Tzolk’in: the Mayan Calendar Review

Designer: Simone Luciani & Daniele Tascini

Number of Players: 2-4
Playtime: 75-90 minutes
Price (approx.): 45 Euro 

Tzolk’in is a 260 day long calendar used by the Mayans. They combined 20 day names with 13 day numbers to create a calendar that was used in their daily life. Perhaps to determine the dates of harvest or some rituals? In this game you will represent a Mayan tribe and the 260 days cycle will be represented by a giant gear with 26 teeth. Other gears represent five different ancient Mayan locations. You and your tribe will be busy with collecting food and resources, building buildings and monuments, gathering knowledge and pleasing the gods. 

What you get for your money:
You will get 6 (or 4) interlocking game board pieces and 6 gears with stickers on them. You’ll get, in four colours, 28 markers, 24 workers and 4 score counters. There are 65 wooden resources cubes, 65 corn tokens and 13 plastic crystal sculls. Also, a lot of tiles, 26 harvest tiles, 32 buildings, 13 monuments and 21 wealth tiles. Lastly, a starting player marker,  4 two-sided player boards in four colours and, obviously, the rules. 
How do you play the game:
Every player starts with 3 tribesmen and 4 wealth tiles. The wealth tiles depict different goods and you choose two of them. It is basically your starting capital.  
Tzolk’in is a worker placement game, you place your workers on the board to perform certain actions. You’ll try to gather resources (corn wood, stone, gold, crystal skulls), to build buildings, monuments and bring sacrifices to the gods. If you do this well, you get many, many points and the one with the most points wins Tzolk’in: the Mayan Calendar. 
The difference, with other worker placement games, is that the places where you put you workers are located on 5 gears that are connected with the big ‘calendar’ gear and will be rotating during the game. Also, you will perform an action when you remove your worker from the board, not when you put them on it. In your turn, you’ll have to put at least one worker on or pull at least one worker off. Then, at the end of the round, the big gear is rotated one place and your workers will be rotating with it, moving from one action space to another. The actions mostly get better if you wait longer to remove your worker (not always).
If a player chooses to place his worker on the starting player space, he does not only become the starting player, he will also get some corn and he also has a choice of turning the gear two places instead of one.
The five wheels all represent a different location, important to the Mayans. One gear represents the harvest season, a second focuses more on building and technology, another on resources, yet another has a mishmash of action and the last one is a religious gear and here you offer your crystal skulls to the gods.
A couple of tracks on the board are important. There are three tracks that each represent a temple of a certain god. The higher you are on a track the more points (halfway into the game and at the end) and resources (after a quarterandthree-quarters ofthegame) you get. There are also four technology tracks, where you can get certain benefits during the game.
If you want to, you can build a normal building (they give you something extra during the game) and monuments (end game point scoring conditions) during the game.
Many worker placement games do this and so does Tzolk’in: you’ll have to feed your workers four times in the game, otherwise the gods will be angry.
When the big gear has made a full round, the game ends. The one with the most points wins Tzolk’in: the Mayan Calendar. 
The theme, building your own Mayan civilization is reasonably done. The gears, the blue crystal skulls and the artwork give you a Mayan, ancient, feel, but I don’t really feel like I’m building a civilization (or a prosperous tribe) from the ground up.
The buildings and monuments don’t really feel like buildings and monuments, they are just tiles that give something extra. They could have done something more thematic there.You build a building and suddenly three of you tribesmen are fed for the whole game. Why is that? Is it a baker? And what kind of civic building produces technology and crystal skulls?? A picture of a stonemason, a baker a hunter, anything would do the trick.
The gears add to the theme because they look like a Mayan calendar and it adds to the way you need to think and play the game (I’ll talk about that further on), but I don’t really feel like it represents a 260 day cycle. You’re not going through seasons with corresponding events and things you can do. You can always do the same things, whether it’s winter or summer.
First things first. The bad: the rules could be written a little better. The icons on the board and tiles are understandable, if you know what they mean, but not the first time (and not for non (or new to genre) gamers). Minor things.
Now, the good. As stated above, the gears add to the gameplay. You’ll have to think, in addition to what you want to do, about when you want to do it. There a timing aspect. Not only because of the turning gears, but also because you have to put at least one worker on a gear or pull one off every turn. So you cannot put your three workers on the gears and just wait until they arrive at the right spot, a couple of turns later. No, you have to sacrifice some workers and be satisfied with less, so you can pull the right worker(s) off later and get more.
