Deeper and deeper he went. Strange shapes were visible on the corridor walls. The walls almost seemed to move. The light of the lantern, caught in a sinister dance with the ancient darkness, travelled only a few meters ahead. Piles and piles of rubble between him and the entrance. Between him and artefacts of immeasurable value. Between him and the lives and deaths of the great kings of old.
What do you get for your money?
104 card: 96 Artefact cards, 4 Tomb cards and 4 Reference cards. Plus, the rules.
How do you play the game?
In this deckbuilder you are an Egyptian nobleman, preparing for your death and burial in the Valley of the Kings. You must collect artefacts to bring with you into your tomb. The player with most impressive collection of grave ornaments wins the game.
You start the game with 10 starter cards. These cards, and all other cards in the game, have a title, a gold value, a cost, a colour, an action, a type and a level. There are 40 level I cards, 29 level II cards and 27 level III cards. The level I cards are your starter cards. There are also Unique cards and cards that belong to a set. Every set has a different colour; blue, yellow, red, brown or green. The Unique cards are purple and the Starter cards are grey.
In your first turn, you take five cards from your deck and you can use every card in your hand for its gold value, its action or, once a turn, you can entomb a card from your hand.
When you use a card for its gold value, you can buy a card from the pyramid. A pyramid you say? Yes, all the level II and III cards are put in a stack and six of them are drawn and placed on the table in a row of three, then two and then one card. Like a pyramid! You can only buy cards from the bottom of the pyramid, the row of three. When you’ve purchased a card, take the card and place it on top of your draw pile. The pyramid then crumbles down, one row-two card goes to row three and the only row-one card goes to row two.
You can also use a card for its action. An action like: Put the top card from your discard pile on top of your draw pile, all cards in your hand have a gold value of four, every opponent discards a card or everyone sacrifices a card. When you have to sacrifice a card you must place the card in the Boneyard, this is like the general discard pile.
Lastly, a card can be Entombed. Generally one card per turn, but if actions tell you to do so, you can can entomb more. Entombing a card means that you place the card in your private tomb. It’s no longer part of your deck, but only entombed cards will score you points at the end of the game, so you’d better have some there when they close your tomb. Each entombed starter card will score you one point, each Unique card will also score you a fixed amount of points, the other cards, the ones that belong to a coloured set, score a little differently. Every set is composed of a different amount of unique titles. The brown set, the Canopic Jars, have four unique titles, the green have six, the blue have seven. That does not mean that there are only seven blue cards in the game, but when you score these sets you only look at the unique blue titles. Count them and then square the result. So, when you’ve entombed seven unique blue cards you get 49 points and with three green ones you get 9.
Every turn you buy, you do actions, you entomb and then you rebuild the pyramid with cards from the general draw pile. First, the level II card will be drawn and then the level III cards. The cards become more expensive in the course of the game, but they are also worth more gold and sometimes have better actions.
The game ends when the draw pile is empty, the pyramid is empty and all players have taken the same amount of turns. Add up all your points and the player with the most points wins the game.
A deckbuilder with 96 cards, that’s interesting already you might say. A small box, a small amount of cards. In Dominion for instance, according to BGG it’s still the highest rated (pure) deckbuilder, you use 100 kingdom cards in a game, plus a bunch of money and victory point cards. In Valley of the Kings you use about the same amount of action cards, but there are many more different actions you can execute. Another interesting aspect is that these cards are also used as money and as victory points. Because of that you have to take more difficult decisions. Use a card as money, for its action or do you want to entomb it?
What I also find very interesting is the fact that cards are only worth points when they are in your tomb. As a result, and again similar to Dominion but less apparent, there’s a tipping point in the game. A point where you stop putting energy in acquiring cards and start preparing for the afterlife and cram your tomb with all kinds of beautiful valuables. Probably the best way to play this game is to keep your deck as thin as possible. A large deck at the end of the game is not a good omen. Your afterlife will likely become a bit crappy.
At the end of the game you score points depending on what you have put into your tomb. The starter cards and the purple, unique ones will give you some points per card, but the high scores are achieved through the collections of the different sets. You know in advance what is going to be the highest possible score you can get per set. The sarcophagi will only give you nine points when you’ve got them all, the amulets twenty-five and the statues will give you forty-nine points ! That’s a lot.
To collect these large sets you have to remember that every turn at least one card is removed from the pyramid, so whether you like it or not, the cards will become more expensive in the course of the game. The card pyramid is therefore, in addition of being a constantly changing shopping window and a way to plan ahead, a timer. You know that at some point the cards will become more expensive and you have to keep up, buying cards that maybe aren’t worth many points but they do have a higher gold value than cards you already have. Otherwise you can’t buy the more expensive cards that might complete one of your sets.
Another nice thing about this game is that it’s interactive. There are quite a few cards that make you interact with your opponents and not only the ‘screw you’ kind of interaction.
Yes, sure there are cards that tell the others to discard or sacrifice cards, but there are also cards where you have to make a sacrifice yourself to do something beneficial. For instance, the ‘Weres Amulet’ lets you put a card from your hand into an opponent’s tomb, before you can draw three new cards. The ‘Statue of Sobek’ lets you reveal three cards from your deck and after that you must discard one, entomb one and put one on top of one opponent’s discard pile. This might be a good or a bad thing.
OK, all the above are good aspects of Valley of the Kings. Let’s talk about some bad things or better described as minor issues or doubts that I have. This mainly focusses on the combination of a lack of variation and the playing time. In many deckbuilders you can mix and match. Every game you can use different combinations of action cards. Here, you always use the same cards and every card will come out in every game. The only thing that changes is the order of things.
Then there’s also the fact that this game takes about half an hour to forty-five minutes to play. Half an hours is the perfect length for this game, but I find that it mustn’t last much longer or otherwise it slight outstays its welcome. It’s that combination of the playing time and the lack of variability that makes me curious about the replayability.
This game is not thematic. It has some flavour from the illustrations, but that’s it. The only mechanism that matches the theme, the preparation for Egyptian afterlife, is the scoring mechanism, the entombing of cards. Even the card pyramid, pretty thematic at first sight you would say, only adds something to the gameplay and not to the theme and the experience.
The game looks nice and colourful. The illustrations are about the only Egyptian thing about this game and they are nice.
Quality of the game parts:
It’s a card game and the card are good quality. No complaints there. Plus, the box is nice and portable.
I like deck building in general and when I played this one, I was not disappointed. It’s a solid deckbuilder, with lots of options. Not only do you have to choose between money, points or actions per card, but also between all the different cards or actions you can buy.
Another thing that I like very much is the balance you have to find between building your deck and building your tomb (or tearing down your deck). It adds a push your luck element to the game.
The last thing I want to mention is that I really like the fact that this game has a fair amount of interaction between players. Direct interaction, like discard a card, or indirect interaction when you buy a card from the limited supply of the pyramid that an opponent needs. It’s fun and it keeps everyone involved.
It plays just as good with two as it does with four, but although it’s a fun game, I wonder, like I already stated above, if the game has legs. We’ll see.