Boardgame for 2-4 players by M. Kiesling/W. Kramer
Published 1999 by Ravensburger (Germany) and by Rio Grande Games (USA).
This review copyright 1999 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated June 20, 1999 (added a variant)

Tikal is the name of a Mayan city in the Guatemalan peninsula. Although now in ruins in a dense jungle, it was a large and prosperous city for 1,500 years before falling into decay.

Tikal is also the name of a game that deals with the archaeological excavation of those ruins. It's an interesting departure for Ravensburger, long well known for producing excellent games for younger children. Tikal is not for younger children, but is aimed smack dab at adult boardgamers.

It is, in short, a very good game that most board gamers will enjoy playing. Although the English edition isn't out yet, that's not really a problem - the only German-language component is the rules set, and there is a translation on the web. [Update June 7, 1999: the English edition is now out by Rio Grande games.]

The game comes with very handsome components: a board depicting lush tropical jungle, with a base camp and a couple of temple ruins in one corner. The rest of the board is attractive and inviting jungle, with a hexgrid overlay. The playing surface is actually built up during play from 2" hexes, which are only revealed one at a time. In addition to the board and hexes, there are wooden pieces representing archaeologists and their camps, cardboard chits for treasure counters, other cardboard chits to show how well excavated a temple is, and some elegantly done players' aid cards that are not language dependent. Around the edge of the board is a scoring track (there are four scoring turns during the game - the furthest advanced along the track at the end of the game wins).

The hexes are labeled on the back with a single letter, A through G. All the "A" tiles are shuffled together, as are all the "Bs", etc. A single stack of tiles is built up, with Gs on the bottom and As on top. There are four types of hexes: jungle clearing (good for building a camp on so you don't have to trek all the way from the original corner), temples, treasure sites (both potentially good for victory points), and volcanoes. There are only three volcanoes - one in the "B," "D," and "F" hex mixes. Each volcano triggers a scoring round.

Each turn, a player takes the top tile, places it adjacent to an existing tile on the board, then spends ten action points, attempting to get his excavators in the best position during his turn. The player's aid chart depicts all the ways to spend action points: bringing workers into a base camp, moving them from camp to camp, moving them from hex to hex, excavating either a treasure or temple, swapping a treasure with another player, building a new camp, or staking a sole claim to a temple.

Those last two actions are very expensive (5 action points each), and may only be done twice each during the game. Otherwise, there is no limit to the number of times you may perform an action.

The game proceeds from player to player until all the tiles have been placed. At that time there is one final scoring round, and the winner is determined.

That's basically the game, though there is also an optional set of rules for turning over a number of tiles each turn equal to the number of players, and auctioning off (with Victory Points) the right to take first choice of tiles. This adds a lot of strategy to the game, but also some time. If you don't mind a longer game, by all means play the auction variant, as the game becomes more tactical.

It's pleasantly tactical as it is, however. Each turn you have limited resources and have to figure out how best to deploy them. Since the timing of the volcanoes is unknown - there are five or six hexes of each letter - you have to be ready for one at almost any time.

During a scoring round, whoever has the most workers at a temple scores the points for it. Each temple printed on a hex has a point value printed on it. However, by spending two action points, a worker can "excavate" a temple, which means, in games terms, placing a chit with a higher number on top of the temple. But excavating a temple doesn't necessarily mean you'll be the one to score it . . .

Since each player gets to spend ten action points before scoring for the round, it's possible that more than one person can score a temple. If I go first during the scoring round, for example, and have five workers to your four at a given temple, I'll score the points for it. But then, during your turn, you can spend ten action points before scoring, which means you might be able to pull in two more workers, giving you six workers to my five - you would then score the temple yourself. And if you excavated it a level during that time, you would score more points for it than I did . . .

All in all, a very engrossing game in an attractive format with high replay value. From my experience of teaching people, it's a very easy game to learn except for one rule: a camp may be built in a clear hex or former treasure hex, even if you don't have any workers there. People seem to think you have to walk to a potential campsite before being allowed to build there, so if you teach people the game, stress that it isn't so - helicopters take care of it, I guess.

The only other negative comments about Tikal are concerned with "down time." That is, there isn't much for you to do between turns, and if you're playing with three deliberate players, it will be a long time until your next turn. This hasn't been a problem with our groups, but if it is for you, the easiest way to fix this is to play with a timer, of course. The game takes anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 hours to play, and is well worth the time investment.

The Indiana Jones Variant

I wrote this variant after my first game:

Every time you excavate a level of a temple, roll 3d6. If you roll equal to or less than the new temple level, a large boulder rolls down on one of your workers, removing it from the game. (The new level remains in place, however.) For a more brutal game, roll a d20 - or even 2d6! Note that if you excavate two levels in the same turn, roll once for each level.

The Obstacle-Building Variant

Added June 7, 1999

Every time I've played, I've wanted to keep people out of "my" little part of the board. I've finally evolved a rule to help do this:

During your turn, you can build an obstacle between two hexes. This costs four action points, and you must have a free worker in one of the hexes. ("Free" in the sense that he/she is not excavating a temple or treasure that turn.) Place an obstacle counter so it overlaps the hexside between two hexes. (I use old wooden Risk pieces of a color very different from any of the player colors in Tikal.)

It costs two additional action points to cross a hexside with an obstacle, beyond the normal cost printed on the hexes. This is true even for the player who built it. Only one obstacle may be built per hexside. You may not build an obstacle on a hexside which does not already allow movement across it.

The Machine-Gun Variant

Added June 20, 1999

It had to happen sooner or later ... This variant is obviously not for everyone, so consider yourself warned ...

You may place a machine gun on top of a guarded temple. To do this, you must cap the temple with TWO WORKERS - and you must have the plurality of workers by two or more to do this. This costs an additional action point - that is, six action points total.

No opponent may move through that hex in future turns. In addition, starting your next turn, for the cost of one action point you may remove from the game one worker (of any opponent) per turn from that hex - these are workers who were in the space at the time you mounted the machine gun and haven't yet moved out. You may only spend one action point per machine gun per turn in this fashion.

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