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Board Game Review: Tzolk'in The Mayan Calendar

Name of the Game: Tzolk'in The Mayan Calendar
Designed by: Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini
Published by: Rio Grande Games
Players: 2-4
Time: 2.5 hours for first play, about 45 mins per player for those who know the game.
Theme: Mayan Temples
Objective: Appease the gods!

Alright, there's a lot of colors and pieces and artwork going on here but do not be overwhelmed. It's actually pretty easy to navigate thanks to the matching symbols and colors situation. Well done, designers!

The turn order goes like this: put out workers or take workers back and complete the action associated with that worker. The other player takes their turn. Start player turns the wheel and all the other wheels advance to the next spot. Repeat. That's it. Seriously! Okay fine you DO have to feed your workers but we'll worry about that in a bit.

So your workers are performing actions to collect resources to appease the gods. You can do that in several different ways. Yay for diversifying the game play!

  • You place your worker at the lowest possible spot on a colored wheel gear. There are 5 different wheels that do 5 different things that are all beneficial in different ways. It costs varying amounts of corn to do this, depending on placement and how many workers, but that's explained on your handy dandy player reference card. Once the wheel advances to where you want your worker to be, you remove them and complete that action.
  • The different resources (corn, wood, stone, gold, and crystal skulls) are collected and spent to do other actions. You'll want to get in on that business.
  • On the top right, you'll see the temple. Make the gods happy and you move up the temple. This is an action on one of the wheels, or you can get a building to allow you to move up. This gets you bonus materials and also helps score points. 
  • Below the temple, you'll see the technologies. These pair with the colored wheels and allow extra resources to be collected, including all spaces you pass as well. So it really pays to move up on the technology tracks because then when you do remove a worker from a wheel, you get all sorts of goodies! 
  • Under the technologies are the buildings and monuments. Monuments are limited and cost a ton of resources to build, but are tons of points...er I mean gain lots of favor with the gods. Anyway, the buildings replenish and are not quite as life changing but do provide bonuses and other fun things and are worth your time.

So off you go, happily placing and removing workers and getting corn to place them and all that good stuff and then you see a colored spoke heading towards the start arrow on the game board. If you're anything like me, your heart starts to pound and your palms start to sweat because feeding your workers/family/ANYONE in the game stresses you to the end of the earth. I am happy to report that the stress of feeding workers is not nearly as intense as I thought it would be. You can get corn pretty easily, and you need corn to do other things anyway so you almost always have some on hand. But lets say you do NOT have enough to feed your workers the 2 corn per person they require (seriously, all they need is 2 corn and I was wigging out), you must beg for corn at the beginning of the round (and feed at the end) and for each corn you can't give, you lose three points. It adds up. So feed your workers. 

When the orange colored spoke hits the start arrow, you feed your workers and get resources based on the temple track. When the blue colored spoke hits the start arrow, you feed your workers and score points based on the temple track. You pass each spoke two times, totally 4 food days for one game.

Here we are at the halfway point. You can see we're at various places on the wheels and some of the actions that are associated with those spots. If we choose to remove our workers at that point, we'd do whatever was on that slot. If we wait it out, we can do other things. You have to learn when to ride it out and when to cash it in. 

So when you're halfway there, you probably have a better grasp of the game and what you need to do to keep the momentum going. Unless you're like me and you figure out how to get fast points and aren't so hot with the whole end game thing. I often find myself with a a strategy that peters out halfway through and need to figure something else out AND FAST. I did make a nice recovery in this game, as there are just so many different things you can do at any point in the game, so I wasn't frustrated.

In the picture above, you can also see blue and yellow chits on the wheels. Since we played 2 player, those are the dummy third and fourth players. It didn't feel hokey or weird to have them as part of the game, and they consistently got in both of our ways, just like real players would. It adapted nicely to a 2 player format for sure.

And here we are at the end. You can see we both moved up on the temple track, the technology track, and took several buildings each. He was able to build a monument (I could not get my poop in a group in time) which gave him 33 points at the end. Yeesh. You also score for extra resources and corn so nothing is really wasted. I like that.

Things I liked about Tzolk'in The Mayan Calendar:
Player guides! I always like to have a guide to remind me of what things cost. In this case, it reminds me how much corn it costs to put out workers. The more you put out, the more it costs but it's a little tricky to remember. 
Colors and symbols! If I was ever in doubt as to what coordinated with what, I looked at the colors. Sure the wheels have names, but let's be real, it's easier to remember that blue goes with blue and brown goes with brown. The symbols on the buildings that pop up are easy to understand too, so you don't have to reference the rulebook each time a new building crops up. Just cruise right along.
The wheels! I really did think the gears were a neat element to the game. It was a nice spin on the worker placement/resource collection dynamic. (see what I did there?)
Diversity! There's always SOMETHING to do, which is great. Sure, it might not be your top choice, but you aren't stuck doing nothing either so just be happy about that.

Overall, once you get over the initial overload of things on the board, the turns are straightforward and so is the goal. You have lots of options to get you victory points and favor with the gods, and riding the different wheels is a fun time too! This is a medium board game (not too heavy, not too light) and pairs well with games like Trajan and Fresco.

UPDATE: 2/1/13: The hubs and I just played again and realized that where we were off last time was with the technology track. We would take extra resources for each space we were on, regardless on if it matched with the wheel. For example, if he was all the way up to gold but took a wood with his action, he took wood+wood+gold+stone. Which explains the crazy resource generation and scoring on his part! Although he DID have the monument that gave him crazy points anyway...so he still would have one. In other happy news, I won the second time! Me: 60 Him: 51. HOLLA.

Lisa is a gamer, crafter, fangirl, mother, wife and unabashed nerd who is pretty ridiculous and it's best you know that up front. When she's not binge watching Netflix or crafting into the wee hours of the night, you can find her spending a lot of her time on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. I feel like and idiot but YOU REVIEW BOARD GAMES?! So, this is like PERFECT. Excuse my caps and all but really, so cool. And now I wanna play this game (something I have heard nothing of so hey, new game to check out!!!)

  2. This game seems SO COOL. I love the way the board looks, and I love that the whole point is to "appease the gods"!


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