Cuzco - Tested (2018)
(Tested is a format that I use to give a first or second impression of a game. Therefore, this article is not a final review, as I like to know all the ins and outs of a game before I score it. And this should be treated as an giving you an idea about the game.)
Tile placement and world building is the name of the game here. Just like in Carcassonne, you and the other players at the table will be generating a landscape, from which you will profit in the form of points. But so will the others, using the stepping stones that you have already created to boost their scores.
Cuzco is the 3rd in the “Mask Trilogy” from Kiesling and Kramer, that has been rejuvenated by the team at Super Meeple. Although this game has not kept the same name of Java, it still has a small component upgrade just like Mexica and Tikal had before it. And having never played any of these game before, I will be coming at this with a fresh perspective. I can’t tell you if the games rules have been changed or improved, but I can obviously see that the has been a facelift done on the temples and meeples, that are physical improvements to the aesthetics of the game. And man, the game looks more and more beautiful as the game develops. So let's talk about the game.
As an Inca dignitary, you’ll spreading out your tribe over virgin soil to cultivate and develop the villages you construct into cities. Constructing temples will earn you prestige points as well as being the tribe that offers the most gifts to the gods at a temple, when a festival is held there. Irrigating ponds to water crops will also give big points too.
The land on the main board will terraform very quickly as each player has six, sometimes seven actions points to use on their turn, if they decide to use one of three bonus tokens. Most of your action points will be use to add a tile to the board. You’ll have a personal reserve of special tiles, made of one and two hex’s, but you’ll mainly draw from the general pool. This pool consists of a three hex tiles, each has one village hex while the others are fields. You can place these on any of the spaces of the main board and even go off the main board, as long as one of the hex’s of the tile sits in a space. Which is an interesting prospect that can change the game, when you think all is lost in the closing stages of play. Tiles can also be stacked, giving you a 3D terrain, that is not only pleasing to look at, but also gives the games main strategic mechanism. Connecting the village sections of tiles together, make a village bigger. The bigger the village, the bigger a temple can be constructed inside it, transforming the village into a city. Which mean the architect of this monument reaps a bigger chunk of prestige points.
But to be able to construct, you need to have control of the village. Having one of your Incas on the highest village tile, gives you this control. And it’s this control mechanism that is the main strategic mechanism I mentioned earlier. Adding an Inca of your colour to the board will cost an number of action points, depending if they enter the map from the forest side of the board or the mountain side. Which doesn’t sound like much, but as the game goes on, the Incas will stop entering from the cheaper forest side of the board and start coming from the action point eating, mountain side. As it may be quicker or cheaper in action point spending to get your Inca to where you want them. Your Incas can move about freely on one type of terrain, field or village. But as soon as you cross over from one type to the other, that eats up an action point. Seen as your opponent's Inca’s will block routes, you may have to weave in and out between them. Or it may be more beneficial to move one you placed earlier to get to where you're going. Having your Inca of the highest level tile in a village, gives you the right to construct a temple, or enlarge one that is already there. Giving the 3D meaning to the game and leaving you fighting for this higher ground. Or terraforming for.
Building costs an action, but will give you those much needed points. The larger the village, the larger the temple you can construct. And the stone like pieces of the temple components look stunning as you build here, there and everywhere. Adding depth to the board, with its colours and shape, making for a easy reference in the game. As do the little flame tokens that are place on top, when a festival is held there. With the increments of the temples at 2/4/6/8/10, which also tie in with the village size, you will find yourself following a pattern on each of your turns. You’ll start by making the village sections as vast as you can, getting an Inca to the higher ground of said village, before finishing your last action on the construction. And possibly hold a party after, gaining bonus point. See, burning the candle at both ends does pay off…
Then the next player will come along, enlarger that city, insert an Inca and add levels to the temple on their turn. Receiving a larger chunk of points than you did previously. Maybe have a better party than you did too! Before the player after them, maxes out the city, sending the temple to its highest level and parties like it’s 1999. Which at first will make you think that this is just a rinse and repeat game. And it can be that for lazy players. Or you could “PLAY THE GAME.” It’s always advisable to get in the other players way, while helping yourself to the largest piece of cake. That’s where the pleasure of the game comes. Placing tiles out that make your opponents think “what are you doing!” Or getting to a temple, just to finish it off, amassing the largest score possible. Even block main routes with you Incas, forcing other players to use more actions to get to where they want to go. And even just simply, laying the foundations for your next turn. And even though there is this slight nastiness between players, it is hard to see, but occasionally felt.
Many Inca’s in the same village may jussel about to get the privilege to build. As ties can be a frequent occurrence. If players are joint on the highest level, the deciding factor goes to the one who has the next highest Inca. So on and so on, meaning a village may be swarming with players Inca’s, which can be a good and bad thing, as a village can be cut into parts. A strategically placed tile can replace that one village hex with a field, making that once larger city/village into two smaller ones. Again, having a Inca in the right place can play havoc on this possibility, retaining this man made settlement in it’s form.
