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Valley of the Kings

Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(Alderac Entertainment Group, 2-4 players, ages 14 and up, 45 minutes; $19.99)

valleykings1When archeologists searched the sands of Egypt, they uncovered, in the Valley of the Kings, the site where the pharaohs of that ancient civilization built pyramids that would become their tombs. Now contemporary players assume the role of pharaohs and plan for their eventual demise by entombing into their pyramid the various goods and artifacts that would be necessary for the afterlife. Manage to salt away enough of these valuable items and you will be the winner in this new card game designed by Tom Cleaver: Valley of the Kings.

The three “ages” in the game are represented by cards noted with a I, II and III. All Age 1 cards are “starters” and every player begins with an identical starting hand of 10 of them made up of 4 Shabtis, 3 Urns, 2 Box of Food cards and 1 Offering Table. All also receive a Tomb card where artifacts collected will be placed. Level II cards are shuffled and then placed on top of the shuffled deck of Level III cards to create a draw pile. From this pile, a “pyramid” is set up consisting of three cards at the base, two on the next level and one on the top. One card is drawn to start the discard pile (the “boneyard”). Players shuffle their starting deck, draw five cards and play can now begin.

valleykings2On a turn, a player can purchase cards, entomb one card or execute a card’s action. Cards are purchased by using the gold value of cards held in a hand to buy a card from the base of the pyramid. All carry a cost (on their upper right) which is how much gold it takes to add that card to your discard pile. All have a gold value (on the left) which is how much they are worth if used in making purchases. (Purchased cards go straight into a player’s discard pile.) When a card is bought, a gap is created in the pyramid and the pyramid immediately “crumbles” as cards from the upper levels fall so that they fill the gap. If a player does not buy a card from the pyramid, one of the cards in the base gets “sacrificed” (i.e. removed from play into the boneyard). In any case, at the end of a player’s turn, new cards are drawn to make the pyramid whole again for the next player.

Alternatively, a player may “entomb” a card, placing it under his tomb card. All cards are color-coded to show to which set each one belongs (and some will let you know how many different cards are in that particular set). These cards will score at the end of the game. A player may, however, decide to use the special power of a card.

All cards have a special power which may be used in lieu of a card’s gold value or entombing it. Powers vary and can allow a player to shift cards in the pyramid or “sacrifice one” (which means discarding it to the boneyard), drawing a hand of six cards (rather than five), entombing more than one card on a turn and so on.

Played cards go into a player’s discard pile and, when a player is done (with buying, special powers and/or entombing), remaining cards in hand are discarded. Five new cards from that player’s draw deck are drawn for the next turn. If you run out of cards to draw, you simply collect all your discards, shuffle them and create a new draw deck.

vallyekings3Play continues until Age II and Age III stacks have been used and all cards have been either bought or sacrificed. Now we score.

Only cards in your tomb will score. (Cards still in your hand or discard pile have no value now.) Some cards have a stated Victory Point value (all starting cards, for example, are worth 1 VP) while others have a variable, exponential, value depending on how many of those colored cards in a set you have managed to entomb. For example, 2 blue Statue cards are worth 4 points while 3 of them are worth 9. However, be careful as cards in your tomb only score if they are different! Two identical blue Statue cards, for example, will only count (for scoring purposes) as one. The player with the highest point total wins.

Game play aside, what is particularly satisfying about the game is two fold: the accuracy of the information contained on the cards (added for atmosphere but appreciated nonetheless) and the artwork which is beautifully rendered and helps to envelop you in the theme.

The learning curve for Valley of the Kings, especially for anyone who has played deck-building games, is practically non-existent. You can dive into play almost immediately. With two, each player can do some planning and consider which items to purchase on the next turn. With three or four, players need to be more flexible in their choices as the composition of the pyramid can (and will) radically change from one turn to the next. Decision making in judging which aspect of each card you wish to use is pivotal. Often, you will want to use a card in multiple ways but you cannot. As the game progresses, cards become more expensive and more powerful. If you entomb those cards, you greatly increase the value of your tomb which, after all, is the way to win. But doing so makes it more difficult to purchase more of those valuable cards and prevents any special ability that card might grant you from being used. When to make the move from hand to tomb is what separates the winner from the rest of the pack.

Unlike the archeologists mentioned at the beginning of this review, this game doesn’t explore much new territory. Deck-building has become a familiar element in game design. To its credit, though, the implementation of the deck-building mechanic is very smoothly done. Once you add to that the atmosphere, ease of play and enjoyment of experience, you will discover Valley of the Kings a game worth uncovering.


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