Review – Teotihuacan: City of Gods

Teotihuacan: City of Gods. Board & Dice, 2018, Designer, Daniele Tascini. Artist, Odysseas Stamoglou.

Sometime last year, I bought Teotihuacan: City of Gods for Em as a birthday present. We had seen people playing it back in the Before Times, when people could gather in groups and make merry, and it had such a gorgeous table presence that we knew we had to have it. However, a quick read through the rulebook intimidated us; there were so many rules, so many pieces, so many things going on that we knew that it would be a stressful game to try to learn.

Well, folks, we FINALLY broke this one out during our vacation a couple of weeks ago, and after a couple games, I think I’m ready to clime this ziggurat and talk about Teotihuacan.

What’s going on here?

In Teotihuacan: City of Gods, players take the roles of noble families competing for glory and honor with the gods of Mesoamerica. These families move their workers, represented by dice, around the board, taking actions and collecting resources. Most actions cause the the dice to advance one pip, and when a die reaches six, it, well, dies (Dies, dice…get it?). Don’t worry…it is immediately reborn.

The Pyramid of the Sun.

In the center of the board is the pyramid, which is incomplete. One of the actions players may take is the build action, which places a tile on the pyramid. Based on the symbols on the tile that is being places, and any matching symbols where the tile is being places, the player score bonus points, and may even gain influence on one of three tracks.

The game ends after the “Calendar Track” completes three cycles, or when the pyramid is completed. The player with the most points wins.

What is good here?

The first thing you’ll notice about Teotihuacan: City of Gods, is the pyramid. It’s a really cool mechanic that manages to be delightfully thematic while providing lots o ways to score points or gain other advantages. In fact, a lot of the strategy in this game revolves around getting resources to build the pyramid, not just for the points each tile scores, but for the influence tracks that might advance with each tile. It really is a beautiful game, even if there is a lot of beige on the board.

Influence tracks.

Another thing I love about this game is that, despite there being lots of things to consider in each turn, the game is not nearly as heavy as I thought it would be. I would say this is an intermediate game; it’s mostly a “place a worker, take an action” type game, though the iconography can be as obtuse as, say, Race for the Galaxy for a new player. Not that there’s anything wrong with a heavy game, but most of the time, Em and I are looking for something lighter than that. This is one of the heaviest games we play when we’re just in the mood to play a game and not make a whole day out of it.

Despite the game not being super-heavy, and despite the pyramid being the literal center of the game, there are still enough things to do that I’m sure there are ways to win without focusing on building. Lots of points can be scored on the Avenue of the Dead, and there are ways to gain influence on the tracks without touching the pyramid.

The game has alternate boards for each space on the main board, so that players can randomize the layout, so that the game is never the same board twice, and there’s a solo mode for those who are quarantined or those who just want to get away from everyone for a while and build a monument to Mesoamerican gods. (The solo mode was designed by David Turczi of Anachrony fame, so if you’re a fan of his, you should check that out.)

Lastly, it’s just nice to play a game that isn’t about white Europeans “settling” places, you know?

What’s not so good?

I’ve already mentioned the biggest problems with this game, but I want to break them down here. First of all, the iconography can be confusing. There are a lot of little symbols that look similar, such as any symbol involving dice. In both of our plays of this game, we constantly had to refer to the rule book for clarity, and even had to consult the internet for a couple of things. That’s not a terrible thing in itself, but even towards the end of our 2nd game, we were still confused about a few things.

A beautiful beige mess.

Also, there is just so much going on on this board. That’s a good thing because it gives you myriad options for strategy, but it’s also easy to lose track of what bonuses to actions you get because of the technology you’ve learned, and because each action space has a locked area and a general area, but the dice in the general area cover the symbols on that space, the whole board becomes a jumbled, albeit beautiful, mess.

Lastly–and this is kind of a minor quibble considering that you can randomize the spaces–all of the spaces are numbered, and these numbers are important when tracking the bonuses you get. However, the spaces as printed on the board are not in numerical order. If you get a bonus on action “3,” you have to look around to find that action. which is directly between the “1” and the “5.” Of course, you can always arrange the randomized playboards in numerical order, but as the main board is meant for new players, I’m not sure why it’s randomized.

What do I think?

Not illustrating anything in this one; I just love Em’s board game photography.

Overall, Teotihuacan: City of Gods is a rich, tactile play experience that is challenging for experienced board game hobbyists without, after a few plays, being completely overwhelming for casual players. No one should play this as their entry into designer board games, but with the right teacher, and some patience, most board gamers will eventually grok onto the more confusing aspects. I wish certain parts of the board were a little less busy, and each action space really needs a clearly-defined general area.

It’s getting 8/10 victory points based on 2 plays, so that may go up or down with more experience. A few board design changes for clarity, even if these changes reduce the aesthetic value of the board, might have even ranked this game higher.

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