Players: 2 to 4
Game Length: 45 minutes
Best enjoyed: With 2-4 players who want a unique and compelling take on the deckbuilding format
Valley of the Kings is a deckbuilder where players are Egyptian pharaohs preparing for the afterlife by stocking their tombs with as many valuables as possible, and blends together a number of unique ideas to make a compelling game of set collection and economic engine building, where you’ll need to have a view to taking your finely-crafted engine apart at the right time if you want to have the best chance of winning.
Each turn, players will be able to buy a card from a unique pyramid market, as well as ‘entomb’ one card from their hand, permanently removing it from their active decks and adding it to their personal stash, for which they will receive points at the end. For each unique card in a set, identified by its coloured border (for example, Canopic Jars in gold or Sarcophagi in red), a player will score that number squared in points – so for 4 different Canopic Jars, a player will gain 16 points. However, each card also has unique abilities, and not all cards in a set will be equally useful.
Worse still, you’ll want to keep some of the more powerful cards in your deck so you can continue to gain their benefit, but a card kept in your deck is a card that won’t be scoring you points in the tomb at the end of the game. You might be tempted to buy a second copy of the same card to be safe – but duplicate cards in a set aren’t worth any points, so you won’t be gaining anything for your final score! You’ll need to balance up what cards to buy and when to start entombing them – should you go for one that helps your engine or one that can be entombed for more points? Can you afford to start entombing your more powerful cards yet, or are there too many turns still to come? You’ll be making these decisions all game long, constantly tweaking the contents of your deck by adding and removing cards.
Since the release of Dominion in 2008, there have been many pretenders to the deckbuilder throne, but few have achieved the long term appeal of the game that inspired them. Valley of the Kings works better than many, as it understands that one of the key strategies in a deckbuilder is the act of cutting the less useful cards from your hand. It also makes use of a two-stage draw pile – at the start of the game, less powerful cards will be available, but at the halfway point new cards with greater power become available, and signify the point at which players will need to start thinking seriously about entombing their treasures. Combined with the set collection element of scoring, these elements help give players real tactical options on a turn-by-turn basis, instead of being simply an exercise in purchasing the ‘best’ card until the end of the game is reached.
Valley of the Kings can be a little dry (insert mummification joke here), but it is nonetheless a compelling game with well thought out mechanisms. If you enjoy Dominion but are getting a bit burnt out on it, Valley of the Kings makes an excellent choice, and is available for relatively cheap to boot.