Quick Look: Yucatan
Designer: Guillaume Montage
Artists: Karl Fitzgerald
Year Published: 2022
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 14 +
Playing Time: 45-60 minutes
In Yucatan, you are the leader of a Mayan city. You have promised your people to win the favors of the Gods, and their fate is in your hands. Send your warlords to capture enemies, increase your might with every season of the sacred calendar, and sacrifice your prisoners to the Mayan gods to ensure your dominance.
Your warlords will become more and more formidable, your city more and more glorious, but your opponents do the same, so enlisting the help of the mythological creatures and heroes will be necessary to try to restore with blood, the energy of your gods.
In this game, your goal is to capture prisoners, and the Yucatan peninsula is your playground. Prepare for four seasons of fierce fighting. At the end of each season, you will ritually sacrifice captured enemies to gain reputation, but be careful because the gods are demanding: Each of your sacrifices must be more glorious than the last. Each decision matters in the subtle balance required to make your city the glorious and eternal sanctuary of the mighty Mayan gods.
I started off this journey into the forbidden past thinking Yucatan was about an exploration of a peninsula. A Catan or Carcassonne of sorts. I visioned gathering fish resources and settling the land with a random skirmish with the locals in the tropics of Central America. Well. NO! This game is a resource management and worker (Troop) replacement war with a friend or foe in a barbarically harsh turn based setting. I dropped to my knees and prayed to the temple of the Gaming gods to help me not only achieve victory points but to understand the play-through process of this one.
Yucatan is set in an ancient period where the concept of war and worship are the only two things that drive human existence. If you are not a tribal leader or warrior, your existence is futile if you are the chosen ones to be sacrificed to the gods each round.
I only had the privilege to play the game online and the mechanics were a bit frustrating to say the least. I believe this game should and would get a much higher rating from me if it were a physical version and displayed on my gaming table. I MUST SAY BEFORE GETTING INTO THE REVIEW THAT I WILL BE BUYING A COPY OF THE GAME DESPITE MY EARLY RESERVATIONS BELOW as it is a challenge not for the faint of heart (aka: Newbie).
The game concept is a wonderful vision and the designer Guillaume Montage creates the setting perfectly with the numerous and I mean numerous tokens, counters, and symbols. The board and VERY THEMATIC Temple I envision being constructed and placed on your gaming table will turn every head at any con where this game is demoed.
To start, the number of players whether it be two, three, or four will drastically affect the game play, strategy, and decisions within the mechanics of the game. This is more relevant in Yucatan than others as the play area on the board is condensed to just 4 movable areas – Three Cities and one central jungle. Having 2 players move their starting two troops between those areas is less congestive with more room for exploration vs the battle mechanic that is a big part of the game with four players moving 2 troops within these sacred lands and spaces.
The setup requires some time as there are a number of areas with detailed uses to prepare before a game begins.
The escalation area, the general board area with city columns, your individual city board, the temple; oh and then there is the battle cards, the resources, your troops, the summoning monsters and their tokens….. ( insert deep breath here ), the abilities tokens by level, the special abilities of leaders, and more.
Once complete and the table is sprinkled with all the gaming goodness and the first player marker granted to a player, we jumped right into play broken out by rounds. There are just four. (FOUR you say?) Yep – however a round consists of three turns for each player of which you perform 2 actions within each turn. So for those who like me got a 37 on my calculus math final – that is 6 actions per round per player. One Round equals an Action Phase ( 3 turns with 2 actions ) / Sacrifice Phase / Revolution Phase.
Each action consists of one build step and one leader activation.
You can chose how to begin developing your ancient kingdom of doom or spiritual enlightenment through the slaying of others by building specific structures that provide resources, battle strength, and faster evolution of your city.
The construction site, military school, barracks, temple, and granary all are options you can advance in levels each turn to deliver the above results. Unlike some of the mechanics of game play, these areas are well defined in the rulebook. (Again, the rule book is labeled “WIP” work in progress and yes, like the prisoners of the game we will mention next, the designers have some sentencing time to spend on those pages to advance the levels of understanding for even the simplest minds. My war cry was begging for more pictures, examples, and definitions of the next mechanic discussed.
Within the actions, you focus on leveling up three areas of your cities evolution found on the, you guessed it, the evolution board. Build Structure (Lvls 1,2,3), Troop experience (Lvls 1,2,3), and Summoning skills (Lvls 1,2,3) are how you generate the power that helps advance your sacrifice marker and your victory points scoring marker located around the edge of the playing board. To do this you utilize leveling abilities. These basic abilities are picked in secret prior to game play. We were not sure how the secrecy mechanic plays out except to say you don’t look over at your opponents to see what they are putting on their cities prior to you doing the same. You all choose at the same time and place them at the same time. (This would be easier physically vs the digital format we played on.)
Each player has a City Leader who oversee the entire board and climbs the Corporate ladder or in ancient times, the temple of sacrifice to advance the overall evolution of the player providing the much needed victory points to win. These points are THE ONLY VALUE for the WINNING CONDITION that you focus on in the end to turn your tribal squabbles into a shock and awe military might and become the Victor of Yucatan.
