Over the past decade or so, Boards and Dice have published a number of games designed by Daniele Tascini and/or Dávid Turczi (sometimes together or with other co-designers). Most of which begin with the letter T—T’zolkin, Teotihuacan, Trismegistus, and this year Tekhenu and Tawantinsuyu.
Honestly, the number of T-named medium to heavy euros have been both impressive and somewhat difficult to keep straight. Today we are digging into Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun, which is among the least heavy in the series.
Note: This review was written before Tascini’s racist comments were made public. There is no place for racism in board gaming and I strongly encourage all readers to read his original comments and his subsequent apologies and use that information as well when deciding if purchasing this game is for you.
To say that it’s the lightest of the series doesn’t make it light of course. So while the overview can’t get into all the rules, I’ll try to highlight the basics. In general, each turn you’ll draft a die from one of the six sections around the obelisk.
Dice colors—black, white, grey, yellow, and brown—generally correspond to one of the resources in the game. If you select a white die, you can use it to produce limestone, black can produce granite, etc… The grey dice don’t correspond to any resource at all.
This means, of course, you don’t have to spend your turn producing resources. Each section is also dedicated to a particular god and you can choose to take the god action corresponding to that section instead of producing. These actions are the key to scoring points throughout the game:
- Horus: Build a statue to honor the gods (giving you a bonus when another player takes that god action) or build a statue for the people (increasing your scoring for the quarries and workshops).
- Ra: Allows you to construct a pillar in the temple. You’ll score points for placing the pillar in a row or column with buildings and matching colors of adjacent pillars.
- Hathor: Allows you to construct a building around the temple, which will score points for any of your already built pillars in that row/column.
- Thoth: Allows you to take cards that will give you bonuses and additional endgame scoring. Most cards can only be chosen if your happiness reaches a certain level.
- Bastet: Allows you to increase your happiness and gives you scribes that can be used to modify dice values.
- Osiris: Constructs a building in the quarry or workshop that helps increase your production of the various resources.
All of that works within another constraint—based on the rotation of the Obelisk each die can be in the sun, shade, or darkness. Different colored dice can be considered pure, tainted, or forbidden depending on their position. Black dice, for example, are pure in darkness, tainted in shade, and forbidden in the sun. Forbidden dice can’t be chosen at all.
After each player has drafted two dice, the obelisk rotates, changing the status of the dice. After four turns, an intermediate maat phase occurs. Players will determine the value of the pure dice they’ve chosen compared to tainted dice. The goal is to stay as balanced as possible. Turn order will be reset with the player closest to a balanced value going first. If you happen to have more tainted value than pure you can also begin to lose points.
After two maat phases—8 player turns—a scoring phase occurs. Most of the points at this point come from having buildings, statues, and pillars in play. After the second scoring phase—16 turns—the game ends and the player with the most points is the winner.
This may just be my favorite of the T-named series of games. Mechanically it couldn’t be simpler. Take a die, produce or take the corresponding action. Strategically—it is a brain burner.
Almost everything you do in the game scores you points. Build a pillar, have some points. Construct a building, take these points. Gain some cards… eventually… points. But none of these things are free. Pillars cost granite and limestone. Buildings in the temple require bread. Cards are free—but only if you have happy people.
The production action isn’t quite as simple as I made it out to be. If you take a black die, you’ll get granite equal to its value. But your level of production for granite—which begins the game at 2—is the limit you can keep. So if you draft a 6-value die you’ll have to throw the other 4 granite away. And those extra resources count toward your tainted value during the next maat phase.
Building in the quarries and workshops allow you to increase your production for the various resources. This can make you way more efficient so you aren’t just throwing away half of what you make each turn.
But you can’t just focus fire on one particular plan. A friend of mine decided he was going to collect granite and then plan to make a bunch of statues. But by the time all the granite was collected, all of the available dice in the Ra section were either used or forbidden. Every time the obelisk rotates more dice are added, but only to the shaded areas. So you have to not only consider what you have the resources for but also what god actions are going to have available dice. It’s worth noting, you can spend two scribes to take a die from anywhere (even a forbidden one) and take any god action with it, so you always have some options if you get really stuck.
The best part of all that is very little is really left up to chance. Which dice are available and forbidden is clear to everyone. When the obelisk will rotate and which previously forbidden dice are not accessible is clear. Of course, some dice will be randomly added, but only to two of the sections so you have a pretty educated guess of what your options will be. The biggest unknown is what other players are going to take. That type of player interaction is my favorite in euro games. You never feel like you are playing in a silo, but your opponents can’t play randomly play a card you never see coming either.
This is one of the best dice drafting euros out there. Plenty of interconnected mechanisms, various scoring opportunities, and interaction amongst all the players. While there isn’t necessarily anything revolutionary, it’s a very approachable game that has a lot to really dig into. The biggest negative is really the obelisk itself. It looks cool on the table… maybe… but it blocks players from seeing which dice are available. I just took it off and everything was vastly improved.
While I loved Teotihuacan, Tekhenu has definitely displaced it as my favorite here. It’s not lighter exactly, it’s just more accessible. The rules are more simple. And the various different actions seem more connected and allow for more interesting gameplay. Not to mention the added interaction with players having to potentially fight over the same available dice pool. If you are a fan of medium-to-heavy euro games, this belongs in your collection.
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – Exactly the type of euro games I want to exist. Lots of depth of strategy and plenty of different roads to victory.
• Easy to pick up the mechanisms
• Lots of different scoring opportunities and the dice drafting makes it difficult to focus solely on one.
• Great interaction in drafting and battling for turn order.
• Obelisk gets in the way. It’s annoying.