Top Of The Table – The Adventurers
It’s the end of another month, and we’ve got another great board game to recommend for those times when you’re ready for a break from the digital branch of the gaming world. Recently, we highlighted the complex and fascinating one-on-one Mage Wars, and the great storytelling fun of the supernatural-themed A Touch of Evil. But what about some lighter fare? If you occasionally play with less-experienced gamers, or you’re eager to introduce some kids to the arena of high-quality tabletop games, some of the more complicated games on the market can be overwhelming. But you probably don’t want to just play Monopoly. The Adventurers: The Pyramid of Horus is a great go-between that should be fun for everybody at the table.
The Adventurers: The Pyramid of Horus is published here in the United States by Fantasy Flight, and it’s one of two games under the Adventurers banner. The other entry is entitled The Temple of Chac. I’ve chosen Pyramid of Horus to highlight because of its straightforward concept and the imaginative Egyptian mummy theme that pervades the game.
The Pyramid of Horus supports up to six adventurers as they converge on a recently uncovered Egyptian pyramid hidden away in the desert. Each player picks between the eight available adventurers, each of whom has a special ability that can be used once per game. I wish these special abilities were clearly printed on each character card, but it only takes a minute to go around the table and inform everyone what they’ll be able to do.
In the numerous games I’ve played, setup rarely takes more than five to ten minutes, thanks to clear labeling on the board for where each of several small card decks is meant to be placed. Three mummy figures go into play right away on special tracks on the board, along which they’ll move back and forth each turn.
Finally, it’s wise to take a couple of minutes to introduce all the players to the various locations on the board, and what can occur there. The Cobra Nest lies past the entryway, and is filled with both equipment from previous archaeological digs as well as hidden snakes. Once inside the pyramid proper, the Scorpion Nest and Crocodile Pond await, both of which contain a mix of treasure and the expected animal dangers you’d find in each. Finally, the true riches lie in the Mummies’ Corridor, where ancient relics and idols can be snatched, but at the risk of encountering one of the pyramids’ undead guardians!
The Adventurers: The Pyramid of Horus is a press-your-luck game; each player competes to haul out the most treasure, but the more treasure you grab, and the longer you stay inside, the more likely you are to get stuck inside and lose.
Mechanically, this press-your-luck structure plays out through two basic systems. First, your character is constantly acquiring cards that represent how fast they’re moving – the more cards you have, the slower you go. Cards can be helpful pieces of equipment, valuable treasures, or wound cards representing things like a snake bite or mummy’s touch – all of which are drawn from the appropriate location deck as you explore each turn. As the game begins, players rush across the board, grabbing goodies as they go. By the end, most players are crawling along, desperately trying to escape without having to drop too much treasure. Do you hold on to that valuable necklace, or drop it so to have a better chance of escaping before disaster strikes?
The disaster in question is the other system that keeps the game so exciting. Each turn, one player draws a random numbered plastic block that corresponds to numbered spaces on the board. The block slams down in that space, and sends any character in the way scrambling out of the way. Block drops are random, but before long the danger is clear. Paths to the exit are closing off with each dropped block, so each player needs to judge carefully when to make a break for the door. When the last block drops that closes off the exit, it doesn’t matter how much treasure you’ve gotten – you lose.
A few other ideas help keep things interesting. Special abilities and equipment can be spent to solve problems, like shooting a mummy who might reach you on the following turn, or using a med kit to heal up from a crocodile bite. Players also get bonuses at the end of the game for the variety of treasures they’ve picked up, so it pays to move across as much of the board as possible. In addition to normal treasure, players also vie for the high-value idols that sit hidden away in alcoves around the pyramid. To do so, you have to step into the mummies’ corridor and pick the locks of each alcove, represented by a random set of dice rolls on which you must roll specific numbers to get the door open. Succeed and you get the idol, but you’re also be accepting a curse that slows you down even more than normal treasure would.
[Next up: How complicated is is to learn how to play The Adventurers?]
Theme and Story
The Pyramid of Horus is light on storytelling, but the overriding Indiana Jones-esque flavor comes through loud and clear. Each of the playable characters has colorful art and a well sculpted miniature, from the fez-wearing Egyptian professor to the adventurous Spanish thief.
While the game board and cards all look great, the best physical component of the game is the collection of plastic blocks that represent the slowly oncoming doom facing the players. Each turn, all the players stop what they’re doing and pay attention to where the next block will fall, and it’s great fun to watch and listen as everyone cheers or moans as the block drops into place. The block-dropping mechanic lends the whole game a true feeling of danger and excitement, recalling popular pulp action movies and TV shows.
One of the big reasons I’ve chosen to highlight The Adventurers this month is because of its ease of play, making it a great, breezy game for a summer get-together. I’ve played the game with kids as young as eight, as well as with groups of adults, and every gathering I’ve played with was able to grasp the concept and enjoy it.
Player turns move quickly, and involve easy choices about where to move and explore. Card draw decks match the colors on the board, making it easy to know which cards to draw. And it’s simple to grasp the idea that the more cards you have, the more you’re weighted down.
Even with the simplicity, there’s plenty of room for planning. Do you rush in and go for the best treasures before the other players? Or do you take time to gather equipment in the opening room? Do you risk going after the high value idols? And most importantly, when do you decide to turn back and leave?
Most games play out in an hour or less, and a final tally of treasure at the game’s conclusion invariably keeps everyone engaged to the very end.
What else do I need to know?
The Adventurers: Pyramid of Horus is a standalone game, so no expansions change up the structure. However, if the game becomes popular with your family or group, you might consider picking up the colored miniature pack, which helps to add more artistic flair to the game board. Also, as mentioned above, a second separate game called The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac offers a number of the same mechanics, but in an ancient Mayan temple.
The Pyramid of Horus is widely available through online game retailers for under $35 – both CoolStuffInc and Amazon should have you covered. Your local hobby and game store also shouldn’t have any problem tracking you down a copy.
Pyramid of Horus hits a sweet spot between accessibility and fun, and the original mechanics make it an easy recommendation. Whether you’re looking for a light, quick title to play between more expansive games of a weekend marathon, or you just want a new favorite for family game night, this one is a surefire hit.
Want some more tabletop gaming recommendations? Check out our write-ups on Ascension, Tannhauser, Castle Ravenloft, Yomi, Star Trek: Fleet Captains, Agents of SMERSH, or A Touch of Evil. and Mage Wars. See you next month!