Cleopatra and the Society of Architects
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Cleopatra & the Society of Architects is a fun and engaging family game that includes a true, three-dimensional palace that players compete to build. Players strive to become the wealthiest of Cleopatra’s architects by constructing the most magnificent and valuable parts of her palace.
Players, however, will be tempted to deal with shady characters and trade in materials of dubious origins in order to help them build faster. While these corrupt practices might allow an architect to stay a step ahead of the rest, they come with a high price – cursed Corruption Amulets honoring Sobek, the Crocodile-god. When Cleopatra finally strolls into her new palace, at the end of the game, the most corrupt architect (the one with the most amulets) will be seized and offered as a sacrifice to her sacred crocodile! Only then will the wealthiest architect, from among those still alive, be selected and declared the winner of the game.
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Jun 02, 2006
Cleopatra and the Society of Architects is a light strategy game about collecting sets of cards and placing buildings strategically for the most points.Watch the video!
When I first saw this game I'm pretty sure my mouth literally fell open. It is a testament to my geekiness that I found this game so beautiful. It's a board game, but you're building a massive 3-D palace that actually uses the box as part of the structure. It reminded me of those games of my youth such as "Mouse trap," "Hungry Hungry Hippos" and various other children's games which utilized large complex plastic bits. It reminded me so much of those games that I had some serious doubts there was any kind of a deep game behind it all. I am happy to report that I was dead wrong.
Components: Everything about this game is exquisite. From the obelisks to the cards to the little corruption tokens everything is beautiful and functional and it all fits the theme like a glove. The card backs look like papyrus, and there are detailed Egyptian carvings all over everything. It all just screams Egyptian. I could go on for pages about this game's components but I think we can all see from the pictures how great it looks; the important question is how does it play?
Description: The basic premise of this game is that you are an architect (duh) who has been contracted to build a magnificent palace for Cleopatra (refer to previous parenthesis). You take resource cards representing various building materials and use them to build different sections of the palace. Doing this earns you talents (victory points) and obviously some parts of the palace are worth more than others. This is (at least on the surface) a very simple system and is a bit reminiscent of Settlers of Catan. The game's big twist is that some of the building materials are of rather questionable origins. They were gotten off the black market or stolen or something along these lines. When you build with "corrupt" material everything becomes much easier and you begin to earn talents at a much faster rate. However, this added efficiency comes at a high price. Every time you use a corrupt resource you gain a corruption amulet (with a picture of the crocodile god Sobek on it) which you put into your cardboard pyramid through a slot in the side. At the end of the game all players lift up their pyramids and reveal their corruption amulets. The player with the most is fed to Cleopatra's favorite pet crocodile. Needless to say you do not want to be the most corrupt architect. Once this is resolved then the player with the most talents who is still alive wins
Gameplay: The gameplay is quite straightforward. On a turn you can either "visit the market" and pick one of three stacks of cards to take into your hand OR you can "visit the quarry" and use cards to build parts of the palace.The cards are prepared in a rather unique way. At the start of the game half of the deck is turned upside down and then the whole thing is shuffled. This means that half of the cards are going to be face down and half of them are going to be face up. So when you pick a market stack you can generally see what some of the cards are but not all of them.
After you pick a stack you take the top three cards on the deck and (keeping them faced the way they were) place one on each of the stacks. This means that if one of the stacks is rather unappealing to the players it will accumulate more and more cards until someone will eventually take it. When you place the three new cards you can decide which stack gets which card. I was surprised to discover upon my first playing that this is actually a rather large part of the strategy. If one of the cards is something everyone wants, you may decide to put it on one of the smaller or less desireable stacks to hurt other players who decide they need it. Of course if you want one of the cards you might try to place it on a stack which you would like to pick on a later turn, but if this stack is thereby made too valuable another player will surely snap it up. There are many layers of strategy and psychology built into this simple operation, and a good idea about what other players want is key. This mechanic is where a lot of the player interaction comes in, as you are basically deciding what choices to present the other players with.
A very nice thing about the game in my opinion is that every card is balanced. There are cards worth one resource of a particular type, and then there are corrupt versions worth two which require taking a corruption amulet. There are corrupt cards worth one of any resource, and there are cards which represent various shady characters who can help you in your task (at a price). Some characters are better than others, but they require you to take more corruption. This balance means that no player is going to get lucky and draw a bunch of amazing cards, nor are any of the cards useless ([cough] sheep). Another thing I really like is that there are no "screw you" cards which serve to foil an opponent's plans. The closest is the "beggar" which, for the price of two corruption, forces all other players to give you a building material, and even here they have the option of giving you some of their talents instead.
At first this game may seem as though it has a lot of luck. Many of the cards you take will be unknown and what you are looking for might simply not show up when you want it to. To cut down on the latter issue, each player starts the game with three "merchant ships." They can use a ship to substitute one of any resource they need to build a structure, but each ship they don't use is worth three talents at the end of the game (similar to Ticket to Ride: Europe). The merchant ships are an integral part of the game that should not be forgotten. There are also cards which provide one of any resource for the price of one corruption. Unlike Settlers, in this game you can always do something, and quite possibly exactly what you want to do; the question is always "at what cost?" When your choice of stacks seems rather undesirable, it is because the other players have made it so. If they are paying attention they won't let you get that resource you need without choosing a rather useless stack to go along with it. Since each of the cards is worth about the same, it is impossible to draw inherently inferior cards. You've just got to figure out how to use them.
Generally I don't like to give strategy tips in my reviews, as I find it more fun to discover a strategy on my own rather than have it revealed to me, but this little bit of basic advice will increase the enjoyment of your first game exponentially as without it the game seems almost broken. The game has a hand limit of ten cards. At the end of your turn if you have more than ten cards in your hand you have two options: either discard down to ten cards and take a corruption, or keep your whole hand and take one corruption for each card over ten. I should also mention that at the end of the game you must take one corruption for each corrupt card still in your hand. This means that if you draw a corrupt card even if you don't play it you will still take corruption for having it in your possession. This hand limit can (and must) be used to your advantage. If you have corrupt cards in your hand that you don't plan on using, try to pick a stack that will bring your total over ten cards; then at the end of the turn discard any corrupt cards you don't want. You'll still take one corruption, but you will hopefully get rid of many unwanted cards in the process. It's much better to take one corruption and get rid of four corrupt cards than to have all four in your hand at the end of the game. If you instead try to avoid having more than ten cards you may find yourself awash in corrupt cards that you don't want to use. "Use it or lose it" pretty much sums it up. This becomes pretty obvious, but if you play without doing it you will probably think that the most corrupt player is the one who draws the most corrupt cards (some of which will be unavoidable). This is simply not true.
I won't go into as much detail about the different structures. Basically each requires various resources and yields a certain number of points. There are also other factors which are unique to each structure: for example the door is worth extra points for each pillar branching off of it and the even numbered sphinx statues are worth more than the odd numbered ones. This may sound complex, but everything is clearly listed on a player aid sheet and becomes second nature almost immediately. Building more on a single turn gets you free talents, so saving up to build a lot is generally a good idea, though you must make sure no one else is planning to build the same thing you are. It is, however, unlikely that you will be particularly screwed by having someone else build something before you because all structures building costs are fairly similar and you can generally build something with the cards you have. Once all but one type of the palace's various components have been built the game ends. This gives the players some control over when the game ends, and it makes every game a little different since one aspect of the palace will always be left unfinished.
There are a couple of ways to lose corruption. One of the types of structure is called "mosaics" which are built on the palace roof. These are cardboard shapes made up of five squares which, when built in a particular fashion, cause you to lose some corruption at the end of the game. I won't even begin to explain how these work, as they are almost a game in and of themselves. (A game very similar to an old favorite of mine called Pan Kai.) There are also a random number of auctions throughout the game representing offerings to the great priest in which players blind-bid some number of their talents (which are, buy the way, kept hidden throughout the game). The player who bids the most loses three corruption, the player who bid second- most gains one, the player who bids third-most gains two, etc... All talents bid are lost, even if you come in last. People who hate blind bidding may be turned off by this mechanic, but it will probably only happen once or twice per game and is a very small part of the overall experience.
Summary: This may all sound rather complicated, but it is in fact very easy to learn. I found it simpler to pick up than Shadows Over Camelot and the rulebook is very small (especially for a Days of Wonder game). The learning curve is quite friendly, and players will be playing fairly well in no time. The strategy however is surprisingly deep and there are many things one must consider. Players should be thinking about what they are going to do while other players take their turns. If you are constantly trying to figure out your best course of action the game has seemingly no downtime as many times it has gone around and come back to my turn before I had decided what to do. If players aren't thinking about their next turn, play will move very slowly as each player will take ages deciding what to do. This game is surprisingly thought-intensive and most likely will not be enjoyed by a player who cannot sit still and think. I can get very absorbed in this game, and I am always surprised when I get up and look at the clock. It only ever takes us about an hour to play, but it always feels like much more. Another thing I like about this game is that it is very hard to know how well you are doing until it is all over. I've never felt like I was definitely going to lose or that I had a clear victory. More often than not the player who you thought was going to win is in the end thrown to the crocodiles. Rather than just a race for victory points, this is an elaborate balancing act between talents and corruption. And it will always feel different depending on what your opponents are doing. If another players is gaining a lot of corruption, you can begin to allow for a bit more corruption yourself. Unlike a lot of games where everything tends to have a particular value, if you asked me whether taking three corruption to gain twelve talents is worth it I would have no idea. It depends completely on the situation, and trying to figure out exactly what the situation is is a large part of the game. At first I thought that a good memory would allow one to record exactly how many corruption and talents everyone had, but after numerous plays I have always been surprised by the ending.
I would like to make it clear that I am not comparing this game to Puerto Rico or Caylus or anything. I'm mostly saying how surprised I am at the depth of game hiding behind all the fancy bits. Not what I was expecting at all.
I really like this game and would rate it at least an 8 by itself, but the lavish production values mentioned earlier push it over the edge for me and I rate it a perfect 10. This is the best looking game I own, and in my opinion one of the most enjoyable. It also allows for many stupid Egyptian puns during gameplay. I'll leave it to you to find them all!
Cleopatra, Society is definitely a game you should consider for its playability and downright enjoyment. Still, it does have the flaw that someone or several people can be eliminated if they have too many corruption markers at the end of the game.
After playing two different times this game, I decided the crocodiles would always eat me. However, playing the game for the third time recently changed my mine. You can get rid of corruption points and avoid Cleo's crocs at the end of the game.
As my fellow gamers remarked, the pieces are beautifully sculpted, and the cards for the artisans, marble, stone, wooden logs, and lapis work well. You want to be especially cognizant of purchasing mosaics to build Cleo's garden on top of the box bottom. Yes, the pieces are so well placed in the box that your quarry looks like one with obelisks, sphinxes, columns, and doors to satisfy your architectural curiosity. In any turn, you can either go to The Market and choose a stack or cards OR go to The Quarry and build an architectural wonder.
As you play your cards and draw cards from one of the three different stacks in the Market, you can begin to purchase the special architectural wonders that will form Cleo's tomb. However, I wanted one other card called Tomb Robbers where the player drawing that card as an "office" can steal a recently built architectural piece from another player and collect the talents or money for the stealing. Ah, for the lack of additional scenarios.
Whenever a piece is constructed and paid for, for example, an obelisk, the player is required to toss five dice to see where any onyx symbols appear on the toss. The onyx symbols are placed on a special wheel that accommodates five dice. When the fifth dice is rolled by the player purchasing an architectural piece, such as a column, then an auction begins. In the auction I experienced recently for the third time playing the game, I bid too much (secret bids at first before revealing). The 12 talents bid by me cost me the game by 10 points. Therefore, the message is clear: Bid conservatively when you need talents later to win the game. Talents are always earned by building architectural wonders to adorn Cleo's tomb.
The corruption points are a constant annoyance, as you have to place the corruption tile earned inside a slot in your pyramid. However, the corruption points remind one to be careful about purchases of architectural pieces. If you earn, say four corruption points, by building a pedestal for the Queen's throne, you may have spent too many tainted cards to do the job. Tainted cards have a corruption symbol(s) on the card.
Tainted cards count against the player at the end of the game. You can protect yourself by forming mosaic tiles on the top/of the bottom box and building a sanctuary. The tiles formed by placing the mosaic pieces, say five squares, would allow you to discard five corruption markers at the end of the game. Therefore, one should always concentrate on building some mosaics to remove corruption markers at the end of the game. The throne and the pedestal are also built on the top/bottom of the box.
You can see I could write about Cleopatra and the Society forever because of abiding interest in Egyptology. However, you have to try the Society for yourself. You may find you are so amazed by the construction of the pieces and the playability of the cards that you want to take a picture of the game by candlelight.
I played at Gencon, and even won. But I didn't buy the game, as it felt flawed, at least with 5 players. The problem, to me, is the mosaics. I had an awesome mosaic-building turn, scoring 16 points and capturing 9 corruption-eating sanctuary spots. In fact, four out of five players were able to capture a sanctuary or two. The problem was that the fifth player was totally toasted because he didn't build a mosaic and sanctuary in time, so at the end he far outstripped everyone in corruption. The game had the feeling that if you didn't make a mosaic and get a sanctuary, you will get fed to the crocs.
Having mosaics have such a large effect on the game took away from its enjoyment, since such imbalance limits options and makes the other areas of construction less important. Perhaps cutting the effect of sanctuaries in half would help. I'd certainly play again, just to see if my criticism is valid, but I'll play on someone else's dime.
So, my current feeling is this game is 3.5 stars, but I suspect with further play (and rules modifications) it could easily move up to 4. The other play elements of the game seemed reasonable and had some interesting subtleties (though I'm not sure most of these subtleties in scoring matter strategically in a 5 player game), certainly the physical components are impressive, and play clipped along at a pretty rapid rate. If anything, things felt like they were over too quick.