Every nation has its own deities. Their number or appearance does not matter, they all have task of overseeing the world to be righteous and bring people happiness. If not during their life, then at least in time of peaceful rest. Whether it is Mannitou, Mohammed or anyone else, they all probably look the same and are face of the one God.
But what about deities, who take form of animals? They probably have their origin somewhere in the wild and crazy history, when they lived near tribes, that worshipped them. Of course, some unusually long-living puma of great size with different color eyes is a god, that is worth worshiping. Only it is not certain, that you will not become its breakfast in the morning..
In country Aztlán, these animals are sacred and protected by people. But wrath of the gods will not punish them, that’s why you’re here. Board game with same title as their land, Aztlán, is brought to us from publishing house ARES Games. Game emerged in late 2012, and its author is well-known designer Leo Colovini, famous for his simpler games such as Atlantis, Cartagena or Go West. Illustrations were prepared by Drew Baker and they add a really nice touch and mystical atmosphere of Aztec world to the game.
This time, however, the author enters a little larger world, one of more complex board games, as we will soon try to convince all of you. But even size of the box alone should indicate something. Its a place, where the whole world of Aztlan is currently hiding.
In its upper parts, you will find naturally a big game board. There are printed territories on its surface. These places are, what all clans are constantly fighting over. Although people in Aztlan are peaceful people in their hearts, sometimes you have to dig out axe and spear to defend your homes or extended pastures a little further.
Map consists of 30 such areas, each bordering with others. By itself they are easy to recognize, because of different surface on each of them – somewhere are woods, elsewhere rocks, meadows and deserts. Entire world is enclosed in a circular shape and around it is skillfully and faultlessly hidden a scoring track. Corners are covered with beautiful graphic symbols, but also with other two scales – players order and other one for time tracking.
To gaming board belong inseparably also its inhabitants. You will be happy to discover 30 stylish pieces in each of four players‘ colors. This gives us a very interesting count of 120 pawns, which will pass through land and fight for or against you. And while we’re at those figures – each player also gets one pyramid in his shade, divided into two parts. Lower part is used to keep track of victory points and when it orbits whole scale, exceeding limit of one hundred points, you put its second part on top to mark, that its already in second round. Sleek and very stylish solution.
We are missing only cards in our description. There is altogether 54 of them. According to the back side, you create a pile of cards 24 separated on their back with symbols and colors of each player. Everyone has a portrait of his animal god and protector in one person drawn here.
Each house gets six cards with numbers four to nine written on them. Moreover, you will find, that cards have more numbers and symbols at the top and bottom. Value in lower part marks victory points in case you do not use this card. Upper left corner contains repeated cards strength (large number in the middle), but also a symbol of environment, the card belongs to.
Remainder consists of thirty prosperity cards. These bring you advantage, you can obtain during the game and use to your advantage. On each of them is also present a symbol of phase, when it can be played, a thematic image and of course detailed description of its capabilities.
Game takes place during five ages. Every one of them is initiated by preparatory phase, which involves moving round pointer and selecting your resources card, you will use during this particular round. This is essentially a power card, you’ll want to use. You select it by laying it down on the table, so no one knows what you have chosen. During this phase, you get also number of representatives of the tribe at your disposal on top of those starting ones. Their amount depends on current age, but also on the number of players in the game, ranging from eight at start of three players game to three for the fifth age in four players. You see, that number is getting lower with every round you progress towards the end.
Next up is the development phase, where players consider moving of their supporters around the board. Movement begins with the player, who has the most victory points. This provides players with less score chance to react to leading players actions.
Each player places one of his new pawns on game board. It can be send without any restrictions to any area, and it does not matter, if there are already other pieces. Only place, that can not be used as target is a lake, but its excluded from the whole game and only serves as a separator of territories, which are not considered neighbouring in that situation. During this phase, players gradually place all their followers, which were supplied at the beginning of the age and are left with no one in their hands. This means numbers of workers onboard is constantly increasing.
Immediately after putting a new Aztec in play, player can move one of his wards from one area to neighboring one. Again, there are no restrictions, so if you have two adjacent sites, you can travel between them. Due to movement, superiority in locations is changing, which will be important in the next phase, which is conflict.
Individual families will be involved in battle in all areas, where there is more than one family present. With any place, where there is a feud, all parties must first determine their strength. Here comes benefit card, you were forced to chose at the beginning of round and now you reveal it. You can not change it, of course. Your strength is equal to card number multiplied by the number of your supporters in assessed area.
Winner of the conflict decided, what he wants to do with other nations. He can choose two ways – battle or coexistence. Results of violent solution is simple – all enemy pieces (other players, who lost and have their supporters there) are removed and returned to its owner.
