The premise is that the players are, not surprisingly, adventurers who are trying to run through some godforsaken Mayan temple to the rain god Chac trying to steal sacred artifacts, all while avoiding being crushed by enclosing walls, outrunning a giant stone ball, hopping over perilous stones suspended over a boiling pit of lava, crossing rickety bridges and finally swimming downstream in a raging river towards a waterfall of doom. In other words, you have a lot on your hands and very little time to do it.
The setup of the game is fairly quick, provided you separate the myriad cards into their respective types, and laying everything on the board is fast and painless. There is a small randomization factor in laying the tiles on the lava pit and in the first section, which adds replayability. Once that's done, it's time to select player characters. The characters themselves are a sight to behold - well illustrated cards and well sculpted miniatures help you relate to the characters they portray, as does the little biography in the rulebook. Each character has a special ability type, that is generally a one-time use power, which allows for even more variety and replayability. Again, the prepainted minis are fabulous, and not in a flamboyant way, but in a kick ass Jackie Chan and Steven Seagal's lovechild way. They don't "make" this game, but they sure as hell make it better. Each player selects two characters to play, but only starts with one. This is because more often than not, the first to enter the Temple of Chac ends up with a Chac outline on the ground, sans police tape. This is not a game where you can expect that your 'favorite guy' will traipse through the temple and walk out a winner. Every step of the way you are harassed by unfathomably nasty perils, and just surviving, let alone getting any treasure, depends on good decisions and a heaping helpin' of good old fashioned luck.
Once setup is complete, you load your guys at the temple's entrance, and are immediately faced with a corridor with nicely sculpted plastic walls. The walls themselves look nice, but the downside is that every round that characters are in that hallway, cards are drawn that can close the walls in around the players, as if old Chac is a fan of "People Wine". The tough decisions start immediately, as in this section you have the ability to use an action point to either get the hell out of dodge, take treasures or look at one or more of the downturned tiles that have pictograms on them that indicate which lava tiles are unsafe to cross when you adventure onward to that section of the temple. You only have five seconds to look at each one if you choose to, and then you have to place it back on the board, face down. Further hampering your cause is the fact that you can't actually SEE the tiles on the lava area as it's covered by a blinder card so that you have to actually remember the symbology, which is really rough as many tiles in the lava section are similar looking.
Once you pass that gauntlet, you have a short hallway where a boulder rolls toward the players, potentially moving progressively faster each round. This is a double edged sword as well because you can try to get behind it to save your skin, but later down the road you may not be able to pass it again and you will be trapped inside the tomb (cue drum roll) FOREVER! There are some treasures that you can spend action points to try to take if you feel you have the time, but the more treasures you have, the less action points you have to spend on your turn. This is a very clever mechanic that forces you to re-evaluate the elements of the game at every turn and make decisions based on not only the status quo, but what you anticipate to happen in following turns.
Once you pass through the hallway, you uncover the blinder card that is hiding the lava section, and you have more decisions to make. You can decide to risk it and cross the tiles, taking treasures on each safe tile or potentially falling into the lava if you step on the wrong tile, thus turning you into a "people fritter" and ending that character's adventure right then and there. Alternatively, you can keep walking the path where more treasures await the plucking, but you then run the risk of being flattened by the boulder, an equally horrible fate that ends that adventurer's burgeoning career. Both paths are fraught with danger, especially if you did not take the time in the walled room to view some of the glyphs to guide you on the safe path.
Once you're through the lava area, you have several choices to make, some safer than others but still dangerous. You can continue on the path toward the exit and the idol, the most valuable treasure in the game, while the boulder chases you mercilessly. Alternatively you can cross the river at the bridge, which can fall out from under you, piece by piece, and finally, you can try to swim in the river, taking underwater treasures as you go, but you run the risk of being swept down the waterfall at the end, drowning your character and, yet again, dooming your cause. The more treasures you are carrying, the more risky the swim is at the end where you try to exit the river before falling onto the rocks below.
All in all, there are a lot of critical choices to make throughout the game, and none of them come without consequences. This game is absolutely an American-style luckfest, and almost every aspect of the game has a die roll. For instance, trying to take treasures will many times force you to roll a "straight" with multiple dice to claim them, the boulder's speed is determined by rolling an increasing number of dice, crossing the bridge requires a roll, and getting out of the water requires a roll. At any time during the game, you can be killed in a variety of devilishly gruesome ways, and many times it comes down to how lucky you're feeling. You have some control over the outcome, mostly based upon how much of a burden in treasure you have, but at the end of the adventure it comes down to nerves, guts, or balls, depending on the vernacular you choose to subsrcibe to.
If, at any time, your character falls to the traps of the Temple of Chac, you may bring in your backup character at the lava section, provided the boulder has travelled to that section and opened the second opening. When you die, your treasures are gone, forever, and you have to start from scratch, and to add insult to injury, you start past the lava section and most of the easy treasures are no longer available. That, and you start behind the boulder, so you have to rush to get to the exit and hope to take a treasure or two along the way.
The game ends when all survivors have exited the temple or are trapped within. Each treasure card has a number or die printed on it, with the die being a "wild card" value that you roll to determine. The player with the most treasure wins and gets to brag to the others in the room how superior an adventurer they are until the next play, which if you're like me, occurs directly after the first.
Four words describe this game: "What a fun game!" I truly love this, and have been playing it since Gencon of 2009. It's simple, easy to learn, and although there is not much player interaction it always feels like you're neck-and-neck with your opposition vying for position to nab the great treasures while always leery of the "boulder of doom". It's great for kids, adults, pretty much anyone with a pulse, a love of pulp adventure, and a modicum of imagination.
Things I Liked:
*The illustrations and models are outstanding, especially the prepainted miniatures
*The playtime is short, but long enough not to be a simple filler
*The "adrenaline factor" is quite high, surprisingly, and you're always at the edge of your seat
*Replayability is moderate, and you never seem to quite get tired of playing it
Things I Detested:
*I know that it was probably not economically feasible, but the prepainted figures should have been included
*The luck can be good or bad, and sometimes the board beats all the players
I mean, seriously, if you don't like this game there's probably a missing gene in you, somewhere. Probably the "fun recognition" gene. This is the ultimate adventuring game, and the clever mechanics truly simulate the luck factor that I would imagine goes on when spelunking in some ancient temple. It is just, simply put, a brilliant game.
You can learn more about this game at Alderac Entertainment Group's page: