Mina's Fresh Cardboard
Mina's Mini Review - A Beautiful Game
Heir to the Pharaoh is a two-player auction game in which one player takes on the role of the Egyptian God, Bast, and the other of the Egyptian god, Anubis.
To set up the game, the base of the pyramid is placed so that it covers at least once space on the river. Then, animal magic tokens are placed on the board so that they are at least 2 spaces apart. A deck of monument cards is shuffled and the top 3 cards revealed with a monument token on top of it.
You start the game with a nearly identical set of bidding cards. Numbered 1 through 10, the bidding cards have the same values in both players' decks, but they differ in the symbol they show, with the sun breaking ties.
Each round, you use your bidding cards to place secret bids on action cards (God cards). Then, you use the God cards to perform the actions shown on them in numerical order. The player who won the bid for the card is the only one who will get to execute the action.
Actions include placing monuments on the board, placing your tokens on said monuments to claim ownership of them and score points, placing your tokens on a sun track that wraps around the board to score one (or two) points immediately and score twice the value of your longest unbroken chain at the end of the game, gaining animal magic cards you can use to gain special abilities in future bidding rounds, gaining monument cards you can score immediately in a set-collection fashion. One action card is special because it does not allow you to perform an action each round. This is the pharaoh card and it determines which player will get to contribute to the building of the pyramid on the board. Each player will place a bidding card under the pyramid each round, but the pharaoh card will only score every second round. The player who has the highest valued bidding card total will get to build a level of the pyramid and score points for doing so, with higher levels being worth more points.
At the end of the action phase, you will exchange the cards you used in the bidding phase with your opponent and go through the same bidding and action execution process.
The game ends after 8 rounds, at which point you gain points for the monuments you own, the contribution you made to building the pyramid, any remaining animal magic cards, and your longest unbroken chain of tokens on the sun track.
Played prior to review 5x
1. Beautifully and uniquely illustrated and superbly produced
This could simply be a factor of my ignorance, but I've never before seen a game as richly and adorably illustrated as this one. And with as unique a theme! This may not be the most thematic of games, but the ornate illustrations, papyrus effect, and host of painted wooden pieces bring the essence of the theme to the table.
2. Tense and incredibly clever auction system
The auction system in Heir to the Pharaoh is incredibly clever. When you first start the game, you have no idea how to appraise the various God (action) cards, so you have to make your initial bids based on a) your knowledge of your opponent and b) the strategy you want to pursue. The fact that you exchange the cards you've used for bidding with your opponent at the end of each round means that as the game progresses, you have more knowledge about your opponent's hand of cards. For example, you may find yourself holding both 10-value cards or both 1-value cards. This knowledge becomes your power during the bidding process. This interdependence between players is quite compelling.
3. Many routes to victory
Heir to the Pharaoh is a rich game that gives you plenty of strategic and tactical options to pursue. Each God card has its own focus and each focus is unique and distinct from the others. You can try to collect sets of monument cards with Ptah. You can try to create a long chain of sun tokens for in-game and end-game scoring with Ra. You can try to strategically place and claim monuments, or you can try to build the highest (and highest scoring) levels of the pyramid at the center of the board.
It's unlikely you will get away with perfectly pursuing any one of these strategies unmolested because this is a two-player game and every disadvantage your opponent can bring unto you is an advantage he brings to himself. You are in a constant war for dominance over each and every element of this game, so determining when it is most important to try to gain control over a particular element or try to ensure you retain control over it during the auctions is particularly exciting.
4. Good replay value and gets increasingly more interesting the more you play with the same opponent
Heir to the Pharaoh improves with time and particularly so with time spent with the same opponent, which makes it perfect for couples. As you become familiar with the way your opponent appraises certain actions and deals with bidding on cards he desperately wants, you'll be better able to use that information to bid effectively. Heir to the Pharaoh is a mind game and mind games get deeper and more interesting over time. Once you become familiar with your opponent's general tendencies, you can start asking the really interesting questions. How do you surprise your opponent? How do you think your opponent will try to surprise you?
1. May be a bit difficult to fully understand initially and may therefore first appear to be more overwrought and random than it really is
Heir to the Pharaoh features multiple disparate elements and it can be difficult to keep in mind how all those elements work when first learning the game. As a result, the game can seem like it has a bit too much going on at first. One thing that tripped Peter up repeatedly when we first started playing was the fact that the player who gets to place a monument in a given round may not be the same player who gets to claim it for final scoring. The animal magic cards can also seem completely random at first. And the multiple scoring methods can be a teensy bit overwhelming. However, after a few rounds, or at most a full game, these things start to flow and make sense. The functions of the various gods and the order in which the actions are executed becomes intuitive, as certain actions (claiming a monument or a monument card, for example) are dependent on other actions having been executed before (the monument being placed). And once you've played the game a few times, you know what you can expect from the animal cards. Their effects become much more predictable as you become familiar with them and the way your opponent's mind works. Knowledge of your opponent's hand and the relative value of various scoring options for him can help you determine which animal magic card MIGHT get played. Though it never disappears, the sense of randomness generated by these cards definitely diminishes a bit with experience.
2. Some rounds can be discouraging
Some rounds just won't go your way. No matter how much mind reading and card counting you do, you will have rounds during which your opponent will get to take all actions and you will get to take one. And that can feel less than great. However, this action deficit in one round will inevitably be offset by the relatively "better" bidding cards you will receive from your opponent to use in future bidding phases. I think it's important to keep that balancing factor in mind, but the discouragement inherent in repeatedly losing out on action after action may turn some people off the game. It certainly frustrated Peter.
Heir to the Pharaoh is an interesting game. From the theme, to the artwork, to the pieces, to the myriad of ways to achieve victory, to the stunningly brilliant 2-player auction system, this game does everything very well. That said, it isn't a game that will appeal to everyone. It demands that you be able to tolerate some blind bidding frustration, at least in early stages of playing and in the early stages of the game. However, the interdependence the bidding system creates between players is so interesting that I would recommend visiting the game a few times even if you do find it frustrating at first.
MINA'S LOVE METER
Peter's favorite God! Ptah!
Mina's Love Meter
- I dislike this game so much that it makes me angry. (I rate these 4 or less on the BGG scale) Dislike
- I don't like this game, but I can see why others like it.
(5 on BGG scale) Some like
- I find this game somewhat appealing, but it doesn't really grab me. I am glad to have had the opportunity to try this game, but it is unlikely to stay in my collection for very long.
(5.5 to 6.5) on BGG scale) Like
- I like this game and appreciate the design. I am happy to play this game occasionally when the mood strikes and enjoy doing so.
(7 to 7.5 on BGG scale) Some love
- I love this game. It's not perfect, but it really appeals to me and I will play it frequently.
(7.5 to 8 on BGG scale) Lots of love
- I really love this game. The design really speaks to me. I want to play it most of the time.
(8 to 9 on BGG scale) All love all the time
- I ADORE this game and can see myself playing it many times and for many years. I would go to sleep clutching it in my arms and want to play it all day every day...only not literally because that would be insane.
(9 to 10 on BGG scale)
Ralph H. Anderson
And I love your pictures with Anubis and Bast at the top of the pyramid to show who won! Very clever and fun!
Another game I am excited to try out. Thanks, Mina!
It is a beautiful game. Thanks for the great photos and explanation.