Interesting and appealing to player, however, is also the second option. Through kindness, you can get a reward – one prosperity card, you can benefit during future course of the game. Their implications are different – for example a peaceful solution to the conflict, that would otherwise destroy your tribe, VPs for certain areas or connecting two areas with help of a lake, that is between them.
Last phase of one round is scoring. Each player gets reward in form of victory points, but not for individual areas, but for interconnected domains. Its those sites, you are able to connect with your men. Such domains thus often involve more than one area, which are contiguous and are inhabited with at least one member of your tribe. In this time, it does not matter, whether you have a majority or not.
You get one point for each territory in such a domain. Each area corresponding to surface of your chosen card power gets you also bonus points. Their gain is growing very rapidly with increasing number of neighboring territories (1-4-9-16-25-36). However, is not easy to create such a big domains, because such areas have to be next to each other.
The game then proceeds to the next round. At the beginning of it, everyone will take new pieces and choose card from the remaining power deck. Then the game ends in fifth age. To their existing sum of points players add points for remaining power cards and also for unused prosperity cards. Only one player, who accumulated the most points, is the king of the Aztecs.
Aztlán may at first glance seem like a simple game and in essence it really is. Its course is very elementary and you explain it without problems to absolute beginners in no time. At the same time, it provides enough leeway and options in there to preserve attention of advanced players.
Game is only and only about controling areas. Each round, you are adding fixed number of units to your army, which can be moved to neighboring locations to create exciting situations. Everything is decided with selection of power cards, which are played at beginning of the round. These can pave you way for large profit at end of turn.
Each round is full of bluffing and effort to find out, which power card your opponents have played. You can never be sure, that you succeed in a particular conflict until it is too late. At the moment, when cards are revealed, you can not change any disposition of forces. But this deduction creates an excellent atmosphere of hostility and is a true heart Aztlan. Through them you will get to love this game.
And then Aztlán breaks your heart. Who is to accuse? Prosperity cards. They are really strong and can completely turn the tide of battle. And mess up with your carefully planned turn. You rethink everything down to the smallest detail and you’re off to victory in an important location? Nothing is certain, if opponent has card of Great Tlatoani, which completely reverses result of a battle and you are left with nothing. No, this is no fun. Although we like a healthy amount of backstabbing, this is just too much. It really ruins whole gaming and some prosperity cards should be forbidden in your match.
Aztlán says two to four players on the box. But game is not built for duel and requires significant adjustments to the rules described at the end of the manual. Opponents do not represent clans in this version, but instead are trying to score points with zigzags between control of more clans. This, unfortunately, washed away elegant purity of Aztlan mechanisms and is not nearly as entertaining version, as it might seem, when you read it. Its just a compromise, so Publisher can print number 2 instead of 3 on the box.
World graphics reminds us of blurred spots in Sheepland (review). Map would definitely deserved a little more detail, but its still pretty nice. Power cards are dominated by numerals, but this is all compensated by prosperity cards and graphic design around a round Aztec world on game board. A separate chapter is meeting pawns and two-level pyramid to keep score. These are really excellent.
But! Miniatures are quite large to fit in and sometimes it happens, that areas are overcrowded, when playing with four players. It then makes the game uncomfortable, confusing and spoils the impression of otherwise really beautifully crafted game.
Aztlán is a magic game. There are no more but’s in here. Its simple and demanding at the same time. Accessible to all and sufficiently interesting for regular players, while maintaining short gametime. You should not play it with two and set some prosperity cards aside. Though he did not avoided several small setbacks, Leo Colovini managed to create a really excellent game of conquest, which is one of the most interesting beginner games of last year.
Aztlán is a game inviting you to world of Aztecs, where you should gain control of neighbouring areas and create as big territory under your control, as possible. To accomplish that, you use fainting flow of soldiers, who headlessy jump into battle in your name on all possible terrains. Players can beside adding new forces also move their remaining across land. Decisive influence on game outcome have conflicts, which appear every round in every territory, where there are forces of more clans together. Power of your tribe is determined by multiplying number of units with power card, you have selected at start of this round. It brings tough choices into the match, but also chance for bluffing. You can risk playing higher cards, but for not using them during whole game, you get also points. Game shines in these moments of battle, but only until you gain prosperity cards as a reward and use them. They are too powerful and can thwart even the best plans and turn outcome of a battle upside down. And this is not in harmony with rest of the game and can only upset players, who have carefully planned whole turn. You will enjoy match in three and four players, but two player variant is not nearly as entertaining. If you remove prosperity cards from the game, then you get excellent game really worth of attention. Aztlán remains simple game, opened for beginners and you should at least try it..
Reader Rating0 Votes
tense, yet simple majority game
players fight using power cards secretly selected at start of each round
lots of bluffing
a big pile of miniatures
you have two options of solving a victorious battle
two-floored pyramids for scoring points
you must seize ground carefully, because its important for them to be neighbouring due to scoring