Yes, villages and cities can be reduced as well as be enlarged, as long as there is only one temple in that zone. And as long as the tile placement rules are followed. What’s that? More rules? Well, nothing overly complicated. But something else to carefully plan as you play. If you play a tiles on top of another, it can not stack in the same way as the one beneath it. So in the case of a three hex tile being played, it can not be directly placed on top of another of the same size. Meaning that it has to be placed on top of different tiles. Although placing a smaller tile on top of a larger one is permitted. This prevents a back and forth of, “this was a feild, now a village, now a field, now a village…” And lends itself to a deeper way of thinking, as the tiles need to sprawl out and not stack like a two year old stacks the same size Lego blocks together. This cuts down on the “I’ll just place these willy-nilly on the board” moments that unthinking players do. You may find that you will have to place two or more other tiles on the board before placing the one that you need to fulfill your dream. As you can see, there is a little more to this game than in other tile placement games, due to this 3D aspect. As 1) being higher allows you to build temples and basins, 2) let’s you shape the map and 3) make for a sexy tabletop experience.
Not only can you build temples, cities and villages. Small and large basins of irrigation water can be created. These can gain you a small or large chunk of points in one fail swoop, if you pay attention. These basins can only be created on the board itself and never on top of tiles already placed. If while placing tiles, you leave a hole of empty board spaces, totally surrounded by tiles, for an action you can transform them into these water pools. Collecting three points for each single irrigation tile placed. That can sometime be a large chunk of points. Again, as long as you are have the highest Inca adjacent to this body of water when you build it, you will get these points. So being careful not to give points away or lose them in a tie is always a think to look for.
As I mentioned early, the game can follow a repetitive formula of, place a few tiles, move an Inca into a village, build the temple, score point. Added to this simple pattern is the prospect to earn extra points by using a free action at the end of your turn, holding a festival in a city. Any city on the board that you have an Inca in, can be used. If there are other players, with Incas in the same city, they also can participate in this mini game. Players will start the game with a few cards in their hands, depicting one or two gifts for the Gods. More cards can be collected by spending one or two action points to receive one or two cards, each turn you take. And these are always blind from the draw pile. With only three types of gift on these cards, you could draw the same thing every turn. That can be a benefit and a curse where festivals are concerned.
Some of these cards are spilt, holding two different gifts, so they can be used as one or the other. The discard pile will dictate which gift or gifts the Gods hold as the flavour of the month. These images are of statues and masks, but it’s the colour of the background that makes them easy to distinguish. When a player holds a festival in a city, they play a card that has the same colour background as the card on the discard pile. Each other player, in the same city may also offer the same gift to the Gods. And so on around the table, until all players are fed up with giving or can not give any more. That’s when you count to see which player has offered the most gifts. That player then earns some bonus points, depending on the size of the temple and if there were other players at the festival. Before all played cards are discarded and a new card from the draw pile is place on top of the discard pile, create the next fashion that the Gods wish the Incas to follow. This mini game breaks up the play a little and adds a little layer of marzipan to the already nice simple icing covered sponge cake. You may feel that wasting an action to draw a card is a pointless affair, but it is one you should not forget. Festivals can be frequent occurrences and other players will get fat on the juicy points that are left behind. No sugar rush included. And after the festival is finished, a touch is lit on that temple, signifying that another festival can not be had there until the temple has been developed to a higher level.
The game comes to an end when the general pool of tiles is empty. From then on, each player has one more turn to scrape up any point that they can get, plus move their Incas to prominent positions in each city. Because after you have used your last action point, it is time to do your final scoring. A simple case of looking at each of the cities and seeing which ones you have control over. Remember, control is the Inca that is on the highest level in that city. For each city you have in your control, you win the points indicated by the size of the temple there. As you can see, you may have control of a city at the end of your turn, giving you points, but then the next player can then take control, scoring from the same city. This makes for an intriguing last turn. You may just try to take as many points as you can or try to make it hard for others to claim control over the cities, by dividing them or moving one of your Incas to a hex, that makes players spend more actions than they should. Oh, so sweet, when you can reduce someone's potential final score from 55 points to only 30.
All in all, this is my type of euro style game. The rules are relatively simple, with a few exceptions. Like Carcassonne is simple to explain and then you get to the Farmer scoring rule. But once you get your head around all of the little intricacies and start playing, you’ll take to it like a duck to water. This is a game that could be classes as just one of those classic euros, with very little variety and small replay value because it’s the same thing over and over. Much like Splendor and Pastiche, games that I can see myself playing many time, adapting my strategy and learning new ways to get the most points. This is definitely a game that an experienced player will walk away with, in regards to final score. And there is no sign of luck helping you. You’ll just have to use your keep eyesight, imaginative perception and mathematical calculation to be a master at this game.
Tested - Liked - Want to play again soon