Every game designer should know a Richard for play-testing purposes (and a Harvey and a Scott for that matter, but that’s another post). A Richard will orchestrate his entire strategy around maxing points out in one area of a game (or, more usually, around hurting other players) and this is the quickest way to find out if your mechanics are broken — if the Richarding is unstoppable, you need to balance somehow…
Tzolk’in is a fun worker placement game for 2-4 players (Tribes and Prophecies expansion adds a fifth player). It takes every bit of 2 hours to play — more if people suffer from Analysis-Paralysis. Even though the mechanics are very straightforward, you will sit there agonizing over the options and calculating the time you have left. This was the first game we played at Origins 2014 that we knew we were going home with after we’d only played a half game (it was 2am; you have to sleep sometime…). The game is visually beautiful and very well coordinated thematically. The board has six interlocking gears which each represent an aspect of Mayan culture and advancement. On a turn, you either place workers on the gear spaces or pick them up and perform the action for the space they occupy, but you can’t pick up and place workers in the same turn (and you will want to). The intriguing part is that after each player has had a turn, the gears all turn, advancing the workers one space up along the area their gear is for. This timing mechanism means that you must plan your placements to be able to maximize efficiency in picking up and putting out the workers while other players may take the spots you wanted, causing you to pay more corn to move to a higher open spot and changing your timing. Four times a game, you must be able to feed your workforce or risk angering the gods (and losing points). A further wrench in the works is the ability for players to occasionally crank the gears around twice in a turn, hopefully advancing your own plans and screwing up your opponent’s.
There are many paths to victory and many strategies available to earn points, which make the replayability for this game very high. The expansion adds Tribes which give each player their own special power and/or liability. Similarly, the Prophecies are in effect for the last three quarters of the game, making one aspect of the game more difficult, but rewarding those who have made progress there (and punishing those who haven’t). Randomizing the prophecies and tribes adds more replayability to an already fascinating game.
There isn’t a single surefire strategy to win this one, but if you are foolish enough let a Richard play the crystal skull game over on the Chichen Itza Gear and don’t compete with him or otherwise mess with him, he will win hard. You can’t let that happen. Get some crystal skulls and get in there.