Posted by: gschloesser | August 9, 2011

Mexica

Design by:  Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling
Published by:  Rio Grande Games & Ravensburger
2 – 4 Players, 1 1/2 – 2 hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser
 

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This review first appeared in the Gamer’s Alliance Report. 

I was destined to enjoy Mexica.  Why? 

1)      I consider Wolfgang Kramer the ‘Gaming god’.
2)      I’m a HUGE fan of the other three games in this series:  Tikal, Torres and Java.
3)      It is a beautiful design and artistically pleasing.  In other words, Great Bits! 

In Mexica, Kramer & Kiesling take us many centuries back into the past when the  Mayan tribes were just beginning to develop their legendary city ofTenochitlan, which is now present-dayMexico City.  This fabulous ancient city was renown for its wealth, opulence and superior defensive position, being surrounded by lakes and water.  Sadly, modern man opted to fill-in these waters and create a sprawling metropolis which, although not without its beauty, is considered one of the most polluted cities on the planet. 

But enough of history … let’s get to the game!  In Mexica, players represent competing tribes vying to construct the city and dominate its various districts.  On each turn, players have limited action points in which to dig new canals, found districts and construct temples.  Kramer & Kiesling again use this ‘limited action points’ mechanism to perfection, forcing players to make agonizingly tough decisions concerning how best to utilize these points on each and every turn.

 

Players each begin the game with nine temple pieces varying in height from 1 – 4 levels.  The remaining nine pieces for each player are reserved for the second round of play.  These pieces are 3-D replications of Mayan temples and are quite pleasing to the eye, as is the board artwork, designed by the master, Franz Vohwinkel.    On a turn, a player has six action points, with which he can perform the following possible actions: 

1)      Place Canal Tile:  In order for a district to be formed, it must be completely surrounded by water.  Players may use action points to place water tiles, which occupy 1 or 2 spaces.  Further, canals provide a speedy method of moving around Tenochitlan, but, of course, they must linked in order to fully enjoy the efficient transportation benefits.  There is an abundance of the two space water tiles, but the one space tiles are scarce.  Use ‘em when you can! 

2)      Place Bridge:  The one problem with canals is that they can be difficult to cross.  Thus, players may use action points to construct bridges, which also serve as landing points when traveling by water.  Bridges can only span one canal tile, which makes the strategic placement of canal tiles and the erection of temples a vital skill to be used to block your opponents from incursions into districts you control. 

3)      Moving:  Travel by foot across the growing city can be slow and arduous.  Each space traversed, including bridges, cost one valuable action point.  Or, you can use 5 of those precious points to jump to any unoccupied land or bridge space.  I guess those Mayans had some mystical teleportation powers that we have yet to discover! 

As mentioned, a swifter manner to travel is by water.  Players can move along connected waterways from bridge to bridge at a cost of one action point per bridge encountered.  

4)      Erecting Temples:  The key to controlling a district is to possess the most temple levels in that district.  Thus, one of the key and most frequent actions of the game is building temples.  The cost is one action point per level constructed.  Since each player has a pre-set number of buildings of varying levels, proper management and construction timing of these temples is vital.  It is terribly easy to find yourself depleted of a particular temple and therefore be unable to respond to an incursion into one of your districts by your opponents.  

5)      Acquire Action Chips:  If you find yourself unable or unwilling to perform all six of your actions on a turn, you can use up to 2 action points to acquire action chips.  These can be stockpiled and used on a later turn.  They can prove to be quite handy in subsequent turns.  Plus, they serve as a tie-breaker if the situation arises. 

As mentioned, a district can be formed once a land area is completely surrounded by water.  Founding a district is free and costs no action points.  However, in order to be ‘founded’, the size of the enclosed land area must match one of the Calpulli tiles which are available during the current round of play.  In the first round, there are eight Calpulli tiles available, while there are only seven available in the second (and final) round.  Each tile lists three numbers, the center one being the amount of land spaces that must be enclosed in order to found a district with that tile.  The top number lists the victory points that player who successfully founds the district will receive.  All three numbers are also used for scoring at the conclusion of the first and second rounds.  

The first round is completed when all of the Capulli tiles available for that round are depleted AND one player has erected all nine of his temples.  At that point, each founded district is scored.  The player controlling the most temple levels in a district receives a number of victory points equal to the largest number listed on that district’s Capulli tile.  The players possessing the second and third-most temple levels also receive points as listed on the Capulli tile.  If there is a tie for any position, tied players each receive the listed number of points.  

After scoring has been completed, play continues into the second and final round.  The procedures are exactly the same, with the exception that there is one less Capulli tile available.  Plus, districts become more difficult to found as the land is quickly becoming filled and available building space is at a premium.  It is possible that certain districts cannot be founded, in which case the appropriate Capulli tiles are removed from the game. 

The game ends when the Capulli tiles available in the second round have all been utilized are removed from the game AND one player has erected his final temple.  At this point, each founded district is again scored in the same manner as described above.  Further, any districts that have been formed but were not founded (that is, did not have a matching Capulli disk available) are also scored.  The player with the most temple levels in that square receives victory points equal to the number of land spaces comprising the district.  Second and third place players also score points, with each receiving ½ of the victory points received by the player above them.  Thus, as the game approaches its conclusion, it is wise to keep an eye on building opportunities in these un-founded districts.  As a final bonus, any player who manages to end the game with his token located on the sacred temple receives five additional points. 

Mexica is perhaps the easiest of the series to learn and play.  The rules are very straight-forward with few ambiguities or confusing twists.  Actual play is extremely competitive, with players hustling about attempting to found districts and usurp control of as many districts as possible.  Control of the various districts can shift rapidly, however, and you often find yourself scurrying back and forth across the board  in order to erect new temples and attempt to maintain a scoring position in these districts.  I can relate to the familiar circus performer who frantically rushes about attempting to keep a dozen or so plates spinning on the tops of poles.  

Six action points per turn simply isn’t a bunch, so you are forced to carefully manage these points in attempts to stretch them to their optimum level.  Still, I am constantly amazed at just how much is able to be accomplished on a turn with these limited number of points.  The board situation changes swiftly and dramatically.  You are continually forced to reevaluate your situation and adjust to the actions of your opponents.  This helps make for a tremendously challenging and exciting game, one which will undoubtedly see regular table time for a long time to come. 

The game does bear some resemblance to the Andres Seyfarth game Manhattan, a Spiel des Jahre recipient from a decade ago.  However, there is much more going on here and a player does have more control over his own fate.  Although I still enjoy playing Manhattan, Mexica takes that concept to a much higher plateau.

To borrow a phrase from my good friend and fellow Gamers Alliance contributor Al Newman, this is a “rich gaming experience”.  That’s a phrase that has become a trademark for the gaming god, Herr Kramer.

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Responses

  1. The best strategy is to tie in areas. Very good game. 7/10


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