- Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG)
- Designers: Tom Cleaver
- Artists: Banu Andaru
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 14+
- Playing Time: 45min
- Languages: English
- MSRP $19.99
- Release: 2014
- Reviewed by: Mary Dimercurio Prasad
- Game Played: Review Copy
- Number of Plays: 3-4
Players are Egyptian nobles at the time of the pharaohs, preparing for their death and burial in the Valley of the Kings. In the Egyptian religion, when you die you can take it with you! Egyptians therefore stocked their tombs with food, shabti (statuettes of servants who will work for them in the afterlife), canopic jars (to preserve their organs), statues of the gods, household items, and amulets. You compete with the other players to accumulate the best artifacts for your tomb. At the end of the game, you score the artifacts stored there – the player wit the most victory points wins! (From the rulebook.)
Valley of the Kings is a deck building/deconstructing set collection game set in Egypt. The object of the game is to get the most points by entombing cards. There is a starting display of cards in the shape of a pyramid (3 in the base, 2 in the middle level, and 1 on top), with the bottom row available for purchase. As is the case with most deck building games, each player starts with the same set of cards; in this case 10 cards as follows:
- 4 Shabtis – swap two cards in the pyramid or remove a card from the pyramid
- 3 Urns – put the top card of your discard pile on top of your deck
- 2 Boxes of Food – sacrifice a card in your hand to entomb a card with a lower cost
- 1 Offering Table – protection from discard/sacrifice from an opponent
Players shuffle their decks and draw 5 cards. Play goes clockwise with players taking turns until all cards in the display plus main draw deck are gone and there are even turns. A turn consists of the following steps: play cards, discard, rebuild pyramid, and draw a new hand.
Play cards: each card in hand may be played in one of three ways, towards buying a card (from the bottom row of the pyramid, which is immediately put into discard), executing the action on the card, or entombing the card (once only per turn). Entombing a card is basically putting it into your private score pile, which is sorted for all player to see. Thus cards have multiple uses, such as the money printed at the top left or the action printed near the bottom, but only one use is allowed per turn.
Discard: once a player has played her cards, all cards in hand and played are discarded. Rebuild pyramid: if there are spaces in the pyramid, they are filled from the bottom up. If a player did not manipulate the pyramid during his turn, he discards one card and “crumbles” the pyramid. Crumbling also happens when a player buys/takes a card. This just means that the cards above the new space move down (repeated if another space has been left). If the bottom middle card is removed, the player has a choice as to which card above it will move down. Draw a new hand: the player draws a new hand of 5 cards.
All this is pretty straightforward. As far as scoring goes, some cards have a straight 1 to 5 victory points listed on them. The rest of the cards score for sets only, based on its card color and type. There are two copies of each of these cards but only unique copies that are entombed will score (the extra copy does nothing towards scoring if it has also been entombed). For each color of card there are different numbers in its set, ranging from 3 to 7 (conveniently listed on each card). Each unique card is counted per color and squared for scoring. For example, if a player has 4 of the 6 unique green cards with no duplicates, she scores 4 times 4, or 16, victory points.
The actions add interest to the game. Actions can allow a player to manipulate the pyramid, take specific cards from the pyramid (not necessarily the bottom row), mess with other players (e.g. everyone discards a card or everyone gives the active player a card), and entomb extra cards (normally you only get to entomb one card on your turn).
This is basically the game, although I’ve left out the details. The full rules are available on the AEG website.
Valley of the Kings is a fun deck building/deconstructing set collection game that comes in a convenient small box (one of the things I love about it!). I rate it approximately at the “I really like it” level, mainly because it does have some “take-that” aspects to it (not my favorite part of games to say the least). It plays in under an hour, is easy to teach, and is enjoyable to play.
I’ve played Valley of the Kings with two, three, and four players. I personally like it best with two or three. Although it scales well, it becomes a bit more brutal with four due to the higher card trashing opportunities (e.g. opponents making you discard) and other take-that mechanisms between your turns.
What sets this game apart from most deck building games is the ability each turn to remove a card from your deck (via your hand) for scoring. Depending on your choices, you could be removing more – really streamlining your deck. Of course this comes with its tradeoffs. Most of the cards are quite useful for most or all of the game so it’s difficult to decide what and when to start putting things into the scoring area (and out of your deck). If you wait too long, you won’t be scoring many points (the game end can sneak up on you if you aren’t watching!). This is also one thing that helps balance the “take-that” part of the game. If you want to keep using those cards, you will have fewer cards to use for purchases and fewer choices for cards to put into scoring.
The other thing I like is the ability to use the cards either as money or for their actions, making for some interesting decisions throughout the game. It is especially satisfying to combine actions to play off each other – for example, having your opponents discard down to 3 cards then having them give you a card; this becomes better as the game goes on, as players buy more valuable cards while removing the less valuable cards from their decks.
The cards are high quality, with a beautiful mat linen texture. I did the typical bend test on a couple of the cards (top tip to bottom tip) – they did not break or crease but bounced back as they should. The cards are attractive – nice artwork and colors. The rules are well written and include colorful examples. The box is very sturdy, with clean graphics and a thick linen texture. The small size makes it extra appealing – so easy for travel!
Opinions from other Opinionated Gamers:
Dale Yu: Times played, 2. I’ve played it twice, with 4p each time, and it’s an interesting take on the deckbuilding theme. My favorite part of the game is the dual nature of the cards – the fact that you have to discard a card from your deck in order to score it makes for some tough decisions along the way. You have to carefully plan on how and when you are going to remove cards from your deck, because as you would suspect, the highest scoring cards are generally the ones with the best actions.
What I don’t like about the game: the tactical nature of the card market pyramid. In one of my games, it wasn’t an issue, but in the other, a less observant opponent kept making decisions in the market that definitely helped me finish a few sets which turned into big scores at the end. Now, I don’t think that this is a huge issue, and honestly, there are enough cards in the game to allow you to manipulate the card pyramid as well, but it’s something to make note of.
I’ll admit that I’m still partial to other deckbuilders, but this is a nice introductory game to the genre, and it does have the significant advantage of being small enough to be able to be stashed in a bag or pocket unlike most of the other deckbuilders.
Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers:
- I love it!
- I like it: Mary Prasad, Dale Y
- Not for me…
Yeah, I also liked the 2- and 3- player games better than the 4-player version (although I think I’ve only played it once with the full complement). The 4er game just had too few turns! With the same number of cards every time, more players = fewer turns per player. Doing stuff was what made it fun, so having fewer turns was a bummer. Plus, it was harder to collect big sets and the cards you got seemed to be more dependent on what other people did on their turns. I normally don’t like it when available cards are constantly changing (like Ascension, for example) but it worked better here because of the limited card pool and the look-ahead you get by looking at the upper levels of the pyramid.
All in all, I really liked this game! I wonder, though, if it’ll get tiresome playing through the same cards every game even though they will appear in different sequence each time?
Thanks a lot for your detailed description of my Valley of the Kings game and your kind review. If you make it to Gen Con, please look me up at the AEG booth.
You’re welcome! Sadly, I won’t be at Gen Con this year :-(