Tikal has been on my list of games to play for quite some time now. It’s one of those classic Eurogames that everyone played like gangbusters years ago, but now has a dusty place of honor on the shelf under the newer and cooler Euros of similar box size. It’s an award-winning game where players battle through the jungles of Central America in search of ancient Mayan temples. It won both the Spiel des Jahres and the Deutscher Spiele Preis in 1999 and it’s also notorious for causing the dreaded gamer brain buffering syndrome known as analysis paralysis, which is ironic because that is in no way how I would characterize adventurous tomb raiders in Central America. Playing with someone who is prone to analysis paralysis, or AP, can be particularly frustrating. I’m pretty sure that I am not known for having analysis paralysis. I like to think that I am known as an amusing and affable player that obeys Wheaton’s Law, and is especially bad at Egizia.
Tikal was designed by Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer, the Rodgers and Hammerstein of our fabulous pastime, and was published in 1999 by Ravensburger. I always check BGG for information like this and I notice that Tikal is listed as having a Tropical theme, which I assume means that it is slightly damp and smells like a piña colada. Tikal will accommodate 2 to 4 players of ages 10 and up, and will take a couple of hours to play, especially if you are playing with gamers prone to AP.
Tikal is a gorgeous game, that features hexagonal tiles that are placed on the game board as players explore the jungle and square tiles that are used to create the temples, which build up as they are investigated. I know that seems backwards thematically, but it works just fine in terms of game play. Each player has wooden cubes that represent explorers, an expedition leader, and a few camps. There are also discs that represent the various objects of ancient Mayan culture that your explorers rip out of the ground and happily toss into their bags of loot.
An extensive analysis of the rules of Tikal would take me outside of the boundary of this blog’s vision statement; however, I think I can just focus on the central mechanism of the game, which is the use of action points. There are a number of things you can do when it’s your turn. You can bring an explorer onto the board, move an explorer, investigate a temple, steal irreplaceable bits of ancient Mayan culture, establish a camp, and so on. Each one of these choices will cost you a number of action points, and this is where the analysis paralysis can start to grip the gaming mind like Darth Vader taking out an Imperial Officer. I don’t think it’s the limiting of actions that causes the problem, but rather the number of potential combinations of choices. Because the board changes dramatically from one turn to the next, you have to do a lot of your evaluation during your turn. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I like that there can be great fluctuations in board position and strength. I think the lack of predictability was one of the aspects I liked the most about Tikal, but I can see how it makes it so prone to analysis paralysis.
I’m going to shift gears slightly at this point and talk about the circumstances whereby I was able to play Tikal. My friends Mark Johnson and Dave Arnott took a weekend road trip to Fresno, and they helped me check a couple of Spiel des Jahres winners off of my list, namely Tikal and Mississippi Queen. Mark recorded an episode of BoardgamesToGo that talks about their visit and there is a great section of the podcast where they talk about Tikal. Dave makes some very interesting observations about Tikal and Michael Schacht‘s Valdora. I highly recommend that you check it out. Also, I want to give some special thanks to Jonathan Degann for letting us borrow his copy of Tikal. I’m sorry I spilled grape juice on the board and lit the box on fire. It was Mark’s fault for distracting me while I was trying hit the watermelon with my sledgehammer.
I really enjoyed my single game of Tikal, and I would love to play it again under the right circumstances. Mark mentioned that Tikal is the only game he’s ever played where he read a magazine between his turns. AP is almost a guarantee in this game, unless you can play with some folks you know to be resistant, like Mark and Dave. If you can get the right people together, I think Tikal is a winner.
This is part of my Spiel des Jahres winner series. If you would like to comment on the 1999 winner, Tikal, then please do so on this post. If you would like to discuss or comment on the Spiel des Jahres award in general, please do so on the Spiel des Jahres series post.