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Talented author, Andrew Harman, had several wry-comedy books published (he won't appreciate me saying this but he was likened to Terry Pratchett by several readers on several occasions) until he attended a number of games conventions, beginning, I believe, at the Edinburgh GEAS run 'Conpulsion. Andy's book titles were eyecatching (see below) and brain-twisting and drew (pun intended) reasonable sales for Orbit publishing and his sense of humour continues to this day through his work at YAY! Games, where he is the head honcho (as long as Jenny isn't around).

Andy's enthusiasm, especially at shows like UKGE, ensuring the gaming public gets caught up in the fun of games such as Frankenstein's Bodies, Sandcastles and Ominoes. With just about every games publisher (okay, maybe not that many, but quite a few) settling on an Egyptian theme for their games over the past couple of years, YAY! couldn't let the bandwagon pass without jumping on, and who could blame them?

With the success of Ominoes, and I am guessing here, seeing other companies compounding their successes by publishing expansions, extensions, add-ons and stand-alone games based on previous releases, YAY! looked at their catalogue and saw that Ominoes was indeed ripe for an updated version, especially as so many games players enjoy tile-laying games. All Mastermind Andy had to come up with was a new set of tiles and a slightly similar but different enough mechanic, the theme of Hieroglyphs would have immediately presented itself to such an excellent games designer who was looking for inspiration for the new tiles. 

Add in the objective of winning the game by building a pyramid and you have the makings of a fine new game.

 

The rules take up just both sides of a single colourful sheet of 11½" x 7¾" glossy paper. This brevity may be good for keeping the printing costs down but unfortunately it also gives the impression that something has been omitted from the translation as often occurs with Euro games crossing over to the UK; of course the problem is OMINOES Hieroglyphs hasn't been translated. Just a quick example: "Give each player a board of their choice ...." makes it sound like each player has a personal playing board when in fact all they get is a reference sheet printed in their chosen colour, as long as they chose Red, Yellow, Green or Blue. They also are given 5 Temple tiles plus an Altar tile (which is added to the tiles dealt to them to make a playing hand of 5) and a smalled 'Claim' tile, all in the same colour as their reference board.

The rules show 4 of the player's tiles placed in a square and thus forming the base of the pyramid, the Capstone by their side ready to top them centrally. As this is illustrated, this is how one expects the players to layout their tiles, but we found it a little confusing as it looked like your pyramid base was already built and it isn't. We find it better to stack the Temple/pyramid tiles, laying them out in position when they are bought. Throughout play, by laying tiles to the main display (aka the frieze) the players will gain small round tokens (called Blessings), which can be used to obtain the pyramid cards. We are told we need four different tokens to trade in for each Temple/pyramid tile, there are six different Blessings so there is always a possibility of collecting at least one per turn.

 

What we do is to pay the 4 Blessings back to the supply and then select the Temple tile of our choice from the personal stack and place it in front of us. If we happen to have a spare Blessing of the type shown on the chosen tile then we place it on the allotted space - at this moment it is still part of the legal Blessing holding, three of a single type, but also at this moment the Temple/pyramid tile is complete. We continue to Collect Blessings and spend them on buying the five Temple tiles (including the Capstone) and their specific Blessing. The Capstone cannot be completed (ie 'bought') until ALL four base stones (Temple/pyramid) have been completed (and this completion includes the necessary Blessings).

When you begin to play you select a start player and then the game travels clockwise around the table to each player is turn. The first player is given 2 additional tiles, the second player one additional tile, to their hand from the display, though when making their hands up at the end of their turn they only make up to 5, the same as the other players. Having the additional tiles at the beginning doesn't seem to make any difference to the play but I suppose you have to play a lot more games than we have without the extra cards (last count for us was 5 times) before you notice the idiosyncrasy in balance of play that the designer (Andrew) obviously did.

 

At first this looks like a simple game of playing tiles onto the setup frieze (5 tile display in the shape of a cross) so that you create a block or line of at least four adjacent tiles that have the same hieroglyph, such as four Scarabs of 5 ImHotep statues. Each tile is cleverly designed to allow the viewer to see what is on the flip side without having to turn it over. 

Positioning the necessary number of adjacent tiles will score you a Blessing of the tile type played', plus if any the adjacent tiles, whether they are the ones you just played or those that were already in place, are adjacent to an Altar tile you score a Blessing for that too, as does the owner of the Altar (unless it is you, you do not score twice for the one tile). Once these tiles have been scored then they are all flipped over to their other side, with the exception of the Altar, Altars are never flipped over once placed. If the flipped tiles also cause a line or group of 4 or more same icon tiles then you score that as well. These tiles, the second grouping scored, are then removed from the display and discarded, possibly to be available again if it becomes necessary to shuffle the discards. Of course when you remove tiles you must always ensure that they do not break the display into two or more pieces, there must always be an orthogonal attachment no matter how tenuous.                          

The strategy, as far as we can derive it, is to play tiles thoughtfully to give yourself a second scoring and not to leave easy pickings for the players following you. Once we realised this, about halfway though our first game about when we were thinking "there ain't much to this" the light suddenly went on and the game took on a completely new competitive thought train in our eyes, it's a fair bit more complex than one first imagined.

This is a clever and very devious game and with its quality of tiles, illustrations and colouring, at £25.00 rrp it is also good value.

The GRUFFALO coming soon 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015