Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun boardgame review

So Tekhenu is the first of the T games (games by Daniele Tascini or David Tuczi, invariably with a name beginning with T and pretty heavy in weight) that I’ve ever bought, but not the first I have played. I’ve played Tzolkin a number of times as a friend owns it, and Teotihuacan once as another friend owned it for a time. I enjoyed both, so when Tekhenu came out I decided to buy it.

Game Details
NameTekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun (2020)
ComplexityMedium Heavy [4.06]
BGG Rank368 [7.72]
Player Count1-4
Designer(s)Daniele Tascini and Dávid Turczi
Mechanism(s)Action Drafting, Income, Open Drafting, Pattern Building, Turn Order: Stat-Based and Variable Set-up
Dice around the obelisk ready to draft

The game is a heavy Euro style game with a dice drafting mechanic. The dice sit in various sectors around an obelisk, each sector relates to a different Egyptian god which allows you to do a specific action when you draft the dice. The numbers on the dice may or may not affect what you can do with them depending on where you go. The colour of the dice, and the direction the obelisk is facing, determines if the dice is “pure”, “tainted” or “forbidden” – you can’t take the latter and after you’ve drafted four dice you want the number of pips on pure and tainted dice to be balanced.

The theme, similar to the other T games I’ve played, doesn’t really come through when playing the game. There may be some form of connection between the god and the mechanic but it doesn’t feel like it when you’re playing. The obelisk provides the interesting dice drafting mechanic explained above, and looks pretty on the board, but doesn’t make particular sense thematically. I watched a review of the game the other day when it was described as a purely “mechanical” game, and that’s exactly it.

Which isn’t to say it’s a bad game. Mechanically the game is sound. The drafting is really interesting. The obelisk turning also serves to mark time during the game between the start, the first scoring phase and the second and final scoring phase – very much like the cogs in Tzolkin. I like this mid-way scoring and I like the way the time is marked. It’s easy to tell where in a phase you are by the number of dice on your board and the position of the obelisk. Some aspects of the board give you ways to score along the way as well, and as with all Euro games – the aim of the game is the most points at the end.

The iconography on the board is, for the most part, pretty good. Although I think the board could be probably be better laid out. It’s pretty clear how much everything costs and what you do when you carry out an action – at least once you understand what each god does. My main issue when playing the game is referring back to the rulebook and having to look for the god symbol to find the right section. The rulebook has the names of the gods at the top of each section but these aren’t on the board (presumably to be language independent) and the symbols are harder to find at a glance (because those Egyptian gods all look alike you know). By the end of the game I may have memorised the symbols and names of about half the gods, but then I’ve forgotten them all again by the next time I play.

The board is, however, a table-hog. I know I don’t have the biggest table, but this takes up more space than Massive Darkness, and that’s saying something.

What this game needs is a really good player handout. The little cards that came with the game I don’t find all that useful (particularly when playing solo). The back of the rulebook gives an overview of the main phases which is vital, particularly when you have to remember what to do after each turn of the obelisk.

The solo mode is excellent. Turczi designed the solo mode and I am beginning to really appreciate how good he is at solo design. To determine what the bot does you have a pyramid of tiles – six of which have god symbols and four have resource symbols (except for the expansion which has one additional tile). These tiles are laid out randomly at the start of every two turns. The bot then moves along the pyramid doing actions – starting at the bottom left and moving either across or up the pyramid depending on the flip of a disc. If it lands on a god symbol it does that god action. If it lands on a resource symbol you find the dice of the appropriate colour with the highest number on it and it does that god action. So you’ve always got a reasonable guess of what the bot will do next and can at least try to plan for it.

The main difficulty with the solo mode is, once an action is selected, working out exactly what the bot will do. While the actions are essentially subsets of the player actions there are often little changes or specific priority rules you have to double-check. Fortunately at the back of the expansion rulebook there’s a summary of the solo mode which has all this written down. Unfortunately the time I played it before last I didn’t realise this (having only just bought the expansion) and didn’t discover it until the end of the game. Plus, of course, that only helps if you have the expansion.

The rulebooks for both the main game and the expansion are fairly hefty. I do sometimes find it difficult to find things in them and I have to flip back and forth a lot when I start playing a game. I’m sure if I played it more and more often I’d get used to it enough that I wouldn’t need to. It’s definitely not the sort of game that you can play once and then the next time it’s all plain sailing.

The expansion board

Today was the first time I’ve played with the expansion. The expansion provides a new god on a separate board, with new places for statues and buildings. I think I played a few of the rules around the statues wrong (particularly for the bot) so that’s something I’ll have to watch out for next time. This board god also has ways in which it affects some of the other god actions and I like how it does that. I look forward to seeing it more fully in action in multiplayer.

Additionally the expansion adds new dice of different colours. These add an interesting aspect to the game but the colours themselves just don’t look good against the gold/orange/brown visuals of the rest of the board, so are a bit jarring (that said, I guess the same could be said of the player pieces which are all rather bright). They are also red, blue and green so I can’t imagine they are great for colourblind people. There are also new cards used during setup: different starting cards giving you different start of game bonuses; new cultist cards which give you a bonus ability throughout the game; and artefact cards which you can get at the start of a new phase and which give a one off ability, but I never got the chance to take one. I like these additions – they are subtle but make for a more interesting start.

Tekhenu is probably the crunchiest game I own and playing it a few times recently certainly has me interested in investigating more of the T games, and I am definitely contemplating the current Kickstarter for Teotihuacan even if it is a bit pricey. These are exactly the sorts of games I like to play solo, but also enjoy playing with others too. They are also the sorts of games that I’ll probably play more solo than multiplayer but that’s absolutely fine.

So if you like crunchy, mechanical Euro games, Tekhenu is a great buy. It’s one I’ll definitely be playing more of when I feel like a heavy solo game.

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