Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday, 21 April 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Uxmal

Game: Uxmal

Publisher: Blue Orange Games

Designer: Eloi Pujadas

Year: 2019


Uxmal is a game about to honour your idols. As rival priests, you might pray to different gods, but you can also curse those that other priests are praying to - the favour of the Gods is ever changing.

Uxmal is an abstract strategy game for 2-4 players, published by Blue Orange Games. Blue Orange are known for their family weight games and Uxmal certainly shares that look and feel. All players will be working towards building a 3-dimensional pyramid - formed from plastic tiles, using the box as a base. The appearance is impressive and somewhat toy like, aside from the various shades of brown, but don't be fooled into thinking that Uxmal is a light family game. Looks are certainly deceiving with this mean and tricky abstract.



Gameplay

In Uxmal players will take turns taking one of three actions; placing a new tile onto the pyramid, moving one of their priests, or manipulating the value of idols. The game consists of three rounds each of which last until the next level of the pyramid is built, as the pyramid gets smaller higher up you get less time to prepare for the scoring phase.

Placing a tile is simple, you take a random face down tile and place it in one of the slots of the board. This will cover up 4 spaces below it. If any of those spaces have an icon that matches the icon in the same position on the new tile you placed then you can take 2 cards of that type. Alternatively, if you can create a pair of adjacent icons, then you can take one card of that type. You can only take one type of card per turn so at most you'll get 2 matching cards. Building the pyramid is all well and good, but you'll need to get your priests as high as possible and on the right idols. Instead of adding a new tile you can instead place one of your priests onto the pyramid on any space. In the likely event that the idols that your priest is now standing on become worthless you can instead discard cards to move a priest already on the pyramid to a more favourable location.


At the end of each round, three different idols score based on their position on the favour track. The idols in 1st, 2nd and 3rd place all reward you will points if you have a priest on a matching icon, with greater rewards for the higher up your priest is (though scoring the best idol on the bottom layer is still as good as the worst scoring idol on the top layer). If you need to influence an idol to be worth more points, you can spend cards matching an idol to move it along the track, you'd need 4 matching cards to move an idol all the way from one end to the other, but you could discard less cards for a less major movement. You don't want to spend all your cards doing this though, and you should keep in mind that you could move an idol down the track instead! Any cards that match the idols in 1st and 2nd place will be discarded for bonus points at the end of the round. Once the final level of the pyramid is built there will be a final scoring, with the player with the most points being declared the winner.


Amy’s Final Thoughts

Uxmal is a great example of theme being integrated with design. While the art design is all suitable, the clearly Egyptian priest meeple and the simple fact that you are building a plastic pyramid from through ground up all works wonders to draw you into the theme. Which is good because without any of this then Uxmal would simple be just another abstract. With the exception of drawing new pyramid tiles (which to be fair you do a lot), there is no luck involved in a game of Uxmal, it's all about outplaying your opponents, particularly when playing two-player. The key to doing well is similar to many abstract games, trying to predict your opponent's moves and trying to keep the balance of power in your favour. Building the second last pyramid tile of a round instantly gives your opponent the power to end the round, so you only want to do it if you are ready.

Balancing the value of the idols is a push and pull game in of itself, with the only winner being the player with the largest number of relevant cards. But there has to be a point where you make the choice of whether it's worth fighting tooth and nail or letting it go and saving your cards for a future round. You can't cash in cards for points after having used them all for manipulation after all.


Uxmal has a lot going on in its favor, but there certainly is something holding it back. The favour system works, but is simple. The building of the pyramid is fun, but the symbol matching is hardly advanced gameplay and the placement of priests is often obvious enough that you don't need to move them. and even if you do need to move them you may be better off using your cards to change the favour order instead. While Uxmal contains a lot of choices, few of them feel meaningful and the net production is simple another average game. It won't be the first time I say this: average isn't good enough anymore.


Fi’s Final Thoughts

Uxmal strikes me as a wolf in sheep's clothing. It looks like a family game, it has simple rules like a family game, it's from a well known publisher of family games and yet, it completely bamboozled me. I know how to play the game, but I just cannot seem to get my head around how to play it well. Amy is often better at abstract games - especially at two-players, but Uxmal isn't the king of abstract chess-like game that is normally her forte. It's as though I just can't gain control of the tug of war and I have no power to do anything other than follow Amy's lead or be victim to her cursing the gods. If I struggle with this, then I don't see how I can even think to recommend Uxmal as a family game for all to enjoy.


Yes, the game is simple, but why did I have to guess or infer some of the rules in this really simple game? As a gamer, I know I made the obviously correct rule choices. But a family picking up this game might not be so fortunate.The end of round scoring is laid out in symbology on the score track, but it's a good job, because that's not clear in the rules.

Uxmal does have merits, but most of those are obvious by looking at a photo of the game, rather than actually playing it. It has the table presence that might be people interested to play, and some players might be on a naturally equal footing and have a good game. Those players might, on the other hand, be annoyed that they can't seem to draw the right tiles out of the box lid to enact a strategy. 

As the player at the table who couldn't get her head into the game, Uxmal really made me miserable and unfortunately there's not a lot I can say to redeem this one!


You Might Like...
  • Every part of the game is useful - including both pieces of the box, which really gives the game table presence.
  • Uxmal is super fast to setup and teach.
You Might Not Like...
  • The tug of war of the favour track can feel extremely futile.
  • For a simple game, it really didn't click well for both of us.
  • It's so easy to really destroy someone in this game, which doesn't seem to work well for the family feel.

The Verdict
4/10 Uxmal looks so promising, and it just really didn't deliver for us. It's honestly a pretty deep abstract game hidden behind a young family game exterior. But, your choices are basic and very limited and someone at the table was certainly getting very frustrated over a game that wasn't really worth it! Just because a game is accessible doesn't mean you should introduce it to your loved ones - the pyramid of Uxmal has been deconstructed and put firmly back in its box.


Uxmal was a review copy kindly provided to us by Coiledspring Games.

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