Winner of the 1999 Spiel des Jahres, the 1999 Deutscher SpielePreis, the Games Magazine Best Family Strategy Game 2000, and the Gamers' Choice Awards Best Strategy Game 2000, Tikal places players in the roles of archeologists exploring the jungles of Central America for treasures and temples. Considered the first in Kramer's "tile-laying action point games", (followed by Torres, Java, and Mexica). Tikal was the first "German game" I ever played or owned, and needless to say, it got me hooked...
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In Tikal, players take turns placing large hexagonal tiles onto the board, then moving their "explorers" from tile to tile. Some tiles contain treasures, some temples, and some are empty jungle. If explorers are on a temple tile, they may "excavate" at the temple site, uncovering buried levels of the temple, (and increasing the value of the temple). Movement and excavation require the expenditure of action points, of which a player gets 10 a turn. When a volcano tile appears, a scoring round is held, and the player with the most explorers on each temple claims the victory points for it. After the last tile is drawn, there is a final scoring round, and the player with the most points is the winner.
Before the game starts, the large, hexagonal tiles are sorted into groups based on a letter on their backs. Each group is shuffled, the groups are ordered alphabetically, (A-B-C-D, etc.), and the game begins. There are two ways to play Tikal, the basic game, and the auction variant. In the basic game, the first player takes the first tile on the stack, turns it over and takes her turn. In the auction version, a number of tiles equal to the number of players are turned over, and the players then bid victory points for the right to choose a tile.
After taking a tile, the player then must play the tile onto the board. The only restriction is that the tile must be adjacent to at least one tile already on the board. The board starts out with four "tiles" printed on the board, so the first tile must be placed adjacent to one of these. the tiles consist of either a volcano, a temple, a treasure tile or empty jungle. In addition, all of the tiles except for the volcanos have small stone symbols on some of their edges. These stones control movement between tiles, (see below). If a tile is a treasure tile, a number of treasure tokens are place face down on the tile.
The player then gets to spend 10 action points. Placing an explorer on the board costs 1 AP, and the explore must either be placed on the starting base camp, (one of the four pre-printed "tiles" on the board), or at a base camp the player can place later in the game. Moving a worker already on the board costs a number of action points equal to the number of stone symbols on the tile edges they are trying to cross of the tile they're moving from and the tile they're moving to. Players can also spend three points to take a treasure from a treasure tile, two points to "excavate" a temple they have a worker on, 5 points to place a "base camp" on an open jungle or looted treasure tile, and five points to "guard" a temple they have a worker on, preventing others from ever scoring for that temple.
Treasure tiles have various symbols on them, and collecting groups of like symbols causes the treasures to be worth more points. Players can also force trades with others in an attempt to gain these sets. Excavating a temple involves placing a marker on the temple with a value one greater than the existing value of the temple.
Temples start out with values from 1 to 5, and there are a limited number of "higher value" markers to place on the temples. If no more temple value markers are available to place, the temple cannot be excavated further.
A base camp can be placed on an open jungle tile or on a treasure tile that has had all of its treasure tokens removed. A base camp allows a player to start explorers there, instead of the starting base camp.
Guarding a temple costs two action points, can only be done on a temple where the play has a majority of explorers, and can only be done to two temples per player. The player takes one of the explorers he has in the temple tile, and places it on top of the temple. In addition, any other explorers he has in that tile are removed from the game!
Play continues around the board until a volcano tile is turned up, (or chosen). At that point a scoring round occurs.
There are three volcano tiles in the stack, and when a volcano appears or is chosen, (depending upon the version being played), a scoring round occurs. Each player gets to take a turn, and then their position is scored. If a player has a majority of explores on a temple, that player gets the points currently shown on the temple, (or on the value marker if the temple has been excavated). Each player has one "expedition leader" token which counts as three explorers. Each player also scores the values of the treasures they have collected. As each player takes a turn and then scores, more than one player can score for a given temple on the same scoring round. After the final tile is played, another scoring round takes place. Whoever has the most points wins.
First off, Tikal is a beautiful game. There is a real sense of theme as you explore the jungle and uncover temples. The gameplay is engrossing, as you try to decide what to do with your limited action points. Both strategy and tactics have their place in Tikal. Strategically, you need to decide what emphasis you are going to place on treasures. Grabbing treasures will generate you victory points. But as it costs three action points to grab a treasure, and you can at most grab two treasures per treasure tile per turn, and you need to have two explorers present to do that, (as each explorer can only get one per turn), treasure hunting is costly, and will prevent you from developing temples and getting explorers on the board.
The placement of your tiles also has a strategic aspect, as you can attempt to create areas of the board which are only accessible through expensive hex edges, or which only you can easily reach. Also, the auction version allows for strategic play, as you can try to determine which tiles will be valued by others, and attempt to bid up those tiles.
The majority of the game is tactical in nature, as you try to find the best way to maximize your action points, (especially on the scoring turns). Finding opportunities to place a base camp, and being able to exploit it are key, allowing you to gain easy access to rich portions of the board. Base camps are expensive however, and you won't be able to do too much on the turn you place one. In much the same way, being able to grab and guard high value temples, without having a lot of explorers taken off of the board is very important.
The primary complaint with Tikal is that of downtime. Due to the tactical nature of the game, Tikal can seriously bog down with analytical players. While perhaps not being the biggest offender in this regard, many will say that Tikal is the classic case study for "analysis paralysis". Some people will take this downtime issue and translate this into a feeling that Tikal is boring. Even without a over-analytical group, Tikal tends to run a bit longer than some other games, though rarely have I seen a game take over two hours.
The basic game tends to have a problem with the luck of the draw, which is why I much prefer the auction version. If you think that the player who gets the volcanos most is bound to win, you can bid as much as you think it's worth. If you want to prevent someone from sticking a base camp near a part of the board you have to yourself, and there is only one open jungle tile up for auction, you can bid as much as it takes to get it.
If there is anything I dislike about Tikal, it is that it is very difficult to gauge how well you are playing. I have often played what I thought was a good game, only to come up short at the end, and not really have a sense of what I did wrong. This tends to be a bit frustrating. As I mentioned above, this was the first German game I got, and for that reason it will always have a spot in my heart. My family is of the opinion that it takes too long, so it doesn't get played much anymore at home. When I am attending various gaming groups, I'm always looking to play games that I haven't played before, or am looking to play Tigris & Euphrates, so Tikal doesn't get brought out then much either.
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