18th Dec2018

‘Teotihuacan: City of Gods’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

teotihuacan-box

Fans of Mesoamerican history and heavy euro games have reason to rejoice with the release of Teotihuacan: City of Gods from Daniele Tascini, David Turczi and NSKN Games. This impressive looking dice placement game uses a number of interlinking mechanics to create a thematic “point salad” that offers players several ways to win, all of which relate in some way to constructing or enriching the titular city. The central feature of the finished board (and one of the game end conditions) is The Pyramid of the Sun, which is constructed over three storeys from wooden pieces and decorated by cardboard tiles.

Around this pyramid, Teotihuacan features eight locations upon which dice can be placed in order to generate resources, build houses, add to the pyramid or do a number of other related actions. Whilst the board is printed with a default setup, there are also overlay boards that can be used to generate a completely randomised configuration. Other variable features include starting benefits and a number of variant modes, all of which add to replayability. Teotihuacan also has solo mode and support for up to four players, which makes it a versatile prospect for those can come to terms with its weight.

Each player will begin the game with three dice that will usually begin showing the number one. Unlike in most games, these dice are not rolled – instead they represent the age or experience level of different workers as the years pass. When a dice would turn from five to six, it instead undergoes an ascension, at which point it is reborn as a value one dice whilst simultaneously gifting its controller a powerful reward. Dice gain experience by completing actions that feature a particular symbol – usually those which are considered to be the most basic or standard actions for a given location. These actions are the ones that will generally allow a player to do something like generate a resource, add to the pyramid or similar.

In addition to these basic actions, many of the placement locations feature an additional slot that can offer two benefits (usually when an additional payment is made) that can be more powerful, except that they also lock a die in place and don’t allow it to gain experience. When spaces such as these are used, benefits can include advancing on one of the three temple tracks (each of which provide a benefit of their own) and to potentially gain access to a discovery tile, which may again have a cost and a powerful benefit of its own. In short, these lock slots can be used to create powerful chain reactions, but only if you can afford to use them and are willing to lock your die in place.

Of course, it’s possible to unlock dice, but as is often the case with games at this weight (which all have very tight economies) spending the three cacao or one whole turn to do so can set you back considerably. On that note, cacao is the currency in Teotihuacan and it is essential to maintain a healthy economy in order to maximise the efficiency of each action. After a combination of a certain number of rounds and ascensions, an eclipse track will signal the end of the current epoch. When this happens, players must also pay a tariff of one cacao per juvenile dice and two for each mature dice. One of the ascension benefits is to introduce a fourth worker, so there’s a chance that with bad planning, you’ll need to pay eight cacao. Anyone who can’t pay their workers will lose a considerable amount of victory points.

That’s bad, because even though you’ll likely score in excess of one hundred points (perhaps as high as one hundred and seventy) losing four or five victory points in more than one epoch can be disastrous, such is the balance in Teotihuacan: City of Gods. The good news is that any strategy can score points and there are many ways to do it. Building the pyramid (and advancing on the contribution track) can score well, but so too can building houses using different numbers of workers and advancing up The Avenue of the Dead. One of the temple tracks provides points directly, whilst all of these temple tracks provide a large bonus to the first player that tops them. There are then numerous other ways to score points – either from discovery tiles, collecting masks, by decorating the temple or by using the different technologies, which I haven’t even mentioned yet.

Like so many other things in Teotihuacan, the technologies on offer will be drawn and placed at random during setup. The first player to claim each technology will not only benefit from being able to claim victory points when building houses, or adding to the pyramid (for example) but they may also gain more points when other players follow them in learning the same technology. Some technologies provide frequent, smaller benefits, such as generating cacao or additional resources – these technologies are essential as part of a long term strategy and should be taken early, even though some of them require a costly investment.

With the versatility and reply value that Teotihuacan: City of Gods brings, it’s a wonder that it remains so balanced. The subtle changes that a different layout can bring are considerable, since the main thing about the placement mechanism here is that dice must move one to three locations in a clockwise direction. You can never keep them on the same board and some abilities grow considerably more powerful by gathering two or even three workers there. What’s worse is that the more dice from different players that already exist on a board you want to use, the more cacao you’ll have to pay in order to use it. This is wonderfully balanced by the simplest method of generating cacao, which simply allows a player to generate one cacao (plus one) for each die colour on a specific location, but only if you forgo taking the normal action there.

The movement and stacking of dice in Teotihuacan makes it a compelling enough experience, but in truth it’s the fact that there are so many ways to win, each of which is well balanced and very compact, that makes it so interesting. It does take some time to learn and even longer to master (especially given that it can change a lot from one play to the next) so it really does boil down to a case of the best player winning, usually. On the down side, I’ve seen players be left more than half way behind the leading pack because they simply couldn’t get to grips with the concepts in Teotihuacan. This is simply a case of knowing your audience and Teotihuacan plays up to heavier euro game fans, and as such, I love it.

****½  4.5/5

Teotihuacan: City of Gods is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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