Wolfgang Kramer &
Michael Kiesling


No. of Players:
2 - 4



A few years ago the successful authors-team Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling and their travel-agent RAVENSBURGER have invited us for an awards-winning trip to the South American jungles, searching for the famous pyramids of Tikal. However, whereas our first trip to the region was concerned with the sheer discovery of pyramids, we now have returned for yet another project - the exploration of a pyramid. The travel-agent has changed to GAMEWORKS, but otherwise our new expedition runs under the title of Tikal II, a fitting reminder of our former activities around the pyramids.

The exploration of a pyramid or any other kind of dungeon always brings up some fond memories of dungeon crawler games, but whereas the typical dungeon crawler usually offers a load of random events and dice rolling, such an unpredictable playing mechanism would be unsuitable for a game who claims to be the successor of a former SPIEL DES JAHRES winner. Thus, Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling have tried to create yet again an exploration game based on tactics instead of luck, and the result of their efforts has been beautifully reproduced by the publishing team of GAMEWORKS.


Once again the players take the roles of explorers, and during a timeframe of two rounds (months) the players try to explore the biggest pyramid of Tikal and score victory points through their different discoveries. During the two rounds of play the players take turns in a fixed player order, going clockwise around the table in the first round and anti-clockwise in the second round. A round has a fixed number of turns for each player, varying between six and eight turns depending on the number of participating players.

During their turns, the players will have to go through two phases - canoe movement and exploration. The canoe movement takes place on a river running outside the pyramid district along the outer edge of the gameboard, whereas all exploration is done within the pyramid district at the center of the board. But let's examine each of these phases with some more detail…

As indicated, the river for the canoes runs along the outer edge of the board, and distributed along this river are six minor excavation sites which the players can visit. At the beginning of each of the two rounds of play a random choice of action tokens is openly placed next to each of the excavation sites, and the players can freely decide how many sites they want to move forwards with their canoes, or whether they just want to remain stationary for the turn. If they want to move their canoe, the movement must always be clockwise (following the river current), and it is limited to a maximum of 5 steps. Thus, the option of either movment or remaining stationary allows a player to visit any of the six minor excavation sites within the scope of just one turn, but it should be noted that the players cannot fully round the gameboard within just one turn. This is important because two floatplanes are towed at different positions along the river, and these planes need to be visited while moving along the river if the players want to get rid of collected treasure tokens.

However, returning to the action tokens which can be found at the excavation sites, a player always must make his canoe movement in a way so that the canoe ends up at a site with at least one action token left. The player then takes possession of one of the remaining action tokens which can be found at that particular excavation site, and he is entitled to all benefits displayed on the token. As a matter of fact, the action tokens contain quite a variety of different benefits, ranging from keys of different colours over secret discovery cards, victory points and room placements to secret passage tiles. As indicated, the player is allowed to collect all benefits which can be found on the action tile, and whereas some of the benefits must be instantly used (room placement), some others may be saved for a later point in the game.

The performance of the action tile ends a player's canoe movement phase and begins his exploration phase. Looking at the center of the gameboard, we see a huge pyramid which is made of hexagonal spaces. Ten spaces showing hexagonal room tiles are printed on the board and thus revealed directly at the beginning of the game, whereas all additional room tiles come from a random stockpiles on the gameboard. The new rooms either may be ordinary rooms, altar rooms or the treasure chamber, and the drawing and placing of both kinds of rooms (ordinary and altar) is triggered through a player who chooses an action tile (during his canoe phase) which displays the corresponding type of room. The new room then is drawn and placed at the active player's choice within the pyramid, thus slowly discovering the interior of the huge structure. The treasure chamber is dealt with somewhat differently, since its placement is not triggered by choosing an action tile but instead it is placed on the last free hexagonal space within the pyramid.

A quite important feature on all the room tiles are the doors, and the doors on each tile will match the colour of one of the five different types of keys which can be found in the game. Each player starts the game with two keys of his choice which he places in his backpack, and as you might guess keys of a matching colour are needed to go through a door of that particular colour. However, the keys are not discarded while passing through such a door - the simple possession of the key is all that counts.

In addition to the two keys which the players receive at the beginning of the game, additional keys can be acquired through the choice of action tiles displaying a key, but whenever a player receives a new key he will face the hard choice to place the key either within his backpack or at his treasure stockpile. As indicated, keys within a player's backpack are used for passing through matching coloured doors within the pyramid, and in addition a key from a player's backpack must be discarded whenever the player's canoe comes to a certain point on its way around the gameboard. At that point the canoe needs to be carried because of a waterfall, and the carrying action requires the player to discard one of his hard-earned keys (or to lose 10 even harder earned victory points). On the other hand, all keys placed at a player's treasure stockpile will bring victory points during the evaluation which takes place after each round, and the greater the variety of keys at the player's treasure stockpile the higher will be the yield of victory points. However, the choice of placing a key into the backpack or at the treasure stockpile must be made upon obtaining the key - and the choice is final!

