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Tutankhamen

Designer: Reiner Knizia
Publisher: Out of the Box
Players: 2-6
Time: 15 minutes
Reviewer: Greg Aleknevicus

There are two factors that will largely determine your appreciation of Tutankhamen:

  1. Your views on kingmaking (intentional or otherwise).
  2. How seriously you approach the game.

Both of these issues are strongly related. As for kingmaking, it's going to happen virtually every time you play. Sometimes this will be passive (a player will make a move that allows another to win), other times it will be active (a player will make a move that immediately gives the win to another). Either way, it's going to happen and if you plan on playing this game, you need to accept it.

This is a serious issue for any game but the reason it's not a fatal flaw in Tutankhamen is that this kingmaking is often unintentional or inadvertent. That is, a player may be unaware of the consequences of his action. For some this distinction will be a moot point but for others it will make all the difference in the world. The reason for this is the second factor I mentioned: how seriously you take the game.

Tutankhamen is a game of perfect information—everything is on display and there are no random factors whatsoever (beyond the initial layout of tiles). This means that if you are so inclined, you could spend a lot of time examining the board and the other players' holdings in order to calculate your best move. Best in this case meaning not only what's best for you, but also the moves you leave for other players. Certain players' natural disposition will compel them to devote such energies to doing exactly this; it's simply not in their nature to ignore such information. Other players will take a more relaxed, "fly by the seat of your pants" approach. This is not to say that they'll be playing randomly but that they'll be less willing to examine all the possible responses available to their opponents after every move. I think the latter type of player will enjoy Tutankhamen much more than the former. It's not that the game does not reward thinking and planning (it does), it's that these carefully laid plans can come crashing down when a less cautious player hands the game to a third party. A casual player is much less likely to be annoyed by this than the person who has agonized over every decision.

Like many Knizia games, play is quite simple. The game consists primarily of 70 artifact tiles. These come in 15 sets, each containing one to eight tiles. At the start of the game they're randomly arranged into a long line terminating at a large plastic pyramid. The player pawns begin at the other end and on a turn a player will advance his or her pawn along the line as far as desired and collect the artifact landed upon. The trick is that you may only move forward, never backwards and so there's a constant struggle between holding back so that you leave your options open and rushing forward to grab a critical artifact.

Once the last artifact in a set is collected, it is scored. This is done using standard "majorities-type" scoring where the player with the most in that set scores the full value (equal to the number of tiles in that set) and the second place player scores half that. Pretty simple and straightforward but the necessary twist is that this isn't a contest to score the most points overall, but to score a certain number of points first. There are lots of tiles in the game and generally speaking, every player will have enough of "their" tiles (sets that they are leading in) to score the necessary number of points. The challenge then is who will do so first and this will drive most of your decisions.

This timing aspect turns everything on its ear and is a very welcome change. In most majorities games you can win by being left alone and I find this an unfortunate quality in a game. It's not so enjoyable to look back at a game and realize that you won because the other players spent all their efforts competing in Luxor while you were left with Worldwide all to yourself. In Tutankhamen this does not happen due to the fact that a set of artifacts is only scored when it's fully collected. So, while you might think that it's great that no other player is contesting you for control of the green burial masks, it means that you might have to collect all eight yourself in order to score those points. This is not good. It's much better for you if one or more players are also collecting those tiles as this means that that set will score all the sooner—as I said, it's not only important to score those points, but to score them quickly. What this means is that you'll do better if you're successful in a tense competition for artifacts rather than simply being left alone. This is a good thing.

I mentioned earlier that Tutankhamen is a perfect-information game but this may not be strictly correct. The original Amigo version featured a scoreboard but the Out of the Box version uses coins instead. This raises the question of whether or not these coins are meant to be visible to all—the rules are silent on this matter. I'm reluctant to raise the question of open or closed holdings (especially since the scores are track-able in any case) but if you're playing casually, hidden scores do lessen the probability of creating an obvious kingmaker situation. (e.g. If you're not sure how many coins people have, then you can hurry up and get on with your move rather than agonizing over how to prevent someone else from winning.)

Tutankhamen artifact tile.The production of Tutankhamen is quite nice—the plastic pyramid, although almost entirely for show, is solid and attractive. The tiles appear to be durable although I find the artwork to be a little plain. I did have a bit of a problem with the colours of the player pawns as they're all earth-tones—every so often someone would forget exactly who was who (sometimes they'd even forget their own colour). A relatively minor problem though as it's easy enough to replace these with more traditionally coloured pieces.

There is one change from the original Amigo rules and that involves the three pharaoh tiles. In the original, these could only be used as a tie breaker whereas they act as full wild artifacts in this version. This makes them much more useful but not so much that they're over-powerful. To be honest, I can't say that I prefer either method. I am a little disappointed that Out of the Box did not take the opportunity to specify the order that pharaoh tile are played in the event that multiple players wish to play them (this was an unanswered problem in the Amigo rules).

Ultimately, we come back to the two points I initially raised. If you're going to play Tutankhamen as a light, quick filler, you may not even notice or care about the kingmaking aspects of the game. However, if you play it more seriously you may be disappointed when someone hands the victory to another player. I tend more to the latter camp but since I enjoy so much of the game (and since it plays so very quickly), I try very hard to overlook the problems at the end.

- Greg Aleknevicus

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