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Board Game Review: Teotihuacan

The team at NSKN names (now Board and Dice) sent me a review copy of Teotihuacan and I’ve had the opportunity to play several times in the months since, across all player counts, including solo against the Teotibot.

Scholars tell us that Teotihuacan was, in its prime, the largest city in the Americas as well as the sixth largest city in the world. It’s only fitting that a prominent board game designer should make it the focal point of a compelling strategy game. Daniele Tascini is that designer, and in Teotihuacan, players take on the role of noble families working to build the great city and its Pyramid of the Sun while accruing wealth and glory.

Odysseas Stamoglou is the artist behind the illustrations and tile carvings in this game. A casual glance from a player like myself (who is not steeped in deep knowledge of Mesoamerican art but has visited the Teotihuacan ruins) observes that the illustrations are reminiscent of the decorations found on structures and items from the famed city. With a bit of research I was able to track down further information on the genesis of and inspiration for the artwork, as explained by Odysseas in a BoardGameGeek.com (BGG) thread:

“All the symbols, masks and murals you see in the game are original Teotihuacano art, with some minor adjustments. The temple icons as well as the various patterns you see are not just random decorations. For example, the red pyramid, associated with the pyramid of the Sun has the fire god as its symbol. The red patterns and decorations are symbols associated with the fire god (like triangles, pointed or romboid shapes, etc). So I went out of my way to make sure each visual element is thematic and as true to the theme as possible. The great pyramid symbol and the dice icons are invented, following the style of Teotihuacan with goggle eyes and headdress for the Pyramid and Maya signs for the dice. I used the mural of the Great Goddess as inspiration for the pyramid symbol.”

artwork closeup, pyramid tiles

Clearly, Odysseas has put a lot of time and effort into his work here and it reinforces the game’s theme extremely well. The theme and the artwork are woven together beautifully. It might have been nice to include custom dice that feature thematic Mesoamerican etchings in place of ordinary pips, but that can drive up the retail price of the game, so it may have already been discussed and dismissed by the design team as too costly. I would also like to see obsidian incorporated into the theme somehow (perhaps in a future expansion?) as that was prominent in Teotihuacan art.

Components for the game include cardboard and wooden tokens, a large main board, 4 sets of dice, and beautifully made tiles (construction material feels and looks similar to dominos) used for building the pyramid. I really love the color palette used on the main and action boards. Player aids would be nice and such an obvious plus that it’s hard to understand why they were overlooked. The good news is that there has been a collaborative effort on BGG to create effective player aids; we downloaded the latest version from beonyourway (shown below; https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/177055/yet-another-teotihuacan-player-aid) and found them to be very useful.

player aid

Getting into the gameplay, Teotihuacan is predominantly a worker placement game (with set collection aspects) that features dice deployed as workers utilizing a rondel. Players begin the game with 3 worker dice each and take turns moving a worker die they control 1-3 spaces around the main board, from one action board to another, completing the desired action(s) on the action board their worker lands on and earning any associated victory points.

main board

Most actions also allow the player to increase the numeric value of the worker die by 1 and when the die reaches 6 in value, the worker “ascends”, allowing the player to choose from a selection of valuable bonuses (including the acquisition of a 4th worker die) and resetting the die back to 1 in value. The actions represented on the various action boards include earning resources (cocoa, stone, wood, gold), constructing the pyramid, decorating the pyramid, building houses, worshipping to advance on temples and earn discovery tiles, and securing technology.

forest deposit action board

Extra actions or bonuses may be granted to a player when they have more than one die on an action board at the time they complete the action on that board – this is usually a result of moving a die to an action board where the player previously moved a die but some discovery tile bonuses allow players to move more than one worker die at a time, which can also lead to the accumulation of multiple dice belonging to one player on an action board. It’s not exclusively take, take, take in Teotihuacan. Players must give up resources in order to complete most actions. Additionally, they must pay resources – specifically cocoa - at the end of each phase or “eclipse” of the game (payment is proportionally to the number of worker dice they control and the numeric value of those dice) as well as whenever they wish to take an action where other players currently have worker dice positioned (payment is proportional to the number of other players who have worker dice already on that action board).

Almost every game has gone down the same for me– I find creative ways to pull out far ahead of the other players in the beginning, but I usually struggle with building an engine and eventually their engines take off and they overcome me. I couldn’t even pull off a win against the Teotibot on the easiest level. solo mode against teotibotI finally had a win last week by focusing heavily on the construction action board, as three of the technologies gave bonuses for that action.

There are many ways to score points in Teotihuacan and it opens up a lot of avenues for creatively driving point accrual. The many options also allow for replay experiences that feel like a different game each time. Of course, a multitude of choices can also lead to analysis paralysis and Teotihuacan can suffer from this, dragging the playing time out typically anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes on average in our house.

Strategy tip: players need to be flexible and adapt tactics each game, taking  into consideration the action board arrangement and the available technologies on the alchemy action board.

Teotihuacan is the only game in my collection with a Mesoamerican theme, one of the few incorporating a rondel, and as an added plus, it includes solo mode.  It has so much to offer including a well-researched and implemented theme, a consistent intellectual challenge across all player counts, and quality components. All of these features suggest it would be a great addition to any game library, but it’s the ever-changing gameplay created by the variable action board placement and technologies that really compelled me to give Teotihuacan a permanent home in my game collection.

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Publisher: NSKN Games (now Board and Dice)
Players: 1-4
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): 90-120 minutes
Game type: Worker Placement, Rondel, Set Collection

Rating:
review-OUIOUIOUI

Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me

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