Cuzco is a gorgeous game that’s quick to teach but full of difficult decisions!
Theme and What is it?
You are trying to develop an untouched territory in Cuzco by building cities and planting crops. The bigger your cities are and the taller your temples, the more glory you bring to the Sun God and the more prestige you claim for yourself. The person with the most prestige when the territory is fully developed wins!
At its core, Cuzco is an area control game. Players start with Inca Meeples, 3 festival cards, and single and double hex city and crop tiles. Each turn, a player has 7 action points that they can use to develop the territory and gain Prestige Points. The actions are:
Place a terrain (1 AP) – Players must place at least one terrain tile per turn, and tiles can be placed on the board or on top of other tiles with no overhang.
Move inca onto the board (1 or 2 AP) – Players can move an inca onto a hex or city tile connected to the mountains (2 AP) or connected to the forest (1 AP).
Move an inca (0 or 1 AP) – Players can move a single inca any number of hexes for free, but must use 1 action point any time the terrain type changes. Inca cannot cross hexes with opposing inca, temples, or ponds.
Build a temple (1 AP) – Players can build a temple on an existing city that doesn’t already have a temple. The temple size is limited by the city size, and a player gets Prestige Points equal to half the temple size, rounded down. A player can only build a temple if they occupy the highest spot in the city with one of their Inca meeples.
Expand a temple (1 AP) – Players can expand an already existing temple using the same rules as building a temple.
Build an irrigation pond (1 AP) – Players can build a pond or expand a pond. Once a pond is completely enclosed, the player at the highest point adjacent to the pond gets 3 Prestige Points per pond tile.
Draw festival cards (1 AP) – Players can draw festival cards from the discard or top of the pile, but no more than two per turn.
Organize a festival (0 AP) – Players can organize a festival if they have any Inca in a city with a temple (that hasn’t already been used for a festival). The player(s) who win(s) the festival by playing matching festival cards gets points proportional to the size of the temple. The temple then gets a sun flame token so that it cannot be used for a festival until it is expanded again.
Players take turns clockwise until the last triple hex has been placed, and then every other player gets one additional turn. In the final scoring, players get points for being at the highest or second highest points in each city.
I was interested in this game initially based entirely on the components, which were beautiful. Once I read the rules, it seemed like a very thinky area control game, with the added complexity of the height of certain hexes changing over time.
Game Build Quality
The components in this game are excellent! The tiles are extremely thick and durable (I’d say double the standard cardboard token thickness). The Inca meeples are intricate and unique. The temple pieces are heavy plastic that were very satisfying to stack and even had an added dry-brush like texture. The cards and rulebook are the only things in the box that felt standard, but that is definitely not a complaint.
The art work matched the theme very well and there were a lot of nice touches throughout – for example, the Prestige Points tracker around the outside edge of the board had iconography that felt like it matched the Incan vibe. The thickness of the tiles made it easy to discern height differences. Given the abstract nature of this game, not much iconography was needed, but the player aid was helpful in reminding players of the available actions and their cost.
The tension built throughout the game as players started encroaching on each other’s cities and trying to build up the terrain to claim a higher spot. There was a ton of depth for a relatively limited action set and it felt a lot like playing chess. I’d recommend this to groups that enjoy player interaction and moderate abstraction.
Age Range & Weight
Cuzco is a game that is easy to understand but depending on opponents, can be very difficult to win. I think there is a high potential for AP, especially as the game draws to a close, so if your group suffers from that, a turn timer could be helpful. The suggested age is 12+, which seems appropriate.
Cuzco is a gorgeous game that’s quick to teach but full of difficult decisions and moderate to high player interaction. I’d recommend it to anyone that likes abstract games or area control.
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