Board game designer Dávid Turczi is probably best known for his worker placement board game Anachrony (Mindclash) and for his proficient development of solo modes for other designers' games. His greatest feat in Anachrony was in turning a loan mechanism into something reminiscent of time traveling. Tawantinsuyo is certainly a solid game tho' it doesn't have an equivalent mechanism to capture players' imagination.
In Tawantinsuyo we are traveling back in time to explore the great south American pre-colonial civilisation of the Incas. The theme is certainly there but it’s not very deep because this feels and plays like an abstract game where the focus is strongly on the mechanics.
In the game each player takes on the role of one of Pachacuti's heirs, tasked with worshiping Inti, the Sun god, and expanding the empire as far as the llama’s roam. During your turn, you can either place a worker or perform two secondary actions, such as moving the high priest, pray, train or recruit. The game is split into three scoring phases called Festivals and they are triggered at the beginning of the next turn of the player who recruits the last worker from the village.
When set up the game can look quite daunting. The game board features a hill located in the old Inca capital of Cusco. At the top sits the Coricancha, also known as the Golden Temple, the most important temple of the Empire. The sides are terraced in three levels with five sections each. Each terrace is made of an alternating grid of icons with half of these being one of six symbols that match the ones in the god cards and the other half with icons that describe tasks players may gain from their worker placement.
Tho' it looks complicated, the turn structure is commendably simple, and most actions are quickly resolved. The exception is the 'placing a worker' action, which is one of the most intricate and interesting aspects of the game. Workers come in several types that represent different professions within the Incan civilisation: architects (blue), craftsmen (green), warriors (red), couriers (yellow) and priests (white); each one with its own bonus when placed. The choices can make this prone to analysis paralysis with players intent on working through the implications of every option before making they make their choice.
You start by either playing a god card from your hand with a symbol matching where you want to place the worker or by paying a gold to place the worker anywhere. The next step is to pay a cost in corn and potatoes depending on the distance of the placement spot to our High Priest in the Coricancha. When placed, each type of worker provides a unique bonus and we get a number of tasks based on the same colour workers adjacent to the worker we place and their bonus. To add a touch of further complexity, the tasks we get to do are the three adjacent to the placed worker.
The position in relation to the High Priest is important, so the other action that also deserves mention is moving your High Priest in the Coricancha. It works like a rondel in which we can move up to two spaces and perform an action that will be available to all players, although not as powerful for others as for the player who triggers it.
Placing a worker can be very rewarding - both in game terms and in the sense of satisfaction you get from managing to get five or six actions and a great point boost to your score. However, for a game with a worker placement mechanism at its core, Tawantinsuyu does not feel particularly punishing: blocking is limited and generally unintended because, in most plays, there is an alternative, although that might involve a greater resource cost to reach or different tasks gained. For those looking for an aggressive 'take that' game, the relatively easygoing interaction will be a negative. For others, it will be seen as positive boon.
Tawantinsuyu takes 2–4 players, plus of course there's a solo mode, and we were pleased to see that the game scales well with different player counts. It definitely offers an interesting take on the worker placement mechanic. And if it's the theme that grabs you, then you might also want to check out Teotihuacan (NSKN) and Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar (CGE), both of which also include a tridimensional element to enhance table presence, tho' with quite different mechanics.
(Review by Rui Marques)