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NEFERTITI

Reviewed by Herb Levy

NEFERTITI (Rio Grande Games, 2-4 players, ages 8 and up, 45 minutes; $49.95)

 

Mel Brooks once said, “It’s good to be king”. And, in Nefertiti, the new game by Jacques Bariot, Thomas Cauet and Guillaume Montiage, you can see why. King Akhanaton has flexed his royal muscles and commanded members of the Egyptian nobility to bring rare and precious gifts to the palace for his wife Nefertiti in honor of their wedding anniversary. This forces players, representing those noble families, to scour the markets for the best they have to offer and, in return, increase their prestige to win the favor of the royals.

The board to Nefertiti displays the Nile River and, alongside it, markets that hold a variety of gifts. Gift cards in the game (46 of them) represent Senet sets (5 singles and 3 doubles), harps (8 of these), chairs (8), mirrors (6), statuettes (6), necklaces (5) and gold crafts (5). There are servant pieces (in four colors), Deben (money) tokens, 13 Character cards, a pair of dice, an Akhanton card and other play aids.Nefertiti

There are four general areas in the game and each area holds two markets. But not all are open at the same time. A Reserve Tile is placed on each open market and one Deben is placed in each Reserve. The deck of Gift cards is shuffled and four of them drawn, face down. The Akhanaton card is shuffled with those four and placed at the bottom of the Gift card deck. (When the Akhanaton card next appears, it will signal the end of the game.) Now four Gift cards are placed in each of the open markets, the top most gift also receiving a red Royal Seal. The dice are rolled with high roller going first, turns proceeding in clockwise order. In addition, the first player receives a starting bankroll of 8 Deben, the next two players 9 with the final player (in a four player game) receiving 10.

On a turn, a player must place one of his servant tokens in any of the open markets. If that is the first token there, the player receives a bonus of 1 Deben from the Market Reserve. (Some market spaces bestow additional benefits on a particular player as well.) Markets consist of 7 to 10 numbered spaces as well as a condition (noted on the bottom and different for each market) which, when met, will close that particular market. (For example, one market will close once three servants in three different colors or four servants of any color enter, another will close when the combined total of numbered spaces occupied by servants totals 17 or more, another will close when a doe roll is less than the number of servants in the market etc.) Once the closing requirements are met, goods and money can be obtained.

All open markets display two rows of goods available there. The top row displays only 1 good along with a red Royal Seal. The bottom row offers three goods. The player occupying the highest number space in the now closed market MUST pay that number amount in money (which goes into the that market’s reserve) and gets first choice among the goods. He may choose the one good in the top row (and take the seal) OR take any TWO cards from the bottom row. The player occupying the next highest space now has a choice: take any ONE remaining good (from either the top or bottom row of goods) OR take half of the money (rounded up) in the market reserve. Once all servants have made their choice, the market is officially closed, the Market Reserve tile shifts to cover it up and the Market Closed tile covers up the adjacent stall revealing a new market previously closed in a different area now available to the servants. (This opening and closing of markets continues throughout the game.)

As the game progresses, players will accumulate gift cards. All gift cards have value but on a sliding scale based on how many players have them. For example, a gold craft card is worth 14 points each if only one player has them. Should two players have them, their value decreases to 10. If three or more players have them, their value falls to only 7. So the trick is to make sure that your holdings are as unique as you can make them – and that’s where those red Royal Seals come in.

By spending a Royal Seal during a turn, a player may claim one of the 13 Character cards on display.nefertitipcsAfter claiming them, at the start of any subsequent turn, that player may play one of them. There are seven types of Character cards (with multiples of some of them) and they are very powerful. You have the Vizier who allows the player to score 2 points for EACH different type of gift he has, the High Priest who allows the player to play an extra servant on a turn, the Thief who will take a gift for free from a closed market, the Treasurer who allows a player to take 4 Deben out of any market reserve, the Merchant who can force a trade with another player of one gift card for another, the Royal Servant who forces ALL players to lose one gift card of the type chosen by the player and the Scribe who allows the player to score one type of gift he has (and gives a bonus of up 3 extra points PER GIFT).

As markets reopen, cards are drawn from the gift deck to restock them until the Akhanaton card is drawn. When Akhanaton reappears, that market is now permanently closed. At that point, players may only shop in the remaining open markets. Once they are closed, the game ends and final scoring occurs.

Added to any points scored due to Character cards played during the game is the value of the gifts each player still has in his possession. Players also receive 3 prestige points for each unused Royal Seal still in their holdings as well as 1 prestige point for every 2 Deben they have. The player with the highest total value in prestige has won the favor of the Royal Family and the game.

Since the game utilizes a closed money system, no new funds appear. The money that starts in the game gets circulated and re-circulated and can be (and often is) very very tight. This impacts when placing servants as the first player MUST always pay the value of the space his servant is on. You have to temper the desire for cards in a market with the financial drain that can sink your plans. Whether to take the Gift card with the Royal Seal OR take TWO gift cards is not always as clear cut as you might suspect. Gift cards grant prestige points (which is, after all, what constitutes a win) but those Royal Seals are extremely valuable as they give you access to Character cards which, used wisely, multiply the values of the Gift cards you hold and hamper the best laid plans of the other merchants. (While there is a sheet explaining the Character cards and their uses, it would have been nice if four of those sheets had been included in the game so each player had one for easy reference.) The variety of market closing requirements eliminates a degree of sameness which could be deadly. Most markets close once certain specific configurations are met; a few rely on dice to trigger a closing, a requirement adding an element of chance which seems a bit at odds with other market requirements.

Neferrtiti has many elements that make for a challenging game. With the constant opening and closing of markets, the game takes on aspects of a more sedate form of Whack-a-Mole, as players shift attention from one area of the board to another. Add to that the challenges of money management, set collection and timely card play and you have a nice mix of strategy and fun. – – – – Herb Levy


 

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