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Subject: First Impression -- My performance in Sphinx stinx, but it was fun. rss

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Pete Belli
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Sphinx is an adventure board game for kids and children who never grew up. It was published in 1999 by Ravensburger. Designed for 2, 3, or 4 players at least 8 years old, Sphinx combines a memory challenge with a bit of strategy and a hint of deduction. I paid three dollars for my copy at the thrift store.





Sphinx features the high quality components that generations of customers have learned to expect from Ravensburger. Our game is over 10 years old and it has obviously been played by the previous owner. The game still looks great. The sturdy cards and wooden tokens were built to last, and the moveable wall sections of the pyramid will probably function until our civilization crumbles into dust.





The object of the game is a classic narrative of exploration taken straight from a Saturday afternoon matinee at the cinema. A group of intrepid archaeologists has entered a mysterious Egyptian pyramid in search of priceless artifacts. The first player to solve the riddle of the sphinx will enter the secret chamber and grab the treasure. Each of the six plastic sphinx tokens has a different color hidden inside the base. Through a process of examination and/or deduction the players must determine the correct color pattern of the three sphinx figures guarding the entrance to the treasure chamber.





The board is a three-dimensional representation of the pyramid. The players enter the maze-like labyrinth at one end of the spiral. There are three dice which usually provide a result offering three movement choices during a player’s turn. For example, if a player rolls 1, 4, and 5 the explorer token would have three separate “moves” which can be conducted in an order the player chooses. These movement options add a layer of strategic thinking seldom found in roll-and-move games.

The pace of our three player game was brisk. Players can move forward and backward along the passages, providing a few strategic choices. However, the best possible move is often quite obvious, so lengthy spasms of analysis paralysis will not be a common problem. We must remember that this is a game for children, but I can see how the game might drag with new players or careless explorers.

Special squares built into the pathway can provide clues for the adventurers.

Moving a token over the mummy symbol allows the player to examine the hidden color at the base of one sphinx of that player’s choice. This is the most crucial step in solving the mystery of the pyramid, so players will be running up and down the passageway trying to gather clues from the mummies. More on this later.

Moving over a sphinx card symbol allows the player to take a card of the matching color. To finally solve the mystery of the pyramid the winning player must know the correct color code hidden in the sphinx miniatures and that explorer must also possess the matching sphinx cards to decipher the riddle. A player may only hold one card of each color. A player holding a useful card must plan his or her moves carefully… the rules require a player already holding a card matching a sphinx symbol to return it to the pile if his or her token passes over a matching space. This rule can lead to a helpful process of deduction for the other explorers. If the bold Professor Green is careless with her gray sphinx cards while moving along the pathway, you know she doesn’t need any gray clues to solve the mystery! It is also possible to steal cards from another player by moving over an explorer token. The choice of color snagged when a card is stolen can offer a useful clue regarding the thief’s intentions.





The secret doors are my favorite element of the design. A player ending a move in one of the adjacent spaces rotates the wall section to enter the passage on the other side. A skillful player will plot his moves to take advantage of these hidden entrances, and a careful player will avoid activating one of these turntables when it will send his explorer token in the wrong direction. One sneaky subsection of this rule forces another grave robber archaeologist previously positioned on the rotating section to spin around if the secret door is tripped by another explorer. This was fun.



 


Our sample game included a good mix of explorers. I am a middle-aged wargamer obsessed with the board game hobby. My wife is an occasional BGG lurker with a putative age of 29, while her mother is an octogenarian who enjoys the social aspect of board games. My loving mother-in-law took a perverse pleasure in swapping the most essential sphinx miniatures whenever the “snakes” result appeared on the special movement dice. The shifting of these sphinx tokens when the unlucky roll occurs can upset the carefully planned expedition of any tomb raider archaeologist, and this not-so-random element of nasty randomness could become a form of leader-bashing in a tight game.

Although my performance in Sphinx stinks because I kept forgetting the color code, it was fun. Each memory lapse required wasted die rolls and retrograde movement along the passageway to get additional clues from the mummy spaces. My beloved spouse (who portrayed Professor Green in this session) secured the treasure because her disciplined scientific mind triumphed over my lucky rolls of the dice. Dearest mother-in-law chuckled with evil delight while pulling the sphinx tokens out of alignment whenever the snakes appeared and she enjoyed hindering my fumbling efforts to mimic Indiana Jones.

Accept this game for what it is, and you’ll enjoy the experience. I think bratty kids (like my ten year old nephew) would have a blast with the secret doors, snake dice, and card snatching. Sphinx has already been requisitioned by my mother-in-law for a session with her grandchildren during the next family visit.
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Steve R Bullock
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Nice report, Pete. I have considered getting this one a few times. I am a sucker for some of those old Ravensburger games.

Just curious... could I use some small figures (about the size of the figures from the old HeroQuest game) in the game instead of the generic tokens? Or are the movement spaces too small?

Again, thanks for sharing!
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Pete Belli
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The wooden tokens are probably the size of the tip of your pinkie finger. Only one token will ever occupy a square, so crowding would not be an issue if the miniature would barely fit in the space.
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Steve R Bullock
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Thanks for the quick reply!

I think I will pick up a copy and use the figures from "It From the Pit." I think they will fit perfectly, and add a little more atmosphere to the game.
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Wiedewiet
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volnon wrote:
Just curious... could I use some small figures (about the size of the figures from the old HeroQuest game) in the game instead of the generic tokens? Or are the movement spaces too small?

For anyone stumbling across this review: the spaces are not perfect squares but are oblong, with the shortest sides being 2 cm (0.787 inch). The longer sides are not all the same throughout the board, but the shortest of them are 2,3 cm (0.906 inch). So any miniatures with a base not over 2 by 2,3 cm will fit!
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