Design by Yannick Gervais
Published by White Goblin Games
2 – 5 Players, 1 ½ hours
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
Egypt is such a rich subject for game themes. The grandiose pyramids continue to enchant and enthrall visitors over 4000 years after their construction. The exotic ancient culture—with its arcane rituals and myriad of gods—is ripe fodder for mysterious, magical and even spooky stories. The country’s prominent role in Biblical history, as well as its ancient military exploits, also contribute abundant possibilities for creative game designers to mine.
Thus, it is no wonder that games using Egyptian themes continue to be published each year. I can only assume that publishers have enjoyed good experience (i.e., sales) with the theme. One Egyptian-themed game that was released back in 2012 is Pyramidion from designer Yannick Gervais and published by White Goblin Games. The game was largely overlooked by gamers, which is a shame, as it is a very good game that is challenging, tense and fun to play.
At the bequest of Pharaoh Khufu—commonly known as Cheops—players are charged with the task of supplying the necessary resources to construct the great pyramid of Gizeh. These resources are gathered from eight different sites throughout the kingdom, and the gathering process is often brutal and corrupt. Players will employ the services of government officials, priests, goddesses and even unsavory characters such as thieves, bandits and torturers. The player best employing these assortment of characters and fulfilling the most orders will earn the privilege of placing the final block onto the pyramid and win the favor of the Pharaoh.
While there are eight mini-boards representing the sites where resources will be gathered, the heart of the game are the cards and card-play. Each player begins with an identical deck of five character cards, but will be dealt four special cards each turn to supplement these. Each of the starting cards and some of the special cards will have a value (ranging from 0 – 8) in up to three different categories: influence, negotiation and bargaining. Players will play cards to the various sites, hoping to gain the highest value in as many of the three categories as possible.
Each turn two distribution cards are visible, one for the active turn and the other for the next turn. The active card resupplies the eight sites with new resources, but not every site receives a resource each turn. Being able to look ahead to the next card helps in planning for the subsequent turn. Five boat cards are also visible each turn. Boat cards depict the resources they are seeking, and players must gather the necessary resources to completely fill the order so that the boat can sail the Nile river to Gizeh. Fulfilling boats earn victory points for the players, with the game ending when at least one player has accumulated 10 victory points at the end of a turn.
In turn order, each player activates a site, which is immediately resolved via card play. Some sites have special powers that are triggered when activated or the conditions are met. For example, Luxor allows the player to draw a new character card if he is the first player to play a card depicting an ankh to the site. Karnak allows the player who activates the site to take a private boat card that only he can fill. Alexandria allows a player to take a resource of his choice for each card he plays to the site depicting an ankh. Turn order is chosen when competing for the Giza site, with any players playing a torturer card deciding their new slot in the turn order rotation. This can be extremely useful, as the turn order is realigned before players fulfill boat orders. Each of the sites provides a different benefit, all of which are useful and worth achieving.
Once a site is activated players will alternate playing cards to the site, one at a time. Players are attempting to have the greatest value in as many of the three different categories as possible. Cards are played in an alternating fashion until all players pass. A player may pass without playing any cards to a site. Indeed, this will occur often, as it is virtually impossible—and certainly unwise—to attempt to compete at all eight locations. That will leave a player’s card supply drained, and he will unlikely be able to compete successfully at many, if any sites.
So what is at stake? First, to derive any of the benefits, players must meet or exceed the minimum values listed on the site for a particular category. For example, Cairo requires a minimum of 6 influence, 5 negotiation or 6 bargaining. Even if a player has the most in a particular category, if he does not meet the listed minimum for that category, he will not reap the reward.
Before determining the winner in each of the three categories, however, any revolt must be suppressed. For each revolt card played (of which there are three in the character deck) to the site, a face-down revolt tile is placed on the site. After the card play is finished, these tiles are revealed and their values (which range from 6 – 8) are tallied. Each player must have enough influence to equal or exceed the revolt value. Failure means all of that player’s cards are removed from the site, rendering that player unable to compete for any of the rewards. Ouch! The player who exerted the most force (influence) in suppressing the revolt receives the resources depicted on the tiles as a reward.
