Teotihuacan: City Of Gods is an amazing Euro game from Board & Dice and Daniele Tascini. It's in the top 75 games of all time [at time of press, on BoardGameGeek. I'm not going to analyse Teotihuacan here as a regular game, itself. (To read that review, click here.)
Instead, today I'm focusing on dissecting it from a solo gaming point of view. How simple is it to grasp? Does it create an effective simulation of a two-player game? Is it, you know, enjoyable? A challenge? How much admin is it running David Turczi's AI 'Teotibot'?
Quick Reminder: What Is Teotihuacan?
A brief elevator pitch for Teotihuacan (Teo-tee-hwah-kan), then, before we jump in. It's the site of an ancient city in central Mexico, its heyday being circa 250 AD. Teotihuacan is part of Tascini's medium-to-heavyweight 'T' series of Euro games. They include the tremendous Tzolk'in, Trismegistus, Tekhenu, and Tabannusi. (Try saying that after ten tequilas!)
The large board presents the Pyramid of the Sun: a glorious Mesoamerican structure. Two to four players are scions of Teotihuacan's noble families. You'll use resource management while commanding your worker dice around an eight-action rondel. You don't roll your dice; rather, their pip values represent the sixth phases of life. Every time you use a die it levels up. A one, is a new kid on the block. Once a die hits six, it 'Ascends', becomes one with the gods, gifts you a bonus, and is born again as another one.
The pyramid, without question, is the beating heart of the game. You'll want to afford stone and wood to construct tiles that become its four tiers. You'll want gold to decorate its four sets of steps. There are temples to climb and further bonuses to earn. Masks to collect, and technologies to research. Why? All in the name of victory points, my strategy-game-loving brethren. Juicy, juicy VPs! With modular variability in every facet of set-up, you're guaranteed a unique challenge every time you play.
If you've played Teotihuacan before, you'll know that it provides a wonderful thought process. Any one single move can create chain reactions, in part due to the three temples you climb and the bonuses you earn. There are a fair few moving pieces on points tracks. This is not a game for casual players. So how does it stand, as a solo mode experience?
Do You Need To Set The Game Up In A New Way?
You start by setting up for a two-player experience. You'll create a pyramid with 14 tiles already in it, and place Discovery Tiles in place. Regardless of playing solo or not, in a less-than-full player count, you mimic other players being present. This maintains an element of tightness when moving around the rondel and the constant need for cocoa.
When playing solo, you also apply this for a third and fourth player. Dummy dice, in two other colours, sit on Action Boards via two random Starting Tiles. You're left with one die of each colour remaining for these two dummy players. These enter the scene, later.
Your starting resources, initial disc positions and dice locations are as per usual. You take four Starting Tiles and get to keep two, gaining the benefits on them. The numbers on the tiles represent where you can start your three dice. You're always the first player, thus earning one extra cocoa.
The Teotibot is a little different. It always starts with the same specific quantity of initial resources. (Two gold, two stone, two wood, and zero cocoa.) You should have one player colour pieces - dice and discs - remaining. Teotibot's discs start at certain points to represent a human player picking start-game bonuses. These are: the bottom step of each pyramid (but it doesn't receive any reward, like a human player would). It also has one disc starting on the top-row, right-most Technology Tile.
Neither does it receive the green temple advancement and thus reward, like you would.
Then you place its dice, as twos, on Action Boards 4 (Gold Deposits) 6 (Nobles) and 8 (Construction). Its fourth die doesn't sit in the Ascension Wheel like yours. Instead it starts locked, in the Worship space, as a one, on Action Board 7 (Decoration).
The Teotibot also has seven rectangular Action Tiles. You select six of them at random and place them into a mini pyramid, flat on the table. One, above two, above three. There are also two Direction Tiles with arrows on them. These are double-sided, which you select random-side up. They sit parallel next to this pyramid, one above the other. The seventh spare Action Tile sits beneath them, as well as the two spare dice I mentioned earlier.
How Teotibot Plans Its Next Master Move
You kick things off, taking your first turn. Since two sets of dummy dice plus the Teotibot's dice all sit in the Action Boards, it feels busy and as expensive as normal. (With regards to paying cocoa to enter an Action Board when it's full of dice). The same strategical decisions are present, here.
