.
We can’t recommend this game for replayability reasons because of game balance, but if you have friends that don’t go look up all the strategies online, and also maybe don’t play this board game very often, then it’s a lot more worthwhile to buy.
I haven’t looked up T’Zolkin on boardgamegeek.com, which is probably where you should go for a full overview of the strategies and why the game isn’t balanced, but if you want to read on, this article covers my 2c about the various strategies.
General Strategy Tips
- Only get 1-2 levels (total) of efficiency gains on the “improvement” tracks. Do not focus on more than one track unless you have a Monument that gives you tons of points for this, and even in that case, you still need points elsewhere to be competitive.
- The “Crystal Skull” track gives a lot of points, and decent Culture gains. Spend at least some time on this track.
- You must be competitive on the Temple tracks to win the game. Put some extra focus on one, and try to be ahead each time the bonus points for that track are awarded.
- Try to get one more worker early in the game, and consider getting a 5th after the second feeding round. Even if one worker has to spend more of its time on the Grain track, it is still worthwhile, as the more workers you have, the longer you can leave each of them on a track without being forced to pull them off.
- Pick a strategy and stick with it. Changing strategies mid-game will cause you to fall behind.
- Figure out what others’ strategies are and ensure that you reach key targets before someone steals them. If your strategy requires you to obtain a key building or monument, don’t be distracted from it, and get that first.
- If you climb an efficiency track, ensure that you do it early, and then make constant use of it. Ensure that you gain more from those upgrades than the cost in time and resources that you put into upgrading in the first place! Players frequently made this error in our early games.
- A “food efficiency” building is very valuable, especially early in the game.
- You need to figure out “gains per worker turn”. Often it’s worth paying the extra corn to start higher on a wheel, even if it means using two of your own workers to do it.
- Do not be afraid to “beg for corn”. Losing these points is often worth it.
- Place or remove multiple workers per turn, particularly on the same wheel, to take advantage of higher spaces without having to wait. The cost in turns is ultimately more limiting than the cost in resources or corn. Decide whether next turn, and the one after, will be a “placing” or “removing” turn. Try to plan a bit ahead.
Grain wheel (“Palenque”):
- Having two workers back-to-back on this wheel ensures that you won’t have to burn down a forest (and suffer the loss in Culture), to get Grain that you desperately need.
- If you miss getting a food-efficiency building, you may want to consider upgrading your grain technology to level 2, so you can still get grain later in the game, after all the Grain tokens are removed.
Resource wheel (“Axchilan”):
Building wheel (“Tikal”):
Skull wheel (“Chichen Itza”):
In general, starting tiles with cult bonuses on them are best, because they translate to bonus resource at the 1/4 mark of the game.
Next best is the tile with bonus feeding on it, because then you don’t need a feeding-building right away (i.e. one of your workers is always fed).
We found that it’s best to avoid taking the starting tile with an extra worker on it, because he’s hard to feed if you can’t get a feeding-building.
Next best is tiles with lots of wood and corn, since everyone’s first building is often a feeding-building (or a race for them, because you have to feed 4 times during the game). Corn is useful because you can place more workers at once, or choose worker-placements higher up on the wheels, if the lower spots are taken.
The Cult Track
Cult track rankings are the most important thing in the game. The cult tracks give you resources and points twice during the game, making them very valuable. Ideally, you also want to be the highest on at least 1 track (2 if you can manage), so that you also get the bonus points at the halfway mark and end of game. It’s better to ignore the yellow track if you think you can get highest in both of the other tracks.
Technology boosts are NOT worth spending time and resources on. In general, if you get them for free, it’s a bonus. Otherwise, we’ve found that whomever spends time on the technology, never wins the game.
Buildings that give you cult bonuses are the best early-game buildings. In general, buildings that give you tech boosts are only valuable when you are trying to get from tech level 2 to tech 3, since it costs 3 resources to get there, which is usually cheaper than the building you’re buying, except that buildings often require resources other than wood, whereas technology gains can be made using wood.
You ideally want 4 workers after the first feeding stage. Four workers gets much more done than three. Five workers gets a bit hard to feed, unless you have the building that feeds all your workers half their food (each worker only requires 1 food instead of 2).
Here, you’d ideally want some corn-tech, and you’re going to be riding the Corn and build-with-corn wheels (green and light brown).
You build buildings (except Monuments) with corn. You get cult boosts with corn whenever possible. If you need building resources for monuments, you convert from corn.
This strategy allows you to support more workers, because you’re always getting a lot of corn, too.
Try to build all the buildings with cult boosts. This is the main way you progress on the cult tracks.
You ideally want level 2 building tech (not resource tech), so you can get 2 points for each building you build. Level 3 is nice (cheaper buildings), especially when you can avoid gold-costs by using 1 less resource of your choice.
If there aren’t many of the cult-boost buildings visible at the start of the game, then you probably shouldn’t pursue this strategy, unless there are multiple monuments that give you points for buildings.
This one is simple – get as many skulls as possible, and put them as high up on the skull track as possible. Skull track gives you points, cult ranking, and sometimes bonus goods as well.
You don’t need any skull tech to pursue this strategy, but if you start with some skull-tech on your starting tiles, it’s a nice small bonus.
Think of monuments as ways to get extra points based on what you already have, rather than forming your strategy around one or more monuments. We’ve found that monuments don’t do ENOUGH for you to get points. If you ignore the cult track and other sources of points, you aren’t likely to win.
Possible Balance Changes (untested)
If we were to re-work the game and make balance changes, we would probably grant bonus goods less readily on the cult track (bonus goods would be higher up), and possibly the skull track spaces would be worth 1 less point each.
Summary from Forums
Instead of having to read through a ton of forums yourself, I’ve compiled a few of the best posts & comments I’ve found:
Eleon @ Boardgamegeek.com, wrote:
- The key to having a large score (and winning), is to combine three things together:
- The first is to figure out which point engine will work for you and be blocked least by the other players.
- The second is how to make the most out of the point engine picked (buildings, tech, temples, resources).
- The third and most tricky is how to a) stack your own pieces up to get actions faster or piggy back off the other players).
- To win Tzolk’in you need to have lots of actions and have them be the more powerful ones. This means getting workers to the top of the gears ASAP. Waiting X turns should only be used as a last resort. Placing many works on top of other works (or your own) is the key to winning.
- The fine line between success and disaster will be knowing how much and “when” to spend your workers playing them high and when it is better to let them ride up slowly. You will need to do both to win.
- If you are not playing with the expansion, you are missing some of the best parts of the game. The tribes and omens for doing different actions totally change the feel of the game. They also provide for a must wider range of ways to score points so you are not always locked into the same tactics. PLUS the most important part: They give amazing replay-ability to the game as each tribe plays differently and can be a joy to change how you play each game to add to the fun.
- Buying directly up high on a wheel is in general the strongest move you can do. The rewards are virtually always worth more than the corn paid to buy up. Chichen Itza seldom has enough workers on it to allow buying high, but on the other wheels, you’ll make much more progress by buying up to spaces 4 and 5 as much as you can. And you must keep a reserve of 5-10 corn to allow jumping on these opportunities as they arise. Failing to do this and wasting several turns scuffling for more corn is what separates the 50 point newcomers from the 100 point experts.
Benosteen @ Boardgamegeek, wrote:
- In short, short-term cheap gains are overshadowed by more expensive investments. Pay to place your workers high on the dials, and have means to get more corn to continue to do so. A basic premise is that you should spend corn to make corn/VPs. The game is secretly a race – can you spend money to place all your workers in good spots, so that you can quickly retrieve them and place them all out again? Focus on opportunities – if there are a number of dummy workers on Palenque then with a little agri tech, you could place all your workers there and retrieve them the next turn for a really good harvest! You should be able to make much more than you spend when you have a little tech going your way!