#797 – Tutankhamun

Base price: $30.
2 – 6 players.
Play time: 15 – 30 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 2 

Full disclosure: A review copy of Tutankhamun was provided by 25th Century Games.

And we’re back with more reviews, as usual. I am enjoying the cycle of things, but my writing has slowed down a bit. Sort of happens; I think we’re getting closer to Fall TV premieres. As we move closer to that, we have more games to talk about! Busy weeks. Our next game is Tutankhamun, from 25th Century Games! I’ve covered a few of their games in the past, so I’m looking forward to the next one! Let’s see how it plays.

In Tutankhamun, King Tut has died. And that’s a bummer and all, but now you have to fill his tomb so that he can have all his stuff in the afterlife. As you do. At least it’s not you getting stuffed in the tombs; that’s a different game. Good times. Now, you must amass Artifacts so that you can cleanse your soul in the process of filling up the tomb. You know, as you do. Only the player with the cleanest soul can become the next High Priest, which is pretty fun. Can you win the new Pharaoh’s favor?

Contents

Setup

This is kind of the painful part. Place the box bottom near the middle of the top edge of your play area, and place the sarcophagus inside:

Next, shuffle up the Artifact and God Idol tiles and make a river out of them that starts from the 0 / 30 spot on the front of the box bottom:

There’s a lot there, but I believe in y’all. Then, place the Underworld Mat and the Guardian Statues near the bottom of the River:

Each player gets to pick a color and gets a Canopic Jar in that color:

Those jars should be placed on the number space corresponding to your player count:

  • 2 players: All players start at 30 points.
  • 3 players: All players start at 28 points.
  • 4 players: All players start at 24 points.
  • 5 players: All players start at 20 points.
  • 6 players: All players start at 18 points.

Each player should get a boat in their player color and place it at the end of the river, in player order:

You should be good to start!

Gameplay

The actual game of Tutankhamun is relatively straightforward. Your goal is to collect artifacts for the great King Tut’s tomb, trying to cleanse your spirit so you can move on to the afterlife. You know, set collection. Along the way, you may also be able to employ some abilities from the local gods to give yourself a boost. As you cleanse your spirit, you lose points, and your goal is to hit zero!

To start your turn, you may either move your boat forward as many spaces as you want (stopping on the Artifact Tile or God Idol Tile of your choice) or you may move your boat exactly one space backwards. Those are the two options. Once you stop, discard all tiles that have no players behind them to the Underworld (meaning there’s always one player at the bottom of the river), and then resolve the tile you landed on.

Resolving the tile is simple if it’s a God Idol tile; you simply use its ability and then put it in the box bottom (the “Tomb”). If the tile is an artifact, check to see if any more artifacts of that type are in play. If they are, add the artifact to your supply. If this is the last one, then you resolve it. Check to see who has the most tiles of that artifact; that player gains the indicated number of points on the tile, moving their jar token backwards to indicate that they scored those points. The player with the second-most tiles of that type gains exactly half of those points, again moving their jar backwards. There are a few caveats worth noting:

  • In a two-player game, the Underworld counts as its own player. This means that if there are more tiles of a certain artifact type in the Underworld, then the player with the most tiles has the second-most tiles, for scoring purposes.
  • Ties are broken by whichever player is farther back along the river.
  • Once you’ve finished resolving who scores a set, place all tiles from that set in the Tomb. This includes any tiles in the Underworld of that type.

There is one special set of tiles: Scarab Rings. These tiles immediately score one point when they’re claimed, but they’re still kept. When the final Scarab Ring is taken, the player who has the most gains 5 points, with no second-place scoring.

After you finish your turn, the next player plays, with turns continuing clockwise until one player reaches 0 on the score track. When that happens, complete the player’s turn, and the player 0 points wins! If more than one player has reached 0, ties are broken by whichever player is farther back along the river. The tied player farther back wins, in that case.

If, for some reason, all tiles have been taken but nobody has reached 0, the player with the fewest points wins the game, instead.

Player Count Differences

I think Tutankhamun tends to shine at higher player counts. At three, there’s enough of a variety of sets that you can either get first or second place pretty simply, which ends up causing the game to lose some of its tension. With more players, it’s less clear. Is everyone grabbing that 8? Should I get one? Will that be enough? Is it worth potentially wasting a turn? I like the tension that the higher player count creates for players, especially because the core gameplay loop is simple enough that turns remain short no matter how many players you have. The two-player rules are interesting, since they incentivize dumping tiles you don’t want to the Underworld to clown your opponent, but beyond that I think I’d probably recommend Tutankhamun most in the four to six player range. The quick turns and competitive set-collection both help keep this interesting with lots of players.

Strategy

  • Don’t just exclusively go after Scarab Rings. There’s definitely some temptation to do so, since they score immediately, can be used with Isis to trade in for additional tiles, or can be saved up
  • While jumping ahead to get what you want is good, you essentially close yourself off to all subsequent tiebreakers. The tiebreaker thing is kind of the crux, here; it’s what stops you from just powering to every tile you need, consequences be damned. If you’re too far ahead, it’s super easy to beat you in ties, so you’re essentially resigned to second-place, at best. Staying back and collecting a variety of sets can be useful for tiebreaker reasons, but you’re often not the lynchpin that completes a set, which means you may miss out on the big points. But in the right contexts, that might be enough! You don’t need to win every set to win the game, after all.
  • Similarly, for likely somewhat obvious reasons, don’t jump all the way to the end at the start of the game, unless you’re planning to hit up Horus at some point. Horus lets you jump back, which is fine, but if you aren’t going that route, getting stuck at the top of the river means that you essentially lose any choice in what you take next. That allows you to be pretty effectively manipulated by other players, which may not really be what you want.
  • If you grab too many of the same Artifact, other players might just leave you to the difficult work of finishing the set on your own. This is kind of the major tension of a lot of set-collection / majority games. If you grab too many, then other players won’t want to go after a guaranteed second or third place. This then forces you to grab the rest, so you miss out on staking your claim on other sets. Your ideal situation is to essentially get players interested in an easy second-place win, so they take the remainder of the tiles needed to complete the set and score it. Otherwise you just end up wasting a bunch of time.
  • Some of the God Idol powers are able to really bail you out of a bad situation. Osiris can help you pull tiles that were burnt to the Underworld (which can tilt the set majority in your favor), Horus allows you to pull tiles from behind your boat (or to move yourself backwards), Thoth lets you swap tiles in front of you (potentially putting a tile you need behind an opponent), Ra lets you essentially discard any tile to the Underworld (potentially letting you score a set before an opponent can tie or take it from you), and more. Skillful use of the God Idol tiles can occasionally be better than just taking an artifact tile straight away.
  • At two, try to move forward aggressively to banish a bunch of tiles to the Underworld. This way, you can often block your opponent from scoring a bunch of points. Your goal is to essentially either take sets in first place or dump enough tiles that your opponent gets bumped to second (or third) place. Using the Underworld is a pretty useful way to bump your opponent down in scoring, especially for big sets. Anything you don’t want might as well be burned. It’s a scorched-earth mindest, but, I mean, that’s the best thing for two-player games.
  • Using Scarab Rings with Isis is a good way to get some tiles that you may want later. Plus, you can re-grab the Scarab Rings for the extra point. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t think that overindexing on Scarab Rings, even at high player counts, is necessarily a good idea (just because I’d be surprised if there were 10+ rounds), but having a few and trading them in with the Isis tile is likely a good way to make a quick few points without having to give up valuable board position.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Relatively simple game, which I appreciate. There’s not a lot to the game, structurally, which makes it nice in certain contexts. You don’t necessarily need to overthink (or even think too much at all); you can kind of just move and take tiles to your liking. Honestly, if you’re just here to have fun, you don’t even need a ton of strategy. The simplicity of the game works to its advantage, I think. It makes the game easier to teach, as well, which helped.
  • Using the Underworld as essentially a dummy player in two-player games is a smart move. I don’t normally like dummy players in games, but I think in this particular instance, it’s a nice fix. You don’t have to deal with another fake player following a formula, which can occasionally be annoying; you just have to deal with what is essentially a tiebreaker with the discard pile. It’s again, a simple solution (which seems to be a general rule for this game), but one that’s helpful for avoiding two-player monotony.
  • I also, mechanically, like the ability to abandon tiles to the Underworld as a technique. It’s nice to be able to quickly dump tiles out of sets. If nobody’s going for something, then, well, into the bucket it goes.
  • The River Tiles are fun, since you can make interesting river shapes, with them. I just like making swirls and having the river go back and forth. It depends a bit on table shape, of course, but there’s something nice to their construction. They’re also
  • The Sarcophagus is absolutely useless from a gameplay standpoint, but it looks super good. That’s fine! I like scattering the Artifact Tiles around it as we play. The sarcophagus has so much aesthetic value to it. And it’s shiny, and I’m easily distracted.
  • More generally, Jacqui Davis’s art really shines, here. Sometimes literally. The whole game looks great! I particularly like the look of the river tiles. Great blues, and the artifacts really look great compared against that backdrop. The color work is particularly good here; lots of yellows and golds, and the whole thing looks great while it’s being played.
  • I also appreciate that all of the Artifact Tiles are named on the back. It’s a helpful reference and a learning opportunity! I just like knowing more about things. And now I can!

Mehs

  • Given how few God Idol tiles there are relative to others, it can be frustrating how infrequently their abilities come up in play. That’s the breaks sometimes. Plus, the randomized ordering of the tiles might just mean that a bunch of God Idol tiles end up coming up at inopportune times.
  • Moving backwards in points is somewhat unintuitive, and I’m not sure the in-theme explanation is quite enough to justify the mechanic choice. I mostly get it, so it’s not that big of a deal, but “scoring” points by losing them from your overall score in a bid to hit 0 is odd. The language of “losing” points by getting a set isn’t particularly intuitive, and that’s okay.

Cons

  • Wow, setup is a pain. It’s a mixture of having to shuffle and place 70 tiles and having to place them in both a specific orientation and an orientation that respects your table setup. It can take a while.
  • For an Egyptian-themed set-collection game, having the Set tiles be part of the promo pack and not the base game means that I can’t call the base game a Set-collection game, and that’s just criminal. This is a very minor complaint.

Overall: 7.25 / 10

Overall, I think Tutankhamun is fun! My biggest complaint, bar none, is that setup takes a while for one person; it’s a bit unwieldy to build the river quickly. You can’t really build it at both ends, since it needs to connect to the box, and we haven’t figured out a quick or efficient way to build it in only one direction. We’ve tried; it works okay. That said, that’s pretty much my biggest problem with the game itself. The core of Tutankhamun is that it’s a surprisingly straightforward set-collection game (which is funny, given how winding the river is), accentuated by some fun art and very short, quick turns. And I like that core! The theme is fun, too, but I find that ancient Egypt is pretty much always fun, theme-wise. The big highlight is probably the art, yeah; Jacqui Davis does great work, and the whole thing pops. I particularly like the sarcophagus as an otherwise-not-critical-but-nice touch. It’s bright and shiny and makes the game look excellent. It’s also fun to dunk the Artifact tiles inside of the tomb, once they’re scored. All things being equal, Tutankhamun isn’t a terribly complicated game, but it’s pretty fun, so if you’re looking for a quick-and-simple set-collection game that’s bright, colorful, and fun, it might be worth checking out!


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