Andres F. Pabon L.
This is one of my series of online game reviews. For more information on these, please read the Introduction in my Tally Ho! at Yucata.de review.
While there have been quite a large number of Egyptian-themed games during the last decade or so, this one was one of the first games I ever heard of that used an archaeological approach to the theme. Me, being quite a fan of archeology (having read and re-read the great Gods, Graves & Scholars by C. W. Ceram quite a few times) was really excited about this one. So very much, I was ready to order it without any further information.
And then, MaBiWeb did an implementation on their site. The short story is that, while I enjoy it quite a bit, it's not the awesome game I wanted it to be. Needless to say, it didn't ever get purchased.
For the long story, though, I invite you to read on.
The object of the game is to have the most successful expeditions to Egypt, while also securing the best possible rooms in the museum to show off your hard-earned booty. During the course of the game, you'll also get to receive aid from 5 different patrons, whose interest is only to help you along.
The game board is rather simple: it depicts the museum, adorned with it's several 2, 3 and 5 point rooms (interconnected with doorways), the 5 patrons and their advantages, and a handy score track.
The meat of the game, however, are the 36 parcel tiles, which, by joining 2 together, form different areas. Depending on the current round, different numbers of areas (from 6 to 9) will be available, forming a region. These regions can be thought as the real board in the game, as it's here where you'll be doing the most actions.
Each of these parcels depict 6 different spaces, some with pyramids on them, some without them. As the parcels are all a 2 x 3 grid, all areas are 4 x 3 grids. Regions have different amounts of spaces, depending on the round.
The parcels also, when flipped over, depict a particular patron. While you take control of the different areas, you may take these parcels and flip them, using the patrons as need arise (more on that later).
You're handed 25 cubes in your color (possibly representing your excavated sites, although it's never made clear), of which you only have some available at any given time, while leaving the rest as a pool you can draw from during the game. These cubes will eventually get placed on the different areas, on their available spaces (remember, each area is formed by 2 different parcels).
The game is played through 4 "seasons" (full game rounds), each subdivided in 3 phases.
During the first phase, you first set up the available areas into the region which will be excavated this season (during seasons 1, 2 and 3 you form a 2 x 2 grid of areas, while on season 3 you make a 3 x 2 grid). Each player also takes a set amount of cubes from his reserve, to his available cubes area. If there are not enough cubes available on the pool, the player only takes the ones available (there are no "replacements"... once the cubes are gone, they're gone).
The second phase is the meat of the game. During it, you may do any of these actions:
1. Start a new excavation,
2. Extend and excavation,
3. Pass, or
4. Appeal to a patron
And after you make your action, the next player picks an action. This process is repeated until all players pass. Once a player passes, he may not take any further action for the rest of the season.
To start an excavation, you just place a cube on any empty available space on any area. This is a good place to say that you may not place any cubes on pyramid spaces (these can be considered obstacles).
To extend an excavation, you may place 1 cube extending from an already existing cube (remember, you may not pass through pyramids). This can be done within the same area, or extending to any other area. The new space must be orthogonally adjacent to the existing one. Once you do this, you may place another cube if you want, extending from the newly placed one (thus, you may place 1 or 2 cubes).
If you run out of cubes, you may not start or extend any further excavations, and thus are forced to either pass or appeal to patrons.
Now, until now the game play is pretty straightforward. The patrons, though, break the rules in several different ways. To appeal to a patron, you must have a card of that patron available (more on how to get the cards later). Once you use a patron's power, you just flip the card so you can't use it again this season. You'll flip it back again at the start of the next season, though.
Each patron bends the rules differently (for example, one lets you place 3 cubes instead of 2 while extending an excavation, while other lets you place cubes on a pyramid), and you may use as many as you have available on a single action.
Finally, the third phase (survey) is where you take patron cards and place cubes on the museum (and also, when you score points).
Starting with the top-left area, and going from left to right, top to down, you start determining majorities in each area. The player with the most excavation cubes in an area may pick between placing a cube on the museum, or taking any of the two parcels that form the area.
If he decides to place a cube at the museum, he may pick any unclaimed 2 or 3 point space he wants. Also, if he already has presence at the museum, the player may choose to extend his presence in the same way he did on the areas (by placing a cube on a room connected to any one he has cubes at). Now, every room in the museum can be related to any of the 5 patrons (with the 2 point spaces being related to 2 different patrons). This is very important, as the final score depends both on the rooms you've taken and the patron cards you've collected: so, if you have booked the 3-point room of a patron of whom you have collected 2 cards, you score 6 points.
Now, the card collecting is very simple. Each parcel has a patron symbol printed on the middle (all but one, anyway). If you decide to take that parcel, as you flip it, you'll have the corresponding patron card. Some parcels have some additional points printed, and these points are also totaled at the end of the game.
After the 4 seasons have passed, you total your points (depending on the rooms booked, the patrons collected and the extra points on your cards). You add 5 points for each "series" of patrons collected (one card of each patron), and the player with the most points wins the game.
I usually love the area majority mechanic. In fact, El Grande is possibly my favorite game ever. I also love this game's theme, and the fact that it actually plays fairly quickly. Plus, the ingenious, ye simple way of breaking the rules is just awesome.
Sadly, I've found that the game is rather difficult to grasp. Or I should say, very difficult to grasp. I don't know if it's the myriad of ways you can score, or the myriad of ways you can get hosed by your opponents. However, it's always very difficult to know what to do, and not difficult in an "agonizing decision" sense (which I would love), but rather in a "I have 10 different options, and just can't decide which one I'll take". I can see this devolving in a really AP-prone game.
So, while I do enjoy the game, I think there are several better choices out there that may scratch a similar itch (Thebes for the theme, Puerto Rico for the rule-breaking, etc.)
Pros: Great theme. Plays quickly. Interesting mechanics blend.
Cons: Very difficult to grasp. Can be very AP-prone.
As usual, MaBiWeb does a wonderful work implementing this one. Placing a cube is as simple as clicking on the space you want to claim, and you must confirm any move you make before submitting, which reduces accidental mis-clicks.
The patrons all have a very useful tool-tip attached, which explains how to use them.
The only thing I'd like to see better implemented would be a better scoring detail, as it's sometimes hard to figure out how the score numbers come by. True, the score is detailed in terms of parcels, museum and series; and both parcels and series need no further explanation, but it would be nice to see how the museum score can be calculated for each player. Just a very minor quip, though...
It's a rather inexpensive game, but one you should give a try before you buy nonetheless. It might be that diamond in the rough for you, but then again, it might just be a disappointing game.
And with this excellent interface, why shouldn't you try it? The rules are very simple (all you need is in this review and in the helpful tool-tips detailed above).
Where to Play