The gears change the idea of worker placement a little bit, but it is not that innovative that it turns this genre on its head.
Religion is very important in the world of the Mayans and so it is in this game. 
The temple tracks are, in the games I’ve played, the most important. If you don’t make enough progress on these tracks, you won’t get the resources and, more importantly, the points that these tracks provide.
Other than that, your strategy can or will depend on the kind off monuments and your tactical decisions on the kind of buildings that are available. The monuments and buildings differ every game. This aspect adds to the replay-value.
When there is no new starting player, one corn must be put on a tooth of the gear every turn. If players wait long enough, becoming the new starting player will be a big advantage. You’ll get the corn on the gear, become the first player and you may rotate the big gear two places. A nice element in this game is, that if you already are the starting player, it is also allowed to put a worker on the starting player spot. You’ll have to give the starting player marker to your neighbour, but you do get the money.
The game scales well from two to four players. When you play with less than four players, you’ll put dummy workers (six for each colour that isn’t used) on the gears randomly. They stay there for the whole game. So it can occur that some actions or resources become very scarce, but you can plan your way around it.
Another interesting aspect of this game, is that some resources aren’t always available. At some spaces on the harvest gear, you have to chop wood first, before you or someone else can harvest corn later. In addition, every time you harvest corn, or chop wood, you’ll have to take a wood or corn token. No tokens on a certain spot, no wood to be chopped or corn to be harvested, unless you have a certain technology.
You may choose to offer a skull to the gods, but that gear is slightly bigger than the other ones, so it takes a while for your worker to get to the ‘best’ spots. This means you’ll have one worker less for a significant part of the game and have to manage your other workers very well if you still want to get the things you need.
Because the places where you can find resources are limited and some resources are in fact limited themselves, people are fighting for them. That’s where you’ll find player interaction in his game. Sometimes almost all the spots on a gear are taken, accept a very expensive one (you can give a certain amount of corn, if you want a ‘better’ spot). Is that spot that important now, or can you wait and do something else this turn?
So it’s the limited resources, exactly enough interaction (in my book) and a lot of major decision making that makes the gameplay in Tzolk’in very interesting.
The game looks very nice and very colourful. The box art looks cool and the illustrations add to the Mayan theme. The gears are beautiful and people will be saying: ‘What’s that? I want to play that. Looks cool.’ So that’s a nice benefit of the gears. The same applies to the blue crystal skulls, they grab your attention.
Maybe, and that’s a real maybe, the board is a bit too crowded.
Quality of the components
Ok, in my version the board consists of six pieces instead of four. So, in this case the board isn’t easily damaged.  
I my case, the gears do not turn as they should, because the board is, I do not know how, a little bent, making them to get stuck sometimes.
The rest of the components are of a decent quality.
This is very fun. A lot of meaningful decisions, a bit of interaction, you can be a little mean to each other, but not that much, there are several different strategies and the game is different every time.
The game plays as well with two players as it does with four. It is a game for gamers, not one you will play with uncle Ben and aunt Anne on the birthday of your granny.
Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar is an excellent worker placement game. The gears do change the way this mechanism works and add something newish. The time aspect ensures that you have to plan even more in this game than in other worker placement games. You feel a tension throughout the whole game: ‘Can I pull this move off? Oh no, I have to feed my tribesmen soon, but I also want to do get gold and stone. Do I sacrifice this one thing for the other? Will the reward for this move will be greater than the price?What if Tim puts his worker on that spot next turn… Aaaahh!’. That tension, the timing aspect and some other smaller things that I discussed above make this game on of the best in his class. But it has not only got the brains, but also the looks. A great combination.


Een gedachte over “Tzolk’in: the Mayan Calendar Review

  • 1 augustus 2018 om 18:43

    Hi you,
    Great review
    I like this game very well !
    I tough the wheel consisted in 2 years!
    2 x 13 months.
    Send me a link for others of your review!


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