Thursday, September 22, 2016

Valley of the Kings (Alderac Entertainment Group)

While some kids grew up wanting to be a professional athlete or a fireman, I grew up wanting to be an archaeologist. Yes, I know I was (and still am) a big nerd. but I'm okay with that, and I imagine you are too if you're reading this. I used to dream that I would perform these important digs in places like Egypt, Greece, or the Holy Land and find important relics that have been lost for centuries. Fast forward thirty years, and I didn't become an archaeologist after all. Despite that, I still have not lost my love for ancient histories and cultures. So when I find a game that has some of those elements in it and it's a style of game I like, I have to give it a try.

Enough with the long preamble! Today, I am going to tell you about the game Valley of the KingsValley of the Kings is a 1 to 4 player deck-building game for players ages 14+. Though, I would argue as young as 12 can play it. It has two sequels - Valley of the Kings: Afterlife and Valley of the Kings: Last Rites. Each game retails for $19.99. In this game, you are an Egyptian noble preparing for your death and burial in the Valley of the Kings. You want your tomb to an impressive monument of your life, but so do your opponents. Therefore, you and your rival noble are competing to who leaves this world with the best cache of artifacts. Today, I will be telling you about the original game and pointing out any differences among the two sequels.
1. Give each player a Tomb card and a reference card to place in front of them.
2. Take all the Level I cards (indicated by the Roman numeral in the bottom right) and give each player four Shabtis, three Urns, two Boxes of Food, and one Offering Table. These ten cards form the players Starter Cards.
3. Have each player shuffle their Starter Cards to form their own Draw Deck. Each player then takes the top five cards off their deck to form their Hand.
4. Then, take all the Level II cards and shuffle them in a face down stack. Do the same for the Level III cards. Place the stack of Level II cards on top of the Level III cards to form the Stock.
5. Set up the Pyramid by drawing six cards from the Stock and arranging them so that three cards are on the bottom level, two on the middle level, and one on the top.
6. Lastly, set up the Boneyard (communal discard pile) by drawing the top card from the Stock and placing it face up next to the Stock.
7. The starting player is the last person to have visited a museum.
Game Play - During your turn, you must perform the following four actions in order.
1. Play Cards - With every card in your hand, you can use them for one of three purposes in any order:
a. Buy a card from the base of the Pyramid. (Note: The gold value a card provides is located on the top left of the card and the cost is located on the top right.) After you remove a card from the pyramid, the one above it crumbles down diagonally to fill its spot.
b. Execute the action listed on the card.
c. Entomb a card (once per turn). (Note: When you entomb a card, you no longer can use this card, but it does count for end game scoring).
2. Discard - When you have played all the cards from your hand that you want to play, discard those cards and any leftover in your hand to your personal discard pile.
3. Draw five cards from your Draw Deck to reform your hand for your next turn. (Note: If you don't have enough cards in your deck, shuffle your discard pile to re-form your deck.)Play then passes clockwise.

Game End
The game will take place over many rounds until both the Stock and Pyramid are out of cards and everyone has taken the same number of turns. Scoring then occurs as follows. Starter Cards are worth one point each. Unique Cards (purple) show their point total at the bottom. All other cards, you add up the the number of unique cards from each set and square it. Example: If you had three three amulets and four statues, you would score nine points for amulets (3 x 3) and sixteen points for statues (4 x 4).

Similarities and Differences Between the Three Games
Valley of the Kings has the following for cards:
Starter Cards = Shabti, Urn, Box of Food, and Offering Table
Set of 3 = Sarcophagi
Set of 4 = Canopic Jars
Set of 5 = Amulets
Set of 6 = Books
Set of 7 = Statues
Unique Cards = Six total

Valley of the Kings: Afterlife has the following for cards:
Starter Cards = Shabti, Urn, Box of Food, and Offering Table
Set of 3 = Mummification
Set of 4 = Jewelry
Set of 5 = Chambers
Set of 6 = Weapons
Set of 7 = Tomb Art
Unique Cards = Six total

Valley of the Kings: Last Rites has the following for cards:
Starter Cards = Menial, Embalmer, Kite, and Medjay
Set of 5 = Priestesses
Set of 6 = Priests
Set of 7 = Builders
Set of 8 = Artisans
Unique Cards = Four total

For only playing it a few times, Valley of the Kings has quickly become one of my favorite deck-builders. The first thing I like about it is the card buying method. With only being able to buy from the bottom of the pyramid, you have to decide carefully which cards to buy. The card you buy might lead to a better card for your opponent to buy. The second thing I like about the game is the actions on the cards that let you interact with your hand, your tomb, the pyramid, and your opponent as well. By having all these choices, it can be tempting to interact a lot, but you also don't want to interact too much, as it is still a deck-builder and you need to buy cards.

The third thing I like about the game is the way to score the game. In the base game of Dominion (the granddaddy of all deck-builders), you add up all the cards in your hand at the end of the game. Therefore, you have access to all your cards at all times. In Valley of the Kings, you must entomb your cards (and only once per turn). By doing this, you will score end game points, but you will also lose access to higher valued cards, which can be used to buy more cards and manipulate the game. It definitely creates a constant tension of, "Should I entomb this card or not?"

The fourth thing I like about this game is the ability to mix and match the three games together. Each set of cards in a game actually has two sets. That means there are actually six sarcophagi cards, two sets of the same three cards. So if you want to play with the base game and Valley of the Kings: Afterlife, you can take the duplicate set of each set out of the games and mix them together. This can create a whole new depth of scoring as you are working with ten unique sets of cards instead of just five. You could also make an even bigger game and combine all three. It requires a little Starter Deck manipulation, but it makes for an intense and fun experience!

The last, and certainly not least, thing I like about the game is the the artwork and theme! It took me a while to get to this aspect, but that's only because it's a given. The art on these cards is masterfully done and looks very authentic. Also, at the bottom of each card is some flavor text which tells you more about the card. For example, on the Brain Hook, it tells us, "Egyptians believed brains were worthless. They used a hook to remove them through the nostrils." Gross, but fascinating! Each card is like a mini cultural or history lesson, if you take the time to read it. This could make the game good for classrooms or the homeschool setting, because the best way to learn is when you don't realize you are learning at all!

A lot of people complain about the sequels, because they were expecting new twists on the base game. Why? The game plays wonderfully as is, and if something is not broke, you generally don't fix it. Overall, I am highly impressed with this trio of games. With a favorite theme, solid mechanics, good quality components, this game checks all the boxes for me. If you are looking to try your hand at deck-builders, this is one I'd highly recommend.

These games were provided to me for free by Alderac Entertainment Group in exchange for an honest review.