Cleopatra and the Society of Architects

This is a new game from one of my favorite board game companies, “Days of Wonder”.  We played it for the first time last night and I wanted to share my reactions to the game.

Introduction

This is Days of Wonder’s latest creation.  It’s designed by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc.  Cleopatra is for 3 to 5 players and plays in about an hour.  It has a “push your luck” feel and a moderate amount of tension between players.  There is an official 2-player variant available.

In this game the players play the role of architects competing to construct a new palace for Cleopatra.  Each player collects resources needed to construct the elaborate, and quite beautiful, game pieces, constantly making the trade-off between collecting and constructing and critical timing to gain points.  An interesting element of the game is that the players can be tempted to use corrupt characters and resource suppliers to make faster gains.  At the end of the game the most corrupt player is eliminated from the game, no matter how successful.

I was surprised by the game, having an expectation that it was complicated.  Instead, it was a lot of fun and played quickly.

What’s in the box?

Cleopatra would not be a Days of Wonder product without having outstanding production quality bits.

There are a number of large and very attractive plastic pieces that comprise components of the new palace under construction.  The playing cards, used to represent characters and resources, are of high quality and excellent art work.

Like the game “Niagara”, the game box is incorporated into the game.  You turn the game box bottom upside-down and build the palace around the sides, on the top, and in front of the box itself.  This photograph shows the entranceway using the box side.

There’s also a pyramid given to each player.

As your player “accumulates corruption”, the little cardboard crocodile chits, you deposit them into your pyramid.  Contents of your pyramid are revealed at game end.

The game components are beautiful.  One person, who arrived after we had already started playing, upon seeing the game in progress immediately commented on how beautiful the game looked.  By that time we already had one of the Obelisk and a few statues deployed.

Game Play

The game is fun and easy to learn.  Players take turns in rounds and you have a limited number of choices when it’s your turn.  You may either go to the market and work with cards, or you may got the quarry and purchase palace pieces and add them to the game board.

Each player is collecting resources, represented as cards.  There are cards for Wood, Stone, Marble and Lapis.  There are also character cards, called Artisans, which you will need to convert your resources into palace pieces at the quarry.  You start out with a meager collection of cards and have an opportunity to go to the market of cards on your turn, as one of your two options.

An interesting mechanic for the game is that when the cards are randomized, half are placed in the deck face-up and the others face-down.  So, for some of the cards available in the market, you know what you are getting when you choose.  The market is divided into 3 varying sized stacks of cards.  There is a limit to how many cards you can hold in your hand without penalty.

Some of the cards are “tainted”.  Use of these tainted cards benefits you because they have higher value, but if used, they also require you to add a crocodile corruption marker to your pyramid.  A careful tradeoff to make.  Remember, the player at the end of the game with the most corruption is fed to Cleopatra’s crocodile and is out of the game.

The other player choice each turn is to build something at the quarry.  You turn in your resource cards and Artisan cards and select a piece.  There are several you may choose, and you can purchase more than one piece at a time on your turn.  Some components have more value than others, and have higher prices to match (needing more combinations of cards to purchase).

Here’s another place you must pay attention to what your opponents are doing.  When and where you place a component to add to the palace has scoring benefits too.

When you add to the palace, you must also roll a set of dice having mostly blank sides and one symbol.  The total count of symbols rolled accumulates to a total where, once reached, impacts all players.  When enough of these dice accumulate, each player must visit the High Priest and pay a secret bribe.  This High Priest action is a blind auction.  If you offer the greatest bribe you can reduce your corruption counters inside your pyramid.  But, here’s the rub, all but one player has to then add to their corruption counters if they did not bid high enough.  The lower your bribe, the more corruption crocodile discs you are required to take.

As the players add to the palace, Cleopatra advances on a track, marching towards the entrance of her new palace.  Presumably she is coming to inspect the completed work.  When she gets to the door of the palace, the game ends.

Players then reveal the contents of their pyramids, most corrupt player is out of the game.  Tainted cards still remaining in your hand counts against you, and sanctuaries you have constructed help you.  You could up the total money left.  If you didn’t get fed to the crocodile, the player with the most money wins.

Conclusion

Without a doubt the board is beautiful.  Seeing it played will cause people to walk up and ask about the game.  It’s easy to learn.  The only challenging part of the rules is comprehending the placement of the “Mosaics of the Gods” cardboard tiles you can place on top of the palace, adding points and potentially forming sanctuaries.

One of the initial reviews of the game made the game seem confusing and caused my wife to remark that she wasn’t too interested in trying it.  I made up my mind that Days of Wonder had not produced a game I didn’t like and never a complicated to learn game, so I was going to wait until I played it and then decide.  Our local gaming group played the game Friday night and it was fun.  I’m certain that I will add this game to my collection of family games.

The quality is high, it has great “eye candy” and it’s easy and fun to play.  The theme is fun too.  When we played we put a sand-colored piece of felt down on the table underneath the game pieces to keep things from sliding around.  It added wonderfully to the theme.

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