Full disclosure: A review copy of Founders of Teotihuacan was provided by Board & Dice.
It’s always exciting to try a game from a publisher I’ve never worked with before, just because a lot of publishers have a distinct feel to the games in their library. A new publisher is often an opportunity to see a new type of game that I haven’t necessarily gotten to experience before. Might give me a new challenge in terms of reviewing. This one certainly did, so that’s been fun. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s dig into Founders of Teotihuacan!
In Founders of Teotihuacan, players take on the role of designing one of the great cities of ancient Mesoamerica. As Architects, players will circle the city, constructing resource-generating locations, building temples, and laying the foundations for the great pyramid at the heart of their imagining of Teotihuacan. The challenge is, time and strength are both limited, and must be spent in equal measure to accomplish certain tasks. Additionally, as your Architect circles your player board, you’re limited to placing tiles in the half of the board that is closest to it. Your Architect’s Reach is going to be one of your biggest constraints as you build, spend, and build again. Each of the three major Build and Influence actions can help you, but you’ll have to spend from your limited Action Token supply to use those actions. The more tokens you spend, the better tiles you can build. But be careful! Your opponents can often piggyback off of your tokens after you’ve taken your turn, as well. Finally, covering specific spaces on your boards can earn you masks, helping you get even more points. Once the eclipse occurs, play ends, and players tally up their scores to see who among them is the greatest Founder of all. Will it be you?
Player Count Differences
Oh, Founders plays pretty considerably differently at different player counts. For one, you have fewer Bonus Tokens available at lower player counts, which means that certain bonuses may be entirely unavailable in certain rounds. I suppose that’s better than your opponent getting it before you, but, that sort of luck can work against you just as often as it works in your favor. At higher player counts, you do enjoy the benefits of players preemptively creating stacks of tokens for you, so you can pretty effectively piggyback their choices to get similar actions, if you want. The tiles don’t completely scale with player count, though, so it might be worth getting in there sooner rather than later if you want to be able to get certain high-value pieces. Beyond that, there’s not a ton of player interaction; most of it happens in the market, which can be pretty volatile at any player count. I slightly prefer dealing with two players so that I have a better shot at getting what I want, and slightly prefer higher player counts so that there are more players helping build up my future successes. To that end, I wouldn’t say that I prefer Founders at any particular player count; there are good things about all of them!
- Keep an eye on your Architect’s starting position and how that influences which Pyramid tiles you’ll be able to place later. You can choose where your starting Pyramid tiles go, so thinking about how to set yourself up early might be a good idea. Do you place them all in one corner, so you can immediately build a second level? Maybe! You might instead want to go for things that will get you a bunch of resources so that you can afford the later Pyramid tiles. It’s worth looking at those things and where your Architect starts.
- Getting some early Gold can really help you grab a bunch of things, since you can use two Gold as any other resource. I tend to go for early Gold, just because then I can buy additional Temple and Pyramid tiles. If I only go after Stone, for instance, then I’m ultimately stuck. Your resources are decently limited over the course of the game, so an early placement of Gold is also likely going to be the best placement you’re going to get, in terms of resources.
- The Bonus token that gives you +1 Action Strength can be really handy if you want to save on using your Action Tokens. I usually go for those first; they’re worth the investment (and they’re also useful ways to block your opponents getting that bonus). If I place one token on that Bonus token, I immediately get to act with 3 Action Strength, which can be enough to get a decent deal on a Pyramid tile, for instance. It also gets you most of the Resource tiles (you can’t afford the size 4s, naturally), so it’s worth considering.
- Don’t just wipe yourself out on Action Tokens straight away. It can be tempting (and there are some circumstances where it’s justified), but if you run out of Action Tokens to quickly, you risk both giving your opponents decent placement options atop the stack you just made and also just giving them a lot more time to slow-roll their actions. Try to maximize your participation in the round, especially since you’ll always get fewer tokens each subsequent round.
- Keep in mind that Worship Tiles must be activated; you might be able to chain some together. If a Worship Tile gives you a free Influence Action, you can use that to activate another, and so on and so forth. That can be pretty handy. Plus, you can finish up by activating a Worship Tile for big points, if you have the right ones. If you don’t, it may be worth using a Favor Action (which gives you points and lets you swap a Worship Tile out).
- Handily, if you ARE going to blow through a bunch of Action Tokens, the Bonus token that lets you take a double Build action with the same Action Strength may be worth using. This is one of the few times I’d recommend that. If you drop two tokens on there, you get two actions with Build Strength 3, which can be pretty useful.
- Since Temple Tiles don’t generate resources, they’re usually an excellent way to cover Mask Spaces. Covering Mask Spaces with resource-generating tiles can be a bit of a bummer, since they’re usually close to the edges of the board, meaning you have to trade resources for points. With Temple Tiles, no such issue. You can safely drop them wherever.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I really think the bonus tokens are an incredibly clever way to mix up and reward action selection. I like that they incentivize players being first to do something, which then creates a tension: do you want to be first and have to spend more of your tokens, or do you want to take an action that has reduced efficacy? Both are interesting options, and then there’s the consideration of taking an action to make sure that your opponent can’t take it. I like that these bonus tokens allow for all of those challenges to exist simultaneously.
