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Animal Army – Shephy review

Cover

Essen 2014. An excited Tony Boydell, he of Snowdonia fame, comes up to me with a smile on his face as wide as can be. “I got it!” he says, an air of triumph in his voice. “I managed to get a copy of Shephy!” to which I responded “Eh?”. You know, like you do. He went on to describe it to me, a solitaire card game from Japan, released in ludicrously small numbers (even smaller than your average Sprocket Games effort) all about trying to gather as many sheep as possible. Sounded interesting, sure, and I lodged it in that part of my brain for games I’d probably never get the chance to see, let alone play.

Wind forward to UK Games Expo 2015. The Math Trade brings some excellent results for me, including a copy – miraculously – of this mysterious game. I receive mine on the Sunday, and immediately head for Boydell’s Surprised Stare booth. I show him the game, and he conspiratorially leans in to say one thing: “You’re one of us now.”

My name is Michael Fox and I am a Shephy addict. It’s not too late to save yourself. Run while you can.

Shephy is a game about gathering as many sheep as you can. What I didn’t originally know is that, according to the charmingly strange story on the back of the rules sheet, the game is actually set in a post-apocalyptic world where there are no humans – the sheep have taken over, but despite seemingly being the dominant force on the planet, there is still danger around every corner. Whether it’s meteors crushing part of your flock, overcrowding that sees some of your sheep fall off a cliff or, most terrifying of all, the rise of an ovine-specific Great Old One called Shephion, your target of getting to 1000 sheep in your fields is going to be quite the challenge.

So many sheep! The one in the bottom left is the Enemy  Sheep, rotated 1/4 anti-clockwise after each run through of the Event Cards deck.

So many sheep! The one in the bottom left is the Enemy Sheep, rotated 1/4 anti-clockwise after each run through of the Event Cards deck.

So, how does the game work? Well, it’s all about managing two things – the  “field” that will hopefully contain a maximum of seven Sheep cards, and the Event Deck that will both help and hinder you. The game begins with you drawing five cards from the stack and a single 1 Sheep card in the field. The other Sheep cards have values of 3, 10, 30, 100, 300 and 1,000, and cards can be combined through some of the Events that pop up, freeing up space in the field and allowing you to bring more sheep into your flock.

Each turn sees you choosing one of the Event cards in front of you which you must follow, place on the discard pile and then refill your hand to five cards. As you slowly work your way through the twenty-two Event cards, the actions you take may duplicate your Sheep cards that are already in play, introduce new ones and  even upgrade them to higher levels. Once you get all the way through the deck – assuming you actually manage to do so, for it’s pretty tough – you’ll rotate the included Black Sheep card to show that your enemy tribe has managed to increase their numbers. Play through the deck three times or end up with no sheep in the field at any time and the game is over. If you’ve got over 1000 sheep in your field, then you’re a winner (but you can continue to play as you bid to get an even higher score). Anything less and you’ve failed.

In all honesty, that’s pretty much it, and reading back it may appear at first glance that Shephy is a straightforward, basic affair. However, once you get past your first terrifyingly confusing play, wondering what the hell is going on and why you died after the eighth card, the game will get its claws into you. Trying to work out the optimal play will become an obsession – maximising the positive cards that are available to you while trying to rid yourself of the overpowered negative ones is hard, but certainly possible. Of course, some choices are pretty obvious – for example, if you don’t chuck out the Shephion card in the first round of play you’ll lose automatically, so the criticisms that the game does has an element of solveability (if that’s even a word) are valid. However, this isn’t really an issue – there are so many bloody awful cards that scupper your plans, any chance of solving the game is ruined most of the time, but not to the degree of every game feeling unfair. Just most of them.

Not all of the cards you deal with are awful, just most of them.

Not all of the cards you deal with are awful, just most of them.

Another part of Shephy’s appeal is how it looks – the designer (who goes only by the name of Pawn) is also responsible for the art throughout the game. The simple illustrations are silly and charming, especially the giant cubes of sheep that appear on the larger value cards that appear in the Field, and you’ll never see a more sweet representation of sheep mating in a game this year. Of course, actually getting your hands on a copy of the game is as much of a challenge as winning the damn thing, so seeing them in real life may not happen. However, if you manage to source a copy from Japan (because I believe that it’s still kind-of available over there) it’s well worth checking out, especially if you’re looking for a quick-playing solo game that is going to hand your arse to you almost every time. However, when you do manage to pull a win from the jaws of defeat, it’s an incredible feeling – and that’s why you’ll be as addicted to Shephy as much as everyone who has a copy of their very own. Now… back to the field – there’s a whole lot of Being Fruitful to deal with!

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Metal Guru – Guns & Steel review

Guns Cover

Awareness about Tokyo Game Market seems to have grown rapidly over the last couple of years, much of it probably thanks to the awesome guys at Japon Brand. Their regular trawls of the new and interesting titles that are produced in tiny amounts by the most indie of games makers at the twice-yearly event have brought us some great additions to our shelves – Colours of Kasane and Villanex are just a couple that still get regular play around here following their release at Essen 2014, for example, and many more games are on their way for this year’s Spiel. More and more folks are going to the source though, heading over to Tokyo to see what kind of things are on offer.

I’m not jealous at all.

One good thing though – sometimes folks get in touch with me and ask if I’d like to try out a game, and when I got a message asking if I’d like to see Guns & Steel by Jesse Li, how could I refuse?

A couple of weeks later, a small envelope landed on my (temporary) doorstep. Inside was a plastic baggie containing a deck of 56 cards and a rulesheet, nothing more – the boxed version of the game had sold out at TGM. Of course, having come from Japan, everything was covered in kanji and a slight air of panic came over me, but on closer inspection, everything in the game is also in English – it’s just that the print was a little smaller and I’m getting ever more blind as I grow older…

So unassuming, and yet filled with delights!

So unassuming, and yet filled with delights!

Regardless, Guns & Steel‘s graphic design is straightforward and clear, and once you know the symbols used throughout the game you’ll barely refer to the text on the cards. What’s the game about though?

Well, simply put, it’s the most portable Civilisation Building game I’ve ever come across, and it’s a very clever little bugger indeed. As you’d expect, you start off small with a handful of cards (everyone’s got the same to begin with) and are racing to evolve your own wee culture from riding around on horses to zipping around in space, collecting wondrous buildings and sites along the way that will score points. As you’d expect, the player with the highest total at the end is the winner, but Guns & Steel does that whole “you may have triggered the end of the game, but you may not necessarily win” thing – it’s very much a game of paying attention all the time, though it’s not up to the brain-melting level that many other civ games drag you too. Think of it as an introduction to the genre but don’t take it too lightly, for G&S will bite you if you don’t treat it respectfully.

Each Civilisation card in the game is double-sided, showing the Resource it can provide on one side and it’s Development on the other. The Resources are taken from each of the game’s ages (Horse, Gunpowder, Oil, Earth and Space Ages are all represented), and a large pyramid of Development cards is laid out before play begins with the three Space Age cards on top, down to seven Horse Age cards at the bottom (though there’s one less per row if you’re playing head-to-head with someone else). One Wonder card is placed next to each of these lines; these are also double sided but they don’t provide a Resource, just two time-line relevant buildings or events, each of which you and your fellow players will be fighting to get hold of as they bring in the big points. But how do you get hold of them?

As you’d expect, it’s all about spending those resources to pick up cards, and it’s here where the pyramid layout is important. You begin the game with those five lowly cards which can be used either as Developments or Resources, and each turn must be played out in the following manner:

  • You MUST play a card in front of you as a Resource.
  • You MUST play a card as a Development, but you don’t have to you use the effect on it.
  • You MAY buy one of the cards from the ones on the table
  • …and that’s pretty much it, apart from the thinking that you’ve just done the wrong thing and everyone is secretly laughing at you inwardly.

Each Development card has a cost shown on its right-hand side, but you may only purchase cards that are ‘open’ – in other words, the ones that have no other cards underneath them. (Actually, this is something of a fib – you can buy whatever cards you like in G&S, but each card below the one that you want to pick up will cost you one extra resource, meaning that things can get very expensive). As you start off with bugger all, you’ll be looking to slowly work your way through the cards and, thematically, through the game’s technological ages. Food and Iron could combine to get you a Philosophy card, the reverse of which provides a Horse resource (res-horse?). Combine that Horse with another Iron and a Knight could be added to your tableau. Collect a handful of the correct resources and you could be grabbing a Wonder. It’s a simple but beautiful system that works very well indeed where even the whole ‘pay an extra resource for a higher up card’ thing fits into the game’s theme – after all, civilisations make surprising technological leaps all the time, so why couldn’t a people who are still using gunpowder come up with the concept of a tank? Da Vinci did stuff like this every day before breakfast!

Play begins...

The birth of a new Civilisation! Or several, at least.

No civ game worth its salt would forget combat and with a name like Guns & Steel, this one has it there at its forefront – if you want it. Red cards are for attacking your opponents, and a successful battle is determined by who has the higher amount of military strength symbols in their tableau. Aggressors must be careful though, as their opposition can play cards from their hands in retaliation, so even though someone may look weak and a tempting target they could turn the tables on you – another splendidly sneaky way in which G&S works so well. Of course, you may choose a more pacifist attitude which is a totally viable attitude to take too. Once you start pulling in cards from the Gunpowder Age onwards, you’re immediately scoring points, so quiet development of your own part of the world while others all around you are losing their tempers can prove most fruitful.

I must admit that I was somewhat surprised when I saw that Guns & Steel wasn’t in the Essen 2015 line-up for Japon Brand – to me it feels like the perfect match for them. It’s portable yet deeply satisfying to play. It’s simple to get your head around but lends itself to a higher level of thought that you may initially consider. Sure, it’s not the prettiest game on the shelf, but its stark graphical style means – to me, anyway – that you get to see the information you need quickly, and frankly I rather like the way it looks. This game means business, no screwing around. Set it up, improve the lot of your people, and reach for the stars – or, in Guns & Steel’s case, the International Space Station at least. And all in around thirty minutes? Publishers should be biting off Jesse Li’s hand.

Guns & Steel plays with between two and four people with games taking around twenty to thirty minutes . Designed by Jesse Li, it’s available now through the guys at Board Game Bliss in Canada, and according to the game’s translator (the splendid Desnet Amane) there’ll also be limited quantities soon on the BGG Store in the near future. Best of all, the guys will be making their way to Essen 2015, so you’ll be able to pick up a copy there too. And you should. You really, really should.

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Barbarism Begins At Home – Imperial Settlers review

ImpSet

If you follow me on Twitter you’ll probably know that I’m in the middle of a move to the US. Everything is up in the air; I’m officially homeless, staying with friends as we grind through the slow process of immigration. All my stuff is in boxes – my games collection, my books, my consoles and my Mac… everything is just waiting to go across the ocean. Just before the packing, I was getting into the video game Civilisation V again and, cruelly, it has temporarily been taken from me. So sad. In the meantime, I need to get my civ-building fix from cardboard and the game collections of friends. And what have we been playing a lot of? The splendid Imperial Settlers from Portal Games, time and again.

Why so much love for it from me? Well, I enjoy any game that is based around a well-crafted engine, and Imperial Settlers really puts its focus into ensuring that everything works beautifully. With an easy to grasp set of rules, over the course of the game’s five rounds you’ll start off small with just a couple of cards and a handful of resources that are used in order to make your side the most dominant around. You’ll also begin with a long cardboard punch-out which your tableau will be built around that also lets you know what resources you’ll pull in at the start of a round from a selection of wood, stone, fruit, meeples, cards, gold, swords and shields.

Each turn you get to do one thing – and that’s it. However, while sometimes that one thing may simple like sending a couple of your dudes off to fetch some stone, depending on how things go for you, you may end up triggering a glorious chain of events that will make your opponents either look on impressed or glare at you with a barely concealed rage. It’s that kind of game, where those who are able to make their engines run smoothest will invariably come out victorious. The best way to learn how to do this, of course, is to play – just expect to get your arse handed to you in your first few plays as you try to figure out what’s going on.

Cards! Hooray. I may have forgotten to take photos, so thank you to The Innocent on BGG for this one.

Cards! Hooray. I may have forgotten to take photos, so thank you to The Innocent on BGG for this one.

Four civilisations are represented in the base game – Barbarians, Romans, Egyptians and Japan – with each of them having their own small deck of cards. Every card represents a location that’s exclusive to the civilisation but there’s also a larger central deck that all players can draw from; your personal deck is just for you, though. Every card has a cost that needs to be paid to add it to your tableau, normally a mix of wood and stone, but some also have a little house on them, meaning you’ll need to sacrifice one of your locations that’s either been destroyed (we’ll cover that shortly) or is taken straight from your hand, losing you a valuable card in a game where it can be very tricky to get hold of them.

Said cards will be one of three types: either Production, Feature or Action. Production ones are nice and straightforward: at the start of a round they add to the resources you gain but also give you them the moment you play the card. Actions need to be triggered, usually at the cost of a meeple or resource, but will generally pull in either something useful (like more meeples and resources!) or get you a few points. Features are invariable the trickier things to work with, often being the cards that serve as the links that make your turns splendidly convoluted or allow you to say “…and I score ten points off this one!” at the end of a game. The best civilisations will normally comprise of a decent mix of these card types, but it’s entirely possible to win using whatever set-up you manage to put together – really, victory falls to the player who reacts the best to what everyone else is doing.

By reacting, I really mean “attacking someone else’s locations with the swords you collect”. Two sword resources will be enough to force an opponents to flip one of their cards over, losing their precious cog in their machine that will inevitably cause their downfall (if you’ve planned it right). Shields (or meeples acting as Samurai if you’re playing as Japan) can be used to up this to a requirement of three swords (more if you stack them) but at the end of every round, EVERYTHING is removed from the cards you have in play – but you’ll have destroyed something well before then, won’t you? Oh, and you may also get bonus resources from doing this too, as long as the targeted card has a reward for razing it.

This is what you should be aiming for. This is what I generally don't end up doing. (Thanks to The Innocent again for the image.)

This is what you should be aiming for. This is what I generally don’t end up doing. (Thanks to The Innocent again for the image.)

There are so many little things that put Imperial Settlers head and shoulders above other Civ style games; you can boost your Production by making deals and tucking cards upside-down atop your tableau. You can wreck cards from your own layout if you’re short of resources. You can use meeples to go grab stuff too. Basically, the game puts an incredible amount of control into your hands – you do what you want to do, either focusing on your own buildings or eagerly eyeing someone else’s. Each civilisation feels and plays very differently, but all it takes is reading through a few cards to check up on what special buildings they all offer and you’re immediately up to speed.

No messing – Imperial Settlers is a bloody brilliant game. Ignacy Trzewiczek has created a simple game which still somehow manages to give the players a huge amount of strategies when they’re creating their own little dynasties. It’s a lovely game to look at with a cute graphic style throughout – seriously, the dumpy little buggers that are seen all over the cards are ace, and there are lovely details throughout, my personal favourite being the weeping family on the Ruins card… I am nothing if not cruel. Everything in Imperial Settlers hits the right buttons for me – it’s a streamlined work of greatness which, when I get to play it, is just so bloody pleasing that I want to bring it out again and again. When I get to the US, this will be the first game I buy – oh yes.

Imperial Settlers was released in 2014 through Portal Games. Between one and four can play (because yes, there’s a single player version of the game built in which is also excellent) with games taking around 30-45 minutes. Yes, not only is it great, it doesn’t outstay its welcome! A copy will set you back £35, though you can get it for under £30 at Gameslore. There’s also an expansion called Why Can’t We Be Friends which I’m yet to try out, but reports from other, more experienced players say that it’s well worth getting. So yes. You should do that. Oh, and follow designer Ignacy Trzewiczek on Twitter! Do that too!

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Keep The Faith – Fidelitas review

Fidelitas Box

Collaborations can be great. Two incredible minds coming together, working alongside each other to create something truly wonderful… it’s a thing of beauty to behold. Of course, some team-ups can be utterly wretched (Paula Abdul and MC Scat Kat, take a bow) but generally two heads are better than one. Oddly, multiple designers on a single game isn’t something that happens that often, but some great titles have been borne of teamwork; Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling have been an award winning pair several times with games like Tikal and Asara, for example.

A fresh new collaboration now seeks your support, with two great current designers now coming together to create something that is both small and special. Jason Kotarski (creator of The Great Heartland Hauling Company and FrogFlip) and Philip duBarry (the man behind Revolution and some of AEG’s Tempest series) have joined forces to make the card game Fidelitas, and a lovely little thing it is too.

In a town, far, far away, the citizens live an unhappy life of being downtrodden by the local elite. There is only one thing to do – rise against them! However, it would seem that all of those capable of doing so got too drunk and can’t remember quite what they’re supposed to do… and this is where you and your fellow players step in. Ladies and gents, it’s time to incite some good old-fashioned revolution. Grab your pitchforks and flaming torch!

Actually, that’s not a good idea – the nobility’s guards would have you chopped into pieces in moments. What you need to be is sneaky. Whisper a few words into the ears of the right people. Get your most powerful allies into the right places and, once the word is given, a concerted attack can begin! Unfortunately, there can only be one leader (a bit like in Highlander) so everyone is trying to manipulate the same people in this terrified town; you’ve just got to make sure that it’s you.

On the table at the start of play sits a line of cards representing the town itself, four of which have two locations that are particularly prized by a certain guild. The Tavern, sat in the middle of the line, is a special place that’s beloved by all (surprise!) and  has its own ability which we’ll cover shortly. Meanwhile, the two end cards also point to other locations, the harbour and the castle. It’s these places where we’ll make our stand!

Cards are divided into two types: Missio and Virtus. Missio are your secret missions, the cards that tell you what type of people you need to be moving and where they need to end up. Meet the necessary requirements and you’ll score the points shown at the bottom of the card. Score a set amount of points (6 with four players, though you can aim for more for a longer game) and you are seen as the voice of the rebellion and win the game! Truly, you are the Mockingjay.

Or you will be if the people actually listen to you. The Virtus cards are where they are all to be found, and each person will have their own ability that needs to be taken into consideration. Each turn, you can play someone to one of the two locations of their own guild, then follow the instructions written on their card to start moving other people around the town. The previously mentioned Tavern has no guild affiliation, so instead a player must discard a Missio card when someone is sent there. Also, instead of having two differently named locations, the Tavern is just one big place – however, you must consider which side of the bar to sit, as it were. Where you are in this wicked little town is VERY important.

When you’ve played your Virtus card and done the ability upon it, you may turn in a Missio card for points (assuming that the requirements have been met. This may be gathering a certain amount of characters at a named location, or get guild pairs (ie: two people from the game guild) into a number of places. If the target has been met, you flip the card up and declare your total score, draw back up to two Missios and pass play to the person on your left. And the game is as simple as that – play a card, follow the instructions, score points (hopefully) and move on!

If there’s one word I can use to describe Fidelitas, it’s clean. Having played a fair few rounds of it now, I’ve noticed just how well put together the game is and also seen the influence of both Jason and Philip in there too. Fidelitas is a beautifully balanced game where any mistake that’s made is down to you – the position of certain characters may open up the opportunity for other players to complete their own missions, but through multiple games you’ll learn how to not get yourself into that kind of tangle. I’ve had several incredibly satisfying moments playing a Baker card allowing me to move any two cards to new locations, doing so, then swiftly scoring a Missio while simultaneously ruining the best laid plans of the other players. You’ll hear a lot of muttering under breath when a copy of Fidelitas hits your table.

I mentioned the influence that the designers had on the game and honestly see their fingerprints all over it. The compact game set-up and lean card count says Jason to me – his love of smaller, shorter games shines through in Fidelitas – while I feel that the theme and relative complexity come from Philip’s side. I think that his sterling work on his Tempest games have rubbed off a little on him (seriously, go play Canalis, it’s incredibly underrated) and I’m honestly surprised that this effort wasn’t made part of the series – it certainly would’ve fit incredibly well. Regardless, the two have come together and made a very enjoyable game indeed.

Of course, the game is only in prototype stage at the moment and – at the time of writing – seeking funds on Kickstarter. However, the copy provided to me showed off the beautiful comic art very well indeed and the game cards are well laid out, so a hat-tip goes to both artist Jaqui Davis and graphics chap Darrell Louder for their sterling work. It can be hard getting the message across on a relatively simple card game, but they’ve done admirably.

Also of note is that this is the first release from Jason Kotarski’s brand new publishing company, Green Couch Games. We at The Little Metal Dog Show wish him the very best for Green Couch and hope that all future releases match up to the splendidness of Fidelitas! This is truly a great filler, the ideal candidate for your table when you’ve got twenty minutes or so to spare and feel like playing something that will tax your brain a little. Not too heavy, but not feather light either, Fidelitas will be making it into the Best of the Year lists of a fair few gamers when the time comes around.

You can back Fidelitas today on Kickstarter, with the campaign running until September 1, 2014. $19 will get you a copy of it delivered in the US, with international pledges running a little higher (UK gamers, you’re looking at $28 which isn’t bad at all). Designed by Jason Kotarski and Philip duBarry, it will be released in early 2015. Between two and four can play (though I’ve found it better with four) and games will take you around 15-20 minutes. 

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Shifting Sands – Valley of the Kings review

VotK Box

Since the arrival of Dominion and the ensuing wave of deckbuilders, the genre has quickly become one of the most popular around. They boast a longevity that many other game types just can’t match – even a base set of Dominion will last the average group of gamers a lifetime thanks to the impressive amount of combinations that you can make from the different card groups. The expansions for games Thunderstone increase the amount of layouts to a ridiculous degree, as well as making the boxes even heavier. I defy anyone to lift my Thunderstone Advance set without ruining their back (in fact, that may be one of the contributing factors to my current spinal problems…) so wouldn’t it be lovely to have a quality deckbuilder that you could fit in your pocket? A propos of nothing, what’s this I find upon my desk? Why, it’s a copy of Valley of the Kings from AEG! How very fortuitous!

Another release in AEG’s small box line, Valley of the Kings aims to do the whole deckbuilding thing in one-hundred (ish) cards while still providing a quality gameplay experience – and I’m delighted to say that it does incredibly well. As you’d expect from the title it’s set in Ancient Egypt, and though theme is never really the strongest part of any game in this genre there’s a few things in VotK that play up to this world of tombs and mummies. The idea behind the game is that you and your opposition are Egyptian nobles who seemingly have one foot in the grave, so they need to be looking to make their afterlives as comfortable as possible. To do so you’ll need to pack out your tomb with as many luxuries as possible by collecting sets of artifacts, with larger sets scoring more points. As is so often the way, the highest scorer will be victorious.

