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TIKAL II: THE LOST TEMPLE

Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser

TIKAL II: THE LOST TEMPLE (GameWorks, 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, 90 minutes; $59.99)

 

As I’ve mentioned many times previously, I am a big fan of most of the designs of Wolfgang Kramer. I particularly enjoy the results of the collaborations between Kramer and Michael Kiesling. When they endeavor to produce a deeper strategy game, the result is something I almost always tremendously enjoy.

For me, Tikal (featured in the Spring 1999 Gamers Alliance Report) was one of their masterpieces. The action point system provided players with wide latitude in terms of decisions and opportunities for clever and often unexpected plays. This same system was used in several more games in the series, including Java (Winter 2001 GA Report) and Mexica (Spring 2002 GA Report). For me, these are all excellent games that I will gladly play at any time. So I was understandably excited when I learned of the pending release of Tikal II: The Lost Temple.tikal21

As in Tikal, Tikal II is set in the South American jungles. Players are charged with the task of exploring a major Mayan temple and claiming the treasures found within. Unlike Tikal, wherein players uncover numerous temples that have been overgrown by the encroaching jungle, here there is only one main temple to explore, with a few smaller, secret rooms on its exterior. Plus, there are no action points to expend, which does eliminate much of the downtime present in the original.

The center of the large board depicts the lost temple, which is comprised of twenty seven hexagon spaces. Ten of these spaces – all located along the edges – have been discovered, but still contain treasures. The six secret rooms are located next to the main temple, and there are spaces for various cards and tiles used during the game. Running along the perimeter of the temple is the river, which players will navigate to visit six temple sites and claim special treasures and artifacts (action tiles). Each player receives a small board depicting his camp, along with an explorer, pirogue, a collection of flags and two keys. There are five different colors of keys, which correspond with the various doors that appear on the room hexes.

The rule book is also worth mentioning. When I first lifted it, I thought, “Wow! This has a lot of rules!” Much to my surprise and amusement, however, the entire first half of the rule books is actually a well-drawn comic book telling the prelude of the game’s story. The featured characters are the game’s designers, as well as others who had a hand in its making. Quite clever!

Each player’s turn is divided into two phases:

Pirogue Phase. Note: a pirogue is a canoe-type vessel. It is very common in Cajun country in Louisiana, which is why I am familiar with the term. The player moves his pirogue along the river to a temple site. He may advance his pirogue up to five temple sites, claiming one of the face-up action tiles located at the site where he lands. There is a waterfall on the river, and players must portage around this obstacle. To accomplish this, players must hire natives, who seem fond of keys. So, they demand a key to schlep your canoe and supplies around the waterfall. Thus, it is wise to have an expendable key available, lest you surrender one that you might need to explore the temple.

There are a variety of action tiles, each of which allows the player to perform special actions or grants a reward. These actions include taking a key, taking a treasure token, secret passage counter or special action card, or placing a new room or sanctuary tile. Some even reward an additional victory point or two. When taking a tile, the player immediately takes the rewards indicated or performs the actions it grants. Choosing which tile to take is one of the major decisions to be made each turn, and plays a significant part in a player’s long-term strategy.

Some of the actions warrant more explanation.

Keys: A player may elect to keep the key in his backpack, allowing it to be used when exploring the temple. Each key bears a color that can open doors in the temple of the same color. If a player does not have a key matching a door color, he cannot pass through that door. Thus, the more different colored keys a player has in his backpack, the more freely he can move throughout the temple.

Alternatively, a player may place the key in his camp. The more different-colored keys a player has stored in his camp, the more victory points he will earn at game’s end. However, these keys cannot be used to explore the temple. Choose wisely!

Treasures: There are a variety of different treasure counters, which are mixed and divided into three stacks. When a player selects a tile depicting the treasure icon, he takes three tokens from one of the stacks, keeps one, and places the remaining counters back atop the stack. The idea is to collect treasures that have great value, which varies as more are sent home for display. A price wheel turns with each sale, adjusting the prices for the different types of treasures. The values range from 2 – 5, so wise players will attempt to collect multiples of treasures and sell them when their value is high. This is trickier than it sounds, as one’s opponents will be attempting to do the same thing, thereby affecting the price.tikal2

A player may only cash-in on the treasures when he passes one of the two seaplane locations. Timing is critical, and can become more so as the game approaches its end, as treasures left in one’s possession at the end of the game are worth only one point apiece.

