I love Ancient Egypt stuff. I always have, from way back in the day when I had a subscription for a magazine called “Discovery” at my local corner shop and my mum didn't pick it up in weeks and weeks and it ended up spiralling out of control into a giant bill and we had to avoid the shop for ages and – ANYWAY. Yeah, Egypt. Pyramids. Big gold hats. Mummies. Mad cat things. Dogmen with sticks. It's the best. So here's something else that is also kinda bestish.
VALLEY OF THE KINGS: AFTERLIFE
The reason why this game is called “Valley of the Kings: Afterlife” is that it's a stand-alone expansion to a game from last year called “Valley of the Kings”. See? See how that works? But this one is brand new and can be played all by itself, so we will start here since it's the one that's easiest to get a hold of at the moment.
It's a deckbuilding game that – WAIT, COME BACK.
Yes, I know you're tired of hearing about deckbuilding games. But this is a good one. It even has something a little bit different about it. It's not like quite a lot of deckbuilding games, where you kinda start to feel that nagging sense of “I'M PLAYING THE SAME GAME AGAAAAIIINNN.” This is pretty fresh and cool, because the cards are laid out in a pyramid.
Yeah, an actual pyramid. Or a triangle. It's flat. It's a triangle shape of cards. A pyramid. Whatever.
So, the game sets up in a pretty standard way. You get a deck of starter cards, with basic powers. You also get a tomb card too, where you'll later entomb cards to score them. (I love saying the word “tomb”. Say it. Sounds amazing, right? TOMB. I'm going to stop writing it, though, because it's starting to look weird.)
From the stock of cards that are left, you draw six and make a face-up pyramid. Three cards on the bottom, two above, one on the top. Voila, you have a cute little pyramid of cool cards that you will want to buy.
Now, in a turn, you can play cards to perform one of three actions. You can play a card to BUY a card from the base of the pyramid. Or you can EXECUTE the action on the card itself. Or you can ENTOMB the card – scoring it.
As you buy cards from the pyramid, the pyramid crumbles. So, when you buy a card from the middle of the bottom row, let's say, one of the cards above will crumble down into the base. And then the card that was in the top row will crumble down into the middle. Right? So already I bet you can see what a major element of this game is – choosing which cards to buy and where to make some delicious pyramid crumble. I mean, you're going to make cards available to other players! And other players are HORRIBLE.
At the end of your turn you rebuild the pyramid, bringing new cards into the game. Then you draw a new hand and onwards we go into Egyptian deckbuilding heaven. That's basically the whole game right there. Play cards, buy cards from the bottom row. The pyramid crumbles down. New cards become available. There's a whole lovely spatial element to deciding which cards to buy. Crumble crumble crumble, cards cards cards. Entomb, entomb, entomb (only once per turn though) and all those cards in your tomb at the end of the game are the ones that will be totalled to decide who is victorious.
With the basics covered, we come to the cards. I don't want to spoil too much of this, because discovering what the cards do makes for a large part of the fun of any deckbuilder. But the cards in this game allow you to nudge the rules of the game in useful directions. Let's take the BRAIN HOOK as an example. When you play a BRAIN HOOK (which were used in Ancient Egypt to pull the brains of the dead out through the nostrils) you can look at a card from the stock of cards, pre-pyramid, and buy it early at a reduced cost if it's something you like. If not, you just fling it in the bin, like a crappy brain. If you play a SPEAR, you can use the spear to jab into the boneyard (the collective discard pile) and pull out a card that you can place in your own tomb. There's also bad stuff you can do to the other players and cards that will benefit everyone at the table.
Here's the kicker for me – every card is very powerful. This game doesn't have the same “I need to thin this deck and get rid of these low value cards” feel that many other deckbuilders do. All the cards feel useful, carry some weight, and the tension is all about when to entomb them. If you hang onto them too long, the game could end while your powerful cards are in hand, or in your deck, and that makes them instantly worthless.
I love that this Ancient Egypt-themed game places so much emphasis on burying stuff. The Egyptians were burial daft. They loved it! They loved a good bury. So a game about deciding when to fling stuff you love into a tomb completely hits the spot.
With set collection elements, lots of decisions about timing and consequence, and a little bit of cut-throat business, Valley of the Kings: Afterlife is a very strong experience. It comes in a small box, doesn't cost much, and plays brilliantly with 2-4 players. It looks great on the table, and is nicely illustrated. Oh, and it even has a solitaire mode that works.
What else do you need? I'm recommending it. But you don't have to buy it. I'm not your mummy.
Do you get it?
The joke about the mummy?
Oh, you got it.