Reviews

Teotihuacan: City of Gods

The Game

Teotihuacan is an archaeological site in modern day Mexico, famous for its many pyramids. It was once one of the largest cities in the world. It was most prosperous from 1AD to 500AD. Historians still debate whether it was the seat of an empire, but most agree that it was an influential city in its time. Some historians think Teotihuacan was a multi-ethnic city. It has traces of different cultures. 

Teotihuacan: City of Gods is a worker placement game and a rondel game. I have not seen many rondel games lately. In this game you collect resources, build the pyramid, build houses and worship gods. Your workers are dice. When they work, they learn and improve themselves, represented by an increase in die values. This also means they are getting older. Eventually they die upon reaching 6. You get a reward for their ascension, and your die returns as a level 1 worker. I think of it as reincarnation. Perhaps we can also think of it as the mayor giving the freed up work permit to another younger family member. 

The game is played over 3 eras. You play a number of rounds every era. You do scoring at the end of each era. You also pay your workers. Experienced workers (4’s and 5’s) are paid double. If you want to keep costs down, consider “retiring” them just before the era ends. Many things that you do in the game give points. Highest scorer at game end wins. 

 
At the very centre you can see the main pyramid, which is already partially built at the start of the game. During the game you continue to build it, but it is not guaranteed that you will complete it. To the left of the pyramid you have three temple tracks. There are many ways to advance your pawn on these tracks. Each step you advance gives you some benefit, and these benefits get better and better. To the right of the pyramid there is another track – the Avenue of the Dead. You also have a countdown area. 
 
Along the edges of the board there are 8 different action boards. These are where you will place your workers to do stuff. Some let you collect resources. Some let you spend those resources to build stuff. Your workers move from action board to action board in a clockwise manner. On your turn you must move one worker 1 to 3 steps. You get to perform the associated action where he lands. If you already have other workers waiting for him there, your action becomes more powerful. Often you want to assemble your workers at the same action board to maximise your action. 

 
This is the action board for collecting stone. The table shows what you get depending on the number of dice (workers) you have present, and the value of the lowest die. On the left you can see a worship room. When you send a worker to this action board, you can give him permission to not work, and get him to worship instead. Worshipping translates to taking a powerful action, at the cost of locking down your worker. To unlock, you need to pay, or you forfeit a full turn. Both of these will unlock all your locked workers. Another way for your worshipping worker to be freed up is getting kicked out by an opponent. If an opponent wants to worship too, he can kick your worker out by paying a small fee. 

 
This is the action board for building houses. A house costs two wood. Building houses lets you advance on the Avenue of the Dead. As more houses are built, the point value drops. During era scoring, you multiply your progress on the Avenue of the Dead with the house point value. 
 
If you have two or more workers here, you get to build houses in the second or third row, which are worth more points. 

 
This is the technology action board. You pay gold to learn a tech. If you only have one inexperienced worker, you can only learn techs from the first row. If you have two, or if your worker is experienced, you may pick from the second row too. It is normally better to learn techs in the early game, so that you will have plenty of opportunities to make use of them. If you learn a tech late in the game, it may be a waste of gold. 

 
The tech at the bottom right allows you to advance on any temple each time you build the pyramid. If you intend to spend much effort on the pyramid, you should learn this tech early in the game.  
 
 
Situations like this often happen, because it is powerful to have many workers at the same action board. 
 
When your worker arrives at an action board, you may decide to not let him work. You need to pay a fee if you want him to work, and this fee depends on how many player colours are on the action board before his arrival. Using the screenshot above as an example, if the black player sends a worker here, he has to pay $3 to perform an action. The currency in the game is actually cocoa and not Dollars. For simplicity I’m using $. If you choose to have your worker not work, you earn money instead. You earn  an amount equal to the number of player colours plus 1. Using the same example, black would earn $4 by sending a worker here and having him not work. In this game there is a cyclical aspect in earning money and then spending it on actions. 
 
 
During game setup, you draw four resource tiles and pick two. These decide your starting resources and starting locations of your workers. During play, you may gain these blue bordered discovery tiles above. Some of them are one-time-use powers. Some are masks. During the era scoring, you score points based on different mask designs you have collected. 

 
The action board at the bottom right is for building the pyramid, and that at the bottom left is for decorating the pyramid. The pyramid is built using 2×2 blocks. At some positions there are symbols. When you stack a block onto the pyramid, if any symbol is stacked on top of the same symbol, you score an extra point. When the matching symbol is coloured, you get to advance on the corresponding temple. 
 
Decorating the pyramid works like laying 2×1 staircase steps from north, south, east and west of the pyramid, starting from the bottom step and working upwards. Naturally this has dependency on the progress of the pyramid itself, since the staircase has to be built on top of the pyramid. 

On the left you see the Avenue of the Dead. On the right you see the countdown timer. When the white disc reaches the black, you play the final round of the era. In this screenshot you can see three idle workers (dice). Whenever a worker dies (called “ascends” in game terms), you get to collect one of five prizes while that worker reincarnates to become a fresh value 1 worker. One of these prizes is an extra worker of value 3. You can only receive this prize once per game. 
 