Action Cards: These cards are a mixture of goodies, including special keys, free portage coupons, secret passage maps, victory points and more. As in treasures, the player takes three cards and keeps one.

Rooms and Sanctuaries: The player takes the top room tile and places it adjacent to a previously placed tile. Rooms contain one treasure location, while sanctuaries have four. Sanctuaries, however, have no doors, so unless they are placed next to a door on an adjacent tile, players will need to use a secret passage token to enter. Sanctuaries can also yield more victory points during the game, so establishing a presence in them can be very worthwhile.

Explorer Phase. The player moves his explorer as far as he desires – provided he has keys to enter the doors he encounters – and excavates, placing one of his flags in the final room he enters.

When moving, a player is free to enter and exit the temple as often as desired. Again, he must have the proper colored keys to pass through the various doors he encounters. A player can enter a room along a solid wall if he spends a secret passage token. These tokens are required to enter the six secret rooms located outside the temple, each of which rewards the explorer with victory points. A key is not lost when used to pass through a door, so collecting several different colored keys gives the player increased movement options and flexibility.

When a player opts to excavate in a room or sanctuary, his movement stops and he places a flag either onto a vacant bonus treasure location or simply into the room. If placed on a bonus treasure location, the player immediately scores the points indicated and/or earns the special reward displayed. In addition to any bonus, the player will score one point for each door in the room, plus one point for each door in every like-colored room wherein a player has previously placed a flag. So, there is an incentive to excavate like-colored rooms, as the points earned increase dramatically with each subsequent excavation.

A round concludes when the last action tile is taken and the player finishes his turn. Players score points for the number of different colored keys they have stored in their camp, with points ranging from one-to-fifteen. Further, each sanctuary is examined. Amongst the players who have a flag in a sanctuary, the player possessing the most keys matching the color of the sanctuary scores three points. Only keys in one’s camp count, as keys in a player’s backpack can only be used when moving about the temple. These points can be significant, so players should not ignore excavating sanctuaries and storing keys. However, there are many ways to earn victory points, so it is difficult to pay attention to them all.

A second round is conducted in the same fashion, with a fabulous golden room being the final room placed and potentially discovered. Another scoring is conducted, with a few additions. Any treasures not delivered score one point apiece, and treasure cards awarding victory points are tallied. The player with the most victory points becomes the most famous explorer and wins the game.

Tikal II is a fine game on its own but I am a bit fearful over the choice of name. Tikal was a very successful, award-winning game that is widely admired as a deep strategy game filled with tough decisions. It presented players with a wide latitude of options. At first glance, naming this new game Tikal II seems reasonable, as it shares a similar theme and is from the same designers. Further, similar to a movie sequel, it has a ready-made audience, and can easily capitalize on the popularity of the original. So in one sense, it seems to be sound marketing.

On the other hand, expectations may be set too high. Tikal II is a solid game, but it is not as deep or strategy-laden as its forefather. While there are numerous decisions to be made – the toughest being the action tiles to choose – the game doesn’t offer as wide a latitude as its predecessor. It doesn’t require the same level of continuous thinking or clever moves. As such, it is more of a middle-weight game in terms of complexity, strategy and decision-making. This may come as a disappointment to fans of Tikal who might have been expecting a reprise of that game’s features and depth. In other words, one’s assessment of the game may be tarnished by expectations. That would be unfair.

Tikal II is a solid middle-weight game. It is not too difficult for families to learn and play, but there is enough present to challenge gamers and keep them engaged. There are elements of the original present but most of the game’s mechanisms are different. This gives the game a significantly different feel than the original, offering a gaming experience that is not too closely associated with the original. While I don’t think it will have the impact or longevity of its ancestor, Tikal II is still a challenging game that will keep players engaged and entertained. It is another solid effort from the design team of Kramer and Kiesling. – – – – – – – – – – Greg J. Schloesser


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