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AEG: VALLEY of the KINGS
Designer: Tom Cleaver  Illustrations: Banu Andaru   Graphic Design:  Matt Paquette
Players: 1 to 6 Aged 14+    Game Time: 45 - 60 seconds

The PREMIUM EDITION also contains previously released versions: Afterlife and Last Rites.

Contents:

 

I haven't seen each of the three separate versions but they are stand-alone games. There are Player Starting Decks for the Base Game (thus marked) plus there are Set Up Starter cards for Last Rites, none specifically for Afterlife though you can use either of the Starter Sets whichever version of the game you are playing. Together all the cards combine to make the beginnings of an ever-expanding adventure into the wondrous world of Ancient Egypt at least 4000 years ago. The theme works nicely and the rules and mechanics have been manipulated really well to provide the atmosphere and culture of the Middle East from long ago.

The Start Player piece is a small plastic bust of Hatshepsut (our Egyptologist last year told us to remember 'Hot Sheep Soup') which is very nice but, being a bit pernickity, could maybe have been a little larger, even twice its actual size would have made a rather more respectable piece; but hey, it is just a dobber and has no other use in the game and I guess it is only available in the Premium Edition. Okay, that's the bad part of the game over with, let's get on to the good stuff.

Components (other than the Start Player Marker)
The cards are excellent quality, which is good because they are going to get a lot of play. The artwork is that good the first time you see it is probably best to be before you start to play; ie go through the decks and take a good look at the cards so that you are not distracted by the illustrations during play.

To keep the cards ready for use each time you open the box you should take a little time at the end of play to sort them into their respective mini decks, separated in the box by the slightly larger and correctly headered divider cards. I realise it adds a few moments onto your game play but it is really worth doing. There's a lot of things worse, obviously, but it's still a right royal pain to open a box for a game and find that you have to sort out all the components before you can begin.

You may think that's just common-sense and respect for your game, but so many players still wind me up by the way they treat a game no matter how good it is. 

VALLEY of the KINGS is a Deck-Building game that utilises the majority of mechanics found in almost every other deck-building game, but in such a way that it doesn't feel as if you have been here, and done it all, before.

To begin with you should either select the actual card set you are wish to use, or mix and match the cards from the aforementioned versions. You will need one set of Starting Deck cards per player and they must be the same set for each player - you have the Base sets or Last Rites to choose from; these are listed on page 3 of the Rules book as an 'either/or' - remember you can use cards for the stock supply from any of the game versions.

The Egyptian theme is shown not only in the name and illustrations but also in the way the stock cards are laid out in Pyramid formation. The stock supply is set up with two decks of Artifact cards, each shuffled separately and then placed on top of each other so that it is made up of  IIIs on the bottom then IIs on top. You can tell which cards are from which level by how many cartouche are in the lower right corner. The Pyramid is randomly dealt and created from the top six cards of the stock supply and it matters not what the level is in any of the three positions, top, middle or lower.

Artifact cards have the usual information on them, Cost, Type, Gem, Set Name, Colour, Action Text, Hostorical Text, Set Icon and Level - Starter cards are marked clearly for when you reset. Players each have a similar Starting Hand of 10 cards, as noted already these will be from the Base game or Last Rites, one set or the other, not a mix of each. As you can use a mix of Artifact cards it could be fun to have a mix of player Start-up sets. I should admit that it is only a thought, we haven't actually tried it yet, but having looked at the available Starter cards in each set (Shabti, Urns, Food, Offering Table / Menials, Embalmers, Kites, Medjay) it does seem like a reasonable idea.

Played a Deck Builder before? Then you know the score. New to Deck Building? then it's one of the easiest game mechanics you will encounter. Shuffle your own deck and deal yourself a hand of five cards. These are the cards you have to play with in the first round and you use these for one of three actions - 'Buy a card or cards' from the Pyramid's lowest level using one or more of the cards you hold, 'Activate the action' on a card you have by playing it face up, reading and executing the text on it; you cannot activate text on a card that has already been used for its value. The third possibility is to save a card by placing it under your Tomb card. Cards placed here are out of play until the endgame.

Cards that are are used in your turn, bought, or left in your hand unused are placed in your personal discard pile. Then you draw another 5 card hand for yourself. Obviously the first two hands will be the cards from your 10 card deck, but once you have discarded the second 5 cards you will have no cards in your deck so you shuffle you discards and then draw 5 from them. As you buy more cards from the Pyramid your personal deck will build up giving you the opportunity to draw more useful cards each round.

 

At the end of each player's turn the Pyramid is restocked by first dropping cards from the middle row into the space/s below and then from the top into the space/s on the middle row, finally replacing any remaining empty spots with cards from the stock, filling from the bottom up. There is a strategy in buying the Pyramid cards. Obviously you want to put cards in your own deck that will be useful to you, but there is also noting which card will drop into its position once you remove it from the Pyramid, you could be leaving a card to fall that the next player needs.

If you're wondering about the mummified cat photo, we went to Egypt last year and this ornament is just one of our mementoes - it just looked so much like the mummified cat card in the game that I felt compelled to include it, next to the game card of course.

The game runs along nicely as explained above, draw a hand, use the cards, enlarge your deck with better cards, save cards for VPs, and continue until there are no cards remaining in the Pyramid, and there are no cards left in stock and all players have had an equal number of turns.

 

You may only need the rule book, but for good measure there is an equal sized but double-thick Player's Guide which explains the optional, longer and solo play rules; how to combine sets and suggested sets, and descriptions of the regular and Special cards from all the three sets of the Premium Edition; Base, Afterlife, Last Rites. It's a really good read. There are two other types of cards from the Valley of the Kings, the six Premium Unique cards and the 10 Premium Pharaoh cards.

In the game each version has 6 unique cards which can be replaced en bloc by the aforementioned Premium Uniques. There is also a set of Pharaoh cards that the players have to decide prior to starting a game whether they will be used. If used they are dealt two to each player of which one is kept and the other discarded; Pharaohs offer players abilities that can be used every turn, these can be very helpful as they are quite powerful. Pharaohs are kept face up, never in your deck and thus never discarded. Although they are in the game almost as an afterthought, they are very good to include especially when you have players new to deck building, as they insure there is always that extra option available. Seeing as they are not an action and cost nothing to use, and can be used once per turn, choosing the best one from the two randomly dealt to you. Think ahead when selecting.

 

Deck Building games are usually fun even if they mostly use the same basic rules. Some games have various decks from which the players buy their cards, such as a Market, and often have fixed types of cards always available until their particular deck runs out. In VALLEY of the KING these decks are replaced by the Pyramid which has just 6 randomly drawn cards on display.

The Premium Edition inner box is designed to take all cards in the game with enough room to take another 4 or more expansion editions. Apart from the over-sized divider cards the publishers have included 350 clear plastic sleeves to keep your cards safe. This is a well received and much appreciated gesture, and we suggest that prior to your first game you sit down, as we did, and sleeve every card. It takes a good few minutes and seems like it'll never end but believe me it's well worth doing it.

Also, do take the time after each game to put all the cards back in their proper places in your box, you'll thank yourself for doing so when you next go to play. Very nicely produced, excellent and clear rules. A super game for players who are used to deck building or playing for the first time.

Local Game Stores should have this in stock for around $65.00 / £52.00 There are a couple of online stores that have it around £40.00 new or it's on eBay at £36.00 used (I have no idea on why anyone would want to sell this on as it is obviously going to continue to grow and it can only get better - not that it needs to do either).

 

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015