The Play
 
I played with Allen and Han on BoardGameArena.com. This is a game of resource collection then conversion to victory points, so playing the game is all about doing these more efficiently than your opponents. By analysing the board you can see clearly where you can collect which resources, and where you can convert them to points. Many tracks and elements in the game measure your progress, e.g. the temples, the Avenue of the Dead, and your mask collection. The further you progress in one of these elements, the bigger the reward per step progress. That means you want to focus on just a few, to reap the most that you can, as opposed to dabbling in a little of everything, which will not get you much of anything. 
 
 
In the first game we played, Allen built many houses in the early game, and neither Han nor I spent much on this. When the first era scoring came around, this gave Allen a huge lead, and from that point onwards we were never able to catch up. Since he was the only guy spending much effort on houses, there were not many houses built yet in total, and that kept the house value from dropping much. Since he had many more houses than we did (i.e. he had made much more progress on the Avenue of the Dead), he benefited significantly more than us when this was scored. In our second game, we learned from our mistake, and competed dutifully in house-building. That kept things more balanced and the runaway leader in check. 
 
The screenshot above was taken near the end of our first game. The pyramid was far from completed. In fact there were still two position at Level 1 not yet filled. The pyramid had four levels, and we were up to Level 3. 

 
Although we played a 3-player game, workers of the 4th player were still used. In our case the 4th player was red. Three red workers were randomly placed at three different action boards at the start of every era. They didn’t move about. They only affected the action fee when we performed actions, and the income when we skipped actions. 
 
Money and liquidity is an ongoing concern. As you take action after action, sooner or later you will run out of cash. You will need to spend some of your turns making money so that you can afford the actions you want to take. The action boards are randomised from game to game. Depending on what areas you want to focus on, you will have some idea which action boards you will need for action taking, and which you can leave for income generation. Your opponents’ actions will affect your strategy. If everyone else loves collecting gold, maybe you should forget about gold, and instead use that action board for income generation. Let the rest of them pay through their noses to take actions on such a crowded action board. Managing money is a very tactical aspect of the game. You are always hoping to perform actions when nobody else is around, and make money when everyone is around. 
 
The strategic aspects of the game include progress on the four tracks (the temples and the Avenue of the Dead), and the masks. You need to make a conscious effort to progress well. You need to focus. Techs also make you think strategically. If you already know a tech, you will want to make the most of it by taking the relevant action as often as you can. 
 
Worshipping is an interesting twist. Worship is powerful, but it does lock down your worker. It feels expensive to have to pay to unlock him (or them). It also feels like a big waste to forfeit a full turn to unlock. In our first game we were reluctant to worship. We only worshipped more in our second game. It that game, I was desperate to climb up the blue temple. The worship rooms were a good way of making such progress. Since more of us were willing to worship, sometimes we even spent a small fee to kick one another’s workers from the workshop rooms, so that our own workers could enter and worship. This resulted in worship being a good deal for all of us. It wasn’t too expensive. Unlocking others’ workers was cheaper. Having your own workers unlocked by others without spending a cent yourself is great! Thank you sir, please come again! 
 
 
In our second game, the blue temple was my (black) key to victory. The penultimate steps at temples give players an extra scoring method. I aimed for the one at the blue temple, which would give me 4VP per junior worker (values 1 to 3), and 9VP per senior worker (values 4 & 5). 
 
I scored 31VP for this, which was a fantastic feeling! 
 
The Thoughts
 

Teotihuacan is a typical heavy Euro. It’s point-scoring. It’s multiple ways to score points. It forces you to prioritise in only a handful of areas, so that you can be successful in them. You know you can’t be good at everything. The worker movement and the action fee are restrictions placed upon you. You need to manage them while trying to gather resources and convert them to points as efficiently as possible. There is no blocking in the worker placement here. At most you can make an action more expensive for your opponent, by having your colour where he wants to go, or by squatting at a worship room he intends to use. There’s some tactical competition you need to manage. In building houses and the pyramid, there is a race element, since you want to get the more desirable houses / blocks / decorations. All in all, this is quite a rich game, with many ways to compete and many different things to do. 

I can understand the appeal and why the game is popular. It works, but it’s not something that gets me excited. When I break it down, it’s too much in the collect-resources-convert-to-points mould, and this is a turn-off for me personally if the game doesn’t have some other hook. Not that Teotihuacan is not creative. It does have some interesting elements. The workers getting better over time is new. They age well, then they die, and they get reborn. I haven’t seen that elsewhere. The worship actions is an unconventional element. Normally worker placement games don’t lock down your workers. Actions becoming stronger when workers assemble is also something new. These were novel for me, but I’m happy enough to have seen them. I don’t have a strong urge to revisit. Perhaps one reason the game lacks a hook for me is it is an open information game which feels like a puzzle. It presents many options, and you need to work out the best answer. I felt more like I was solving a complex puzzle than I was living the heyday of Teotihuacan.  

Lost Temple of Arnak is also a collect-resources-to-score-points game, but it worked better for me than Teotihuacan. The reason is the deck-building lets me craft my own superpower, and the card draw is exciting – not only in what you draw from your deck, but also what gets replenished into the card row so that you can buy. 

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