Then it's the Teotibot's turn. You roll the two spare dice, adding the sum together. Depending on the outcome, this determines which Action Tile within its action 'pyramid' the bot takes this turn. The most likely outcome - 6, 7, 8 - means it activates the apex of the pyramid, the top tile. 4-5, or 9-10, are the second row tiles, left and right respectively. 2-3, or 11-12, are the bottom row tiles, left or right. The bottom-middle tile never gets selected in this nature.
Depending on the triggered Action Tile, the bot performs the equivalent action. Every tile here has a checklist that you need to run through, to see if/what the bot performs. Once you've satisfied the checklist, then the triggered tile exits the pyramid. You slide the tiles below its gap upwards, in accordance to the arrows on the Direction Tiles.
Then you flip the top Direction Tile (it reverses) and you place it beneath the other Direction Tile. This, alongside the randomised nature of die rolls, means you can never predict the bot's next move(s). Much like a wily human player!
You replace the vacant gap - which will always be on the lower floor of the pyramid - with the seventh Action Tile. The just-triggered tile now becomes the new spare, seventh tile. On Teotibot's next turn, some tiles are in different locations. So, the action, via the dice outcome, will never be the same two turns running.
Eclipses occur in the same way as a multiplayer game: when the white Calendar Disc meets the black. (Space 10, for a two-player game.) End of round scoring works the same for both you and the bot. This means you'll score for the number of spaces you've progressed along the Avenue of the Dead. Furthest ahead on the Pyramid Track scores 4VP, and you score your progress along this track. You'll both score your Masks (in a set collection manner).
Then you - and you alone - have to pay cocoa to feed your workers. The bot ignores this step, much to your chagrin. Then the Calendar resets, with the black marker moving forward one space to nine.
In the final round, as well as the above, the bot also scores one point per leftover resource and cocoa. It also scores two points per Tech Tile it has markers on. Most points at the end, wins!
What Are Teotibot's Seven Action Tiles All About?
The bot's action selection system of tiles is pleasant, from a meta point of view. I mean, it's an actual freakin' pyramid! In a game about building an ancient pyramid! David Turczi, I doth my cap, sir. The art of rolling two dice to figure out which action to take is simple enough. It's intriguing though, due to the bell curve behaviour of 2d6. But dice, as we all know, have a funny habit of not always bowing to the law of averages…
So what are the bot's seven action tiles? One is 'Construction', which involves building tiles into the pyramid. 'Decorations' is placing Decoration Tiles onto the pyramid steps. 'Alchemy' is gaining placing discs on Technology Tiles. 'Nobles' is placing Buildings. 'Mastery' is performing the action in accordance of the Teotibot's current highest-powered (unlocked) die. 'Worship' is moving the bot's locked die one Worship space clockwise around the board. 'Mask Collection' is buying a face-up Mask tile, if one is present among the Decoration Tiles on the board.
Construction, Decorations, Alchemy and Nobles all rely on the bot having a set quota of corresponding resources to perform the action. If it has the resources for Construction, it builds the left-most pyramid tile. It places it into the top-left lowest available space. For Decorations, it places the top-most Decoration Tile into the pyramid, clockwise from the top. For Nobles, it constructs the next Building in rows in accordance with the eclipse. This mimics another player building tiles/buildings you wanted, at a steady rate.
Even AI Bots Need To Plan Their Mega-Moves
There is, however, an element of predictability here. You know certain tiles/spaces are safe from the bot in the immediate future. Why? Because you know the exact tiles it will place, and where. The bot earns a steady, average rate of points for Construction/Decorations, regardless of where/what it is placed.
It also gets to advance on any temple track by one. This represents a human player favouring tiles with matching coloured icons. Whenever it progresses up a temple, it earns the matching reward (resources/points/cocoa). If ever the bot reaches a temple Bonus Tile, it earns a flat 15VP, rather than the specified modular reward. This seemed rare though, on standard difficulty.