For the uninitiated, here’s deckbuilding for beginners: Starting with a hand of trash cards (called Level I cards here), you’ll draw from an ever recycling deck in order to get gold. This will be spent to pull in new cards that are ‘better’ – worth more gold, generally. Some cards may have special abilities on them which can be used to affect your actions rather than be used for their gold value, so decisions will need to be made. Every time your turn is over, the cards you’ve used and bought go to your discard pile. When you need to draw from your deck and done have enough cards, you shuffle your discards and make a new draw pile. Some cards will allow you to get rid of others, thinning out your deck and ensuring that your stronger, more valuable cards come around more often. It’s a beautiful engine for a game, and it’s done very well here.

Valley of the Kings does simplify the genre a little, but not to its detriment. Rather than having stacks and stacks of different cards, you only get to select from a line of three when your turn comes around. You’ll find a really interesting and unique method of laying out the cards in VotK – they’re placed in a pyramid formation with the available three on the bottom line, two above them and one on the top – and players actually have an element of control over getting the cards into that lower level. Called the ‘Crumbling Pyramid’ in the instructions, cards drop down a level when one is bought or moved out of the way; so if you want the card thats on the right on the middle level, you’ll need to buy either the middle or right cards on the lower level first, allowing the one you want to drop into that space immediately. It’s a really interesting method of working out your forward planning, though with a higher player count you won’t often have the same line-up of cards available by the time the game gets back around to you.

grhesrt

So, if the Middle Sarcophagus in the bottom row is bought (for 4 Gold), either the Book or Statue drop into it’s place, with the Amulet then falling into the middle row and a new card taking its place. If the Ka Figurine is bought, the Book of Gates would fall, followed by the Amulet. Simple once you get it!

 

At the end of your turn, you get to ‘Entomb’ a card – in other words, set it aside for scoring when the game ends. Doing so is an important decision… do you stash a powerful card away in order to protect it, or do you leave it out to use during future rounds with the possibility of you not getting the chance to put it in the tomb before the game ends? With only Entombed cards counting towards your score, it’s a tough call!

As mentioned, you’re looking to collect unique sets of items in order to score points – having the same items (a pair of ‘Statues of Anubis’, for example) don’t count towards your end total. Each set is colour coded and the higher the amount you have, the larger your score will be – the numbers go up in squares, so having two unique cards of the same colour brings in 4 points while seven (making up an entire set) is a huge 49, though any game where that happens will be a rare one indeed. Some cards also have a small points value that should be added to get your final total. It’s a simple scoring system that means you can total up your points pretty swiftly once the game’s over and you’ve laid out your sets. In fact, it feels like everything in Valley of the Kings has been done to make your life easy – apart from when you’re playing, of course. Despite coming in a small box, this is a game that’s a spiteful as it is quick to play. Stealing cards from the pyramid, moving them around to put them out of reach of your fellow nobles… screwing with your opponents through manipulation of the pyramid is encouraged, which is surprising in a game from a genre that is often accused of having its fair share multiplayer solitaire efforts.

In short, Valley of the Kings is a wonderful little thing. It manages to present the whole deckbuilding thing to you with a tiny table footprint and a small box, but would it replace the copies of Dominion, Thunderstone Advance or (ahem) Tanto Cuore that sit in my collection? No, but it certainly deserves a place on the shelf as a fantastic accompaniment. AEG are doing some great stuff with this new small box line, and I hope that they continue to do so in future. Designer Tom Cleaver has shown that you don’t need a huge box to present a game that has a big feel to it and he’s done an excellent job within the constraints presented to him. I look forward to seeing what he and other designers come up with for future releases in this line.

Valley of the Kings was released in 2014 by AEG. Designed by Tom Cleaver with art by Banu Andaru, between two and four players can indulge in being Ancient Egyptians through the medium of cards. Games will take you around thirty minutes (including setup and breakdown) and a copy will set you back around £15 from the folks at Gameslore. Get yourself a copy today and keep it in your gaming travel bag!

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