- Designers: Matthew Dunstan and Brett J. Gilbert
- Publisher: IELLO
- Players: 2-5
- Ages: 10+
- Time: ~30 minutes
- Times played: 6, with review copy provided by IELLO
Pyramids is the newest release from the design team of Dunstan and Gilbert – I have been a big fan of their previous joint efforts (Costa Rica, Elysium and Relic Runners for instance). This newest release has players vying to build the most impressive necropolis.
The main part of the game are in the construction cards – these cards have either 2 or 3 building stones represented on their bottom half – and players will use these to construct their monuments: a pyramid in the center, with a tomb underneath and a tall obelisk off to the side. There are five different colors to the construction stones, and some of the stones have a glyph printed on them. The deck of construction cards is shuffled and each player is dealt a single card to start the game. A set of God tiles is placed in the center of the table – they will be used each round. A first player is chosen randomly.
The game will be played over a total of 10 rounds. In each round, a player MUST add a card to his pyramid, and you will know when the game ends as each player will be placing their tenth and final card into their pyramid on the last turn. At the start of each round, make sure that all the god tiles are face up in the center of the table. The first player for the turn then deals out pais of cards equal to the number of players in the game.
Then, starting with the start player and going clockwise, players will choose on the of the available God tiles from the table. The god tiles will determine both playing order for this turn (the lower the number on the tile, the earlier you will play) as well as showing you what actions you might be able to take this turn (the illustration on the tile will tell you which of the three monuments you will be able to build on this turn). In general, you have more options on where to build with the higher numbered God tiles.
Once all the tiles are chosen, the player with the lowest numbered chosen tile takes their turn. First, they choose one of the pairs of cards that was dealt out to start the round and adds them to his hand. Next, that player must add on to his monuments – again based on the illustration on the tile that he chose.
All tiles have a pyramid on them, and in fact, each player MUST build a card onto their pyramid (more on this in a bit). The god tile may also have the tomb shown on it (under the pyramid) or the obelisk (off to the right of the pyramid). If one or both is shown on the tile, they you have the OPTION to build a card onto the depicted monuments.
When building the pyramid, you add cards to the existing structure. The first two cards played must be on the lower level, and as you play cards on the same level, they must be adjacent to each other. Once your first two cards are down, you then have the option of either building laterally on the same level, or building the next level up – as long as the higher card is built on top of two lower cards. The pyramid will have 4 cards on the lowest level, then 3, 2 and 1 on the top for a total of ten cards. As you stack the cards, you can cover the top half of the lower level cards – as you really only need to be able to see the stones on the bottom half.
When you build your tomb, you simply make a facedown stack of cards. Each time that you add to your tomb, you just put another card on the stack. You can look at your cards at any time, but they will remain secret from your opponents.
When you build your obelisk, you make a single column of cards. Again, you can cover up the top half of the lower card as you only need to see the construction stones.
After you build, you must discard down to one card in your hand. Discarded cards are put back in the box; they are out of the game. Then, the next player in numerical God tile order takes their turn until all players have played. When the round is over, the first player token is passed to the left, and another round is played until all 10 rounds are complete.
At the end of the 10th round, the game is scored. There is a helpful scoring sheet included to help tabulate the scores. There are four ways to score points – each of the monuments and the glyphs.
For the pyramids – you look at each of the five colors and you score 1VP for each stone in your largest contiguous area of that color. Additionally, you get an extra VP per stone for the color which had the largest contiguous area. (i.e. the biggest color scores twice). You also get a bonus 10VP if you scored at least three points in ALL five colors.
For the tomb – all players reveal their cards in their tombs. Each of the five colors is scored – if a player has more cards in a color than ALL other players, he gets 5VP. Ties for the most score nothing.
For the obelisk – Examine all the colors in your obelisk. Find the color that is on the highest number of different construction cards in your obelisk. You will score 1/3/6/10/15 VPs for 1/2/3/4/5 cards with that color on it. There is a maximum of 15VPs available here, so there is no point in having more.