The bot always picks to advance along the temple track it sits highest, earning the reward. On temples, the bot doesn't pick Discovery Tiles; it earns the printed board reward instead. These stay here for you alone to snaffle up, which on the whole, feels generous. When it comes to picking resources via the blue temple, the bot prioritises its fewest resources. It behaves like a human this way: collecting resources for the future. Planning for a powerful move later on.
But what if the bot cannot afford the action? Instead of building, it looks to see if it has a worker on the matching Forest, Stone Quarry, or Gold Deposit. If it does, it takes two of that resources. Like the blue temple, it shows a logical level of AI. Human players would love to contribute to the pyramid all the time. But the reality is, like any Euro game, you need to spend 66-75% of the time planning these moves. You can't earn the mega-points on every turn!
If the bot achieved building or getting resources, it powers up a die on that Action Board by one. Then it advances the die. If the die is a 1-3, it advances one space. If it's 4-5, it advances two spaces. It always skips Action Board 1 (The Palace), since it has no tiles for this. If powering up the die causes Ascension, the bot takes 5VP by default. It also advances on the Avenue of the Dead, and the light Calendar Disc moves on one space.
There's every possibility that neither of these actions might occur, though. The bot might not have the resources; it might have no dice on the matching Action Board. If so, it gains five cocoa instead, and powers up its lowest-value worker, before advancing it. The Teotibot never spends cocoa to enter a new Action Board. Instead, at the end of the bot's turn, if ever it has 10 or more cocoa, it spends 10 cocoa to earn 3VP.
Final Thoughts On… Teotihuacan: The Solo Mode
How similar is it to a human player, then? I found it to be a beatable, by a good 30-40 points, as things stood. By the end of the first eclipse, I tended to be a decent 15-20 points ahead, and the bot never managed to make up ground. I have played Teotihuacan quite a bit though, so I am comfortable with the game and how it ebbs and flows!
Part of the reason I found it winnable might have been because I could predict when the bot could not perform certain actions. In order for it to build a pyramid tile, it needed to have a die on the Action Board 8 at the start of its turn. The same is for decorating, on Action Board 7, or adding Buildings on Action Board 6. This meant there was never constant peril of needing to take immediate action. With human players, they move their dice and then take their action where the die terminates. This makes humans a more dangerous opponent, and thus more enjoyable to play against.
For newer players, this will still present a challenge. It's pleasing to see, though, that there are six separate suggested difficulty metrics you can tweak. These range from increasing/decreasing various factors to Teotibot's game. (Like earning extra VPs for 10 cocoa. Or increasing the number of steps the bot progresses up the temple tracks, via Worship.) You can increase these in incremental values to find your comfort level. Is it too tough? Lower one or two of them a notch. Want the game to bully you? You can crank up those levels to god mode. (Or should that be 'Quetzalcoatl mode'?)
The Teotibot's Action Tiles have iconography on them. They're recognisable from the base game, so they won't be an issue remembering the vague area it plans to trigger. They also have the Action Board numbers on them, which is a handy touch. (Construction, for example, has 8 and 3 - these relating to Construction and the Stone Quarry sections.) The Action Tiles have a distressed, thick red border around them. Reminiscent, perhaps, of colourful pigments that would get decorated onto the Pyramid of the Sun, itself.
The system of rolling 2d6 to determine the bot's action is delightful. The devil, however, is in the details. Each of the seven tiles has multi-step bullet points you need to check, to determine the bot's exact turn. There's no way anyone could ever possibly memorise this. You always need the rulebook open. Fortunate then, that the bot's seven actions are all listed across one double-page spread. But even after you've seen actions unfold as those initial examples first few turns, you won't put the rules away. This slows down gameplay to a degree, when you have to consult the rulebook.
Playing Teotihuacan as a solo mode is still fun enough, if you enjoy the multiplayer game. The nature of the ever-changing, oh-so-clever pyramid of Action Tiles means the bot does a little bit of everything. The nature of the dice, though, mean it's never quite as smart as a real player. It also involves a great amount of hands-on dedication from you, to simulate the Teotibot. This makes Teotihuacan not necessarily a hard game to tackle solo when it comes to winning. But it can be taxing on the old noggin when it comes to keeping on top of all the 'admin' and multiple checklists.