Updated: Oct 2
Steve and Clare Cluer designed the game as part of their fundraising efforts for the Velindre Cancer Centre, and it was successfully funded through Kickstarter in July 2020. You can buy a copy directly from their website with full proceeds going to the charity.
Players: 1 - 2 Ages: 14+ Game Time: 30+ minutes
In The Pyramid of Khufu by LVC Games, you are one of the great pharaohs nearing the end of your magnificent life, preparing to transcend into the afterworld. But first you must you must ensure that your mortal body is safeguarded and that the Gods bless your tomb. You find that your time on this Earth is ending far sooner than you anticipated; the architects have yet to complete your pyramid in which you will be entombed. You must ensure that you fill it with the nine sacred items and entice the blessings of the Gods. Alas, there is a rival pharaoh who is competing with you to win the Gods' divine favour; they will stop at nothing to steal your sacred items, to build a pyramid far more resplendent than yours. Do you have what it takes to earn the favour the Gods?
The aim of the game is to build your pyramid, which consists of three levels: Subterranean (four item cards), Queen's Chamber (three), and Kings Chamber (two), plus the capstone. A capstone can only be placed when you have each of the nine Sacred Items in your pyramid and each item stack must have been blessed by at least one God. Items can be stacked to score additional points. The game ends immediately when one player has placed their capstone, but don't be fooled, it's not a straight-up race to the finish game; the victor is the one with the most divine favour, scored with both the Sacred Item and God cards.
Don't be fooled, it's not a straight-up race to the finish game
Players take it in turns to gather materials and improve their standing with the gods. A standard turn takes place over three phases, the market phase, the building phase, and the replenish phase:
Market Phase - Take a card from the marketplace into your hand and discard a card (this can be the one you picked up). Then replenish the marketplace back up to five cards.
Building Phase - Take up to three actions to build your pyramid, or disrupt your rival's pyramid (each can be performed multiple times in any order):
Replenish Phrase - Draw back up to seven cards in your hand (or discard down to seven)
The majority of your turn is taken up in the building phase performing a variety of actions in order to either progress your pyramid or hinder your opposing pharaoh. The main actions available are:
Placing or tucking a Sacred Item into your pyramid
Tucking a God into a pyramid (your own or your opponent's) to bless an item
Using a Steal Card or Search Card
Placing, moving or removing a Special Token (Hide, Protect, Search)
Discard a card from your hand
Placing a Robber's Tunnel
Opening a level in your pyramid using the Queen's Chamber or King's Chamber Card
The game ends when one of the pharaohs completes their pyramid by placing the capstone on a pyramid containing all of the nine Sacred Items with the blessing of at least one god. You score points for a variety of things at the end game:
Add up the Divine Points from Sacred Items
Score God Cards (Gods without items are not scored)
Score one point for each unused Special Token
Score any Secrets of The Tomb Expansion challenge cards
I certainly took great pleasure in stealing a 5-point item that locked out my opposing Pharaoh as it was the last item of that type.
If you like take-that-style games, then you'll really enjoy the gameplay in the two-player mode. You can get both the satisfaction of building your pyramid to score as many points as possible whilst being as disruptive as you like to hinder your opponent. Especially if you keep track of the instances of the Sacred Items, as each Sacred Item only has four instances within the deck, ranging in divine favour with scores of 1,2,3, and 5.
It also lets you test your memory because Gods get played facedown and can only be looked at again using the Search Special Token. I feel there is a good amount of replayability as you try and balance when to trigger the end game.
I love that there is a solo version, with subtle differences in gameplay to the two-player version. The steal cards form an event deck and to win the score has to be within predetermined parameters above or below the score determined by using the Secret Challenge cards during setup. When I first tried to play solo, I had accidentally made it more difficult for myself by not realising that you can repeat the market phase action multiple times and wondered how you would ever cap off a pyramid before turning over the last card in the event deck.
This is why you have a Rules Lawyer...
One criticism I have is that whilst the rulebook is fairly thorough, the hubby and I had to go to the LVC Games website and watch the How To Play video to determine what happened when using the Steal From Pyramid card as it was unclear where the stolen items would go. We initially played that they would go into your Pyramid but could see arguments for discard or taken into your hand as well; each alternative would significantly impact gameplay. I was surprised it wasn't one of the FAQS, for reference it is taken into your hand.
I feel that it is quite family-friendly and that children under 14 could play and enjoy the game, especially if they are familiar with table-top gaming. The Ancient Egypt theme is also quite educational, especially considering that the text on the God Cards has been verified by the Egyptian Museum in Swansea.
The game has a phenomenal price point at £12, all of which goes directly to the Velindre Cancer Centre. As an environmentally conscious person, I love the fact that there is zero plastic in the game. However, conversely, as the cards can be damaged quite easily on the surface (as with many card games), you may find yourself sleeving them up in plastic anyway to protect your game and then would struggle to fit everything into the box.
I was a little disappointed with the quality of the scoreboard, which is on thick, glossy photocard, as it felt lower quality than the rest of the game components and may wear badly with time and repeated folding. I question whether a scorepad might have been a better solution (even if I hate games having finite components to them!). I would have preferred slightly more durable components for a slightly higher price point, and do think they have under-priced themselves a little.
It can be a little awkward to keep your pyramid tidy, and the game takes up a fair amount of table space. There is the option to separately enhance the game with upgrades via the LVC Games website. This includes a printable playmat (if you happen to have a big enough printer), and a neoprene playmat by Paul Moore at Custom Patriots Games. Also, whilst they are not plastic-free you can purchase sculpted markers to represent the Special Tokens by Andy at MeepleForge via Etsy, or even print your own if you have access to a 3D printer.
I love that the game is nonprofit, supporting the Velindre Cancer Centre with full proceeds going to that charity and that the designers were environmentally conscious. I also find it fantastic that the gameplay doesn't shy away from death, generally a taboo subject.
I feel there would be scope to increase the player count, but understand why you would want to stick to one or two-player to have unique God cards maintaining the Egyptian pantheon. Also, good quality, replayable two-player games are often hard to find!
I have some niggles with the production quality and disliked having to refer to their website to clarify something that could easily have been explained. However, I thoroughly enjoyed playing it, and especially loved the solo version with its separate gameplay subtleties. A lot of solo versions of games tend to just be playing multiple characters on your own and differ very little from the core gameplay. The two-player version has solid and fun gameplay.
Your resident Word-nerd
Still not got your fill?, check out our interview with Clare while we were at this year's UK Games Expo: