Game: Tawantinsuyu: The Inca Empire
Publisher: Board & Dice
Designer: David Turczi
Tawantinsuyu is the next in line of a family of board games from publisher Board & Dice set in various ancient civilisations. If you enjoy medium to heavy euro games then you’ll no doubt have come across the series and, perhaps like us, you’ve at least given each one a try. David Turczi is often the designer of the solo modes in these and many other board games, but Tawantinsuyu is a full game, all of his own design.
Tawantinsuyu is a worker placement game for 1-4 players which revolves around the Coricancha Temple – a pyramid-like structure that dictates the actions your workers can take. There’s many ways to gather points in the game, but that simple worker placement action is one that has so many factors and interlinking parts that this game is for people who really enjoy a crunchy decision!
Each turn in Tawantinsuyu gives you two options, you can either perform the main action of placing a worker and reaping the rewards, or instead perform two of a slew of minor actions, which can be equally critical to success. Placing a worker is not as easy as in many worker placement games, depending where you want to place the worker there is a cost. The inner ring of the temple is free, the next ring will cost you a couple of resources, while the far ring is the most expensive, costing your five resources to place there. In addition you have a priest at the center of the temple on one of the 5 sectors, placing in their sector is free, but placing a worker further away will cost resources too. In summary, top row next your your priest is free, bottom row far away from your priest and you are bankrupted. On top of this cost you’ll also need to either discard a card matching the symbol you want to play on, or spend a rare gold resource.
Once you place a worker you’ll get a number of actions. Each space is surrounded by three symbols, which dictate the actions you can choose from. These vary from gaining basic resources like potatoes and stone, to building structures such as staircases which make it cheaper to move down the temple. Your choice of worker colour is super important. Each colour of worker has a special power which will often grant you an extra action, in addition each of their neighbors that match in colour will grant you a bonus action. You must evenly split your actions between your three options, but if you get four or more actions you can start repeating them. At the end of your turn you get a chance to spend food to hire a new worker. If the supply of workers has now run out a scoring will commence.
Instead of placing your worker you can choose to take secondary actions. The most important of these is moving your priest, this lets you move your priest meeple up to two spaces around the temple triggering the space you land on. These spaces will grant a powerful bonus for the player who triggered them, but everyone can get involved with the action if they choose. Between these five spaces you’ll find ways to gain the gods favour, either by sacrificing food or statues you previously built, this favour is worth points and bonuses every scoring round. Alternatively you can use, or refresh, any resource buildings you have built during the game. Or you can wage war, placing, flipping or even losing soldier cards in order to fight in the the four battlegrounds. Not only does this grant instant bonuses, but each battlefield grants points to the victors there during scoring rounds.
Make no mistake, Tawantinsuyu is a complex game. There are more mechanics which I don’t have the space to explain in their full glory, including building statues to earn the favour of specific gods, weaving tapestries for set collection and ongoing bonuses, and the construction of both ongoing bonus and resource generating houses. These factors are often the end goal of your actions, but the placing of workers and moving of your priest is usually the how. The game will end after the third scoring round, at which point the player who scored the most points will be the winner.
Amy’s Final Thoughts
Tawantisuyu is, at its core, a game of restrictions. You can only place workers with the right card, but if you place them further away it’ll cost you more. Is that increased cost worth the resources, is it worth moving your priest to save resources at the cost of time? If so, can you make good use of the action your priest lands on or are you only helping your rivals who receive follow-on actions? When things are going well there is a great flow in the game as you go from one action to another, each one opening up new opportunities. But, when things go bad you may find yourself stuttering and unable to progress at the speed you would hope. This speaks wonders to the game’s ability to make you plan and think ahead and the complexity of it’s interlocking systems, but it does make for a steep learning curve.
To be frank Tawantinsuyu is not a game for me. Not because I dislike it in any way, but rather because it demands time, and repeat plays to truly master. Games I own are lucky if they get more than five plays, so a game that will take five plays before you start to feel some level of mastery doesn’t make for a great fit. Our second play was tremendously different from our first as we instead chose to drag out rounds longer to score more points before the scoring round rather than buying that tempting last worker. At two players there is a good amount of space on the map, this is a double edged sword. While you are less likely to find yourself blocked by an opponent (though it is devastating when you are) there also aren’t many big clumps of meeples appearing, which means you won’t have many opportunities to get bonus actions.
Restrictive games such as Tawantinsuyu immediately demand a lot of forward planning. This can be incredibly satisfying to the right player, but it comes at a cost. While playing this game my mind was racing, endlessly searching for the next great play. And the most common situation? Disappointment, as the perfect spot was the wrong god symbol, or was surrounded by a colour of meeple I didn’t have, or perhaps simply too far away for me to afford. Sure I could move my priest, but I didn’t have the corn ready to do that yet, so I’d only be giving away points to my opponents. I was constantly looking around only to see bad options everywhere I looked until I finally gave in and took the least bad one.
Working in a set of rules and restrictions can be fun. Without such rules games wouldn’t exist as anything more than playground make-believe. But when you add too many rules the fun ends up being strangled and creating a disjointed experience. Sadly, that is where Tawantinsuyu ends up, with a little bit of tweaking and a touch of simplifying this could be a really great game. As it stands I do believe that this still could be a fantastic game for someone who wants to really sink their teeth into every game in their collection. Alas, that’s not me.
Fi’s Final Thoughts
I love a themeless euro game, and Tawantinsuyu is definitely that! I’m not sure many people are considering adding this game to their collection because they love the Incan theme, but more likely because they love to push wooden pieces around a board.
Tawantisuyu is a game that really builds and gets more interesting as you progress through the rounds. In the first of the three rounds, turns will be quick because the spots you can place workers are not yet so powerful. You’ll also spend more time trying to gather resources to make the action of moving your priest a more interesting option for later rounds. The combination of everyone playing workers rather than taking the alternate action means that the village depletes very quickly, causing round one to end and not so many points to be scored. In a two player game, that fast first round can lead to a particularly strong early lead for the player that can succeed on a couple of military tracks, leaving their opponent trailing behind.
Usually I would describe Tawantinsuyu as a game that offers you a small number of extremely high impact choices, but Tawantinsuyu is part a a line of games that has actually offered you even fewer choices in the past. Each time you place out a worker there is a huge array of things to consider, but you’ll probably place workers around 15-20 times during the game, with players able to manipulate the length of a round to some extent. That’s not to downplay the complexity of each choice though.
I’d describe most choices in Tawantinsuyu as difficult. Sadly, I chose difficult specifically, rather than challenging or interesting because most choices are also disappointing. Perhaps you can spot the perfect worker placement spot on the board with exactly the right blend of actions you want to take. You have the right coloured meeple, a god card with the right symbol, enough stone to build that building you want, but, oh no, you’re one potato short of being able to pay to get to that spot on the pyramid! Tawantinsuyu seems to be defined by the restrictions it places upon you and you’ll spend a lot of time analysing choices that lead to dead ends and opportunities you can’t quite make the most out of. Fun turns feel tantilisingly close, but very rarely do they actually happen.
You Might Like…
If you enjoy puzzly choices, and optimisation then Tawntinsuyu should definitely scratch that itch.
It’s satisfying to know that it’s the collective efforts of players around the table that create the worker placement spots on the board and they’ll be somewhat unique in each game.
You Might Not Like…
The opportunities to have a great turn are few and far between.
You might not want to play with players prone to analysis paralysis.
The tapestries seem almost too good and they run out quite quickly when we play.
5.5/10 Tawantinsuyu is over-complicated to the extreme! Every turn is an intensely complicated decision and yet most turns are just disappointing because you’ll find that the result of your analysis is that there is not a fun or rewarding move you can make. There are too many hurdles between you and a satisfying turn. The ideas behind the worker placement where workers have unique powers and are triggered by adjacencies are all well thought and clever, but there’s just too much here. We still enjoyed the overall experience of the game, but the moments of frustration during the game started to build up to a bad lingering feeling that made it hard to get Tawantinsuyu back to the table.
Tawantinsuyu was a review copy kindly provided to us by Board & Dice.