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Only a short distance from the Great Pyramid of Cheops lies the small village of El'Charid, home of the Ahliman family. According to tradition, Ahliman's ancestors lived in El'Charid throughout the reign of the Pharoah of Cheops. For 23 hard years, they worked with thousands of others to complete the Great Pyramid. During this time, food was scarce, salaries were poor, and many workers lost their lives in their labor. It is no wonder that the workers returned to the tomb soon after the Pharaoh's death to take back the treasures they had carried into the Great Pyramid.
On each turn, a player "builds" a family member block on the pyramid and takes the treasure from that space. The treasure, once taken, may be sold immediately for the market price to the Kaftah or stored until the end of the game, when it may bring a higher price. Of course, the price at the end of the game may be lower than the market price, but such is the nature of the game and of speculation. Whoever has the most value in money and treasure at the end of the game is the winner.
- 66 treasures in the form of scarabs
- 16 price tables
- 64 Ahliman family members
- 12 building blocks
- 50 bank notes
- 1 game board
Average Rating: 4 in 2 reviews
The inheritance of the desert sun
Game by Klaus Paal
Reviewed by Angela Gaalema
Published in 1998 by Hans im Gluck, Cheops is (as near as I can tell) Klaus Paals only published game. The theme is pyramid building in ancient Egypt. The players represent the hard working Ahliman family. This family is fortunate, in that it actually receives payment for building the pyramid!
The components of Cheops are typical for a Hans im Gluck game, namely, fantastic. There is a large board which features walls of hieroglyphics. Superimposed on the wall is the outline of a pyramid, with 11 stone spaces at the bottom. Each row going up has one less stone. There are various Egyptian icons scattered about. While the art is not as sophisticated and highly realistic as the current Amun-Re, the colors are well suited and the styling is rather evocative of the theme. There are 66 treasure tokens, each shaped and like little scarabs. They are engraved with detailing on the top, Hans im Gluck on the bottom, and have been washed in a gold paint which has settled in the engravings. Very nice. There are many types of tiles, all thick and sturdy, with the theme carrying through on each. There are 16 price tables (shaped as cartouches) which determine the final price of the treasures, 64 Ahliman family blocks (16 each of four different types), 12 neighbor blocks, 12 law boards, and various piasters.
While there are sixteen price tables, only six are used per game, adding to replayability. The randomly chosen tables are distributed on the price columns on the board. Each price column represents a particular color of treasure, as indicated by the circle above it, and a representative treasure of each type is placed on the circle for clarity. The front of each price table contains several numbers. At the end of the game, the topmost uncovered number is the market price of that treasure type.
Six of the twelve law boards are randomly chosen and placed on the law spaces of the pyramid, indicated by the eye of Ra. The 60 remaining treasures are distributed (randomly) on the remaining stones of the pyramid.
The neighbor blocks are placed next to the board, and each player takes one of each type of family member and places them in front of himself. The remaining family members are shuffled and placed into three piles. They are the same on both sides, so there is no face-up or face-down controversy to worry about.
WHEW! Finally the game is ready to begin. Similar to Colvinis Clans, this game takes a lot of preparation. Also like Clans, however, it is worth the effort.
Game play is simple. Each turn the player has exactly two actions: take a treasure or law board from the pyramid, and decide to sell/keep the treasure or perform the law board action. These are mandatory actions, and must be performed in exactly this order.
Take a treasure or law board:
The player places a [family member] block on the pyramid space he just emptied. Because this simulates building a pyramid, blocks must be placed starting with the bottom row. To place on a higher row, the new block must be fully supported by blocks underneath.
No two blocks which touch each other can depict the same family member.
If a legal play is possible, the player MUST place a block! If a player cannot place a block, he must pass his turn (including the taking a treasure/law board part).
Decide to keep the treasure or perform law board actions:
If the player took a treasure, he must decide right away whether to sell it or keep it. All decisions are final.
o If he keeps it, he adds it to his stash. He is speculating these treasures will sell for more than the quick sale rate at the end of the game. The stash is public.
o If he sells it, he earns the quick sale rate (10 piasters at the beginning of the game, may be changed by law boards). The sold treasure is sold, it is placed on the appropriate price table, covering the topmost uncovered number. This changes the market price for treasures at the end of the game. The bottom-most number cannot be covered.
o Money is not public knowledge.
If the player took a law board, the effects take place immediately, if warranted. These effects range from changing the quick sale price to preventing the quick sale of a particular type of treasure to an extra turn.
If a player wishes, at the beginning of his turn he may pay 20 piasters for a neighbor block, place it on the pyramid and take the corresponding treasure/law board. Afterwards, he must immediately take his normal turn. If he has no legal plays and cannot take a normal turn, he cannot buy a neighbor block!
At the end of his turn, the player may draw his block stash back up to 4. He may pull from any of the three stacks to accomplish this. The draw is not required. If a player ever finds himself with a short block stash, he must wait until the end of his next turn to replenish.
The game ends when one of three conditions is met:
The pyramid is completely built (i.e. there are no more treasures/law boards).
No player has a legal move.
Two price tables are full (i.e. only one number is not covered). [Reviewers note: If you feel the games are too short, extend this to three.]
To score, each player sells the treasures in his stash. The number of treasures of each color is multiplied by the market price indicated on the corresponding price table. There are a couple of special conditions indicated on the price tables; one benefits the person with the most of that type of treasure, one rewards everyone with that type of treasure by multiplying in the number of that treasure owned by all players. The player with the most money wins.
This game is simple in execution, yet rife with interesting decisions. Which family member should I play? Choosing family blocks in a manner to limit the options of opponents is fun and can cause consternation. While overly tense, there are plenty of tense moments (doh! Dont sell that one, Joe! Gaaaaaa you just ruined me!). Keeping an eye on the treasure types other players are keeping (in order to devalue their treasures while improving the value of yours) can be quite fun. Theres enough to keep track of and sufficient relevant decisions that acute analysis paralysis prone folks could suck the fun right out of this title.
In short, Cheops is a great, overlooked, thematic filler. It takes less than a half an hour, it has interesting decisions and some very tense moments. Its suitable for gamers as a light aperitif, and suitable for families and non-gamers as something completely different. The treasures alone are worth the price of admission.
Hans im Gluck scores again with a game that surprises the gamer. Two of our four gamers rated this game with the following comments: (1) It is fascinating, and (2) It is interesting. At first, all four of us thought we would simply remove family tiles and take treasures.
Soon, it became apparent that strategy ruled the game. As a player, you did not want to sell all treasures at the opening price of 10 piasters. You began to hoard, and one player attempted to corner the 'black' treasures. Six price tables presented themselves on the top of the pyramid with prices angling the way one ties shoe laces. As a gamer, you had two actions to perform: (1) take a treasure and sell or keep it or (2) perform the law board action. Then, you draw a replacement tile. The law board tiles were coded to numbers in the rules of what could be performed. For example, a number 7 on a law file meant it replaces whatever number it covers. As a group we succeeded in placing a '20' on the green price table instead of the current market price. The players became 'green with envy' as they hoarded green treasures late in the game. That particular law board tile of 7 would have come in handy late in the game when the 'red' treasures were worth zero.
The family tiles became quite intriguing. A player started with four family tiles and played one (if possible) each turn. Three stacks existed to draw a new family tile. The gamer could purchase a 'neighbor' tile for 20 piasters at any time in the game. Our group of four soon found you could not place a family tile of the same gender adjacent to another, either at an angle or horizontally. The bottom of the pyramid filled quickly with different family tiles, but, then, the trouble started. The legal placement of family tiles became more difficult, and law board tiles were particularly difficult to reach. Some of us began to accumulate piasters, and others hoarded almost every treasure picked up.
The game reaches a climax when the pyramid is empty, no family tiles can be used, and two price tables are full. One of our group secured a law board tile that allowed us to have three price tables full before the game ended. The 'brown' treasure price table filled, with the suspense building to the ending price of 15. Now, everyone wanted 'brown' treasure to gain that 15 points at the end of the game.
At the end of the game, each player multiplies the colored treasure of each 'scarab beetle' or 'ankh.' For example, three green treasures could be worth 5 each or a total of 15. In complete amazement, two of our group tied with 125 points, including the money piasters. The other scores were 105 and 90 respectively.
Frustration and exhilaration dominated this game. We did not know until the end of the game who might win. Constantly, we had to remind ourselves not to forget a family member tile to replace the one played. If a player forgets, you are not supposed to be reminded by the other players, friendly game or not. Near the end of the game two gamers bought 'neighbor' tiles and played to grab two treasures. Unfortunately, one of my treasures grabbed was the worthless red one. We never did bring the price from zero for the red treasures. As one of our members remarked, this game appeared to be designed by a mathematician. That what makes the game fun: beating the odds. Cheops is worth a second and third playing.
I must confess that Cheops was the first German game I bought because it looked cool in the catalog. Not a good habit to pick up, but such is my plight I guess. It's just a shame (for my bank account, anyway) when behavior like this is reinforced. True to the catalog photo, Cheops is an attractive game. You get a nice playing board depicting a pyramid that consists of rows of squares, each row offset by half, a very nice pack of money, tiles in 5 different varieties to play on the pyramid, 12 additional random event tiles ("laws") that are set up on the Pyramid, 16 different cartouche-motif price boards, and--best of all--little molded plastic treasure tokens in 6 different colors that look like miniature Egyptian scarabs.
Initally, the 60 treasures in 6 different colors are randomly placed, one to a space, on each of the spaces of the pyramid. There are two parts to the game: claiming treasures from the pyramid, and selling them for a flat fee or putting them in your warehouse in the hopes of making a larger profit at the end of the game.
The tiles in the game are of four types, each of which depicts a member of Ahliman's family. You start with one of each family member, but every time you play one you replace it with one of your choice from a pool of four randomly available selections. Each turn if able, you place one tile onto the pyramid. You have to build from the bottom up, and you can't place a tile adjacent to another identical tile. At the start, you will have a decent range of options--any of the squares on the bottom row. As these squares fill up, though, you will start to be restricted by both your opponent's tile plays and the fact that the pyramid is narrowing towards the top. When you play a tile, you claim the treasure (or law tile) that was on that space.
This, by itself, wouldn't be terribly interesting. Fortunately, the disposition of the treasures involves a bit more thought. You can immediately sell the treasure if you wish, in which case you make 10 piaster--not particularly impressive, but better than nothing. At the beginning of the game, each color of treasure is assigned a priceboard, which has a series of numbers on it. These numbers represent how much the treasure will be worth at the end of the game. Each time a treasure is sold, it is placed on the board covering the topmost available number, thus changing the remaining treasures' values at the end of the game. You can never cover up the last number, so when and if the board becomes filled, the final price is known.
The key, and the "hook" that makes the game interesting, is that there is a large variety of price boards. Some may have only 5 spots with decent values for all of them--more or less ensuring a reasonable value--while some alternate 0s with big (40-50) values; some start out big and bottom out, while some start out worthless, picking up towards the end. There is always a trade off--let's say the values on the board are 0-0-10-15-20-25 and the board is empty. Keeping the treasure is obviously gutsy because the current value is 0, and you are relying on later sales to prop up the value--while selling the treasure gets you a measly 10 while making the color more attractive to the other players. Some of the other tiles are more complicated and involve more wrangling--one, for example, is a 5-15-5-55-5-15-5. Obviously a much more risky commodity, but a big payoff. Finally, some of the values are "specials"--either multipliers or "split" values. If it's a multiplier, the final value of each treasure is equal to the total number of treasures of that color in the players' warehouses times the multiplier. For the x10 multipliers, this can be large--especially if one player has managed to horde 6 or more of one color. If it can be pulled off, this usually ends up in a landslide victory. The split values give their bigger number to the player with the most treasures, the smaller number to the 2nd place player. Note that this refers to font size of the number, not to value, so it's possible to do better with 2nd place holdings than with the most on some spaces.
And so it goes around the table, with each player trying to trade off acquiring treasures with a decent assured value against speculating on risky stuff, trying to take advantage of treasures whose prices other players are trying to support, making important tactical sales to prop up their own treasures or make sure nobody else is allowed to be heavily invested in a color which ends up on that '55' square mentioned above, and just generally jockying for position--all within the restrictions of what tiles you can place on the map and therefore what treasures you can claim, and how those treasures are distributed (whether they are together in easily accessible clumps, several together at the top or scattered all over the board where they may end up unclaimed, and so on). It's all good stuff. There are a large number of factors to balance, with opportunities for both long- and short-term planning, but of course this is balanced against the limitation of playing with a hand of 4 tiles, which takes everything down to a manageable level so rarely does the game stall.
There are a couple additional minor details: first, there are 4 "Ahliman's Neighbors" tiles that serve as wildcards. During your turn, you can hire one of the neighbors for 20 piaster. They serve to allow you to take an extra turn, and since the neighbors are rare compared to the other 4 family members, they are easy to place wherever you want. Obviously, they allow you to get to critical treasures with two plays, and they can be tactically valuable. It's rare, though, to be able to guarantee 20P income from a treasure so there is always some risk involved; plus, you have to generate the money to use them, and there is always the incentive to burn them before somebody else can use one to lock up a lucrative color. Second, 6 of the spaces on the map are covered with one of 12 random "law" tiles. These are random events that allow you to do a range of stuff from locking in the price of a treasure, rearranging treasures on the pyramids, changing the flat selling price for treasures, undoing the effect of a previous law, and so on. They range from borderline (well, occasionally some are quite useless, actually) to quite powerful, and as such are hard to ignore.
The game ends whenever either A) the pyramid is fully looted (no treasures left), B) nobody has a legal play (usual case), or C) two of the colors of treasures have their price boards full. Besides the law tiles, which are a bit dicey and add a chunk of gratuitous randomness because of their variety, case B is really my only minor complaint about the game. Because of the adjacency rules, it is possible to be in a position where a huge swath of the pyramid is unplayable because of a single space in the center which cannot be played on (it has all 4 family members adjacent to it and the neibhors are sold out). On the other hand, it's a built-in artifact of the rest of the system so I'm not sure what you could do about it, and it is pretty rare. It has only happened once in the games we've played, but it ended the game quite prematurely, before it had a chance to develop. More usually, there will be a handful of treasures left at the top when the game is over.
There has been some discussion in our group as to whether the players' warehouses--the treasures they have removed from the pyramid and stored for the end of the game--should be open, as in the rules, or perhaps secret. We found that as the game wound down, we were frequently in the position of being able to calculate exactly what the effect of each move was on everybody. Some people felt this bogged down the endgame and removed some of the suspense (the cash is still secret), while others thought that hiding the treasures would make the game too random, as people would be deprived of a key piece of information. I suspect that it's simply a matter of different playing styles, so people should be able to select which method they prefer. This is one of the few games that I have found that I prefer with open scoring, but I suspect the game would lose nothing either way.
In all, I find it to be a very nice, short game--lightish but not too light. Lighter than Durch die Wüste (which I personally like a lot), but not by a huge margin. I find it to be in the same general ballpark as Tycoon, Wettstreit die Baumeister, [page scan/se=0170/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Manhattan, or [page scan/se=0172/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Medici. Short at about 45 minutes, with enough strategy to definately be engaging but enough limitations through the tiles (as with the plane tickets in Tycoon or the cards in Manhattan) to keep the game going at a good clip. Recommended if you like any of the games I just mentioned.