Full disclosure: A review copy of Trial of the Temples was provided by EmperorS4.
Well, I’m trying a new thing now and writing while I’m on an airplane. Mostly because I couldn’t quite sleep and the guy next to me has super broad shoulders. Unfortunate, but, you know, getting the middle seat when you have broad shoulders is a power move, so I have to kind of respect it. Anyways, this is one of the last games in the set that EmperorS4 sent me, so I’m wrapping things up with these friends just in time to be behind the power curve for next year. Let’s launch right into it!
In Trial of the Temples, the world that was falling apart in Realm of Sand didn’t end, so, that’s a bonus. Now, you must compete to become the Supreme Master among Archmages by completing trials in three temples located conveniently at the center of the world. You’ll have to choose wisely, as cooperation is the only way to complete the trials, but give your opponents too much and they’ll just as surely leave you behind. Will you be able to balance these trials?
First, place the Trial Boards in a Red->Blue->Yellow clockwise configuration:
Next, live my best life and make a circle of Temple Tiles around the center board; these should all be on the Day Side, but since we’re friends I’ll show you the night side as well:
Pretty. Place the spell cores on their corresponding-color Trial Board; the purple ones can go in the center:
You’ll want to remove some at lower player counts:
- 2 players: Remove 2 of each Spell Core.
- 3 players: Remove 1 of each Spell Core.
- 4 players: Use all of them.
Choose a Temple Tile randomly and place the Day-and-Night Tile on it, to serve as the boundary between darkness and light or something:
Shuffle the 6 round tiles and make a pile of them:
Then, set aside the crystals:
And the Action Tokens:
Give each player their Archmage figure:
And a player board:
They all give you bonus starting resources, which is nice. Finally, give each player four player tokens in their color:
Three of these go on the starting space of each of the Trial Boards; the fourth goes on the 0 space on your Mana Track on your player board (unless you have the Player Mat that gives you starting Mana, of course).
You should be ready to start!
Trial of the Temples is all about the trials, as you might guess. As you complete tasks, you gain victory points. The player with the most VP at the end of the game, wins! Not much more to tell.
The game plays over five rounds, with each round proceeding much the same. During the first round, though, you’ll modify the Day-and-Night Phase.
During this phase, reveal a Round Token for this round. In every round but Round 1, move the Day-and-Night Tile that many spaces clockwise, and then flip everything back to Day. Then, flip that many tiles to the left to Night. In Round 1, don’t move the Tile, but do everything else.
This is pretty easy, thankfully. Each player places their Archmage token on any one Temple tile. You may place anywhere except the Day-and-Night Tile with one restriction: No Archmage may ever have two other Archmages directly adjacent to them. This prevents too much sadness.
Now, the current starting player takes resources as follows. Every tile has Main Resources (top-left) and Linked Resources (bottom). Each player gets the Main Resources for the tile their Archmage is on, and they get the Linked Resources for every unoccupied tile to their left and right until they hit another player’s Archmage or the Barrier (you get the resources on your side of the barrier). This may take a few tries to get right.
- If you only gained resources from two tiles, gain 4 Mana.
- If you only gained resources from three tiles, gain 2 Mana.
Now, the Trial Phase. This is the most intense part of the game. Each player goes in turn order starting with the new Starting Player (decided during the Resource Phase). In that order, you may spend an Action Token to attempt a Trial at one of the temples. You may spend crystals pictured on spaces to advance to them. You may only move to the next available space, but this does allow you to skip over other players. If you do, they gain 1 Mana. You may only move up to 3 spaces per Trial Action, but you may attempt a Trial at the same temple multiple times in one round, if you have enough Action Tokens.
If you pass by or land on a space with a Spell Core, take it and immediately add it to your mat. If no more Spell Cores of that color remain, take a purple Spell Core. If no more purple Spell Cores remain, take 2 Mana.
