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Egizia

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Hans im Gluck/Rio Grande Games, 2-4 players, ages 12 and up, 90 minutes; $39.95)

 

egiziafrontReiner Knizia has carved out an enviable reputation as a top tier game designer. A recurrent theme in many of his better known games including such designs as Amun-Re (Summer 2003 GA Report), Ra (Summer 1999 GA Report) and Tutankhamen (Spring 1997 GA Report) is ancient Egypt. In a homage to both the designer and his love of Egypt, Virginio Gigli, Flaminia Brasini, Stefano Luperto and Antonio Tinto (known collectively as Acchittocca) have pooled their talents, melding the theme and the designer’s name to devise their own creation: Egizia.

As you might suspect, the setting for Egizia is ancient Egypt as players seek to prosper along the Nile while competing in building various wonders. Each player begins with a board to chart the relative strengths of their work force which includes three construction crews and a “joker” (consider him the “boss” or “foreman” on the job). The three worker crews start on the 1 level; the joker on level 2. All players also begin with a supply of ships and stones. One stone is used on the scoring track, one on the top most space on the board’s grain market, another on the top most space on the board’s stone market and one to track the number of stones a player has in his supply. The first player gets 2 stones, 3 for the second player, 4 for the third player and 5 for the fourth player. Finally, all players are given a 3 stone quarry card and a 6 grain card.

Egizia is played for 5 rounds and Nile cards are separated into three sets: one for rounds 1and 2, another for rounds 3 and 4 and a final set for round 5. Rounds in Egizia follow the same pattern. First, 10 Nile cards from the appropriate deck are drawn and placed, face up, on the 10 card spaces along the Nile. Now, in turn order (as determined by position of the Victory Points track with the player in last place going first), players place their ships on spaces along the Nile to immediately take any card on the claimed space, occupy one of the special circular spaces along the Nile or occupy one of the three monument building sites alongside the river.

Cards are all good and offer a variety of benefits – from additional food or stone, bonus cards from the Sphinx building site, additional strength for a construction crew, additional movement on the grain or stone market and more. The first circular space allows a player to move his stone on both the grain and stone market down a space; the rest of the round spaces increase the strength of one or more construction crews (and/or the joker) and two of them allow the water ring to be shifted to make it easier – or harder – to feed your workers later on. And then there are the three construction sites. Each construction site has room for three players to stake a claim to build there. (More on this later.) Once all ships have been placed, players must feed their workers.

Three types of fields produce food for workers: green, yellow-green and brown. A “water ring” (used to indicate which types of fields have been irrigated and will produce grain that round) is placed on the middle (yellow-green) space. Green fields always produce food and, at the beginning, only they produce food. The yellow-green and brown fields need to be “watered” if they are to produce. Watered fields are indicated by the water ring on the board which will shift based on player action. If a player has food equal to the combined strength of his workforce, his workers are fed and there is no penalty. Should there be insufficient food, however, players lose Victory Points (the amount lost determined by a player’s position on the grain market). Next, players produce stones based on quarry cards he has among his holdings and the new total is noted on his board. Now, players may build if they have a ship at any of the three building sites.

egiziabackBuilding is done by using one construction crew. A player may, however, increase the strength of his crew by adding the strength of his joker to his crew. (This may be done once each round.) The total strength used also indicates the number of stones used in the construction. There are three available slots at each building site, available for the first three players to claim them. The player closest to the Nile at each site goes first. (If all three slots are claimed, a fourth player may still place a ship there in the hopes that one of the original three will be unable or unwilling to actually do a building action there and so, in essence, take his place.) Each site offers different scoring opportunities.

The first site is the Sphinx. The player draws as many cards as the strength of his committed workers. (For example, if he is using a workforce valued at 3, he flips over the worker tile, spends 3 stones and draws 3 Sphinx cards.) No matter how many cards are drawn, only one card may be kept. Each card returned to the bottom of the Sphinx deck gives that player 1 Victory Point. Any card kept remains hidden face down with that player’s holdings.

The second site holds the Obelisk and the graves. The Obelisk contains open spaces with point values that may be filled at the cost of using the appropriately valued workers and stones. 12 grave tiles are randomly placed face down in the grave spaces of the second building site with the first four revealed. When building, grave tiles must be taken in order; no tiles can be skipped. Again, committing the appropriately valued workers and stones, players may gather them up to score Victory Points. (When grave tiles are taken, additional tiles are revealed so that there are always four on display.) A successful build at either the Obelisk or the graves grants an immediate benefit – the player may move his marking stone or either the grain or quarry board one step downward.

The final site contains the Pyramid and Temple. In similar fashion, players commit workers and stones and place stones. Building must be done in a certain order, with the lower valued spaces being built first and, in the case of the Pyramid, higher tiers may only be claimed if such a placement can be supported by built lower tiers. Completed Pyramid rows reward bonus points for the player with the most stones in a row. All points gathered for placement are charted on the scoring track. But site builds provide another source of points too. Building at one site earns you an additional 1 VP. Build at 2 sites and you get an extra 3 VPs. Manage to make a build at all three sites and you get another 6 VPs for your effort.

With all building completed, the next round begins as the Nile is seeded with a new set of cards and players again begin to place their ships along the Nile. Once the 5th round is completed, final scoring, starting with the player in 4th place and continuing until the player occupying the first place slot, is conducted.

First, a player who has his stone far enough down in the stone market sells his stones and gets 1 VP for every 2 stones. Next, players total the values of the grave tiles they have amassed receiving 2 points if the grave total is from 1 to 10, 5 points for a value of 11 to 20 and 9 points for a total of 21 or more. Finally, a player’s Sphinx cards are revealed and the player scores bonus points for any of the end game conditions met for which he holds the matching card. The player with the highest total wins!

Egizia combines lots of game mechanisms which makes digesting all the nuances of play challenging on first sight. While nothing is very complicated, familiarity with the workings of the stone and grain markets takes a little time and the sheer volume of cards and spaces (learning what they can and cannot do) lengthens the learning curve a bit. Still, like the Nile, the game flows continuously as monuments are built and Victory Points claimed.

At its center, the journey down the Nile is a journey of perceived values. Since every stop on the river is beneficial, players are faced with lots of choices which require some tough decisions as to which stop is better for their particular needs at that particular time. Making things more challenging in placing your ships to claim spaces is that you are always travelling downstream. Once a space is claimed, you are not allowed to go back and retrace your steps to claim something you might have missed (although one special card does allow you to sail upstream once per round). The stone and grain markets can be very important too. As your marker moves down the stone market, players add stones – essential for building – to their holdings. The grain market determines how heavy a penalty you receive if you cannot feed your workers. (You can also earn VPs if you are far enough down the markets too.)

The game rewards planning. Carefully increasing the strength of your construction crews and joker must be done in tandem with increases in your food production to avoid VP losses. Determining where and when to build on the construction sites is important too. And, of course, travelling down the Nile to grab helpful cards to increase your power as well as your ability to get more food and more stone is key. The only exception to the planning emphasis sits with those Sphinx cards.

Sphinx cards set goals that award large chunks of VPs if those particular goals are met. Goals are diverse ranging from what level of the Obelisk has been built to the strength of your construction crews to having the most production in stone or specific types of fields – and more! Achieving the goals on those cards are important. The drawback here is that these goals are secret and are not revealed until the game’s end. This means players have no way to defend against another player’s goal. What can be even more exasperating is that players seeking to meet a goal are often forced to rely on the unwitting assistance of their opponents. This can certainly make for an exciting game ending but it can also seem like the winner is snatching victory out of thin air. Tolerance for this kind of end game condition varies from gamer to gamer. You are the best judge as to whether or not this aspect of play is a game-breaker. For me, it is not.

Egizia is game that captures the ambiance of ancient Egypt well while giving players lots of action and interaction, tough decision-making and, most importantly, fun.

 


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