“When you die, you can take it with you!”
Valley of the Kings is set in ancient Egypt. You are each playing as a noble, keen to advance your wealth but also, preparing for your death and burial in the Valley of the Kings. You want to fill your tomb with the food, canopic jars, statues, amulets and other treasures, aiming to have the highest value by focusing on different types of treasures to amass. You must ensure that when the pyramid finally crumbles you have safely entombed your wealth and not left it all behind in the land of the living.
Valley of the Kings Gameplay
Valley of the Kings, by Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG), is a deck-building game for 2-4 players. At the start of a game of Valley of the Kings all players are handed a deck of 10 basic cards and a tomb, the ultimate goal of the game is to collect sets of burial items to place into your tomb before you die. A central supply is formed by separating out the level two and three cards and placing these two decks together so that the level two cards are on top. Then a pyramid of six cards is created from the top six cards of the central supply.
Players will draw five cards from their personal deck and then, on their turn, play these in one of three ways. They can use them for their money value in order to buy one of the cards from the bottom of the pyramid and place it in their discard. Should they do this, a card above the card they bought “falls down” to fill the newly empty space and is now available to buy.
Alternatively they can play a card for its ability, each card has a different ability which is often situational, but can be very powerful. As you might expect, the level three cards tend to have higher money values and better abilities than the level twos, while almost every card is better than your starting cards. Finally, a player can entomb a card from their hand, to do this they place the card under their tomb where it will be no-longer available for them to use, in return entombed cards score points at the end of the game. You can only entomb one card per turn, unless a card action grants you an extra opportunity.
After playing their five cards, the player will discard them, then draw five more off of their deck. If they don’t have enough cards then they must reshuffle their discard pile into a deck and draw from that until they have five. Then the pyramid is filled back up to six cards. Once the pyramid and the central deck are both emptied, you proceed to final scoring.
You only score points for cards that are in your tomb, the starter cards and unique cards are all worth a set number of points. All of the other cards form sets, for example books, statues and sarcophagi. Sets give you a number of points equal to the number of cards you have from that set squared, i.e. five different books gives you 25 points. The player with the highest points value in their tomb is the winner.
Amy’s Final Thoughts
Valley of the Kings is a surprisingly deep game for such a tiny box. The contents of the game are simply a set of cards, but the elegant combination of deck-building and set collection has made something special. In a lot of deck-builders you end up stuck with your starter cards for a good portion of the game, dragging you down and preventing your combos, but in Valley of the Kings you are able to begin entombing, and therefore removing cards from your deck, from turn one.
In fact, the game is incredibly fluid in that way, some cards you might be buying only to entomb them the first time you draw them, but others you will keep around because they have a good ability or a large amount of money on them. Your deck ends up dynamically changing size as the game goes on, with a good game being one where you only have a couple of cards left in your deck when the game ends.
Replay-ability is somewhat limited due to the card selection, every game you will have the same cards appear, and though they will appear in a different order, you can be sure that level three cards won’t appear until you are half way through the supply. If you are relying on a certain level two card then you are guaranteed to at least see it, if not get it yourself. Valley of the Kings makes for a good two-player experience, but since there are two copies of every card this does tend to result in high scoring games where both players have had pretty much the same opportunities.
I’m often encouraging people to look at smaller games, and am often more forgiving of their flaws because it’s harder to create a fantastic game that fits into a small box without making compromises. Valley of the Kings, however, has compromised very little, for a game that can easily be carried around in a small bag it delivers the same amount of complexity and fun as some of its full-sized deckbuilding rivals.
Fiona’s Final Thoughts
Valley of the Kings is fortunately no exception to my love of deck-building games. It has all the basic elements of a standard deck-building game like Dominion or Star Realms, but, in Valley of the Kings, you are trying to balance building a strong deck by getting rid of your starting cards and having useful card powers and high value cards, with the need to gain victory points by removing cards from your deck and placing them in your tomb.
There’s really quite a lot going on in the game. Timing is probably one of the key elements in judging when it is the right time to entomb a card and for how long it will be useful as part of your active deck of cards – better cards are more powerful, give you more money but are also going to be worthless if their still in your hand at the end of the game. There’s definitely also a memory aspect to remember what cards you’re collecting in your deck so that you can ensure big sets of unique cards in your tomb. You also need to be mindful when taking cards from the pyramid of giving your opponent access to cards they may desperately want or that you desperately want to save for yourself.
Valley of the Kings is not an entry level deck-building game, but it’s a great game for people who enjoy deck-building or at least are familiar with lots of modern board games. We have only ever played it with two players, where it really excels, although I see no reason it wouldn’t work just as well at the higher player counts.
It doesn’t have quite enough variability to be a game we’ll play every week, but there are two expansions, Afterlife and Last Rites, that we haven’t tried, but that I’m sure add something new to bring Valley of the Kings back to the table again and again.