Full disclosure: A review copy of Pyramid of Pengqueen was provided by Brain Games.
If there’s one thing that I really enjoy, it’s shared game universes. I’m not sure why, but it’s just a pleasant sense of narrative continuity. I liked it with Near and Far / Above and Below (and found out the other day that there are more), loved it with Realm of Sand / Mystery of the Temples, and of course am delighted that there’s more to find in the Ice Cool universe. Now, you’ve journeyed deep into a cave that you found in the corner of the school’s kitchen (of course), and you’re trying to find what awaits you below.
Unfortunately, your entrance has awoken the Mummy, who seeks to capture you and keep you underground for all eternity (sort of like an advanced Hall Monitor). You’ll need to team up with your friends to prevent her from sealing you all in, but … you also want to get the most treasure. Will you be able to balance these two agendas? Or will you be trapped forever in what I can only imagine is the Mummy’s Sarcoolphagus?
So the easiest thing to set up is the board, which is double-sided (one side for the penguins, the other for the Mummy):
The closed sarcophagus is the Mummy Side. Also, add the base pieces; they should match up with the art on the board. Give each player a Treasure Hunter token, and Life Tokens in the same color:
Put the Treasure Hunters on the entrance space, at the top of the stairs. Note that if you’re playing two players (one treasure hunter, one mummy), the treasure hunter will be controlling two treasure hunter pieces. Also, give the Mummy the Mummy pieces:
Have them set the token on the Treasure Hunter’s side, on top of the Sarcophagus, and use the Mummy magnet (the big piece) by placing it also on the Sarcophagus, but on the Mummy side. This should hold both pieces in place. Magnets!
Last up, there are Treasure Cards:
Shuffle them up by color, and give each player one treasure card of each color. If you’re playing with two players (a Mummy and a Treasure Hunter), then give the Treasure Hunter two cards of each color. Keep things interesting. Give the Treasure Hunter their dice:
And the Mummy gets their die:
Once you’ve done all that, you’re about ready to start! Treasure Hunter goes first.
So this is a semicooperative many-versus-one game. The treasure hunters are racing to find treasures deep within the pyramid, and the Mummy wants to snuff out as many treasure hunters as possible for her malevolent designs. Only one penguin can win, and the treasure hunters win on their turn if they collect their fifth (tenth if only one treasure hunter) treasure. The Mummy wins by collecting enough Life Tokens from the adventurers to seal them underground forever. Bit dark for a kids’ game but, I mean, that’s why you don’t rob mummies.
Treasure Hunter Turn
On a Treasure Hunter’s turn they’ll perform a few actions:
- (Optional) Reset the dice. If you’re not liking your odds, you may choose to reclaim all the dice of yours that the Mummy has. This causes the Mummy to take a special turn, immediately, which I’ll talk more about later on. Now you have the full five dice that you can roll, as well.
- Roll the dice. They roll their dice and can choose to either use one of the dice or re-roll all the remaining ones. Every time a Mummy face is the result of a roll, that die gets given to the Mummy (further limiting your pool). You may choose, at this point, to re-roll any dice that do not show the Mummy face, if you don’t like your options. If you’re particularly unlucky and roll five Mummy faces, you just lose your turn and the next player has to reset.
- Move. Choose one die and show it to the Mummy / announce it. You may move your penguin following that die (1, 2, 3, 4, or Arrow). For the numbers, move your penguin that number of spaces (you may double back). You may move through other treasure hunters, but you can’t stop on their spaces. As you might guess, you also cannot move through walls, onto the starting space or sarcophagus, or into the Mummy’s square. If you choose an Arrow, you do your penguin nature proud and slide either horizontally or vertically in a direction of your choice. You do not have to announce that you’re sliding in a certain direction; you only need to say that you’re using an arrow. If you, for some reason, cannot move (you’re blocked by walls on three sides and the Mummy), you must announce that you cannot move. You’ll likely get caught next Mummy turn.
- (Optional) Reveal Treasure Card. If you end your turn on a Treasure space matching one of your cards, you may reveal it. If that is your last unrevealed Treasure card, you win!
Once every Treasure Hunter has moved, the Mummy takes a turn.
The Mummy takes two types of turns: an Interrupt Turn and a Normal Turn.
- Normal Turn: The Mummy rolls their die and moves that many spaces + the number of dice that they’ve collected from the Treasure Hunters. This means if the Mummy has 3 Treasure Hunter dice with Mummy faces and they roll a 2, they’ll move 5 (3 + 2) spaces. The same general movement rules apply as for the Treasure Hunters, but the Mummy cannot slide.
- Interrupt Turn: If a treasure hunter resets the dice, the Mummy immediately moves spaces equal to the number of dice that they have. You do not roll the Mummy die for an interrupt turn.
In either case, if you move onto the same space as a treasure hunter, they are captured! Move them to your sarcophagus and take one of their Life Tokens. They may exit either way from the sarcophagus.
The game ends when any treasure hunter collects their fifth treasure (again, tenth in a two-player game) or if the Mummy collects the correct number of Life tokens from touching treasure hunters:
- 1 Treasure Hunter: 3 Life Tokens
- 2 Treasure Hunters: 4 Life Tokens
- 3 Treasure Hunters: 6 Life Tokens
- 4 Treasure Hunters: 7 Life Tokens
Whichever player achieves their goal first wins!
Player Count Differences
The major differences are that at higher player counts it’s harder to control what happens. All it takes is often one misstep. However, more players also help, as you can more effectively confuse the Mummy by zipping around in a variety of different directions. You’ll also likely lose more Life Tokens at higher player counts just by virtue of the fact that you can’t all occupy the same space, so there will be more treasure hunters for the Mummy to capture (hence why the Mummy needs more to win). I don’t really have a strong preference for player count, though; I like the chaos at higher player counts and I appreciate the intensity of two players.
Just remember that at two players, you’re controlling two treasure hunters and looking for 10 treasures. It doesn’t matter which penguin lands on which spot; you can still claim the treasure.
- If you’re the Mummy, keep track of where everyone could be. It’s a lot of information to keep in your brain, to be fair, but it’s the best course of action if you can do it. It helps if the treasure hunters are picking small numbers (since the number of available outcomes is reduced.
- Penguins, opt to hide and confuse. I mean I just mentioned how hard it is to keep track of everyone. Double back, hide in corners. Sometimes it’s worth going around the Mummy so that they move past you, thinking you went another way. No matter what, try not to telegraph your location.
- You don’t always have to claim the Treasure. This explicitly telegraphs your location. That’s not good, especially if the Mummy is close enough to get you. That means you will get … got, on a subsequent turn, unless you move. Also, this makes you super vulnerable if another player needs to reset.
- You can double back. That’s what I do, sometimes. Just move forward and then move immediately back into the same slot.
- Sliding is a good way to throw the Mummy off, a bit. You have to move at least one space, but if you announce that you’re sliding, people tend to think that you moved more than one space. Use that to your advantage.
- Sometimes it’s useful to get captured. If you’ve just gotten purple, you can use the capture to get to the other end of the board pretty quickly. Plus, then you’re further away from the Mummy, which is also a bonus. You should immediately flee them, so that you don’t get captured again.
- The Mummy has to move when you reset. This is an often overlooked caveat. Since that’s the case, you can occasionally force them to have to make a decision about where they think you are before you move. If they choose poorly, then they’re even further away, which is great!
- Keep an eye on how many torches the Mummy has claimed. All players lose if the Mummy gets enough torches, and everyone includes you, so try to distract the Mummy and pull them towards you if you’re worried they’re going to catch someone else and end the game. Naturally, don’t get caught, yourself, but do try to keep the mummy away from other players towards the end of the game so that you can get your treasures.
- Sometimes it’s worth just making a break for it. Even if the Mummy knows where you are, that won’t matter if you get your last treasure and end the game. Sometimes you gotta just launch yourself into it and hope for the best. And sometimes that doesn’t work.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Still a big fan of the theme. I could just play games in the Ice Cool universe for a long time without any real issue. They’re fun, upbeat, and colorful, and I think that’s never a bad space for your game to occupy.
- The Mummy’s movement on the treasure hunter side of the board is just the right amount of spooky. Since the Mummy player is using a magnet to move it, you just kinda see the Mummy shamble around the board from the treasure hunter side. It’s kinda creepy, especially if you move slowly enough, and I’m super into it. Lots of fun.
- Love shared universes. Again, it’s one of the fun things about seeing a bunch of games made by the same publisher; games that occupy the same universe give a nice bit of continuity to the canon (and they make themed game nights easier since you can just play all the games in the same universe, if you want). I’m pretty much always a fan.
- Seems pretty family-friendly. You may have to take it a bit easy as the Mummy or hold back as the treasure hunter against younger folks, but I don’t see any reason why the whole family couldn’t enjoy this one.
- Many vs. one games aren’t all that common; it’s always nice to see some pop up. I actually don’t think I have any other than Entropy: Worlds Collide’s expansion, and I haven’t even finished my review of the base game, yet.
- Magnets are super fun! No idea how they work, but it’s neat! Even more so that the Mummy will “capture” treasure hunters by jumping onto their magnet. That’s a fun bit.
- Another strangely-sized box. I don’t know if there’s much that can be done about that, but the more weird-shaped boxes I get, the harder organizing my shelves is starting to become. Not a huge complaint, but just a generic problem that I’m having.
- Does have a pretty sizable potential for cheating. This is mitigated somewhat at non-two-player counts (since the other treasure hunters can see you / the Mummy), but just something to remember can happen at two players if you’re playing with someone who sucks.
- In a two-player game, it doesn’t really seem possible to do much better as the Mummy. A lot of the Mummy’s game is relying on players’ mistakes, which means you kind of hit a skill ceiling after a while. For the treasure hunters, you can start learning how to predict the Mummy (and the Mummy can also learn that, I suppose), but you have a lot more flexibility with movement that I think the Mummy can’t emulate.
- Misplays from other players can really mess you up. I think one of the major issues with many vs. one games is this exact problem; if another player does something that’s a bad idea (such as resetting when the Mummy is close to you and letting the Mummy win by mistake), the only way to prevent that would be to violate what is generally my First Rule of Board Games: Don’t tell another player how to play on their turn. It’s exacerbated somewhat by the semi-cooperative nature of the game, since you’re also not incentivized to help your opponents at all, lest they win instead of you.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, Pyramid of Pengqueen is a lot of fun! I can see it being a nice way to take a break between games but still get in a decently high-stress situation as you try to avoid the sleeping Mummy’s creepy touch. As far as it being a retheme of Pyramid, I think this is a welcome addition to the Ice Cool canon. Does it make any sense, like, practically? Of course not. But who cares? You’re already invested in a game about penguin truancy, why couldn’t they find a mysterious pyramid and seek out the treasures below? The core question a game often needs to answer is, is it fun, and Pengqueen certainly is. So if you’re looking to extend that Ice Cool universe (as I literally always am) or if you’re looking to try a many v. one game, or if you just want something that’s a neat semi-cooperative experience, I’d definitely recommend taking Pyramid of Pengqueen for a spin! I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit.