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1899. For more than a century, the European public has been fascinated by Egyptology and the discoveries of Denon, Champollion, Petrie and others.
Seeking adventure and glory, teams of archaeologists search the sands of Egypt for hidden treasures.
The players embody archaeologists working for patrons. They excavate the land of Egypt to find precious artifacts, which will adorn the most prestigious rooms of the Museum.
If you've read my reviews with any regularity, you'll know that I do enjoy quite a few light games - games that can be pulled out and played quickly and easily. But there is certainly a time and a place for a "heavy" game, a game that offers deep and rewarding experiences through slightly more complex gameplay. The hindrance to these games seeing more play, though, is a more lengthy playing time. That's why I was so thrilled when I first played Mykerinos (Ystari Games, 2006 - Nicolas Oury); it was a game that packaged a "heavier" experience into less than an hour.
And that is the strongest point of Mykerinos - the fact that it offers some deep gameplay in a short period of time, a rarity amongst board games. The rulebook was slightly obtuse, but the game itself catches on quickly, taking mechanics from other games (such as area control and "tapping"), but twists them to provide an entertaining time. Rarely do I get so caught up in a new game, but I must say that Mykerinos is on my current "hot list", if only because I can easily fit it in the schedule.
Mykerinos is game in which players are excavating artifacts from ancient Egypt and displaying them in a fancy museum. A pile of different colored cubes is placed on the table, forming the "general stock". A board showing the five patrons involved in the game, as well as a pictorial map of a museum, is placed on the table. A random token representing each of the patrons is placed near each of the five wings of the museum. Players choose a color and place one token of that color on a scoring track, and another next to a passing scale. A pile of parcel cards are shuffled and placed by the table, and the first of four rounds begins, with one player chosen randomly to go first.
In each round, players set up an excavation region, placing eight random cards on the table in a four by two grid. Every two cards are joined together and are placed slightly apart from the other cards to form four different areas. Each area is made up of a grid of twelve squares, and squares from one area are considered adjacent to other areas. Each player then takes eight (4 player game) or eleven (3 player) cubes from the general stock into their "personal" stock.
After this, players enter the excavation phase, starting with the
first player and proceeding clockwise. On a player's turn, they may
take one of these four actions:
- Start a new excavation: A player may place one of their cubes onto any open square on the board.
- Extend a pre-existing excavation: A player may place one cube in any free square that is orthogonally adjacent to one of their cubes, then place one more cube adjacent to that one.
- Appeal to a patron: A player may tilt one of the patron cards that they have acquired (starting from round two or higher) and use the special ability on it.
- Pass: The player places their disc on the first available spot on the passing scale and can make no more actions for the remainder of the phase.
After all players have passed, then each of the four areas is checked, starting with the top left one. The player who has the most cubes is ranked first, then the second-most player ranked second, etc. In case of ties, the player who has their disc lower on the passing scale wins. The first ranked player has two choices: to either take one of the two cards that makes up the area, or to book a room in the museum. The second player can take the remaining card (or choice, if the first player didn't take one), or may also book a room in the museum. If there are any cards left, then the third and possibly the fourth ranked player may take them.
When taking a parcel card, the player immediately scores any points listed on it, and then flips it over, revealing the patron on the other side. One parcel card, worth five points, has no patron on the other side. The museum has fifteen rooms in it - five "2" point rooms between the five wings, and a "3" and a "5" point room in each wing. Players claim a room (which may only have one cube) by placing one of their cubes from the general stock into it. Players may not claim a "5" point room unless they have first claimed the corresponding "3" point room or one of the two adjacent "2" point rooms.
After each area has been dealt with, any leftover cards are discarded, and players prepare for the next round. All patron cards are untilted, and the player who was the last on the passing scale becomes the first player. Players keep any unused cubes from round to round. In the fourth round, twelve cards are placed, forming six areas to be scored. After the fourth round, final scoring occurs. Each player scores points for each of their patron cards. Patron cards are worth one point by default but can also be worth "2", "3", or "5" points, if the player has cubes in the matching museum rooms. These points are added to the players' current scores, as well as five bonus points for each set (all five patrons) they have collected. The player with the final score is the winner!
The patrons' special powers are:
- Lord Lemon: Many spaces have pyramids in them, which mean that no cube can be placed in them. Tilting Lord Lemon allows a player to break that rule for one cube.
- Lady Violet: Tilting her allows a player to take a cube from the general stock and add it to their personal stock, then make another action.
- Mrs. Blackmore: Tilting her allows a player to start a new excavation with two cubes instead of one.
- Colonel Tangerine: Tilting him allows a player to extend an excavation by three cubes, rather than two.
- Sir Brown: Tilting him allows a player to place one of their personal stock cubes in a Museum room.
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: The game looks pretty good when laid out on the table, although there really isn't much new stuff here. I like the look of the Museum map, and everything, even the stodgy artwork of the patrons, certainly seems to fit the theme. The cubes are a little smaller than I'd like, but the cards are basically thick cardboard tiles and have a good feel to them. Each patron has a matching shape and color (Lord Lemon has been designated Colonel Mustard in our games), which is placed on the map side of the cards, allowing players to determine which patron is on the other side when the board is set up. Patron cards also have pictorial descriptions of their special abilities, which help remind players at a glance what they do. Everything fits inside a smallish box with more of the Egyptian theme on it.
2.) Theme: Quick question - Do we need another Egyptian-themed game? I think the answer is a resounding, "No!", but the theme is very thin and is simply there for a bit of flavor, regardless.
3.) Rules: I'm really annoyed with whoever designed the layout of the rules. It wasn't that the four pages are in an extremely odd order, even though I had to go back and forth to figure out how to play. No, I was able to figure out the game after two readings, with the help of the color, illustrated examples. What really was annoying was that the background, behind the text, was illustrations of hieroglyphics, but not faded enough to where they became rather maddening. My eyes crossed quite a bit when reading the rules, and once I threw the rulebook aside in irritation. On the other hand, the game explains rather easily - players pick up on the rules fairly quickly.
4.) Patrons: The five special abilities of the patrons are in no way equal. Sir Brown can be quite powerful when used, as he lets a player sneak into the museum every turn! The other four have varying degrees of usefulness, although I'm a bit taken with Mrs. Blackmore's ability. Dropping two cubes anywhere on the board can have its usefulness. The "tapping" to use special powers isn't new to this game, although I'm not sure I've seen it combined with area control.
5.) Cards: When a player wins a card, which should they take? Each patron has seven cards in the game, two of them worth two points each, and one worth three points. The players must weigh three things: the points that the card will immediately grant, the special ability the character gives, or the possible point value at the end of the game. Quick, yet painful decisions must sometimes be made - do I take Mrs. Blackmore, who gives me a special ability and is worth five points to me at the end of the game; or do I take Sir Brown, who has a better ability and is worth two initial points?
6.) Museum: Even more critical of a decision, the first and second ranked player must decide between a card and placing a cube in the museum. Usually a cube is better (at least at first glance), but with no cards that match that specific patron it doesn't matter. It may be better to take two points for a patron that I have four cards from, rather than five points for a patron that I only have one card. Other times, out of defense, I might put a cube in a spot of a patron just to prevent another player from doing so! Players cannot ignore the museum, or they will lose. But putting too many cubes into the museum will decrease the amount of cards that they have, probably decreasing their total points.
7.) Wait for it: It's very important to save a few cubes for future turns, especially the fourth turn. In the games I've played, the players who waited to "strike" often did much better than the others. Players must determine which areas are the most important to control, since someone can't take them all. And sometimes third or fourth place isn't that bad, because you might get one of the cards (although the other two players may do their best simply to spite you.
8.) Fun Factor: One reason I like the game is that it plays so quickly. I'm not talking about the playing time necessarily, which is great at around forty-five minutes, but more about the fact that players quickly make their move. Place cubes, place cubes, tap card, place cubes, pass, etc. A round ends quickly, and the only pauses that usually occur in the game is when only one person is left, and they are trying to maximize their leftover cubes, or when players are deciding which choice to take when controlling a majority of an area. I enjoy the game, as you can outmaneuver the opponent's cubes by placing cubes to "block" their advance and other interesting maneuvers. If Mykerinos was longer, I'd probably still enjoy it; but at its length, it's a small treasure.
Mykerinos is an excellent game, which unfortunately is falling in the shadow of Ystari's previous game, Caylus. But while I love Caylus, and it probably is a better game, Mykerinos is such a short, strategy-packed game full of goodness! Mykerinos can fit in the time that you normally play a "filler" but has much more "meat" to it. It might be a bit too heavy for many people, but I was thrilled with the game, as it put a twist on the slightly old area control mechanic. Some have compared the game to Louis XIV, a game I despise; but Mykerinos manages to make the same concepts simple and fun. Check it out - just have someone else read the rules!
"Real men play board games"