Dice games have been around for millennia and card games for centuries, so no doubt there was push-your-luck action to be had before Sid Sackson's seminal Can't Stop (Eagle-Gryphon) came out in 1980. Its mathematically pure base of odds and probability lets players push their luck to get just a little further... or lose it all. Because of its mathy soul, the game has been used by many to inveigle some education into game time; but there is more to consider when playing with younger kids, including turn taking, coping skills, and plain ol' having fun.
Designed by Hartmut Kommerell, Djeco's Tulum plays two to four and is aimed at children aged 5+, but could dip lower, depending on the child. Players are building Mayan Temples brick by brick, layer by layer, racing to the top. Each layer is colour coded, matching a colour on the six dice and, of course, gets smaller as the temple grows. On their turn, a player rolls the dice and places as many matching bricks as they can, first on the six-wide bottom layer, then on the layer above if supported by two bricks.
When bricks are placed, they are 'dot' side up, indicating they can still be lost this turn. The player chooses either to continue - push their luck - or to 'lock the blocks'. Of course, the decision depends on how many bricks might be lost and how many different die faces might roll a useful colour. If no placeable brick is rolled, the turn's progress is lost. Play continues until one player places the top brick and wins immediately.
With art by Cecilia Botta, the production of Tulum is excellent: the rulebook is concise and clear; dual-layer player boards accommodate 21 bricks perfectly and the 84 bricks themselves match the colours on the dice well, which is an important factor which publishers sometimes overlook. Being a dice game - and one in which you might only need a single face - a turn can go by in one unproductive roll, although the mid-game usually sees more progress. The decision to roll or not is similar in weight to the stay/go choice in the classic Incan Gold (aka Diamant) (IELLO), although here there is only yourself to consider: it's at a good level for kids the right age.
It's an interesting observation to see which kids play it safe and which will not: loss aversion is a thing at any age but particularly with younger kids. But, like the background probabilities, that is a life lesson worth learning: there is no catch-up mechanism except pushing it and being a little lucky. While Djeco's offering would not be out of place found in a yellow HABA box - and all that that comment implies - it does lack an additional 'twist' element to give more player agency.
Overall, Tulum is a simple game of balancing risk vs reward accompanied by some elementary gaming skills and is good preparation for the meatier or mathier push-your-luck games out there.
(Review by David Fox)
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