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.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Wednesday 14 October 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun

Game: Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun

Designer: Daniele Tascini, Dávid Turczi

Publisher: Board & Dice

Year: 2020

If you enjoy heavy euro games, then you will have been hard pushed not to notice the series of games that seems to be never ending from designer Daniele Tascini and publisher Board & Dice. Teotihuacan was first on the scene, and much loved, then it was Trismegistus which didn't seem together the same enthusiastic response. Tekhenu is the third game beginning with the letter T to hit our table, with a fourth following later this year. We don't find a huge amount of time for longer games and so Teotihuacan is a game we played once, loved and purchased and have not played since, and we followed the crowd on Trismegistus, enjoying the game somewhat, but deciding it did not need a space on our shelves.

Board & Dice got us excited for Tekhenu quite early by releasing a print and play roll and write game as a teaser, which is still available on their web store. We enjoyed that quite a bit and are still excited to see how much Daniele Tascini can melt our brains with just a few super important dice drafting decisions over the course of a game. Tekhenu is, once again, a game where every dice counts and every dice has a huge amount of different meanings in its number, colour and position on the board. If you too are looking to melt your brain in the blazing sun of ancient Egypt, then let's try to explain the gameplay of Tekhenu.


On each turn of Tekhenu you will take a single die and perform a corresponding action. Each die can be used in several ways, either by performing the god action that the die relates to, or by generating resources. Either way, the die is almost always adjusted in power or performance based on its location, colour and number showing on it, with larger numbers typically performing bigger actions. The dice all encircle a giant obelisk, which rotates as the game goes on - every time it does the dice are moved based on their colour and the "shadow" around the obelisk. If a dark die is in a light section then it is not currently available, mid-coloured dice and light dice are both available, but the mid tones are impure and the light tones are pure. This purity is used to determine player order, impure dice taint your soul, while pure dice purify it, but the aim is not purity, but perfect balance.

Tekhenu is a game with a fixed number of turns and rounds, but the way these are organised really warrants a good player aid! In essence once everyone has claimed 2 dice they obelisk rotates and new dice are rolled and added. Then once everyone has 4 dice the obelisk rotates again and each player assess their purity, changing the turn order. Player's dice are then placed back in the bag and everything repeats until each player has 4 dice again. At this point, as expected, the obelisk rotates, purity is assessed, dice are returned, but there is also a scoring round. With most sections of the board able to provide you points in unique ways. This whole procedure then repeats again for the final scoring. So in total you'll be taking just 16 dice over the course of the game, so each action has to be useful.

Trying to explain every single action would be folly, as Tekhenu is a smorgasbord of options, each with very different rules. In brief, you can build statues to get free actions when opponents take certain actions, you can build houses to gather resources from the temple, or build columns in the temple to get points from houses and other columns. Building houses raises your population, but you also can raise your population's happiness which unlocks more choice of action cards. These cards come in three forms, end game scoring cards (which are only available in the higher unlock tiers), instant one off effects and ongoing technologies. Finally, you can build work buildings which allow you to generate more resources with any single die, however the working citizen will cost you happiness. Almost all of these actions can earn you points in some way, so it's up to you to generate as much as you can before you take that 16th die and end the game.

Amy's Final Thoughts

Tekhenu is a game of choice, or to be more precise, limited choice. At any one point there are a plethora of dice around the obelisk, but once you start considering that some are blocked, some are colours you don't want or in gods that you don't desire to activate, or even affect your spiritual purity in a way that's inconvenient, then you'll soon find that your choices have a lot of weight behind them. This mounting choice isn't helped by the complexity of the game, each of the gods has their own unique way of activating and the on board player aides only do so much to remind you. Tekhenu was not an easy game to learn, but was it worth the effort?

In a word, yes. Tekhenu has a lot going for it. The point salad nature means that it's possible to try different things every game without feeling like you know the one way to win. The technology cards are varied, but powerful, encouraging you to behave certain ways in order to make the most of them. Almost every element of luck in the game can be circumnavigated with enough effort, so even when the dice hate you there is a way to get that action you desperately need done. Conversely, there is so much to do that you have to constantly assess which is the best action to take, with low numbers generally giving weaker rewards, is it worth taking a low number in a section you care about, or should you take a higher die for a god that's less integral to your strategy?

