Dale Yu: Essen Preview of Trial of the Temples

Trial of the Temples

  • Designers: Michael Mihealsick and Wei-Min Ling
  • Publisher: EmperorS4
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 14+
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Times played: 2, with preview copy sent by EmperorS4

EmperorS4 has been one of the most consistent (IMHO) Taiwanese publishers since I have started to follow games from the region.  Walking in Burano, Round House, Shadows in Kyoto, Burano and Hanamikoji have all been well received here. This year, I received advance copies of two of their games, and Trial of the Temples was the first one to hit the table.

The publisher describes the game: “Every century the most powerful Archmages gather at the centre of the world — “Mages’ Arena”. They must enter the trials at the three temples to compete for the title of “Supreme Master”. Each Archmage will refine crystals and create magical barriers to block their opponents in order to complete the trials and find the best timing to surpass their opponents. Archmages will aim to cast a spell from the spellbook to create an amazing spell chain! Who will win and receive the ultimate title?”

The three trial boards (each a wedge) form a circle in the center of the table, and this circle is surrounded by 12 Temple tiles.  Each Temple tile has main resources that it produces in the upper left corner as well as Linked resources which are found on the bottom. A Day/Night tile is placed on top of one random tile.  Each player also gets a spell mat which they keep in front of them. The game is played over 5 rounds, each with 4 discrete phases.

1] Day and Night phase – flip over a Round tile, this will have a number on it.  Move the Day/Night tile clockwise a number of tiles equal to the number shown. Each tile which is passed over is flipped from the Day side over to the night side.   Any tile which was previous on the night side is flipped back to the Day side.

2] Temple Phase – each player places their figure on a temple tile.  You may not place on the Day/Night tile, you may not place on an already occupied tile, and you may not place your figure so that any figure is completely surrounded by other figures and/or the Day/Night tile.

3] Resource Phase – each player in turn order collects their resources.  You always get the main resources on the top left corner of the tile that you’re on.  You also get any linked resources in either direction until you reach a tile with another figure on it or you reach the barrier on the Day/Night tile.  If you hit the barrier on the Day side, you get the resource shown on that half; if you reach the barrier on the Night side, you get the resource shown as well as taking the first player marker for the next phase.  You get a Mana point bonus if you do not collect from very many Temple tiles (4 points for 2 tiles, 2 points for 3 tiles). You will always collect from at least 2 tiles based on the placement rules. Mana points are tracked on your spell mat – they can be traded in for Action tokens (2 pts) or a crystal of any color (4 pts).   Additionally, crystals and Action Markers can be traded in for 1 Mana point. In this phase, you might collect spell cores, crystals or action tokens. 

As you collect Spell Cores, they are placed immediately on your spell mat.  There is a 4×4 grid of spell spaces. You are limited to having one core of each color (red, yellow, blue, purple) in each row and column.  If you have a Spell Core in a Spell Box, you have access to the shown spell; generally used once per round though some are one-use instants. They will let you gain resources, convert resources into others or maybe get end game bonuses.

4] Trial Phase – In the trial phase, players take turns either passing (which ends their participation in the entire phase) or playing an Action Marker to then begin a trial.  If an Action marker is spent, you choose any of the 3 trials, and then advance your marker as many as 3 spaces – spending the matching crystals as shown on those spaces. You skip already occupied spaces, though the player who is skipped over does gain 1 Mana point for being skipped.  Certain spaces will provide a Spell Core when landed on or passed thru. If the color shown is not available, then you can take a purple spell core from the center of the tracks. If you choose to pass, you return all unused crystals and action tokens to the supply unless you have learned the Storage Spell.  (Any gained spell cores will have been placed on your spell mat). As you move forward on the tracks, you will move into progressively higher scoring wedges.

Check to see if the game has ended

–          You are at the end of the 5th round

–          Two of the trial tracks have a marker on the final space of the track

–          There are no Purple spell cores left in the center of the board

Whenever the game ends, players calculate their scores.  There are three ways to score

1] Score for each of the three tracks based on your finishing location on each

2] score for spell cores on each row and column on your spell mat: 2 points for 3 spaces occupied by spell cores, 3 points for all four spaces occupied

3] score for any end-game bonuses which have been activated by Spell Cores

The player with the most points wins. Ties go to the player with the most mana points left at the end of the game.

My thoughts on the game

Of the two EmperorS4 games I’ve played this year (the other being Jiguan), this is the “lighter” one – though that’s not to say that this one is simple.  There is a lot of well-constructed interaction here between the different mechanisms that keeps things interesting. Most of the game can be seen as a race game, down three different tracks, as the majority of the points are scored that way.

Your player mat has a little engine building thing going on – as you gain cubes, you can choose to place them for immediate benefits, for ongoing conversion powers, for increased production or for end game bonuses.   When you start out, you can choose your path freely – however, the restrictions on the colors means that you have to have a good plan from the start to get all the boxes covered that you want. Complicating matters is the fact that the game is set up to run out of the colored cubes – at the end of the game, you’ll only be able to get purple cubes.  It is very important to remember this fact lest you block yourself from a spot that you will want to fill at the end.

The temple circle phase is neat, and I really like the way that board setup constantly changes here with the day/night movement.  Key to remember here is that purple crystals are generally only found on the night tiles, and they can be in high demand as they are expensive to make otherwise, and many of the trial spaces require them.  There are plenty of difficult decisions to be made here, and I really liked this portion of the game. I never felt comfortable in this phase, regardless of where I was in turn order. If I went first, I always got the one tile bonus that I wanted, but I was always at risk of being penned in by the players later in order.  In the middle, my choices are already limited by the previous placement, and when I went last, while I always knew for sure what I was going to get – the choices left to you placing fourth were rarely awesome.

Once you have collected your resources, then it’s time to see what you can do with them – and this part of the game is very tactical.  As you get to ignore any spaces on a track occupied by your opponents, you really need to wait and see what has happened before your turn comes up to figure out what you can do.  Having a lot of Mana points helps to let you buy gems or action tokens. Likewise, having the ability to convert stuff with spells on your player mat is really useful too. And, for the most part, you need to be able to do something as you generally can’t save anything from turn to turn.  I found that I didn’t try to overplan my resource gathering in the mage placement phase other than trying to get as many crystals as I could – in some rounds the board situation had changed so much by the time of my turn that I couldn’t have possibly anticipated which things I would need.  However, there were also turns when I specifically took less stuff in order to get the first player marker so that I knew exactly what I would get, exactly what I would need, and have the timing initiative over everyone else.

This game hits a lot of my sweet spots.  It is a very crunchy game, playable in 45-60 minutes.  The rules have very few questions, if any, and the actions on the player mat are easy to follow.  This is probably going to knock Round House out of my #1 EmperorS4 slot. I’d certainly recommend you check this out in Essen.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers 

Lorna: I thought entry from Emperor S4 played quite nicely. I liked the day/night mechanism. Trying to time your advancements was important. It’s a light game but enough things to think about while waiting for your turn to keep it interesting. 

Steph: The rules are simple and the game play is pretty streamlined. I feel like this could be a nice step up from Splendor-type games for new players. Since it is so gorgeous it should be easy to find players to play. 2-player rules are a bit different, so I look forward to playing again with more players. Very enjoyable game!

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

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.
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