For the glyphs – as I mentioned at the start, some of the construction stones have glyphs printed on them – these correspond to the three different monuments. For each match in your necropolis (i.e. pyramid glyph seen in the pyramid, tomb glyph used in the tomb, obelisk glyph used in the obelisk), you score 2 points per match.
The player with the highest total wins the game. There is no tie-breaker.
My thoughts on the game
Pyramids is a surprisingly deep game that comes in a small package. The game challenges you each round to balance out your need to go earlier in the round (ostensibly to get a better choice of building stones) versus going later in the round with the chance to build on more monuments. There are some moves which may require a two-turn strategy; you might need to go early in the first round in order to ensure that you get a card that you really want, and then you will follow it up on the next turn with a card later in turn order to allow you to get that card into your tomb or obelisk.
So, there is some room for planning – but a lot of the game requires you to play tactically based on what is available to you on your turn. For instance, you can’t plan that ahead on your pyramid. You are obligated to play a card to it on every round of the game, so you’ll sometimes be forced to play a card there that disrupts your plan. Lucky for you, all the players are forced to deal with the same issues – and it’s the player who can best deal with the card draws that will succeed.
There are a number of different ways to score, and in my games, it does not appear that there is a single strategy which is dominant. Most of the points will come from the pyramid scoring (usually), and I have seen people score high with a diverse strategy – locking in the 15VP bonus – and I have also seen players do well concentrating in a single color and getting a huge doubled score. I have also been surprised by the amount of glyph bonus that can be scored. The obelisk can give you a nice 15VP score, and you can plan for this by saving the right card from round to round and waiting for your chance to get a God tile that allows you to build there, but the score is also capped – so you can only take advantage of this to a degree.
The overall level of complexity is about a super-filler, which is also what the 30 minute play time would support. Many of your decisions will be straightforward and take little time; you will also have a few rounds where you will have to take a second to figure out your strategy. Though it seems silly to say – as you only carry one card at most from round to round – but hand management can be crucial here. Knowing when or what to keep through to the next round is a big deal. A lot of times, you might have to base your decision on where you fall in the turn order for choosing God tiles in the next turn. If you are early in the turn, you’ll have a better chance to at least choose your fate instead of accepting what is left. It can be a tough pill to swallow to be left with a card that allows you to play three cards to the board and you only have two in your hand at the time.
Given the ease of teaching of this game as well as the nice balance of strategy to game time, this has definitely made the cut for staying on the shelves for a filler or light game. The components seem to be holding up well so far – the cards are nice and thick (and there is not a lot of shuffling in the game other than setup). I also very much like the compact box which does not hold a lot of air and also has nice magnetic closures to keep everything inside of it. This one definitely makes the cut for staying in my personal game library for when a shorter game is called for.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Patrick Brennan: As long fillers go, this is decent. It’s a set drafting game. To play well, each round you need to analyze what sets the other players will likely want. If they probably won’t take the set you want you can afford to take a lower rated turn order card – later choice, but you get to play more cards out that round. If others will likely want your desired set(s), you’ll want to take a higher rated turn order card that gets an earlier pick but plays out fewer cards. That’s the game in a nutshell, repeat for 10 rounds. It’s more work than I want in my fillers, and the game is more enjoyable if everyone only glances at other boards rather than studies them so as to keep the game moving along at tempo. Nothing mind-boggling, but enjoyable enough for what it is.
Joe Huber (3 plays): I find myself mostly in agreement with Patrick, even if rating the game differently. I don’t regret having picked up a copy of Pyramids, and enjoyed playing it a few times – but the concerns I had on the first play about the lack of real interest to the drafting process. The game works just fine, and I got my money’s worth, but I’m now done with it; I’m willing, but not enthusiastic, to play it more.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y
- I like it. Patrick Brennanm, Craig V
- Neutral. Joe H.
- Not for me…