Tzol’kin – Mayan Calendar


Introduction

Tzolkin is a game with a beautiful board, where you attempt to balance efficiency gains with points gains.  The game has extremely high replay value due to 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.

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Duration

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.

General Strategy

As mentioned in the introduction, the more players that are competing for the same type of points-gain, the less attractive that path becomes.  That said, there are a few goals that each player should strive for, and a few tips worth mentioning:

  • 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.

The Wheels:

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 the grain track, so you can still get grain later in the game, after all the Grain tokens are removed.

Resource wheel (“Axchilan”):

Building wheel (“Tikal”):

Agri-wheel (“Uxmal”):

Skull wheel (“Chichen Itza”):

Three Main Strategies:

Courtesy of SliceofBread on Boardgamegeek.com

Big Corn

 

Big Resources

Big Resources – Yax 5/Uxmal 5 (use Y5) to get gold/stone/corn. Use U2 to convert to mainly corn and wood. Why? Corn is obvious. Wood is used, among other things, at Tikal 3 (2W->4G, cornified, that is trading 4c for 16c to net 12c). Also, U2 is best with LOTS of resources. You will often see the best players trading resources for 40 (rarely less), 50 or even more (before converting some back to wood). One last point on BR is that you will likely starve workers in Q1. Don’t be afraid to do it. Don’t have more than 1 or 2 of your workers off the wheels when you do.

Big Skulls

Skulls – Skulls is generally played with 4 workers (4th being obtained early in Q2 usually). You will use P1 and starting player to get most of your corn with a couple P2’s and a couple higher P’s thrown in.

Comments 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 works 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 works 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.

VikingErik @ Boardgamegeek, wrote:

  • 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!

Links:

Tzol’kin – A strategy primer