While all this choice may feel overwhelming at times, the unusual nature of the game actually helps guide you, the fact that you want your dice to be balanced (or at least veering towards pure) at the end of every 4 rounds means you'll almost always be making decisions with that in mind. Being impure comes with negative point penalties which you naturally want to avoid for all but the best plays. While every decision matters, they aren't usually paralysing, which creates an enjoyable balance.

However that's not to say that Tekhenu is my perfect game. Understanding the symbology may be possible, but it sure as heck is more painful than it should be. I understand pulling the theme into every card helps sell the game, but I'll be damned if I can associate the face of an Egyptian god with a name correctly every time. Generally the symbology works in the way that once you know what it is meant to mean it becomes obvious, so sure, after tens of plays you will be able to read everything instinctively. But ask yourself how many game son your shelf have 10+ plays? At its worst Tekhenu can feel clunky and thematically dry, though not for lack of trying. It's odd, with so much theme added on to every card and player board how does the theme not pull through? Well because ultimately 75% of your focus is on the generic D6s that determine what plays you can make. There's little thematic about pips on a cube.

With all that said Tekhenu is still an extremely solid game. Once you've learned it and understood the nuance and scoring of every section of the board you start seeing the game click together like puzzle pieces. I'd strongly recommend giving this game a go before buying, particularly if you have a friend who can teach you it and save you from the rulebook.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Tekhenu is a feat of dice drafting goodness. You'll only draft 16 dice over the course of the game, but each dice has so many meanings. The dice's colour can be relevant if you want to use it for gaining resources. However, the colour will also determine whether it goes on the good or evil side of your balancing scales. The number will determine the power of your action and different numbers will be important depending on exactly how you want to take that action - you might only want a small amount of actions or the specific action associated with a low number. 

With so much going on, it might sound a little overwhelming, but what I enjoy most about Tekhenu is the number of signposts you're given along the way to guide your decision. If it's your third or fourth dice draft and your scales are unbalanced then you can focus in on perhaps one or two dice that might help solve the problem. If you're looking to add a tile to the temple complex you might want to see where the obelisks shadow is falling and pick your tile accordingly, which will dictate the dice number you need too. Your end game scoring cards will also give you some focus for the game. I love that Tekhenu offers you a point salad and some tips on exactly how to eat it.

When I sit down to play Tekhenu, I'm completely engrossed in the mission to squeeze as many points out of the game as possible. With two players it's surprisingly fast for a big crunchy euro game, but it feels like no time at all has passed, even though an hour has gone by. No matter how much I enjoy playing the game though, it just isn't screaming at me to play it again. I've noticed that each time I play, most roads tend to lead me to the temple complex in the top right of the board, even though I find it the hardest part of scoring to get my head around. Perhaps I've got myself stuck in a particular strategy and perhaps there's an element of the statue strategy feeling weaker in a two player game, but I don't feel excited to play again because it feels like I've already had the experience. Overall, I can't deny that I love playing Tekhenu, I'll say yes every time it's offered up, but I'd be happy if that's only every once in a while.

You Might Like...
  • There is a 'mini-game' feel to the game which makes it quite easy to develop and try out new strategies each game.
  • End game scoring cards help to define your strategy, while the need to balance your scales help guide you from turn to turn - making the game smooth and simple to play.
  • Tekhenu is another masterclass in dice drafting where a simple D6 can mean so many things.
You Might Not Like...
  • Every decision is critical, so this might not be a game to play with AP prone players.
  • While the game tries to tie together theme and mechanics, the theme is a bit too dry to grab me and make me want to play again.

The Verdict 
8/10 Tekhenu manages to be a game we really enjoy playing but just don't have the desire to pull down from the shelf. The experience of playing the game is surprisingly quick and extremely satisfying, but simply not a memorable one. I will always gladly play a game of Tekhenu, I just doubt I'll be the one to suggest it. Once you've learnt or been taught the game, it's probably the lightest of this series of games so far and I can see it going over well will a range of medium and heavy gamers, so long as you're not looking for an abundance of theme.

Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun was a review copy kindly provided to us by Board & Dice.

No comments:

Post a Comment