Type: Worker Placement/ Euro

Time to play: 75-90 minutes (Teaching: 15 minutes)

Best played with: 4 Player (2 – 4 Players)

The idea of the Mayan calendar as a game structure seemed as obscure and try to me as nearly anything I had heard, but I am very glad that I conquered that belief and gave this game ago. A board with gears that move your workers as time passes is challenging to play, difficult to master and incredibly entertaining – despite a lot of beige on the board.

So what’s so interesting about this game – well it is all in those gears and the rules for worker placement (and removal). The simple version of this, is that you will have a choice in your turn – load the board with a piece, or remove as many as you wish in order to take their respective actions. That sounds like an easy choice, but for every turn you leave them on the gears they will grow in strength – grow until they have gone too long on the gear and are removed.

Every turn the gear turns, every turn your options vary and your existing meeples on the board bring new options. So then, it’s time to balance the benefits available now with those in the future. Balance the need to take the action, with the desire to place another meeple and get more in the future. Also, bear in mind that when you remove meeples you may remove one or many (even all)! Efficiency then tells you to try and get all of them down, and then all of them back – every turn puling pieces back is a turn lost to placing them (and there’s quite a bit of truth in that).

The balancing act that you will walk through the game is very tricky and with more pieces that puzzle will increase. A balance made more difficult by technology trees and religious tracks. Each of these offers great rewards to players able to utilise them. Add in buildings which give you different benefits again, and you really have a complex puzzle.

If all of that is not enough, then it’s time to talk about scoring. Scoring that occurs 4 times in the game (well kind of two given the different types of food days!). Food days require you to feed your people but reward you with either rewards or victory points. With just those couple of chances to collect points within the game, being ready and able to is key (particularly the God tracks!).

As this is not a rules teach though I won’t break out the different gears and the specifics of what’s available to you. It’s enough to say that you are balancing the need for food for your workers, resources for your future plans and then the need to actually score victory points. This is a game with a lot to it, and a lot to learn through trial and error. Just as a warning though, it can be a punishing set of lessons. Other players seem to be doing almost equivalent moves, moves that are different in timing or the gear chosen but difficult to read until four turns later! Also, early mistakes or successes will compound and catching the gap may be very challenging.

This tricky learning curve presents lots of paths to victory – but this is not a points salad game where you are rewarded for everything or specifically for diversification. This is a game where you can save on food but get more resources, a game where technology can give you different advantages and a game where the worship of different Gods is necessary but challenging.

The addition of scoring for crystal skulls and other individual points from the actions of  others will add more richness to the game and I haven’t spoken at all of the expansion which I sadly have not played but heard much about!

One short warning though, despite being a mid-weight game and with a fantastic engine, it’s tricky to get to the table. The set up is longer with less than four players (blocking the board with pseudo players) and the aesthetics of the board can put of some players who would prefer the kickstarter production values. It’s not a condemnation of the game, or a suggestion that such criticism is fair, but I would say that I find it hard to otherwise explain why this game doesn’t more frequently get back to the table.

Last notes;

  • If you like a complex but mid-weight game with plenty to learn – worth trying to get this to the table
  • If you have a strong case of analysis paralysis – watch out!
  • If you win, well done but you likely have much to learn!