So, the player's explorers within the pyramid will need keys to go through doors, what other rules are applicable for movement? It might be surprising, but there is no limitation in terms of movement points or something similar, but instead each player is allowed to move his explorer as far as he desires, even leaving the pyramid and entering again through a different door all can be done within the same turn. As indicated, the only limitation are the keys, since an explorer only can be moved from room to room using doors. Here the tricky part of the game begins, since the players will have to find routes to reach the more valuable rooms, and so a player usually places new rooms in accordance to the keys found within his backpack.

After moving his explorer, the player is allowed to start an excavation in the room where the movement has ended (provided that the player did not already make an excavation in this room). The player takes a flag from his stockpile and places it into the room to mark the excavation, and if he is lucky he even can cover a symbol showing victory points or another bonus with his flag. In case of victory points the player instantly earns these points and marks them on Kramer's victory track which runs in this game along a wall bordering the pyramid district. However, even if the victory points of a room are already covered by another player's flag, an excavation still may be useful, since additional victory points can be scored for each room of the same colour in which the player has made an excavation in former turns.

If a player has obtained a secret passage marker through an action token, he may chose to use this marker to create a temporary passage within the pyramid from a room to a neighbouring room. The player may move his explorer through the passage, either continuing his movement from the room after the passage or stopping there to make an excavation. However, in the latter case there is even an option for a direct retreat through the passage to prevent the explorer from getting stranded without matching keys (a situation which otherwise would be penalized by a loss of victory points). In addition, a secret passage also may be used to enter one of the external "secret rooms" within the pyramid district. These secret rooms are located outside the pyramid, but they contain a possibility to score victory points just like the ordinary rooms within the pyramid.

The altar rooms and the treasure chamber which is placed close to the end offer several placement points for flags, so that even players arriving at a later point still have a chance to place their flags as bonus spaces. As indicated, these bonus spaces may offer victory points, but it is also possible that a player will be allowed to take a secret discovery card or a treasure token.

There exist five different kinds of treasure tokens, and for understanding their use we have to remember the floatplanes towed at two positions along the outer river. Whenever a player's canoe passes one of these floatplanes a player is allowed to exchange all treasure tokens of one kind for victory points, and the value of these tokens is decided through a treasure value indicator on the gameboard. The player then hands the treasures to the bank, adds the victory points to his score and rotates the treasure value indicator, thus changing the value of the different kinds of treasures for the next player who wants to make an exchange.

Finally, the secret discovery cards once again give the players access to a wide range of benefits. Thus, a player may get a free canoe carrying action, more valuable or additional treasure deliveries at a floatplane, and extra exploration action etc… The card can be kept in the player's possession and played at his own discretion, probably timed for the best moment.

There are a few more rule intricacies which will not be mentioned here, but what you should see after reading the previous paragraphs is that Tikal II has considerably more playing depth than its predecessor, since the game offers a wide range of scoring possibilities which must be kept under surveillance to get a good chance to win. Placement of flags, collecting keys, exchanging treasures, visiting secret chambers and even the sheer number of already explored chambers all may have an impact on a player's final scoring, and this variety of scoring possibilities actually might seem to be a bit overwhelming for a novice player. However, on the other hand it is exactly this variety of scoring possibilities which allows a player to develop a tactical approach and to make an attempt to plan his following turns, since there is a probability that not all of a player's plans will be spoiled through the interfering actions of the other players. And to increase the tactical level even more, the game makes use of a "controlled drawing mechanism", thus allowing a player drawing treasures, new rooms or secret discovery cards to draw the top three treasures/rooms/cards from the deck, keeping one of them and placing the other two back onto the appropriate deck. This considerably increases a player's control over his own destiny by reducing the otherwise contra productive drawing luck.

The players will be hard pushed to optimize their yield of victory points on their way through the pyramid, and the only similarity between Tikal II and a typical, old fashioned dungeon crawler is the somewhat lonely way of the player's explorers through the pyramid. Player interaction is only reached on an indirect level by the competition for the best exploration sites and action tokens, but otherwise no direct interaction takes place. However, with the aforementioned rules and mechanisms falling into place, the game offers a rather solid and mature tactical challenge, and in games of this category more direct player interaction is not really missed. Thus, take your topee and machete if you are in for a trip to the South American jungle, and don't let the colourful look of the gamebox and the playing pieces fool you - there is a serious task ahead!

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Copyright © 2011 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany