Approaching its 10th anniversary, no game on my shelf stands a chance at replacing Tzolk'in.
It's a popular idea that an older game can be rendered obsolete by a newer game, and it makes sense. I remember when Century: Spice Road was heralded as a "Splendor-killer" before release. So much of the intrigue of new releases is how they twist or combine older, familiar elements into something fresh. It's difficult to both take an innovative step forward and execute on it excellently, and so new releases with innovative mechanisms often start the clock on their own replacements.
None of this is true of Tzolk'in, and I believe the main reason is because of its fantastic integration of components with gameplay. Tzolk'in is all about the gears, and that is indeed the focus of this post. But the specific decisions that make the gears so effective aren’t given enough attention.
1. Integrating Different Materials
Tzolk'in was one of the earlier games in this golden age of tabletop to demonstrate that plastic and cardboard can integrate together to create a new experience. Cardboard provides the structure for the mechanism of plastic gears.
2. Interlocking Gears, not Independent Wheels
Given how smoothly the system of gears works, I expect they took many iterations. At some point, someone may have asked if they really need to be gears. Wouldn't it be so much easier to produce independent dials?
CGE's commitment to this decision was huge, and continues to pay off. One touch of the central gear advances the 5 outer gears by one space each, which makes for both a satisfying manipulation and an efficient way to advance the game state.
3. Plastic Gears
The gears could have been cardboard, and many publishers might have made that choice. Plastic allows for texture, durability, and a perfect fit with each player's workers.
What could have been better?
For how tactile and thematic the system of gears is, the rest of the components are not particularly thematic. I would have loved to see the workers shaped as something that actually represents Mayan workers, because they didn't need to be generic discs.
What do you find impressive about the production of Tzolk'in?