So just what are the rewards to be earned at a site? The player who has the most influence places a torturer token at the location, displacing the torturer (if any) already present at the site. The torturer will allow the player to take one resource from the general supply when filling a boat. The player with the most bargaining places his negotiator token, displacing any negotiator that was previously located there. The negotiator allows the player to take a resource from the site at the beginning of the turn, just after new resources are placed. Finally, the player with the most bargaining takes any resources on the location. It is possible for one player to sweep all three categories at a site, but it is far more common for these to be split amongst two or more players.
All of these rewards—as well as the benefits rewarded by the sites themselves—are significant, and usually result in tense card play battles. The variety of special characters also can cause dramatic shifts. For example, the Vizier allows the player to take a resource from the site; the thief allows the player to remove a merchant card from an opponent’s array of cards, while the philosopher allows the player to duplicate the effects of any previously played card on that site. In total, there are ten different special characters, with multiples of each type. As mentioned, players will be dealt four new character cards each turn to supplement their five starting cards.
After all players have activated and resolved two sites, boat orders are fulfilled. This is done in the new turn order, which was determined after resolving the Giza site. If a player is able to completely meet the demands of one of the five boat cards (or his own private boat if he acquired one from the Karnak site), he pays the required resources and takes the boat card. Players continue completing boats until all have passed. Any unfulfilled boats will remain in place for the next turn.
As mentioned, boats are the main source of victory points, each one providing 1 – 5 points. Of course, more points are earned from the boats requiring more resources to fill. It is possible to win the game by collecting just two boats, but it is far more likely to take three or even four boats to accumulate the required ten or more points. One additional point is earned by the player with the most torturer tokens on the sites. This may not sound like much, but it can be the key point that earns a player the Pharaoh’s favor and victory.
If no player has met or exceeded 10 victory points at the end of a turn, a new turn is conducted. Players retrieve their starting hand of five cards and are dealt four new character cards. The boat display is filled to five cards, and new resources are placed on the sites per the distribution card. Turns are conducted in this fashion until the victory point threshold is met or exceeded, at which point the player with the most points is victorious.
As mentioned earlier, Pyramidion is a game that is well put-together and offers numerous tense and exciting card battles as players vie to control sites and gain their rewards. Players must carefully study the board and determine which sites they should target in order to gain the necessary resources required to fill boats. This requires players to also access the next distribution card to determine where resources will appear the following round and, if necessary, attempt to get torturers and negotiators in place on the best sites. It is also wise to attempt to discern which boats your opponents are targeting, as being beaten to a specific boat that you are targeting can be devastating. There is a lot to consider before card play even begins.
Once the card play begins, a player must be prepared for stiff competition at certain sites. It is rare that a player can grab control of site without one or more opponents offering dogged competition. A protracted battle for one site can cause a severe depletion of one’s hand of cards, leaving a player unable to compete at further sites that turn. Deciding whether to remain in a fight or withdraw is a critical decision that will confront players frequently throughout the game.
While Pyramidion does require a lot of planning and thought, it is best played if players can make these decisions quickly. I have seen some players agonize over these decisions, taking an inordinate amount of time before making their choice or playing a card. This can cause the game to bog down and cause exceedingly long periods of downtime for the other players. I tend to encourage folks to make their decisions quickly in order to keep the game flowing along at a nice pace.
Pyramidion has largely been overlooked or unnoticed by gamers. I have rarely seen copies at game conventions, and it didn’t generate much buzz on online forums. White Goblin Games is not a start-up company and it has a decent track record of producing quality games. The theme is certainly popular and enticing, and the artwork on both the cover and the components is high quality. So why was the game overlooked? I cannot answer that, but I am certainly happy that it did not escape my attention, as it is one I always enjoy playing.
4 (Love it!):
3 (Like it): Greg J. Schloesser
1 (Not for me):