I’ve had Tikal for quite a while now. With the recent release of Cuzco (Java rework/reprint), my interest in getting it to the table had increased, and we finally did it.
This was my second playthrough, and yes – I like it. It’s a bit of a “slow burn” game, and it has a tinge of alliances, since you can choose to favor or push against certain people with placements and contesting area majorities. Overall, it felt well-designed and tight, as the aggressive actions have a cost to you as well, and you really have to pick your “battles” (for majorities) lest you and your target both get left behind. As with any good area majority game, timing is very significant for scoring throughout the game, and the “auctions” variant should really be standard. I would not want to play the game with random tile flips, although I’d imagine it would be much faster (at the cost of being much more luck-ridden).
Overall, it’s a worthy Spiel des Jahres winner for 1999, and the feel of it is probably closest to something like El Grande, although the exploration aspect of it feels unique enough to where the game differs significantly. It is also probably somewhat more dynamic and less confrontational.
It may not appeal to everyone, but it does to me. As Brandon said, “they used to pick cool games for Spiel des Jahres.”