Our tour of the world is coming to a close, our writers are tired from all their travelling. Next we have doubled back on ourselves and landed in South America. Strictly this is not the fastest around the world loop I could have thought up. But we got planes and cars, not boats and horses like Phileas Fogg. I’m leveraging the modern day travel improvements here.
Rich with ancient history; the Mayans, the Aztecs and the Incas shaped this area. It also has all the most extreme geographies; there are rainforests, mountains, salt flats, deserts, and beaches. It’s a diverse place, so it seems only fitting to offer a diverse selection of games.
As we travel south through America, we encounter the huge Mayan civilization. This was the dominant culture in this area for nearly 2000 years. They occupied most of Central America.
Tzolk’in is a worker placement game, set in that region. Some might consider it a fearsome, almost formidable game. It plays for 2 to 4 players within 90 to 120 minutes. The name is derived from the 260-day unit of time that was used in the area. Time also determines this game’s actions and game length.
Tzolk’in has a huge table presence. It is eye catching and colourful with a series of interconnecting cogs. The central wheel has 28 teeth. Each turn it advances one notch and moves the five gears around it. It is on these cogs but the Mayan workers are placed. Each smaller cog has a different function; harvesting corn, acquiring resources, developing technology, worshipping the gods, or a mixture of the other four.
Players have just one major decision to make each turn. Either to send the workers out (place them on the gears) or return them home (acquiring resources). For every turn that a worker remains on a cog they are moved along to more advantageous spots. But while a worker is sitting on a cog they are not productive.
If I was to distil Tzolk’in into one phrase, it would be: “Do I retrieve a worker because I need them and their resources now, or can I afford to mark time and let them advance to a more valuable space?”
To do well in Tzolk’in, it is all about forward planning - anticipating where workers might be in three or four turns. This is about having a measured approach with a plan rather than frantic scrabbling to make ends meet each turn. It is a heavier euro game, but for a rewarding delve into Mayan culture, you cannot get better.
The Lost Expedition is a card-driven co-op game by Osprey Games. In 1925, real-life cartographer Lieutenant Colonel Percy Fawcett traipsed into the Brazilian rainforest. His mission: discover the lost city of ‘Z’. The tragedy is that Fawcett never returned. Did he ever locate that hidden jungle metropolis? Or did the Amazon claim him? Will you and your friends experience a similar fate? Peer Sylvester’s game deals out hand management at its core. Fingers crossed at least one of your explorers survives the trek. Will you unearth the hallowed El Dorado before you run out of deck – or health?
The Amazon is a brutal playground and danger lurks all around. During the Day phase, players take turns adding Event cards to a public ‘path’. Cards have numbers, and they have to sit in numerical order. During the Night phase, you play your remaining cards into a second path. This time you confront them in a first-come-first-served fashion.
As a co-op experience, you cannot divulge what information you have in your hand. You’ll play cards in an order that you hope proves beneficial. But you can’t ignore your bad cards forever! You’ll have to play them at some point.
Hazards on the cards are all unique. A rockslide? Swarms of creepy-crawlies? Some are situations that demand you pay one resource to gain another. (Shoot the savage crocodile with your last bullet to gain precious food!) You’ll need to manage your supply of bullets, food, health, and jungle knowledge to keep your team alive. Or else they too could end up victims of another lost expedition…
Garen Ewing’s phenomenal art looks like it’s lifted straight out of Hergé’s Tintin comics. It’s a strong homage to ligne claire style that screams B-movie fun-fest. The Lost Expedition is a tough co-op. But it’s an adventure you and your friends will want to go on time and time again. There’s also a solo mode, and a team-vs-team variant, too.
I’m bringing up the rear with a game based on drug smuggling and cartels. Based on the hit gritty TV show, Narcos: The Board Game is set in Colombia. This game is a true-to-history playing out of the fight to capture Pablo Escobar.
This game is a gripping one vs. many race to victory. One player will play Escobar, known in the game as Patron. You will be trying to evade the other players who will be playing as the DEA, the Cali Cartel, the Colombian Police and Pepes. These four factions will be divided amongst all the other players. The board has a map containing rural “farm” locations where drugs labs can be built to feed the trade, and city locations. The Patron player uses the hidden movement mechanism to elude his captors, recording his location on his player sheet as he moves.
His minions are deployed on the map to fight with the “goodies” and try to protect Escobar. The actions are card driven, and can involve movement, blocking areas and skirmishes. The other players gain valuable information about the whereabouts of Patron, and together work to narrow down his hiding spot.
The aim for the patron player is to stay hidden across the 3 seasons of the game. To win they must complete 3 objective cards, or to gain enough glory to become El Presidente. Anyone who has seen the TV show will know what an absolutely mad story the Pablo Escobar tale is. The man was adored by the people. Even though his cartel was violently dispatching with anyone who stood in their way.
The other players are trying to capture Escobar, not once but twice in order to win. Old Patron is as slippery as an eel, and slipped through law enforcement’s hands a few times before being “caught”. We use this term loosely as he was just staying in his house really. The game is not easy, but it is a rewarding game dripping in immersive theme.
This week we are heading over to Central and South America, and for me, the search for the lost city of El Dorado! Many have tried to find this mysterious place, famed to be by Lake Parime in North-eastern South America. The legends of El Dorado have changed throughout history, with the first records suggesting it was a man. This later changed into a city, then a kingdom or an empire. But what everyone seemed to not realise, including the great Sir Water Raleigh who once tried to find it for himself, is it was a simple board game, available now on Zatu’s site for a very reasonable price. Seems very odd everyone struggled so much to find it?
The game is great fun! It is a brilliant, family-friendly race game with smooth deck-building mechanics at its core. The Quest for El Dorado was released in 2017 from the great Reina Knizia. Other Knizia games include the 2020 smash My City and one of my favourite underrated games Blue Lagoon. All his games are smooth and easy to play, and work well with family game situations. The Quest for El Dorado is no different and comes highly recommended from me.
Players are racing to the end of a highly flexible modular board set up, to reach the city of El Dorado. They do this by playing cards suitable to the terrain ahead. Turns start slow as your hand is limited, but players can purchase new, more powerful cards, to speed up their journey. The game feels fresh each time I play, and works well in all player counts, but is best in even Numbers. There is a good catch up mechanism in the game too, so players cannot race away too much.
But it does feel like progression is made by good choices and strategy more than luck. The look and feel of all the components is phenomenal and for the price, offers exceptional value. If you are looking for some deck-building fun to have with your family next games night, then you cannot go wrong with The Quest for El Dorado.
Next Stop, Home
After a herculean effort around the world, we are heading back towards home. Just time for a quick burst of interrailing around Europe on our way back to the UK. Join us next time for our top picks of games set in European countries.
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