originally announced as Valley of the Kings
List Price: $35.00
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(Worth 2,800 Funagain Points!)
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My quick review of Horus, the Jean Vanaise design released by Mayfair Games: Carcassonne goes to Egypt. Well, not quite, but close. There are significant similarities, but enough differences to give the game a different feel.
Horus is set in ancient Egypt, where players will claim the land surrounding the winding and twisting Nile River, hoping to expand their influence and control the most valuable regions in the kingdom. This is accomplished by playing tiles and placing workers into regions, attempting to gain control. Sounds like Carcassonne, doesn’t it?
The game is comprised of an assortment of small, square tiles, player influence markers and a deck of cards. Most of the tiles depict one of four different terrain types – desert, hills, farmland or marsh. There are also numerous river tiles, which also depict a necropolis on the reverse. Completing the mix is one “Temple of Horus” tile, which has the effect of doubling the value of adjacent regions. Five stacks of pre-marked tiles are established, one for each type of terrain plus the river tiles. The remaining tiles – including the Temple of Horus – are placed into a cloth bag for random drawing. Three river tiles are placed on the table to begin the “board”. Each player receives twenty markers of their color, a hand of five cards and one "River Tranpsport" card. The adventure begins!
Each player turn will consist of several steps:
Explore the Kingdom. Draw a tile from the bag and place it adjacent to an existing tile. Tiles can either align completely along one side with an adjacent tile, or be off-set by one-half. This allows for interesting board configurations, which may include gaps. The significance of the various types of terrain is that they form regions over which players will vie for control. The larger the region, the more influence it will earn. The only real restriction is that a player may never completely enclose one of the two "river end" tiles. The Nile must always be free to expand.
When drawing a river tile, the player replaces one of the end tiles. The end tile is then placed adjacent to this newly placed tile. Next, the player places a second river tile, taking it from one of the pre-arranged stacks. This new tile may be placed anywhere along the river. Thus, branches are allowed. A winding river with numerous branches can be advantageous in forming islands and for river transport, which I'll explain in a bit.
Instead of placing a tile to expand the river, the player may invert the river tile and place it as a necropolis. Necropolis tiles serve as a blocking tile, and can be used to prevent a region from growing in a particular direction or protect a region from outside incursions.
The only other unique tile is the Temple of Horus. It is placed like any other land tile. Its effect is on the scoring, wherein the value of any region adjacent to the temple is doubled.
Creating Influence. After drawing and placing a tile, the player plays one of his cards. Each card depicts a terrain type and a number from 1 – 5 or a question mark. The terrain indicates the type of tile the player must place from one of the prepared stacks. A card depicting a question mark allows the player to select a tile from any stack. While the first tile is drawn randomly, this phase gives the player more control as to which area to expand. The player may then place an influence marker on ANY unoccupied land tile. However, the region into which the player places the marker can be no larger than the number indicated on the card. For example, if the card plays depicts a "4", the player may place the marker into any region with a size ranging from 1 – 4 tiles.
The idea when placing markers is to gain control of valuable regions. Control goes to the player who has the most influence markers in a region. Ties are friendly, with all tied players receiving full points. So, more often than not, players are satisfied to achieve a status of parity. This removes some of the tension that might otherwise be present.
Instead of playing one of his five cards, once per game a player may play his sole "River Transport" card. This allows him to move a marker from one region adjacent to the river to another region adjacent to the river. This is the only way to move a previously placed marker, and the only way to place a marker directly into a region larger than five tiles. The only other way to accomplish this is to place a marker into a smaller region and eventually join the region to a larger one by the skillful placement of a tile that links the regions. Use of this card – especially late in the game – can cause a dramatic shift in the control of a region.
Play continues in this fashion until two of the five stacks of prepared tiles are depleted. The game ends immediately at the conclusion of that player's turn, and scores are tallied. Each region is worth one point per tile present in that region, up to a maximum of ten points. This total is doubled if the region is an island (surrounded by water) or adjacent to the Temple of Horus. The maximum number of points allowed is still just ten points. As mentioned, the player having the most influence markers present in a region scores the points.
The similarities to Carcassonne are evident: draw and place a tile into a free- flowing board, place influence markers, attempt to gain control of regions. There are differences however, as the play of cards gives players more control as to which regions they desire to develop. The timely play of a card and placement of a tile and influence marker can often suddenly change a scoring situation. Of course, players are limited by the cards they possess, so there is still a degree of luck present even in the card play phase.
While there are some interesting aspects and the game works just fine, its downfall is twofold: there really isn't anything new here and it simply isn't exciting. For the most part, the game is just a reassembly of existing parts. What's here has been seen before in one shape or form. Fellow gamer Tom Vasel stated in his video review that if Horus had been released ten-to-fifteen years ago we likely would be singing its praises and originality. Now, however, the design feels dated and has a "same-old, same-old" feel to it. I completely concur with his assessment. There is nothing here that hasn't been done before … and done to better effect. So while the game works and certainly isn't broken or flawed, it simply fails to offer the gaming world anything new or exciting. In an industry that is inundated with hundreds of new games each year, it takes more than familiarity to garner attention.