Along with the City Leader to control, there are the Troop Leaders that move your warriors to and from cities pillaging the resources and taking the prisoners needed for the Sacrifice phase turning those souls into lucrative profit in points each round.
Along the path of play, a battle mechanic kicks in when one troop advance to a city currently occupied by your troop leader and warriors. This launches a card dueling event that is very thematic and a fun change in development to an all out butox-kicking skirmish of evolved and non-evolved troops. These troops are often gifted with abilities by the gods ( your previous development efforts) to help defeat the other. If you are the advancing attacker and win, you boot the defeated out of the city back to the jungles of despair, capturing glory for the moment and the resources that can be claimed by ACTIVATING that city. There are Parthenon like columns that set in front of each city from startup that dictate, based on the round you are in, what resources you can pillage from that location. I found the symbol arrangement inconsistent with others found on the city boards, evolution board, and tokens that still remain a mystery after ending the game. Though the mechanic of advancing value of a city based on rounds is a nice design, the devil – or for this game ,the demons, are in the details.
As you battle and potentially win, you take in prisoners from your opponents troops that you use for spiritual fodder as you donate them to the gods each turn to the pyramid of profound popularity and power. The level at which your city leader has climbed that pyramid helps determine the results of such sacrifice. It also allows more than the resources of blood to help advance the sacrifice token as you can bring a basket of goods up the rocky cliffs as well that will provide additional points when presented. 2 – jade gets you a point along with 4 – corn ensuring that extra point.
Resources are simple and used through out the game to help advance levels of construction, troops, and the sacrifice. Jade is the stone of value and used as the more valuable and rare collectable. Corn is the more common currency that requires much more to convert to use but is easier to procure throughout game play.
Stuck in the middle of all this bludgeoning of souls, bustling of development, and giving up the goods to the gods, is the summoning mechanic that is the equivalent of the proverbial monkey wrench thrown in to the mix to disrupt strategy and game play.
The game comes with NINE creatures with supporting cards and tokens that are delivered by an opponent to an area of play forcing the troop leaders and warriors to fend off. This causes loss of military strength and resources by your opponent. This degradation of forces makes taking over cities easier and evolution of others more difficult. An impressive addition to a standard monster encounter mechanic is the use of a timer token that allows the opponent to add to the number of rounds this beast can remain on the field disrupting play for the engaged player. Of course, it requires spending the scarce jade resource but is worth it as you watch them struggle to remain relevant with a warrior group that goes from killers to convicts as they are easily taken prisoner by others after the battle with the chosen beast. Each creature has a level of summoning that can only be activated if the player calling out the KRAKEN has the evolutional status to do so.
This is a good time to recognize the wonderful art work that exists within these creatures, battle cards, and box cover. The drawing style of Karl Fitzgerald that I am sure has a specific name beyond my comprehension fits perfectly with the theme of the game and does add a very positive vibe to the experience.
Finally, the Revolution Phase:
This is the reset time. Time to remove any summoning creature who’s time has expired on the playing area, and the cities on the board evolve to the next level of inspiration and the supply of resources to acquire.
Like the movie Ground Hog Day, It all starts again with the next of the 4 rounds. The only difference is hopefully your city, troops, and leaders have all learned a thing or two about themselves and each-other, evolving to the next levels of dominance to achieve the victory points to win.
My final thoughts on Yucatan again must be take with a grain of CORN, as I would for now have it set at a lower rating given the digital experience vs what I believe will be a fantastic game on any gaming table. Depending on the additional work that must go into the rulebook, will determine the fate of its relevance in our social circle as we look for clarification on a few fronts. For one, the symbols and timing used to identify gains and losses within the ability tokens, evolution board, and city columns. The leveling up with some elements at zero start while others at level 1. The concept of secrecy and how that is to be played out. Adding a Sacrificing trifold screen for prepping the prisoner count and resources for a final reveal needs to be a consideration. This would keep all honest and is a major factor in strategizing your play verses that of your opponent(s). All of this has the beginning structure of being a true legendary game within the flood of creation that is in today’s gaming industry. There is a well defined SEQUENCE OF PLAY that will make all of this complexity streamlined and easier to comprehend after just a couple of turns. Defining the value of each token and leveling activity in abilities will help shore up that understanding. As I said, beheading, imprisoning, and sacrificing souls along with battling for dominance is a fan favorite (ok maybe it is just mine) and being able to do so while experiencing this game in all of its Ancient RelicNESS with a physical version of the game is again something I look forward to. The risk /reward that encompasses the choices to evolve or attack an occupied city, or invest in summoning a creator on your best friend is all very valuable within any gaming experience. The sooner they get this one finalized, produced, and into the game-o-sphere the more virgins and sheep will get to live. Too far? It’s probably closer than that peninsula down in Central America I thought I was about to explore! Yucatan – full of axe wounds and annihilation; all for the love of the gods!
Find out more at BGG.