Table Top valley of the kings box art

Published on November 5th, 2015 | by Justified Croak

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Valley Of The Kings Review

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Average play time per game: 45 minutes
Suitable for ages: 14+
Number of players: 2-4
Mechanics: Set Collection, Deck Building, Hand Management

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It would appear that the genre of deck building games is now so wide spread that even the history channel is having a go. I consider my self some what of a connoisseur of the genre so when a historically themed, cheap and compact little deck builder from AEG (publishers of Thunderstone/Love Letter/Smash Up and more) worked its way on to my Amazon recommends, I’m like “aight – I want that thing”
Valley of the Kings is on the lighter side of deck building and plays in around 45 minutes to an hour. Players take the role of a Pharaoh trying to accumulate wealth and supplies for their journey in to the afterlife. By buying cards and stowing them in their personal tombs, players compete to have the most blinged out sarcophagus at the end of the game. What peaked my interest was talk of some new mechanics that help to freshen up a genre thats gotten more than a little stale in the past few years. Gimmicks or innovation? Lets find out.

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Setup

Each player receives one tomb card and one reference card which they place in their play zone separately.
Organise all remaining game cards by their level (1, 2 and 3 – shown in the bottom right corner of the card)
Shuffle all level 2 and 3 cards in to 2 separate piles. Place the level 3 cards face down and the level 2 cards face down on top of the level 3 cards to make one “Main” deck.
Create a starter deck for each player containing 4 Shabtis, 3 Urns, 2 Boxes of Food and one Offering Table. Shuffle these cards in to one deck of ten cards for each player. Each player draws 5 cards from their deck. Any unused starter cards return to the game box.
Draw 6 cards from the main deck and arrange them near by in a pyramid. Place a seventh card from the main deck to start a common discard pile referred to as the “Boneyard”
Determine starting player.

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Gameplay

Players must use the cards in their hand purchase better cards from the pyramid and entomb cards that they already own. Each card is worth victory points but will only be scored if they are entombed. Cards still in a players deck at the end of the game are worth 0 points. Some cards are worth more points if more cards of the same type are also entombed at the end of the game.
On a player’s turn each card in their hand may be used for ONE of the following purposes.
– Used for its gold value to purchase a card from the pyramid. Each card has a cost to buy when in the pyramid and a value when buying when the card is in your hand. Players may combine gold value of cards in their hand to buy a new card from the pyramid for its cost. Players may only purchase from the bottom 3 cards of the pyramid (unless one of their cards says otherwise) Once purchased a card is placed in that players discard pile and considered part of their deck hence forth.
– Execute the action listed on that card. Cards will have at least one action that can be taken by playing that card. Examples include swap the position of two cards in the pyramid or destroy one card in the pyramid. If a card is used for its action, a player may not use that card for its gold value in that same round.
– Entomb the card – Players may place one card per round that has not been used for its gold value or action that turn under their tomb card. Only cards entombed this way will score for that player at the end of the game. All cards under the tomb card must remain visible to other players for the rest of the game.

Each time a card is purchased from the pyramid, the pyramid immediately crumbles (unless the card taken was from the top row as there is nothing to crumble from above it|). Essentially this means the card above moves in to the gap left by a players purchase. If there is a choice of cards above that could crumble in to the gap (eg, caused by removing the centre card of the bottom row) then that player chooses which card from the above tier crumbles.
Once a player has finished playing their cards for what ever purpose, the pyramid is rebuilt. If a player has not interacted with the pyramid on a turn then they must now destroy one card from the pyramid. They choose one card from the pyramid to be placed in the boneyard. The pyramid then crumbles as above. The pyramid is then rebuilt by players using the main deck to fill any gaps in the pyramid. This ensures all players have a full pyramid at the start of their turn.
The player then discards all played cards and any unused cards in their hand to their personal discard pile and draws 5 cards ready for the next round. Play continues to the next player.

 

Once a player depletes their deck, they must then shuffle their discard pile and flip it over to create a new deck, identical to most other card based deck builders.

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End Of game

Once the pyramid and main deck have depleted and all players have taken the same number of turns, the game ends.
Players then tally their victory points hoarded in their tombs. Remember, cards still in a players deck are worth 0 points at the end of the game.
Some cards such as unique and starter cards are worth a set number of points. Other cards belong to a set – depicted by a label at the bottom of the card and also the colour of the border. To score these set cards a player finds how many different cards of that set they have in their tomb and square that number. For example, 3 different amulets score 9 points where as 4 different burial masks score 16 points. In the event of a tie, the winning player with the fewest cards in their tomb wins.

Opinion

I’ll begin with a quick look at the theme. Ancient Egypt is not really my thing but I have to say I felt the theme came across fairly strong, here bearing in mind it’s a tiny card game. The art work is good, not great but fitting and the educational flavour text on the cards came across as a nice little touch. The mechanics themselves really add to the setting. The crumbling pyramid and the tomb both help to immerse you as you scramble against your looming mortality to stash your booty before Osiris comes nocking. Speaking of mechanics…
So it’s the mechanics of the tomb and crumbling pyramid that has earned this game its modest repute. For me it just feels like a gimmick, a slight tweak to an established formulae that totally, totally works. Wait what?
Its so minor but I think its actually really well thought out and changes the classic formula significantly. While many deck builders remain a scramble to grab all the good cards, Valley of the Kings adds an abundance of strategic depth by presenting players with constant choices. The pressure is one from round one to weed out the crap and build a lean and efficient deck but if you hold on to that awesome combo of cards too long then you might just miss that chance to entomb them and finish of that set that’ll win you the game.
I am however compelled to outline its major failing. The card stock is horrible. Seriously horrible. They feel like they’re made of fortified tissue paper. This is such a shame but perhaps a decision made to keep the RRP down. I enjoyed the game sufficiently enough that this isn’t a deal breaker and in fact I immediately sleeved all the cards (just about still fitting in to the tiny box) but thought I’d mention this as regardless of how well your game plays, if you sell me disappointing components, I will moan at you.
Valley of the Kings astounds me by being so compact and simple to teach yet overloaded with depth. For a price tag of around £15 to £20 I think this is a steal. I can do nothing but recommend this game to both fans of light card games and the genre as a hole. This one has nestled in to my collection nicely and routinely brought out for teaching to tabletop newbies and beardy veterans a like.

Justified Croak

Justified Croak loves nothing more than books, miniatures, board games, RPG supplements and clever Ikea storage that helps me cope with all of the above.

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  • Thomas Cleaver

    Justified –
    Thanks for your kind review of my game. Please try the new “expand-alone” release, Valley of the Kings: Afterlife.
    Tom Cleaver

    • Hey, Thomas! Thank you for checking our review out. I will make sure that JC knows about the expansion!

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