If you cannot or do not want to continue, you may Rest. When you Rest, you are no longer in the Trial Phase and are skipped for the remainder of it. Take back your Archmage meeple and return your excess crystals and Action Tokens to the supply. For each thing returned this way, gain 1 Mana. Certain Spells on your Player Board allow you to store additional crystals between rounds.
You may also, as a free action, Convert:
- Spend 2 Mana to gain 1 Action Token
- Spend 4 Mana to gain 1 crystal in the color of your choice.
- Spend 1 Action Token or 1 crystal to gain 1 Mana.
Once every player has rested, the round ends and the next round begins.
End of Game
The game ends at the end of the 5th round, if two Trial Tracks have player markers on the last space, or if all the purple Spell Cores are depleted. The player with the most Victory Points wins!
The two-player variant is fairly intense. Instead of playing with just two players, you add a few more setup components:
- Gain 2 Mana.
- Take one of the unused Archmages. This color will be your “clone”.
- Place 3 player markers of the unused colors on the starting space of each Trial Track. Place the fourth next to the round tokens. One should be near the top; the other should be near the bottom.
Now, some changes:
- During the Day-and-Night Phase, there will be icons on the Round Tile that indicate that the Neutral Markers should move. Sometimes they move to the next Scoring Space; sometimes they move to the next Spell Core Reward Space. If your token gets skipped over, you gain 1 Mana.
- During the Temple Phase, you may place your Archmage or your Clone, on your turn.
- During the Resource Phase, you may collect Resources with your Archmage or your Clone, but not both. If you collect with your Clone, you must pay 2 Mana.
- Instead of passing the Starting Player Token to the player closest to the night side barrier, just pass it to your opponent at the end of the round.
Beyond that, play normally!
Player Count Differences
I mean, the more players, the more resource divisions that there are going to be. You’ll likely pull fewer resources than you would in a three-player game, for that reason, but, it may not matter as much; more players means more players occupying spaces means it’s easier to jump around and grab what you want. Just watch out for how much mana you’re giving your opponents! The biggest difference as far as I can tell is at the lower end of the player count spectrum; at two, you can play either the generic game or the clone game, which I like much better; it feels like it adds a heightened level of strategy. Beyond that, I think I like this game at the 2 – 3 range; the variant is very interesting and I don’t really want the extra noise a fourth player would bring, personally. I tend to prefer games at lower player counts, though, so your personal mileage may vary. That said, I do like how at four you need to acquire fewer resources, so, see what ends up working for your play style.
- Don’t neglect any particular type of resource. I find a lot of players forgetting to get purple crystals and then getting sandbagged almost immediately. You don’t want to have multiple rounds where you end up turning in a ton of crystals for Mana; it’s extremely wasteful and you only get to play 5 times, maximum. If you squander those opportunities, you’ll lose for sure.
- Remember your Sudoku rules. This mostly concerns the player board; you should endeavor not to leave yourself in positions where you cannot place the Spell Core you need to gain a certain bonus (or a certain extra scoring component). If you do, then you might miss out on a really useful benefit and you won’t get the points; it’s twice as bad. Just try to plan ahead and make sure you’re leaving yourself options where possible.
- Get yourself abilities now that you expect to pay off in the future. The best of these are the spells that double your resource gain once per round; these can very quickly let you turn a potentially bad turn into a much-less-bad turn by virtue of having the extra crystals (or the 2 Mana when you gain an Action Token); they let you stay a bit more flexible.
- It’s not the worst idea to let other players go through the more expensive zones first. There’s no real benefit to getting to a spot first; in fact, it may not be that helpful because it may require you to spend crystals you only have in short supply. Letting another player plop onto that spot means that you can potentially jump them if you have access to different resources, so, it might be worth it to let them have it.
- It’s also not a bad idea to let other players take some of the Spell Cores. You eventually are gonna want some of those Purple Cores, so, why not let other players start working down the stack for you? Just make sure you don’t let too many of a color you need get snatched up, otherwise you’re definitely going to miss out on that four-point bonus.
- Don’t start yourself off in the middle. This lets players go really close to you, which will likely result in you not getting too many resources. Instead, leave a small gap to one side and a wide gap to the other. At least, this is how I might handle a three-player game.
- It may be worth losing one or two early resources to go after some Spell Cores. Just pop yourself onto that Temple Tile and secure it; it’ll likely be worth it in the long run.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I mean, it’s really pretty. No reason to suspect otherwise, on this one; EmperorS4 has consistently been producing really beautiful games, and Trial of the Temples, like Mystery of the Temples and Realm of Sand before it, is extremely beautiful. Very colorful, very ornate; the whole thing is just a really impressive-looking game. Great for gamers who like artsy stuff, which is me because I want to pretend that I’m classy.
- The I-cut-you-choose mechanic has never particularly interested me, but I like it in this one. Yeah, I’m not really sure why it never interested me that much, but, add some circles to it and suddenly I’m sold? I’m not really sure why, but I remember it working for New York Slice, a game that I definitely have a ready-to-publish review for that I’m going to publish eventually. Yup. In this one, though, I think it’s because there’s also the resource puzzle and player board puzzle to crack, which is cool.
- The two-player variant is pretty cool, as well. Trying to manage the neutral markers and the clones is much harder than you’d expect. It’s particularly entertaining to watch your opponent get really close to the final space on a Trial Track only for the neutral marker to swoop in and block them. It’s a lot less funny when it happens to you, though.
- I appreciate the puzzle of getting your player boards to execute how you’d like. It feels almost like variable player powers, but it’s more of a skill tree sort-of-thing. It means you have a lot of control over your progression through the game, and players will likely gravitate towards abilities that mesh well with their play style. Which is cool!
- I appreciate that there are multiple tracks for progression as well. It lets players specialize a bit, which may be helpful. I really like the ability to jump other players’ pieces, though; it’s a very sharp catch-up mechanic since it penalizes players who try to pull ahead by making their paths a lot more expensive. I’m vey into it.
- Definitely some times where “split it all evenly” is going to be a pretty good option. It’s not the worst thing, but it’s also not terribly exciting, as far as a gameplay option goes.
- Having to flip all the tiles every round is kind of a pain. Definitely share the load on that one; it gets irritating kind of quickly.
- The basic two-player game isn’t terribly interesting. You essentially divide the board in half and the other player chooses what half they want. We tried it; it was fine. The alternate two-player mode is a lot more interesting, if you’re asking someone who plays a lot of 2P games.
- Vulnerable to dogpiling at higher player counts. You can really get into another player’s business if you keep surrounding them with Archmages. They’ll still get a few resources (and a bunch of Mana), but it will likely be possible to really annoy them.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I think Trial of the Temples is solidly fun! I wouldn’t necessarily say I was blown away by it to the same degree as I was for Realm of Sand or Mystery of the Temples, but I suspect that’s partially because, yeah, I don’t really like I-cut-you-choose games altogether that much, in my experience. I’ve got another one next week that, like, I enjoyed playing, but was I particularly excited about? Not really. And that’s fine! Not my particular genre. I can tell you what I liked about this game, though, is that it all felt fairly novel; using it as a generator for resources that you have to spend to move along certain tracks makes the game feel a bit more progress-based, but adding in the Spell Core board to unlock abilities is a really nice way to make players feel like they’re accomplishing things. I mean, I’m always a sucker for skills, and I feel like the game helps you get the ones that are most important to your strategy. That’s nice! It’s also got really nice table presence and overall is just very visually striking, as one would expect from a game with Maisherly’s hand in the art. Plus, like most games I really like, it’s got that whole circle-thing going on, and I’m always a fan of that. The two-player variant is also particularly interesting, which is nice; I know I-cut-you-choose games tend to be lackluster at two, since, hard to cut and choose well. If you’re a fan of the genre, though, I suspect you’ll really like this game; even then, it’s a very interesting title, and if you’re looking for a challenge, I think Trial of the Temples is worth checking out!