Founders of Teotihuacan Review

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14 September 2022
Best laid plans go awry

It’s Mesoamerica and there’s a city of historic proportions that needs designing. Fear not, there aren’t any pedantic planning officers to appease, just pyramids to lay, temples to plan and buildings to… build. In Founders of Teotihuacan, players take on the role of architects vying for the privilege to design an epic pre-Columbian metropolis. The architect with the most victory points at the end gets the job. This game starts with a blueprint for success, but does the end vision live up to its grand promise?

Players start with their own board, which represents the city’s districts and central pyramid. Over the course of three/four rounds, depending on who’s at the table, everyone takes turns to interact with the main board, choosing to lay buildings, temples and pyramid tiles. As with most tile-laying games, there are limitations to overcome when planning what goes where – the most engaging being the little architect meeple that rotates around the player board, restricting which districts can be added to each turn. All buildings have a connected purpose. Basic buildings (wood, stone and gold) give essential resources that allow for constructing temples and laying pyramid tiles, which in turn give an end-of-game VP boost. Critical for getting that job of chief architect.

Decision making is this game’s strength – literally. The game uses action strength to dictate which buildings can be erected, determined by towers that players construct using their six action discs. The more discs in the tower the higher the action strength. Players can choose to place one to three discs, potentially maxing out a tower in one turn, or enjoy more actions by placing one disc at a time. There’s also the fun option to piggyback on top of other players’ discs, allowing for satisfying four-action-strength moments achieved by a one-disc play.

Another positive comes in the form of the worship tiles. These objective-based bonuses are a must when it comes to generating more actions and much-needed victory points. There’s also a crafty way to swap out less-desired tiles for that perfect one just sitting there waiting to be picked up.

The gameplay knits together pretty well with the theme, especially the overlaying pyramid tiles. The artwork has an essence of ancient civilization, but one that has faded with time. The tile design is functional at best, especially said pyramid tiles, which don’t really feel like pieces of a pyramid. The player boards also fall foul to the same problems, feeling under-designed and plain. Yes, tiles will be laid on top, but a little more care and flair wouldn’t go amiss.

This plainness, unfortunately, isn’t massively transformed at the end of the game, which ultimately leads to Founders of Teotihuacan’s downfall: it feels too short. The grand city of Teotihuacan always finishes the game half-planned; its pyramid half-constructed, its streets left bare… bar a few colourful sets of temples. Of course, part of the challenge is how to make the most of the limited actions, and they can be cleverly supplemented with bonus moves gained in a variety of ways, but there’s little to show for all the effort. Additionally, the final scoring isn’t as varied or as hidden as it first seems, and architects who find themselves lacking victory points can get very quickly demoralised by impending defeat long before all the temple-pyramid maths is done and dusted.

Founders of Teotihuacan is a game of many pieces that offers some really interesting decision-based mechanics, but for all the effort and challenge, it leaves you thinking what could have been. Even if you win.

Jenny Cox

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If you like games that demand creative action decisions, then this may be for you – just look past the underwhelming design and end-of-game satisfaction levels.

TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED: Remember Our Trip

Polyomino-tile-laying fans who loved reminiscing about far-off cities in Remember Our Trip may discover a rewarding amount of challenge in Founders of Teotihuacan, if not the beautifully designed components.

Read the full review here


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