- Action strength is a really interesting mechanic, especially in how it influences resource costs. Spending turns to do a more powerful action is always interesting, and I really like how it plays out, here. It’s a good mechanic.
- Building the pyramid is pretty fun, especially when players are all playing on Side B of the player boards and have their own rewards. I particularly enjoy the challenge of trying to get the Temple Tiles of the color(s) you want to score the various pieces of the pyramid later in the game. There’s a lot of good planning and rewards and incentives for the various interweaving aspects of the game around the pyramid, and the game feels very cohesive, as a result of that care.
- I also really like both the Architect’s Reach as a mechanic and the limitations it creates. It’s nice to have a quadrant of the board that you really don’t see again for a while. It gives your actions a weight that you have to take seriously, as a player. You’re obviously resource-constrained throughout the game, but time as a constraining factor is a powerful thing to play with, game-wise, and players really gain an appreciation for that.
- The game gets tough, especially since you have progressively fewer action tokens each round. By the final round, the game is HARD. You want to do the most, you have too many things going on, and you don’t have a lot of available spaces on the board to your name. That final round tension is immensely satisfying as a player, even if it feels pretty awful in the moment because a bunch of your best-laid plans are not going to come to fruition.
- I really like the resource production aspect of the game, as well; I haven’t seen many games care about the spatial component of that, and it’s cool. It makes where you place your tiles in relation to each other matter a lot, as you can very quickly junk up an entire district, if you’re not careful. I also appreciate that you can spend resources from anywhere on your board, when you need them.
- The player token colors are really pleasant, as well. Not really sure why, but I like them a lot! There’s a magenta / fuschia token set that’s just very pleasant. I’m a bit sick of red / blue / green / yellow in games, so mixing it up a bit is always appreciated.
- I kind of respect that the Mask Spaces are in the most annoying locations possible. It’s difficult to place tiles well on those spaces, which adds its own fun, irritating challenge. My respect for them is purely begrudging, but it’s present.
- I got sent extra tokens to accommodate a four-player game, and them being gently different colors is slightly frustrating. You can tell in the photos, but that’s okay. They’re functional, they just have slightly different base colors.
- You’re gonna forget to move your Architect at least once. Stay vigilant. This happens to literally everyone, to the point where they specifically mention in the rulebook that you should be keeping an eye on it during other players’ turns to help them remember. It’s just one of those things that you’re likely to forget during the game.
- The rulebook was a bit dense, for me. I think I ended up missing a few things here and there in my first play, as a result. I’m not totally sure what the problem was, though a bit extra line spacing would go a long way to improving readability, along with not using a textured background for the pages. The texture ended up making some of the text harder to read, which wasn’t great.
- For a game that’s mostly tiles to punch out, not including any bags or organizational help of any kind kind of sucked. Honestly, this was my biggest problem with the game. I was teaching this at my office, so I didn’t have my Bag O’ Bags with me, and I ended up having to open an entirely different game and plumb it for bags so that I didn’t just dump all the tiles loose into the box. It was a very frustrating experience, as a player? I get that there’s an entire business for third-party storage solutions, but especially for tile-heavy games, there should be at least something to help keep the tiles organized.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I think Founders of Teotihuacan is pretty fun! This is, intriguingly, one of the places where I think that scoring games in reviews doesn’t really … work, though. I worry some will take from this review that I think Founders is a less “good” game than I actually think it is. I had a chance to talk to one of my good buddies on the content side about Founders for a while (shoutout to the always-knowledgable Ruel Gaviola), and it really helped me figure out how I felt about it. I think that the reason I’m less enthusiastic about Founders than other games is its weight. There’s a comfortable gaming zone that I’m in, in terms of game complexity, and anything more complex than my personal median I tend to think of as a “heavy” game. Founders isn’t intended to be a “heavy” game, but it’s more complex than my personal median for games. So, this means that Founders isn’t necessarily the kind of game I’d want to sit down and play after work, which diminishes its utility a bit, for me. Even then, though, there are a lot of interesting features of the game that I think are pretty great, from the concept of Architect’s Reach limiting where you can build to really the entire concept of Action Strength determining what pieces you can take and how many resources you have to pay for them. I think Founders is a very clever game, and there’s a very large group of board gamers who will absolutely love it. I do see it as a bit more complex than I’m up to play, regularly, though, so I probably won’t return to it frequently. That said, I also tend to skew a bit lighter, so different strokes. If you’re looking for a highly-strategic and challenging tile-laying game that will make you think, though, I think you should consider checking out Founders of Teotihuacan! It’s a very cool game.
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