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Tarchna, 6th century B.C. During Tagete's day, the Etruscan community celebrates its own mythical father, and the oracles faithful to Achvizr, Alpan, Leinth and Thalna begin their purification path. They hope to honor their divinity through several sacrifices, escaping the call of the Ancient Tuchulcha, a sound that can be so loud that it threatens any other voice. Who will be dedicated to Lasa Vecuvia, the eternal Tuchulcha's rival, to bring peace back on the path to Tarchna?
I often ask people their opinions on the importance of theme in a game. For some, it doesn’t matter; but most feel that theme is extremely important to the success of a game, and I am in whole-hearted agreement. I don’t mind an abstract game with a good theme “pasted on”, and would rather play it than a simple abstract game with no theme. But every once in a while, a theme is actually detrimental to a game - actually subtracting from the fun factor of the game.
Now, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have enjoyed Tuchulcha regardless of the theme. The game is simply a Parcheesi game with some twists, and I despise Parcheesi. But the theme of the game, the Etruscan Haruspexes, really threw off the entire game for me. Terms like “haruspexes”, “Velthumena”, etc., really threw me off. I had to read the rules three times to understand the game, and when explaining it, ignored the theme entirely. This confusion, coupled with a mediocre game (in my opinion) gave me a rather low opinion of Tuchulcha. It’s a classic example of a mismatched theme actually ruining a game.
Each player takes eight “haruspexes” (pawns) of their color and places them on a temple of a divinity. Each temple is next to a specific spot on a purification path that winds in a circular manner around the board. The goal of players is to get all of their pawns to the central spot of the board (the Velthumena altar). One player starts the game, with play proceeding clockwise around the table. On a turn, players roll two six-sided dice; if they roll doubles, they may roll an additional die. Players must use the numbers rolled exactly, moving the same pawn more than once, or two different pawns. Players move their pawns that many spaces and may pass over other pawns, if they can. Pawns may have as many pawns of their own color on any space, but may NOT land a pawn of another player, unless the player can match the “spiritual power” of the pawn there. Most spaces give a pawn a power of one, while some double the power, and a few spaces (“Mystical stones”) triple the power. Therefore, two pawns on a mystical stone have a total power of six. Pawns on a mystical stone can pretty much never be captured, but a player must move them off the stone as soon as they can. If a player lands pawn(s) equal in power to the pawn(s) on the stone, then the pawn(s) landed on are sent the forest of Tuchulcha (the dead zone). A pawn that “kills” another pawn must stop moving. Four spaces on the board (passages) cause a pawn that lands on them to immediately die. When a pawn completely rounds the board, they enter into the central space (exact roll is NOT needed), and are safe and can no longer move.
If a player wants to, they may “devote their pawns to Tuchulcha” - changing their role in the game. Any player may do this (only one, however), and must sacrifice three of their pawns to the temple (they may come from the forest, the altar, or the player’s temple). From this point onward, the Tuchulcha player’s pawns are invulnerable, do not have to stop when killing another pawn, and allow the player to roll four dice (using the best three.) The Tuchulcha player’s goal is to kill all remaining haruspexes of the other players. If one player gets one more pawn into the center altar, the Tuchulcha player loses - they can only win if they kill all other players.
If one player chooses the role of Tuchulcha, another player may then take on the role of Lasa Vecuvia. This player must still have four pawns in play and takes four “seals” that are included with the game. The player must attempt to land one of their pawns on one of the “passages”, placing one of the seals on it, and discarding the pawn. If the Lasa Vecuvia player manages to seal all four passages, then they win (even if the Tuchulcha player has lost). Lasa Vecuvia pawns can only be killed by Tuchulcha pawns, and cannot kill other pawns (skipping them instead).
When the four passages are sealed, or the Tuchulcha player kills all other pawns, or when an ordinary player gets all of their remaining pawns to the center, then the game is over. In case of a tie, the player with the fewest dead haruspexes is the winner! In a three-player game, the opposite side of the board is used (set up for three players), and no player can pick Lasa Vecuvia. In a two-player game, the other two players are “neutral”, and either player can move them.
1.) Components: The pieces of the game are of very good quality - the pawns are high quality wooden pawns (they look rather austere). The seals are large gray wooden discs, and four nice wooden dice with rounded corners (my favorite) are included. The board is quite beautiful, with nice pictures of a path throughout a forest and meadows. The thing still looks rather abstract, but in a nice way, I suppose. The different temples, passages, mystical stones, etc., are marked by mysterious symbols, and everything fits into a medium sized box (Carcassonne size), with some rather odd artwork.
2.) Rules: I’ve already complained about the rules to a degree in my opening statements. There are a lot of examples and illustrations on the six-page fold out, which is good, because the rules themselves, with all the lengthy jargon, didn’t make much sense to me. A page of lore about the Etruscan Haruspexes is included (which I found the opposite of interesting.) When I ignored the gobbledygook, the game was actually fairly easy to explain, although the two special roles were a little tricky for new players to understand.
3.) Parcheesi: The game is very similar to Parcheesi, although I’m sure game enthusiasts would gladly point out the differences. But the game has the same feel for me, which is one of “bleach”. If you enjoy Parcheesi, than this might be the perfect game for you. I’m not a big fan of moving pawns around a track, trying to land on other pawns. That’s been done to death (Trouble, Sorry!, etc.)
4.) Tuchulcha: I will state that the two roles included in the game are extremely interesting, although it’s rarely in a player’s best interest to take Tuchulcha. Sure, it’s a nice thing to do if you are losing the game by a wide margin, but because it’s the most interesting and unique part of the game, it really should be more common. I like the Lasa Vecuvia role, but it’s only available in a four-player game; therefore, two or three player games are just not worth it to me.
5.) Players: As I just said, the game plays best with four players. However, a two-player game has a smidgen of interest, because players can move the neutral pawns. But I found that the game became just a simple, “make the best move now” type of game, and the fate of the game came down to the roll of a die.
6.) Fun Factor: I love rolling dice, and the excitement in a game of Can’t Stop or Memoir’ 44 can get intense - with everyone focusing on an exhilarating die roll. The rolls in this game aren’t the same and can actually border on tedium, sometimes. When you NEVER get doubles or continually roll the numbers you don’t need, the game can be quite annoying (as has happened to me). Couple in a unique, uninspiring theme, and the game just did nothing for me. I’d almost rather play Sorry! - it’s a bit more exciting.
I hate to pan a game from daVinci, as most of their games I’ve really enjoyed. But this one went over like a lead balloon for me, and multiple games did nothing to increase my interest. Maybe it was the Parcheesi-type game play, which I abhor, or the terrible theme - but either way, it’s not a game I can recommend unless you like “roll the dice and move your pawns” type games and want one with a different twist. As for me, I want to play a game whose theme I can understand.
“Real men play board games.”