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Lavish. Stunning. A visual delight. I honestly don't know how much better looking each Days of Wonder game can get, as Cleopatra and the Society of Architects (Days of Wonder, 2006 - Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc) is frankly one of the best looking games I've ever seen - a box full of terrific components. But after the game first came out, I read many comments by gamers that the game was "simply a family game" and too simple for some. Would this be the first big box Days of Wonder game that I didn't like?
The answer is a resounding, "No!" While I can see how some gamers might want a game full of a plethora of difficult decisions (and there is a time and a place for such a game), Cleopatra is a game that is simple and enjoyable. I was reading Chris Farrell's assessment of the game, and he compared the feel of the game to Ticket to Ride - and it suddenly was clear to me that the two games did have many similarities: drawing cards and building them. Cleopatra can probably be broken down to a few simple mechanics, but brings them together in an impressive way and with a fabulous presentation. All who played it enjoyed the game, were wowed by the scenery, and had a fun time.
Cleopatra has a bit of a hefty presence during setup, as players actually use the box, flipping it and putting a board on top, to represent her palace. A pile of palace pieces are placed nearby, along with a pile of corruption tiles. Each player receives three cards from a deck, a "piggy-bank" pyramid, two statues of Anubis in their color, five talents, and three Merchants of the Nile. The rest of the talents in various denominations are placed near the board, as well as an Altar tile and five "Dice of the Great Priest". These dice are placed blank side up (they have the Great Priest symbol on one side). The deck is shuffled, with half face down and the rest face up; and three cards are placed into the Market, starting three columns of cards there. A Cleopatra figure is placed at the beginning of a five spot track, and the person with the best Egyptian credentials goes first - play passing clockwise around the table.
On a turn, a player has two options: going to the Market, or visiting the Quarry. When going to the market, a player simply takes one of the three Market columns into their hand, then adding one card to form the draw pile to each column. A player must always have ten or less cards in their hand; if they ever go over, they must either discard all the cards (placing one corruption token into their pyramid) or keep all the cards over ten (taking one corruption token for each.)
The cards in the deck are of various types.
- Resources: Artisans, Wood, Stone, Marble, and Lapis Lazuil are the five different types of resource cards that are used to build the palace pieces.
- Tainted Resources: These count as two of a specific resource, but when used give the player using them one corruption tile.
- Worshippers of Sobek: These character cards allow players a special action, such as causing all other players to give them either two talents or one resource card, take a card from the discard pile, etc. Each of these cards has a cost in corruption tokens that, when played, are placed in the player's pyramid.
If a player chooses the Quarry action, they may play resource cards in their hand that meet the requirement of the building section they are adding. Players can also use one of their Nile Merchants as a "wild" card. Each palace part built awards that player a certain amount of talents; if the player builds two things at once, they receive a bonus two talents (five bonus talents if three or more pieces are built). The pieces that can be built are:
- Obelisks (2): Costing three artisans, two wood, and two stones - they award the player twelve talents each.
- Pedestal and Throne (2): Costing three artisans, two marble, and two Lapis Lazuli - they award the player twelve talents each.
- Sphinxes (6): Costing one artisan, one stone, and one marble - the first, third, and fifth one built award two talents; while the second, fourth, and sixth one built award five talents each.
- Mosaics (12): Each mosaic, which costs two artisans, one stone, one marble, and one Lapis Lazuli, is a different arrangement of five squares in a geometric shape. The player must build the one on an empty space on board on top of the palace. Each mosaic awards four talents plus one talent for each palm square covered. If the mosaic placed forms a Sanctuary (a completely surrounded section in which no more future mosaic pieces can be placed), the player may place one of their statue of Anubis pieces there.
- Column Walls (9): Costing one artisan, one wood, and one stone, they award a player three talents, plus one talent for each segment of a mosaic adjacent to a column of the built wall.
- Door Frames (2): Costing two artisans, one wood, one marble, and one Lapis Lazuil - they award four talents plus one talent for each connected column wall.
After building, a player checks to see if all parts of that section are completed (for example - all nine column walls). If so, the Cleopatra figure is moved forward one space, ending the game when she lands on the fifth space. Otherwise, the player rolls the blank dice, placing any dice that show the symbol onto the altar. If all five dice are on the altar, then players immediately make an offering to the great priest. Each player secretly hides in their hand an amount of talents they are giving the priest, revealing them simultaneously. The player who gives the most discards three corruption tokens from their pyramid, while second place GETS one more corruption token; third place gets two, four place gets three, and fifth place gets four. All dice are then removed from the altar and placed blank side up.
When the game ends, each player discards their hand, adding one corruption token to their pyramid for each card showing one of these symbols they get rid of. Players then reveal their corruption tokens, discarding one for each square space in any sanctuaries in which they have a statue. The player who then still has the most corruption tokens is "fed to the crocodiles", and automatically loses! Each surviving player receives three talents for each unused Merchant of the Nile token. The players count up their talents, and the player with the most is the winner!
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: Okay, you really should just go look at pictures on the internet of the components, because what I say won't really do them justice. Using the box as part of the game isn't new (Niagara also did this), or even necessary; but it really brings the palace building into perspective and helps the theme. The artwork everywhere is fantastic, as usual with Julien Delval's work; and all the tokens are high quality, as are the cards and player aids. The focus of the game is mostly on the plastic pieces that make up the palace itself - tall obelisks, crouching sphinxes, etc. Once assembled, there is a bit of satisfaction to seeing the palace completed, even though there is a bit of a sameness to it (only the mosaics change from game to game.) The only part of the game that was a little flimsy was the pyramids, but they look great and are very functional. Everything fits well into the box; there is even a plastic terrain piece that holds all the palace pieces! Miraculously, everything fits inside the large square box well.
2.) Rules: The large full-colored rulebook of twelve pages utilizes most of its space to show pictures of the completed game, setup, and more. Each card is explained in detail, as well as clear explanations and descriptions of the building pieces. When teaching the game, I found it remarkably easy, although how the mosaics and doors worked usually took a little more time. The player aids in the game, which explain the building types and the special cards, really speed things up; and I can't imagine anyone having a difficult time understanding how the game works.
3.) Corruption: The person with the most corruption loses, no matter how many talents they have hoarded. This mechanic, similar to one found in High Society, is one that really makes the game interesting and exciting. At first, I wondered if simply never taking any corruption would assure you of a victory, but I have yet to see the person with the least corruption win. Not only that, but a player will end up taking corruption at some point, either from having more than ten cards in their hand, or by bidding low in one of the auctions (which might not happen in a game - but most likely will). A skillful player can get rid of much of their corruption with large sanctuaries or winning the auction, but just one corruption too much will lose you the game. This isn't the deepest mechanic in board games, but it's effective and adds a level of tension that ratchets the fun factor up several degrees.
4.) Chicken: At first, the game doesn't seem like there is much player interaction. But the game is almost a race, with players attempting to be the first to build the most lucrative parts of the buildings. It's usually not worth it to build the first of each sphinx pair; but if you wait too long, someone else will beat you to them. Is it worth using one of your wild tokens to get a critical thing built but will lose you three talents at the end of the game? How should a player place their wall - to maximize points, or to make sure that the person about to build the door doesn't get any more points? Should mosaics be built to maximize points or to build a nice-sized sanctuary? These decisions aren't that difficult - but should one draw more cards, or get building? is the big question. It's rather annoying to have another player build something directly before you do.
5.) Cards: Draw cards, draw cards, play cards to accomplish something. That certainly does seem like Ticket to Ride, and the games have some similarities. Cleopatra isn't as elegant as Ticket to Ride, but at the same time does have some nifty mechanics. Having half the deck face up and the other half face down is interesting, and I wouldn't be surprised to see that mechanic used in future games. But what column of cards to take when grabbing? Do you take the largest pile of cards, so that you get a decent amount of resources? Do you attempt to take as few cards with corruption as possible? Taking the right cards and - perhaps more importantly - watching what other players take can be critical to victory. The card drawing in Cleopatra was a nice change of pace from the "Union Pacific" type.
6.) Oasis: When laying an oasis tile, it almost feels like you are suddenly playing a different game. It's important to get a lot of points, and laying the tile completely on top of tree spaces is lucrative and tempting. At the same time, a properly placed sanctuary can save your bacon when it comes time to count the corruption. Placing the tetris-like pieces is an interesting sub-game.
7.) Auction: Another interesting sub-game is the auction. I've seen one player lose because they got rid of too many points just to clear their corruption, and a person who goes overboard can really get burned later on. Still, it's also annoying to come in second, where you spend a lot of talents and GET corruption. I really enjoy auctions, and they usually occur in a game twice or so.
8.) Fun Factor: Much of the fun in the game comes from the simple satisfaction of building the palace - it's fun to put out something that scores a lot of points. At the same time, the growing tension to make sure you don't have the most corruption is also always there, adding to the mix. Throw in some tile laying and a little auction, and you have a very enjoyable game.
Cleopatra and the Society of Architects is a beautiful game. It's a card taking, card playing, fun family game with short term goals (building the parts of the temple) that give short moments of satisfaction throughout the game. Even if a player loses, they still have fun and want to play again. Sure, there is a lot of makeup on this lady of a game, but it's only enhancing the fun that's already there. Days of Wonder hits another home run!
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Great Review! This is moving up on my buy list.
It's usually not worth it to build the first of each sphinx pair; but if you wait too long, someone else will beat you to them. Is it worth using one of your wild tokens to get a critical thing built but will lose you three talents at the end of the game? How should a player place their wall - to maximize points, or to make sure that the person about to build the door doesn't get any more points?
Your discussion here sounds as if you can build only one thing at a time. Did you miss points 2 and 3 in the quarry rules? You not only can build two or three things, you get a bonus for it. So, the ideal is to build the connecting wall and door.
Nice review, Tom. I've only played this game once but my first impressions were quite positive. I was quite surprised to see the level of disappointment that some felt with the game on this site. It might not be the deepest game but it's quite tense and offers a number of meaningful decisions for an hour-long family strategy game. I think your review hits the nail on the head.
I like this review. I was really skeptical about grabbing this game based on what I read. My 10-yo son loves Egyptian themes, so ultimately he was the one who tipped me off the fence. We were wowed by the components, put off by the sticky mess DoW's packing jobs leaves behind to clean up on the quarry's bottom, had a good time playing, but were left a bit underwhelmed. The game (for 3) played a little long, (about 90 minutes) for the kind of game it is, and was quite fiddly and inelegant. Seemed like a lot of assorted mechanisms cobbled together with a theme. None of the mechanisms are bad they just seem like a Frankenstein creation to us. But it was pretty fun.
My wife and son love the T2R series, lightweights like Bohnanza and Citadels and other middleweights like Ra, Power Grid and El Grande. I thought Cleopatra could win out stronger for their favor, but of course was nervous they might not. Regrettably for this expensive of a game I don't think this will get a lot of play. But it surely will be fun to break out once in a while.
I found this game to be somewhat lacking....it's alright, just not great. One problem I had was the amount of numbers you had to keep track of. Keeping running tallies in your head of how much money and corruption each player has got old real fast. I wish there had been some fair way of randomizing that info so that the other players didn't know how much you had.