If readers have never been to Egypt, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience. The visible meld of ancient monuments, medieval farming and city structure, combined with modernity intruding onto a conservative culture beckons ages of anthropological discussion. However, what fascinates gamers more often than not is Ancient Egypt, one of the first civilizations of real significance. When playing games centered on this culture, the wealth, grandeur, and religious symbolism comes to the fore with many games. If readers are like us and can’t get enough of Ancient Egypt, here’s a list to carry with you to your tomb.
Note: Alex and Tahsin teamed up on the rankings for this list.
As the smallest game on the list, Archaeology is the fastest and probably one whose implementation of theme barely makes it into the club. Players are archaeologists trading and stealing relics from one another to earn points for the best collection. This game has echoes of Nefertiti (see below) but has a paucity of the gameplay. This can be a bit of a luck-fest, but it’s also got a set collection and mild take-that staying power that keeps it coming back, especially for family game night. (Tahsin)
2-4 Players • Ages 8+ • 20 minutes • Out of Print
9. Cleopatra and the Society of Architects
You are literally building an Egyptian temple in this game – there’s not much more of a better way to implement this theme. This game makes its mark in the quality and unique nature of the components, with the obelisks, mosaics, and statues all adding to the flavor and theme. Cleopatra is a throwback to when Days of Wonder was the class of the gaming world with respect to the bits in the game. Thankfully, all the dazzle of the components helps distract from the fact that gameplay, while enjoyable for the family table, does not provide the deepest game experience. (Alex)
If readers have a stomach for some heavy randomness that can completely ruin an otherwise perfect strategy, they might be inclined to try Thebes. Because of the randomness, it’s better suited as a family game. It encourages preparedness over haste since the players are archaeologists preparing for a once-in-a-career chance to dig for relics at sites of ancient Mediterranean civilizations. Egypt is one of the many cultures featured, but the culture it spawned carries enough weight to grace the title of the box. (Tahsin)
Spoiler alert: Knizia seems to enjoy Egyptian-themed auction games as much as we do. Amun-Re provides an enjoyable and straightforward bidding system in order to purchase provinces, build pyramids and resources, in order to score the most points. The offering mechanic is what makes this game different, allowing player bluffing to add tension to what could be simply the board game expression of a spreadsheet. While not perfect due to the luck of the draw from the Favor deck, Amun-Re is worth your time for a medium-weight auction game. (Alex)
In this section of the list, the games still fall below a certain threshold. Egyptian themed games aren’t known for having the best gameplay. For a quick filler with card-as-tile laying and multiple sources of point scoring, Pyramids plays nicely. It’s easy enough to teach and even though the theme isn’t deep, the building of three structures as a monument to the rule of the Pharaoh works. For those happier with the lighter side of Ancient Egypt, Pyramids fits. (Tahsin)
There is not a better expression of the theme on this list than Egizia, with the goal of racing to complete construction of the architectural wonders of ancient Egypt. Combined with this theme is a unique twist on worker placement, workers are placed descending down the Nile. This forces players to engage in some serious risk/reward analysis to determine their optimal action selection. The flooding mechanic is another element that adds just another layer of strategy to a solid title that provides a lot of game in a short play time. (Alex)
Kemet is both the apotheosis of a solid Euro-Ameritrash hybrid combat game and implementation of the most fantastical elements of Ancient Egyptian religious concepts. This is the only area control game on this list, and with a theme that strains Egyptian culture’s reality. Its simple combat system combined with a huge field of upgrades makes this a game not to miss. If it had a little more universal appeal, it would be higher, but for violent, mythical warfare, this really cannot be beaten. (Tahsin)
3. Valley of the Kings
Valley of the Kings provides the fun of a large deck builder in a small package. The pyramid layout of cards provides foreknowledge of cards available in later rounds. This mechanic allows for a nice element of strategy in planning out future turns while adding to the theme. The tipping point between winning and losing is deciding when to begin to entomb cards for their score, rather than continue to use them for their abilities. This is a great game with a solid theme to introduce your friends to the deckbuilding mechanic. (Alex)
Readers who have seen my top 10 games of all time will not be surprised by this choice. Nefertiti is a challenging set collection and multi-form auction game with relatively simple rules. However, the perfect blend of variable play options (especially with the expansion) and dynamic changing nature of potential scores keeps it fresh for me. For players looking for the simplicity of design and engagement of play, Nefertiti is hard to beat. (Tahsin)
It should be no surprise that this Knizia classic sits at the top of the list. While it is a set collection and auction game just as Nefertiti is, Ra gets the edge due to its ratio of the depth of strategy to the simplicity of design. A game that can be taught in 5 minutes, with enough difficult decisions and a press-your-luck element to keep experienced players on their toes, is a game that can and should have a home on any game shelf. (Alex)