Full disclosure: A preview copy of P’achakuna was provided by Treeceratops. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. Also, while I don’t charge for Kickstarter previews, the publisher was charged a rush fee due to the tight timeline they needed the review completed in.
So this is how the story always plays out: I tell y’all I’m slowing down the Kickstarter pipeline, you sagely nod and say “this man is lying to himself and us”, and then I see a cool-looking game and say “I should probably preview that game”. And here we are, on the cusp of that event happening once again. An auspicious time, made only moreso by the foreknowledge that Macaron is happening in a couple weeks, and I assume I’ll have at least one in January. But December, y’all; that month might be Kickstarter-free. Who knows. Anyways, before I talk myself out of it, let’s get to P’achakuna and see how it plays.
In P’achakuna, you find yourself making trade across the mountains and valleys of Peru and Bolivia, distributing resources to villages all around. To help you, you have your favorite pack animal, the faithful llama. Unfortunately, you’ve received word of a rival emerging to out-trade you. The reason you’ve not noticed this person is that they’ve always stayed out of sight: if you’re on the mountains, they’re in the valleys, and vice versa. It’s very frustrating, but you should be able to still pull through. They even have their own llamas! Very disconcerting. Will you be able to make the necessary trades to ensure your success, or will this bout of llama drama bring you down?
Probably the easiest thing to do first is to lay out the board … assembly plan?
Put the frame pieces on top of that:
And then add the tiles on top of that. You’ll note they’re double-layered, which is cool!
There are seven villages; draw a Demand from the bag for each of them:
No village (right now) may have a white Demand, and no village may have a top or bottom demand that matches its color.
Set the resources aside as a stockpile:
Give each player a llama:
Place the other two in each color nearby, and the players place their llamas on the village. One player will play the Valleys, the other will play the Mountains; the Mountain player always goes second and takes a gray resource into their personal supply.
If you’ve done all that, you should be good to go!
So the nice thing about P’achakuna is that it’s a bit of an abstract strategy game with some pick-up-and-deliver elements. This gives us a slight advantage; the rules aren’t very long. Your goal is to collect one resource of every color; when you do, you immediately win!
On your turn, you do the following actions:
To begin a turn, a player may rotate one tile of their choice as much as they would like. There are two restrictions:
- You may not rotate a tile with a llama on it.
- You may not rotate a tile that your opponent rotated on their turn.
If you would like, you may spend two of your resources to rotate a second tile. It’s not exactly clear if you may perform additional rotations, should you have enough resources.
Next, you must move each of your llamas at least one Terrain tile (so that they do not end up on the same tile that they started on). Your llamas may move only on the path you chose at the start of the game (mountains or valleys), and they must move in an uninterrupted path. If they would pass through a village, they must stop at that village.
After moving a llama to a village, you may trade the resource it is holding. That follows one of three cases:
- Held resource matches neither Demand: Put the resource back in the general supply.
- Held resource matches bottom Demand: Take the resource and place it in your personal supply.
- Held resource matches top Demand: Take the resource and place it in your personal supply. Also, take another resource of the same color.
No matter what, the Demand is removed immediately after a sale, so you may not sell to the same village twice in one turn. A removed Demand is removed from the game and set aside.
Resources gained are placed in your personal Supply; if you haven’t gained that resource before (and it isn’t gray), you should place it in one of the seven slots. You may still spend from those slots if you’d really like to.
If gaining resources has now put you at four or more, you may spend four resources of your choice to buy a llama, and add it to the village you just landed on.
Any villages without a Demand now get one from the supply; also, any llamas on villages that don’t have a resource now gain a resource of that village’s color.
End of Game
Once you’ve gotten the seventh unique resource, you win!
Player Count Differences
None! Exclusively plays two players.
- I’m not entirely convinced that blocking your opponent is your best move. At least, I don’t think spending your rotation action to seal off one of their paths is particularly useful unless doing so also opens up a path for you. It may stall them a bit since they can’t undo one of your moves on their turn, but I’m not sure long-term it’s a good investment if you’re getting nothing out of it (unless you are sure they’ll win on their next turn, in which case, sure, delay them).
- Getting another llama early is pretty clutch. If you have the right pathways set up, it really helps you get twice as much momentum toward completing goals and getting additional resources. If you find that only doing one rotation per turn is stymying you, then consider having your other llama run back and forth on already-established paths to gain resources so that you can set yourself up to always do a second rotation each turn.
- The third llama is a solid blocker, but unless you’re playing an aggressive game it’s honestly hard to keep track of what to do with it. I usually just try to leave it on tiles that my opponent may want to rotate on their next turn (since I have to move it at least once). That way, they can’t necessarily undo a critical part of my infrastructure.
- Having a strict group of villages you can easily access is also good. Like I said, this gives some of your other llamas things to do, since they can now roam to villages and try to collect extra resources for you. You can also sabotage an opponent eying one of those Demands before they can get there. Just make sure you don’t accidentally give them an even better option!
- Relying on a bit of luck isn’t a bad idea. Sometimes you can get really lucky on a flip and the Demand that is added to a Village is exactly the Demand that meshes with a resource you have. Especially early on, you have a slightly higher chance of drawing a white Demand out of the bag (since none have been played yet). Naturally, that same luck can mess you up if it ends up revealing a higher-value Demand for your opponent. Be careful!
- Following the start player to their village is a solid plan if you can luck out on the Demand flip. If you get a White demand, you’re in business (since your llama starts with a white resource). That’s super helpful and it happened to me, so, I recommend at least trying for it. Plus it will irritate your opponent if you get lucky, and that’s a cheap way to throw them off their game. Every game’s a mind game if you’re doing your best.
- Towards the end of the game, make sure you’ve got enough resources to clear your path to victory. This is pretty crucial; you don’t want to have to wait another turn to do another rotation to get to where you need to go; that’s a prime opportunity for your opponent to snake you.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I really like the theme! Llamas are great in basically any game, so, I’m very happy to see them being put to use in this one. Plus they’re very cute.
- I’m also a sucker for double-layered tiles. Double-layered anything, really. I love it on boards, player boards, tiles; it just makes the game have a really interesting 3D texture to it.
- The tension between the valley player and the mountain player is really cool, and it makes for a very visually striking game. You are really competing on the same board, but given the different paths and the fact that you both split every tile, it’s a really interesting visual experience. Not to harp even more on the double-layer thing, but it really does give the game nice table presence. I like that you never really walk on the same paths. It makes movement into a bit of a zero-sum game, and in two-player games, I really like that push and pull.
- It’s also a fairly abstract game, and I’m into that and path-building, so it really lands well for me. The pick-up-and-deliver elements are fine in service of giving the game a racing component, but I really like trying to create viable multi-village pathways and seeing how long I can do that before my opponent shuts me down. At its core, though, I’m very satisfied by how interesting the path-building competition is, and that helps the game land for me.
- I do like the variable Demands. I think they cause some other problems just around luck, but I like that your pathway through the board and the villages isn’t always determined. Keeps each game pretty fresh!
- It can occasionally be hard to remove some tiles without really destabilizing the landscape. This is kind of the problem that Tsuro and other “multiple tiles all sitting next to each other” games can have. Phoenix Rising fixed it a bit by having a board for the tiles to sit in; maybe they’ll consider something for this one too? Otherwise, things are kind of hard to fit back in every time.
- The “redraw Demands until the color doesn’t match” feels a little inelegant. For a given Village, there’s a (roughly) 1 / 7 chance it needs to be redrawn for having the matching color, which can be a bit frustrating since that’s not a particularly low probability. There’s not really much that can be done for this, but it’s unfortunate.
- A particularly lucky draw can lead to a big swing for players. Games can be won or lost on some of those, especially if the Village has the demand you need to win the game and it’s accessible to you (or you get a huge boost at the start of the game that lets you get your second llama way ahead of your opponent).
- If you’re particularly behind, there’s not always much of a way for you to recover. That’s the name of the game, sometimes, but if your opponent gets a lucky draw and a second llama straight away and you can’t catch up, it can be kind of frustrating. There’s not a whole lot you can do to control for that, either, beyond trying to go to a village where they can’t quickly follow you to get a leg up? I think this would be less of a problem if the game were a bit shorter.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I think P’achakuna is quite fun! I think it’s likely clear from me mentioning it routinely, but the real selling point for me in this game is how cool the tiles and the path-building mechanic is. You literally cannot make a path for yourself without blocking your opponent, which means that games may be no-holds-barred slugfests to get anywhere, or they might be white-knuckle sprints to the finish, depending on whether or not your opponent interacts with tiles you’re using frequently. It’s possible that they won’t! Either way can happen, and that’s pretty cool, to me. I do wish there were some way to mitigate early luck with the Demands, but, if someone can capitalize on them I suppose that’s just how the game goes, sometimes. This may make learning games tough if you’re teaching a new player who isn’t familiar with the flow of play, so I’d probably recommend putting this in your category of games you let two new players learn (it’s a very useful category). Beyond that, though, I think the game really makes a case for itself in terms of table presence. It’s bright, colorful, and has a really nice look to it. And it comes with little llama meeples, which, delightful. I think if you’re a big fan of spatial reasoning games, pick-up-and-deliver games, or games that focus on path-building, then P’achakuna might be something that interests you, but either way, I’ve had a lot of fun with it!