Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar – Time & 3-D Thinking

Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar - Time & 3-D Thinking
Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar

Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar worker-placement board game

Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar is a worker placement game with a unique time element. The theme revolves around the Tzolk’in Mayan Calendar wheel in the center of the board that, when turned at the end of each round, rotates the five smaller wheels where you actually place your workers.

As in most Euro games, your goal is to acquire the most Victory Points (VPs). VPs can be scored during the game via the Chichen Itza wheel, erected buildings and the technology track; at the end of two of the four seasons for majorities on the god tracks; and at game end with monuments and unused resources. There are, of course, multiple paths to victory.

Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar temples

Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar temples

Corn is the primary currency in Tzolk’in. It is essential for placing your workers, feeding them at the end of each season, and for other assorted actions you might want to take. You’ll also need resources – wood, stone and gold – to construct buildings and monuments, advance on the four technology tracks and climb the steps of the temples to the three gods who in turn grant you resources (twice during the game) and victory points.

Game play is actually quite simple. On your turn you can either place one or more workers (it usually costs some corn to do this) or take back one or more workers performing the action(s) associated with each worker’s place on the wheel (or a lower position by paying some corn). You must do one or the other. If you don’t have any available workers to place, you must bring at least one home and vice versa. After all players have taken a turn placing or picking up workers, rotate the Tzolk’in calendar wheel one day counter-clockwise. This advances all placed workers one action space on the other five wheels.

Tzolk'in worker placement.

Tzolk’in worker placement.
Photo courtesy of Chris Norwood.

Each wheel offers a variety of actions. Palenque allows you to harvest food or wood from the jungle. Yaxchilan gives you access to the valuable resources of the mountains: wood, stone, gold and crystal skulls. Tikal, the center of architectural and technological development, accordingly allows you to construct buildings and monuments, advance on the technology tracks and climb steps of the temples. Uxmal, the commercial center of Mayan culture, lets you make offerings to the gods for advancement on the temple steps, exchange corn and resources, hire more workers, construct buildings or perform an action on any of the aforementioned wheels. At Chichen Itza, the sacred place, you can leave crystal skulls to earn the favor of the gods which they grant in the form of Victory Points, advancement in the temples and sometimes a resource.

The technology tracks are made up of spaces associated with actions on one or more wheels. As you advance on a technology track the associated wheel actions become more lucrative. For example, when you’ve reached the first space on the Agriculture track, you get an extra corn when you harvest corn from the jungle of Palenque. Bonuses stack, so when you get to the second space on the Agriculture track, you get a new bonus, plus the one for the first space.

You can construct four types of buildings in Tzolk’in: Farms, Civic Buildings, Tombs and Shrines. Farms help you feed your workers for the rest of the game. The other three types of buildings offer a one-time benefit which could include: corn, resources, advancement on a particular technology track or in a temple, a worker and/or victory points. Monuments provide end-game points for particular achievements. The available buildings and monuments vary in each game, so replay is always different and interesting.

Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar with painted wheels

Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar with painted wheels

The components of Tzolk’in are top notch. The board is beautiful. The wheels are an unpainted light beige plastic. The center wheel is rich in detail that really shines with a good (or even ok) paint job, even if all you do is a base coat and a simple wash. The other wheels have a grainy texture that lends itself well to washes, too. You can, of course, play the game perfectly well without painting the wheels. Paint just makes it prettier.

Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar - my painted wheels

Closeup of my painted wheels. I made the sticker for the center using Photoshop.

The simple game play of Tzolk’in makes it easy to introduce to new players. The wheels/gears, and the corresponding time element they represent adds an interesting and exciting three dimensionality to the game. You’re not just placing and retrieving workers each round. You place them, and retrieve them at some later time. Hopefully, when you can best use the actions they provide. This may twist your brain a bit as you try to wrap your mind around the new time element (it does mine), but I think you’ll find it both fun and compelling. In my opinion, the unique time element makes Tzolk’in a medium to heavyweight Euro game (although the playing time is not that long) with lots of strategy and multiple paths to victory.

Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar supports 2 to 4 players ages 13 and up with a playing time of 90 minutes.