AZTLAN is a board game based on the mythical homeland of the Aztec people. It is for 2-4 players with a suggested age of 13+ which would make most games players consider it to be a game for thought and planning above luck. It comes from the relatively new company ARES who have already given us the excellent WAR of the RING board game and it is designed by one of my favourite creators, Leo Colovini. Anyone who has read Games Gazette for some time will know that I have a marmite taste for Colovini’s games. For me some of Leo’s games, CLANS, ATLANTIS and CARTAGENA are amongst my all-time favourites, whilst others, the likes of EUROPA and ALEXANDER for example, have been fairly awful.
AZTLAN falls into a new category, between awful and all-time favourite. It is a game that if you play with non-regular games players it can be viewed as not that bad, but if you play it as a games player and don’t let yourself be led down the linear passage then it rates way down the list. In all the games we have played, and we have played it with different groups of experienced board gamers using various tactics, (though playing with 3 or 4 players each time never with just 2 players) going last in the second (sometimes 1st) turn usually means that player is out of the contest. The rules suggest that you can play without or with minimal conflict, using thoughtful play to determine the winner. This is unlikely! Basically if you don’t attack then you are very unlikely to win. Also, generally, the player who attacks first, especially in the early stages of the game, more than often wins.
Why do I say this ? It’s because of the game mechanic. Each player has a similar set of numbered cards, playing the highest number usually means you win conflicts. Players get a number of pieces per turn - true, but over the 5 turns you get less each time, so starting with 8 pieces you get 7 then 6 etc so any player who has been hit hard by conflict will have very little chance to fight back in the later turns.
The board is split into regions based upon the terrain. Players can exist solo or coexist in these regions. For conflict players multiply the number of pieces they have in a region by the value of the card they played, so for example, a player with 3 pieces in a region who played a value 5 card has a conflict score of 15 but is beaten by a player with only 2 pieces in the same region if the other player has played an 8 or 9 card. (16 or 18). The player who has the majority of power in a region decides if there is actual conflict, in which case the opposing pieces are removed back to their owner, or whether a compromise (coexist) takes place, in which case the magnanimous leader receives a power card.
After playing a few times we decided to make resolving conflicts more interesting. We tried this by adding a simple rule - if the leader in a region allows coexistence they get a card (as per the rules) but if they demand conflict and remove their opposing pieces then the owner(s) of those pieces gets a card instead. This balances the game and ensures that playing your 8 or 9 card at the right time (by skill or luck) isn’t such a possible game winning tactic.