Tikal is a solid entry into the iPad board gaming world. It is not without its flaws, but overall is definitely worth people’s attention. Many players may underestimate this game because the depth of its strategy does not easily reveal itself. As an iPad app, I would highly recommend it as it is functional, entertaining, and a perfect travel companion.
In principle, points are gained in one of two ways: possession of temples or possession of treasures. Most times in the game it is possible to rapidly acquire – as well as rapidly lose – these possessions to competing players. You have to be a bit careful with them – if you don’t watch your competitors at all times, they can sneak up and steal your treasures from right out under you. It’s one part treasure rush, one part misdirection, and this translates to a game of strategy and anticipation.
As a points driven game, players must try and maintain a balance between the different methods of acruing points that happen at three random times during the game, and once more at the end of the game. While it is possible to get ahead of the pack and use that advantage to stay ahead, this is not guaranteed as there is enough randomness to throw a leader off if exploited correctly.
At the start of each turn, you will have an option to place a tile, containing either a clearing, a temple, or a treasure site. Each hexagon has a number of pathways in and out that hexagon, with varying levels of steps required to trepass those thresholds. The placement of these will be critical to strategic opportunities and the ease at which they can be accessed. Three of those tiles are volcanoes, which will block all pathways and initiate a scoring round for all players.
During a turn, you have up to ten action points that you can allocate to different types of actions. Movement costs one point, while the most significant requires five, being half your actions. Considering that the number of players significantly changes the landscape of how you employ your actions, there is a need to think carefully about what you do. Since there are only a number of turns equal to tiles, the more players there are the greater the competition for points, and the fewer turns there will be for each player to act.
Temples are revealed throughout the game, and only those who have a majority holding of any land with a temple (our outright claimed it by sacrificing some figures – and further opportunities to increase its value) at the time of scoring. Treasurers are revealed in cluster groups in decreasing amounts throughout the game, but having sets of the same treasurer yields somewhat more points. However, not all acquisitions are worth the amount of effort it takes to get them. Each action should be subject to a cost-benefit analysis.
It is very easy to forget the ultimate objective through becoming possessive over a singular temple or set of treasures you’ve slaved over and lost through theft. Sometimes you can’t get them back, but other times you can recover them at higher cost. Yet, part of that equation is the simple fact of acquiring or re-acquiring a possession not only gives you their points, but denies your opponents them, and this can be huge in turning the tables. Good players know when to cut their losses, when to cripple their opponents, and when to rush for the new possessions that reveal themselves.
It is also very easy to place your figures only with a perspective for the current move, and losing sight of the larger picture is a losing strategy – no questions asked. Part of the distribution of figures is attempting to be positioned for any opportunity that comes up, because if you set yourself up incorrectly you can miss out on choice opportunities. Of course, you have to do this while trying to ensure choice access to resources that other players can’t get to without there being too much of a set up to be worth it. Because of this, there is a strong inverse relationship to the average points that can be accrued to the number of players. The expectations you set for yourself in a two player game must be seriously reassessed for three and four player games.
Owning the actual board game myself, I am glad to say that this game emulates the actual board game. However, it lacks the bidding rules which is the theoretical advanced version of the game. Such bidding would allow players to sacrifice points in bidding over a choice of available tiles (key to strategic placement). I would very much like to see this added into the game at a later point as it adds an additional dimension of strategic assessment that increases the learning curve, but only when the players are ready.
I am also glad to say that the interface is exceptionally good at anticipating what your various clicks mean in implementing the numerous types of actions. At first I tended to balk at this because during a trip it’s easy to have a bumped finger that misplaces a tile or figure and wastes your points and turn. Ready to be indignant about this in the review, I was sheepishly given the revelation of the undo action for exactly this circumstance (which is semi-hidden in a pop-up menu). So perhaps this is a feature of the game’s intuitive interface that is a little lacking intuition.
While there are no integrated and interactive tutorials, there are both summary rules (condensed such that no single section of rules takes more than a single screen) as well as an option for hints and action prompts. So there are some structures that help integrate the players into the game. However, since I’m familiar with the game prior to this app, I cannot speak as someone coming to the game for the first time.
Aesthetically, the game has good graphics, but not what I’d call fantastic graphics. In particular, the images for the treasurers aren’t those of the board game’s and in my opinion, not as interesting to look at. In playing the board game, the players that have played with me tend to favour certain treasurers for their look and aesthetic (which I readily exploit). I don’t feel grabbed by these treasurers in the same way, and that tends to sadly relegate them to a secondary feature of the game that can be easily sidelined (which I also readily exploit).
However, one of the additions that I like are the creation of icons for the players, which are original designs of the developers. They certainly suit the theme. Also, animations are simple but utilitarian. I have encountered a few glitches where pieces in movement have disappeared in their transition though, and seemed to be difficult to recover from their hiding spot.
Since there are no hidden components to the game (for individual players) this suits perfectly for pass’n’play and in a number of situations using this can be more convenient than the actual board game. Of course, the caveat is that a game that requires a broad perspective of the entire game, the tunnel vision created by the iPad format can hinder this.
Verdict 7/10 – This is a great game well worth the investment of a few dollars. It sits alongside my favourites and a great travel companion. There are a few glitches, and a few problems of translating to the iPad format.