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Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun A Quick Review

#Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun is one of what I (and others) call the T games.  ( #Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar, #Teotihuacan: City of Gods, and #Tawantinsuyu: The Inca Empire being the other ones I am aware of.)

I would describe this game as a dice drafting game perhaps.  It's different to most other games that I've played.  Let's take a look at it!

Setup & Components

Ok, let's get this out of the way.  The Obelisk.  Yes, it's tall:

It's wide:

And dice can be hidden behind it.  There are three dice on the other side of it in this picture but you can't see one of them:

It's still pretty cool and you just have to move your head a bit to see the other side.  No, I won't play without it.

The player boards are thick cardboard.  Here you see a player board with the buildings on top, production markers in punchouts for the production trackers, statues at the bottom, and pillars to the side off the board.

To start players get 1 scribe, and 1 gold.  They also pick 1 of 2 decree cards and 2 starting resource cards (2 player draft shown here)

The combined numbers of the starting resource cards determine who goes first.  That person then picks one of the ankh cards and gets the bonus on that card.

For the solo game the setup is slightly different as the bot doesn't draft starting resources and gets a starting statue.  You also setup the pyramid which is used to determine the bots actions:

The technology track is seeded to the red zone (bottom row), the statue gods are assigned (top left corner), the population, happiness, & score markers are placed, and three dice are rolled and placed in each zone around the obelisk.

It's important to go a little bit in to dice placement as this is pretty important to game play.  As the obelisk rotates there will be sunny, shady, and dark sides.  Depending on the side a dice is on it will be pure, tainted or forbidden which updates as the obelisk rotates every 2 turns.  Forbidden dice cannot be taken normally.  After taking 4 dice the balance between pure and tainted will determine the player order for the next 4 turns and potentially some VP loss. 

Overall the component quality is very good with lots of dice and wooden bits.  The artwork is a bit brown in general for my tastes but it does make the bits of colour really pop.

Gameplay

On each turn a player will take a die from a pure or tainted slot on one section of the board.  

They can do 1 of 2 things with this die normally:

1) Gain resources up to their production limit depending on the colour of the die in the amount of what is on the die.   So if they take a yellow die (papyrus) with a value of 4 but their production is only 3 on their player board that player gets 3 papyrus and 1 papyrus goes to the tainted side of their player board.  (More on the results of that later.)  Bottom line, if you are going to take a high numbered dice you will want your production to be high as well.  

2) Do the god action for the section the die came from.

Horus: Allows you to build a statue that you can place around the obelisk or on special spots on the building or temple sections.  These statues give you bonus resources when other players activate the given gods section if it is around the obelisk.  (And also other times depending on player count.)  They give you scoring bonuses in other sections.

Ra: Allows you to build a pillar in the temple.  The tile you take is based on the die you take.  You then spend the resources shown on the tile and place the pillar.  This gives you various potential bonuses and resources along with points both initially and during scoring phases.

Hathor: You can construct a building around the temple, paying the bread cost depending on where you place.  This gives you resources and points during scoring phases.  Most importantly it increases your populatiion.  Increased population opens up technology cards for display further down the technology row.

Here you see some buildings and pillars around the temple:

Bastet: Hold a festival.  Spend 2 papyrus to move the happiness marker the number of spaces on the die.  You can't have more happiness than people.   Also receive scribes if you are using a lower dice.  Happiness gives you bonuses and points during scoring if you get it high enough.  

Thoth: Acquire technology from the tech row.  Depending on the dice number you take you must spend papyrus to get 1, 2, or 3 tech.   You can only take the tech from the coloured section equal to your happiness marker or lower.  To get more decrees for end game scoring you will need to have your happiness up a ways.

Blessings are one time use bonuses

Technologies are ongoing effects

Decrees are end game scoring.  

Osiris: Construct a building in the workshops or quarries by giving up a population.  This increases your production and gives you some resources.  Also scores you points during scoring phases.

 

Scribes are one way to mitigate the dice and are always useful to have.  They can be used to move the value of a die up or down 1 or 2 spaces.  (You cannot wrap around the die value.)

Even better you can spend 2 scribes to take an anubis action.  This allows you to take ANY die from ANYWHERE on the board and use it as ANY colour on ANY section of the board.  In other words you take a die and are only stuck with its value.  This is a super powerful action, especially later on in the game when there may be no dice in the section you want to activate.

 

Rotation

Every 2 turns the obelisk rotates clockwise one section and dice equal to the number of players are placed in each dark section.  Every 2 of these you do a Maat phase.

Maat Phases

During this phase the balance of your last 4 actions is considered. 

Here you see the balance of dice I had during a Maat phase.  (Went a bit dark but not too bad.)

The tainted side is 3 greater than the pure side.  (I overproduced one papyrus.)  That means -1 point on the maat tracker as shown below.  You can see the bot and I are both tied in how far we are away from balance.  However, in this case the number on their ankh card breaks ties and they go first.

Scoring

Every two Maat phases we have a scoring which scores various sections around the board.  You also must pay bread as shown in the building section of your player board.

You can get points for all kinds of things:

- 1 point for the number of buildings and statues around the temple.

-  Pillars score for the number pillars/ buildings/statues in the same row or column as the pillar.  (This can really add up if you get a lot in there.)

- Most buildings in a given column of the workshop/quarry section

- Points per pip your happiness marker has passed.

- Points for statues placed on the board.

- Points for buildings placed on the board.  (If you have placed a lot of them.)

End Game

After two scorings it's time for the end game.

Score up to 3 different decree types.  Most points win!

General Impressions

This game is a super interesting puzzle which I don't feel I have a full handle on yet. 

For example, to score a lot of points you need to focus on areas.   The point difference between 4 and 6 pillars for example is quite large.  But you need quite a bit of obsidian if you want to build them all.  Decrees can score you a LOT of points but you have to increase your population & happiness, and then acquire them.

But competing with that is that there are a limited number of dice available to take those actions.  There are blessings that can help with that and of course the Anubis action but it can still be REALLY hard to get enough actions to get to the big points.

You really need to think ahead to where the dice are going to get added and whether they will be forbidden or not.  Potentially right from the word go.  Of course the other players will be doing their own thing and mess you up so you need to be tactical as well as strategic.

This also applies to resources.  You can take a die to gather resources but you can also acquire resources here and there by other actions and bonuses.  Gathering resources is going to happen in the first couple of turns likely but after that it's better to acquire them as you do other actions which takes a lot of thinking ahead.

So you need to be strategic to get the big points but you have to make sure each tactical move sets you up for a further tactical move while overall they are working towards your strategy.

It's hard to tell who is actually winning mid-game as the scoring and decrees can really add up.  The best you can do is look at other players boards, techs, etc and take a guess.  You can't see other players decrees.

I find every time I end a game I find myself thinking about what I could have done better or what strategy I could have taken.  It's hard to see the threads during the game, at least for me.  This definitely keeps me intrigued and ready to come back for more!

Rules Impression

Out of the 4 T games I think this one is the most intricate with a lot of little rules that take some time to remember.

There are a couple of areas that are tricky and I will definitely have to lookup if I take a long break between games.   I found it especially tricky at first keeping track of rotation, maat, and scoring.  It logically makes a lot of sense but when you are in the game and thinking about your moves it can be tricky to not forget to add the extra dice to the board for example.

Each god action has it's own nuances and scoring can be a bit tricky to get the first time through. This game will definitely benefit from frequent plays or playing it a few times in a row.

Solo Impressions

The solo play is definitely the trickiest out of the 4 in my opinion as each god action is slightly different and most of them play out slightly different for the solo player.

I would say this one required the most work out of the T games to play solo. The solo player tends to be a generalist but not always.  It does a decent job and certainly it feels like you are getting a full game experience when you play solo even if it behaves oddly sometimes.  

Final Word

When I initially read the rules my head was swimming.  There is a LOT of stuff to think about if you want to have an efficient run with a chance of winning. 

However, after a few games I realized that the dice help to limit your choices somewhat.  It's often a question of which of these 4 or 5 dice should I take to get the MOST out of this turn and will set me up for good future turns?  It's still a lot of things to think about (especially if you take an Anubis action) but it's generally in limited areas.

If you are looking for a game that has you trying to see the optimal action not just for this turn but the next turn and with an eye towards how you will get those big points for final scoring then you will love this game. 

 



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Supporter46 days ago

This game just looks intense

Premium User45 days ago

It can be quite intense.  It's not the heaviest game I have played by any stretch and you can usually find something to do but if you want to play optimally you will be doing a lot of thinking for sure.

59 days ago

I absolutely love this game. I love the design work that went on behind the scenes. I can see the intricacies of Tascini's design throughout each part of the game. The rulebook is written well, and the solo mode is excellent. I can't wait to continue to add Tascini games to my collection, such as #Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar, and #Trismegistus: The Ultimate Formula

Premium User59 days ago

I haven't tried Trismegistus yet either but I'm curious as well!

Tekhenu is probably the most intricate of the T games I've played.  I think #Teotihuacan: City of Gods is still my favourite of teh bunch but Tekhenu is right up there!

59 days ago

It will be difficult to unseat Teotihuacan for me as well. It is my #2 all time favorite game. But, if someome were to ask me to play either of the two, I would have a hard time choosing.

Premium User59 days ago

If there was enough time I'd ask to play both! :)

Owner2 months ago

Thanks for the write-up! When I first heard about this game, I was immediately interested since I've wanted to dive into one of the T games. I stopped after seeing how complicated it looks but I love dice manipulation and this seems to be one of the most interesting ones I've seen.

By the way, have you soloed #Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar before? I actually didn't even realize it doesn't have an official solo mode, since I've assumed all T games come with a great solo variant.

Premium User2 months ago

I think this one takes the most out of the T games with regards to seeing how it all comes together.  At least for me anyway,  I enjoy the play of it and, in my last multiplayer game, despite us all taking different routes we scored fairly close together.

I have played the solo version of Tzolkin I found on BGG once but it was a while ago.  If I remember correctly it was pretty good but I'll have to play it again to refresh my memory.

I got a solo game of #Teotihuacan: City of Gods in last night so I'll do a write up of that in the next few days when I have time.

Owner57 days ago

Man, you're on a roll! I'm actually more curious about that one. I've heard great things about the bot and it's been on the Top 100 solo games list for consecutive years now. I think the only part that would set it back for me is that it seemed like it would require longer setup and involve more fiddliness compared to #Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar

Premium User57 days ago

I just finished a solo game of Tzolkin using the bot I found on BGG.  I'll throw something up for that one in a few days as well.  I'm trying not to just flood the forums and maybe try to take my time a bit more with them.  :)  

Supporter2 months ago

This is an incredible review. Awesome work. I do agree that the game is a bit brown. It doesn't bother me necessarily but it is a factor. 

Premium User2 months ago

It was mostly to point out the contrast with the other games that tend to have a bit more colour to them.  It's funny because I think I subconsciously recognized it but didn't consciously realize it until I was looking at those photos in the review.  

I'm with you in general though.  It's not a huge issue but worth mentioning.

Supporter2 months ago

So, you do great write-ups. Thanks for this one. 

I feel like I should probably try a T game at some point, which is your favorite for solo?

Supporter2 months ago

I second this question. 

Premium User2 months ago

Thanks!  I feel like I am a bit disorganized and rambly to be honest and I don't have a set format I follow as each game makes me want to highlight different things. Mostly I enjoy writing them up and it's a nice bonus that other people enjoy it too!

As for my favourite T game solo...I think it is Teotihuacan.  It takes less effort to run than the other two and feels more like the multiplayer game.  However, I haven't played it in a while which means I might have to do that soon and do a write up on it.  ;)

Supporter2 months ago

I have gotten so so close to getting #Teotihuacan: City of Gods several times. But I have yet to bite the bullet.... 

Premium User2 months ago

It's still my favourite of the bunch at this point.  I'll play it later this week and do a little write up on it to maybe change your mind one way or the other. :)

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Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun