Q & A – Tom Cleaver (Valley of the Kings)

You know what might be a piece of news that none of you know?

That’s right, the Valley of the Kings Premium Edition Kickstarter is now live!


It’s not like I posted about it…much.

Anyway, in honour of this great series of games coming out in a shiny new boxed set with all new card art and the like, I thought it would be nice to touch base with the designer of the game, Tom Cleaver.

Tom graciously consented to answer a few questions that I posed him, not just about the Premium Edition but also about games in general.

Thank you so much, Tom, for agreeing to do this.

How long have you been playing board games, and what games do you like to play?

​Well, I’m 77, so I’ve been playing board games for about 70 years. As for the games I like, I’m pretty eclectic. I especially like Euros, racing games, and deck builders.

What got you into game design?

​That’s hard to say. Even as a kid I made mods to Monopoly. My first produced game was Swordplay (1974). It was, as you might guess, a sword fighting game. Later I did Conquest of Space, and then went into computer games: Galaxy! and Darkhorn, both produced by Avalon Hill. When the millennium rolled around, I went back to designing board games.

The original Valley of the Kings game is only 5 years old now. What prompted the decision to make a Premium Edition so soon?

​That was a corporate decision at AEG. I guess they figured the time was right.

Let’s address the elephant in the room. While the Premium Edition funded in 20 minutes, there were a large number of complaints on the BGG forums about the change to tarot-sized cards. Can you explain some of the decision-making behind that change?

​I’m guessing here… There were some early suggestions that we go to tarot, and Mystic Vale was a success with tarot. I think that AEG management thought that VotK would be more classy with tarot. Some gamers seem to like that size, and others don’t.

VoK - Deluxe - Card
Glorious artwork…


In regard to the Premium Edition, what’s the working relationship with AEG like? How much input did you have in the changes that aren’t design-related?

I’m talking about things like the new artwork, the game presentation, the contents of the box itself (maybe even the insert), that sort of thing.

​AEG seems to value my input. I’ve been intimately involved with all phases of the project from the get-go. I am pleased to say that my input was actively encouraged. I think I have been most useful in making sure that the game-play aspects of the graphic design would work well for gamers.

My developer, John Goodenough, has been especially supportive. I’d also like to mention Ryan Dancey and Matt Paquette who were also very welcoming of my contributions.

VoK - Deluxe pharaoh
Those are some muscles!

I was enchanted by Valley of the Kings when it first came out in 2014 and bought it fairly quickly after it came out. How did you come up with the idea for it? What gave you the idea for the burying mechanic (which I love)?

​Back in 2011, when I first started designing VotK, I was heavily influenced by Dominion (which is still a great game). But I thought, “Why do you need three cards (action, VPs, and cash), when one card can do it all?” So I designed a game that would require many fewer cards than Dominion.

As for the burying mechanic, this naturally fell out of the theme (Egypt). I visited Egypt with my family in the 1980s, and I became fascinated with Egyptian mythology and burial practices. Egyptians sorta thought, “He who dies with the most toys wins.”

I make mention in my review of Last Rites that it seems weird to be burying “people” in the pyramid (though I know that it did happen in ancient Egypt). What made you decide to change the cards in Last Rites from objects to people? ​

Basically, I ran out of objects that made sense for the theme. I used all the obvious choices in the original VotK (shabti, canopic jars, sarcophagi, etc.). Nevertheless, the people in Last Rites do make sense with the theme. They were involved in the funerary process, although they were not buried in the tomb. I point out in the intro to Last Rites that nobody is actually buried in the tomb. Think of the tomb as a metaphor for the workforce of the burial.

I…uh….completely missed that in the rulebook. *sheepish look*

Now that the Valley of the Kings series is done (or is it?), anything you’re working on now? Even if you can’t announce anything, any hints?

I am working on a game that involves wizards, summoning, and world-building. That’s all I can say for now.


Thank you so much, Tom, for taking the time to answer these questions!

Don’t forget, the Premium Edition Valley of the Kings Kickstarter ends on April 16.

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