Essen Preview #34–First Impressions of Aztlan

I have found that many gamers find Leo Colovini very polarizing.  Well, not in person – he’s a wonderful guy to game with… I mean it more in his designs.  They are often quite abstract in nature which is unappealing to some.  I have found that people either love or hate his games, and the decision comes down to whether or not you like abstract games.

For me, I am generally not swayed by the presence or absence of theme, choosing to focus instead on game mechanics.  As such, many Colovini games are among my favorites, including Carolus Magnus, Clans and Meridian.  I find that Leo is able to focus in on an interesting and challenging mechanism and build a solid game around that central idea.  Sometimes there is a good theme attached to the game, and sometimes it’s simply moving around wooden bits on a board – but as long as the game is good, I’m OK either way.

aztlan box


Designer: Leo Colovini

Publisher: Ares Games

Players: 2-4

Ages: 13+

Time: 60 minutes

Times Played: 1 with pre-production copy at GenCon

Theme: Aztec tribes fighting for control of the land

Main Mechanics: secret and simultaneous card play, area control, special action cards

Rules synopsis:  Game is played over 5 rounds, player with the most points at end of 5th round is the winner.  Each player represents a different Aztec tribe, and each starts with a set of 6 idential power cards (numbered 4 thru 9).  The board is a mishmash of territories with 5 different types of spaces.  There are lots of adjacencies, most interior spaces have 4 to 6 neighboring spaces.

The board in Aztlan

At the beginning of each round, each player secretly and simultaneously chooses one of his power cards.  The number of the card (4 thru 9) tells you the relative strength of your tribe that turn – the higher, the better.  There is also a landscape pictured on the card which you will get a scoring bonus for.  Once you choose the card, you then take a number of pawns from the supply.  This is a diminishing number, you get 7 in the first round, then 6, 5, 4, and 3 in the final round.

A power card. This is worth 9 points and shows the city terrain in the background. If this were unplayed during the game, it would be worth 20 VP

On your turn, you really only have two choices.  First, you must place a pawn on the board – this can be done on any space other than a lake (no player may ever place on the lakes).  Second, you MAY choose to move a previously placed pawn into an adjacent space.  This continues clockwise around the board until all players have placed their allotted pawns.

Once everything is placed, then you resolve the board. You look at any space on the board which has pawns from multiple players. Then, you look at the power cards played at the start of the round.  Each pawn in the space is worth a number of points equal to the power card number.  You total up your points in the space, and the player with the most points then gets to decide whether to battle or co-exist.  If a battle is chosen, all of the opponent’s pawns are removed from the space.  If coexistence is chosen, all pawns remain in the space, but the stronger player gets a prosperity card as a reward.  (If there is a tie for points, all pawns stay, and no one gets a prosperity card).

Example of a prosperity card – you can see where this could come in handy!

Prosperity cards come in a few flavors.  Most of them give special one-time abilities such as bonus scoring for a particular terrain type or the ability to survive a conflict in a territory without being removed.  Some Prosperity cards are Gods cards and are collected for endgame bonus points (equal to the square of the number of Gods cards collected)

Anyways, lets get back to the game, once all of the conflicts are decided, then you move into the scoring phase.  You score points for each group of contiguous territories that you have.  You score one point for each territory in the group.  Additionally, remember that power card that you played at the start of the round? That card had a specific terrain type displayed on it.   You also score points equal to the square of the number of that type of terrain in the group.  So, say you played the card which shows forests.  If you score a territory of 6 contiguous areas that has 3 forests in it, you would score 15 points for this group – 1 point for each of 6 areas plus 9 (3×3) for the 3 forests.

At the end of the round, there is only a little bit of setup for the next round.  All players discard all their played cards from the start of the round.  Also, each player draws pawns from the supply for the next round.  All pawns remaining on the board stay there to be used in later rounds.  The game continues on until 5 rounds are finished.

There is a little bit of bonus scoring at the end of the game.  First, each player scores bonus points equal to the number on the unplayed bonus card left in their hand.  Remember, you start with 6 cards, and play one each round.  So, all players will score between 4 and 9 points.  You then look at the Gods cards that you have collected and score the square of the number of Gods cards that you picked up.  Also, you score 1 point for each unused prosperity card in your hand.

Impression – well, to start – I think I can summarize this game with the statement: “It’s a typical Colovini game”.  If you are a gamer who likes previous Colovini games, you’ll love this one.  I could probably describe it by calling in Clans with special powers.   The game itself moves fairly quickly.  Our first game at GenCon lasted about 45 minutes, and all three players in the game were engaged from start to finish.  Individual turns are quick as you only have 2 decisions – must place a new guy and then may move an existing guy.  The board doesn’t change that much between turns, so you usually can do most of your thinking in the time it takes your opponents to make their move.

The game arc is nice.  Players start with more pawns to place in earlier rounds. This helps set up the board, and it also makes sure that there are enough pawns on the board in the early rounds for players to be able to score.  Additionally, in the early rounds, there isn’t as much conflict because there just aren’t that many people on the board yet.  Later in the game, as the board is more populated, the conflicts become more important and more prevalent.  The game actually needs the conflicts to be truly interesting.  As you would guess it’s generally better to be the winner in the conflict, as then you are in the driver’s seat as far as making the decision on the resolution of the conflict.  If you choose to fight, you get to remove your opponent’s pawns from the board.  This affects the scoring for both the current round as well as in future rounds because those removed pawns will not be on the board in later rounds either.  But, if you choose to coexist, you get a Prosperity card, and all of the cards have a positive effect, whether for endgame scoring or for tactical play later on.

I am definitely looking forward to my next chance to play Aztlan, and this will hopefully happen next week at Essen.  Aztlan will probably fit into the “super filler” part of my game collection.

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Essen 2012. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply