In Ancient Egypt, the land of the Pharaohs where whoever died and built the best pyramid was seen to be the most dope ruler in all the land, sometimes it wasn’t just what was buried with you that made the difference.
Sometimes it was who you were buried with.
And these people didn’t have to be dead ahead of you either.
(I’ll stop and let you think about that for a moment)
It’s definitely not something you want to think too hard about when you’re playing the latest version of Tom Cleaver’s Valley of the Kings.
Valley of the Kings: Last Rites is the second standalone expansion for this wonderful deck-building series. When I say standalone, I mean it too.
While there are rules for mixing and matching the cards in the various expansions, I really have no interest in doing that. I like to play each set individually.
As noted above, Valley of the Kings: Last Rites is designed by Tom Cleaver with art by Banu Andaru and published in 2016 by AEG Games.
I did a detailed breakdown of how to play Valley of the Kings in my review of the Afterlife expansion, so I won’t do that here. There are no gameplay changes in Last Rites except that the cards are different and have different abilities.
Suffice to say that, in typical deck-builder fashion, you start with a deck of ten starter cards. Cards that are available for purchase are set out in a pyramid shape, and you can buy from the bottom row.
You build your deck to become more powerful, but you also have to entomb cards in order to win, because cards in your deck get you no victory points at the end of the game.
It’s a nice balancing act of wanting cards that do stuff and cards that get you points.
The game ends when the pyramid is completely empty and everybody has taken a turn that round.
Is Valley of the Kings: Last Rites a regal pyramid or a little lean-to in the slums of the big city?
This is my favourite game in the series, mainly for the varied card play mechanics that are very different from the previous editions.
First, the starter cards are brand new.
I love the new effects on these cards.
The Medjay is basically an enhanced Offering Table from the first two games, allowing you to discard it to avoid an effect on you by a card somebody else plays. That’s important in this game, as once again there are quite a few cards that force you to discard or sacrifice a card.
However, this time the Medjay also gives you another ability that you can use if you desperately need it (like I did once). It allows you to sacrifice it, discard 4 cards and take a card from anywhere in the pyramid. If you find yourself really short of gold in the late game and your deck isn’t able to buy much of anything, this can be a lifesaver.
The Menial’s ability to let you buy from anywhere in the pyramid is a great ability as well. It may cost you an entombing action early (since you use the Menial and then have to spend four gold to get many of the Age II cards), but it could jump start your deck too.
What do I like best about Last Rites?
The varied interaction with the Stock (draw pile) and Boneyard (pile where cards that are sacrificed out of the game are put).
Many cards let you interact with one or both piles.
Yes, interacting with the Stock does add even more randomness to a card game that by definition has randomness (entombing the top card of the Stock may mean you’re entombing a duplicate of something that’s already there, which means it won’t score), but it’s a lot of fun.
And there are ways in this game to mitigate that too.
At least one card lets you remove cards from your tomb, so if they get there “accidentally,” you can rescue them (before they suffocate, I presume).
I also like how much player interaction there can be. The above “Priest of Thoth” is a chancy card because you could be giving an opponent a great card. But it may allow you to take that supremely awesome card from the top of the pyramid too.
Last Rites has so much interaction, both with the Boneyard/Stock as well as with other players, it really adds to the tactical decisions as far as what kinds of cards to go for, what you may want to do with the deck you have, how you can streamline your deck, and what to entomb and when.
This interaction is what makes this game a treat to play for me. That and the multiple entombing options really lets you score high if you put your mind to it. It even adds a new set of cards with eight cards in it. If you manage to entomb all of them (which I have once or twice), that’s 64 points right there!
As much as I loved Afterlife, Last Rites leaves it in the dust as far as quality goes.
Just try not to think about the fact that all of these cards represent people.
This review was written after 6 plays