Cleopatra and the Society of Architects Review

Another game that I picked up simply because of the Days of Wonder logo was Cleopatra And The Society of Architects (yeah, I'm a bit behind the curve on this one since it came out a few years ago).

In Cleopatra, each player takes on the role of an architect that is trying to build parts of Cleopatra's new palace in order to gain her favor. While doing so, the architects may (will) be tempted to cut some ethical corners to try to get ahead. It's ok, everybody does it... but if Cleopatra finds out about it, she will throw you to the crocodile! How this plays out is that each turn a player will be able to either draw new cards from one of the three draw piles (and then a new card is added to each draw pile), or he will be able to go build new buildings (these get victory points). Various deeds during the game, like drawing cards to have more than 10 in your hand, or playing certain cards, will gain you "corruption" tokens. At the end of the game (which occurs when all but one of the different types of architectural elements have been built), whoever has the most corruption is fed to the crocodile god (Sobek?) and instantly loses. Of the players still alive, whoever has the most victory points is the winner.

The first thing that I really like about Cleopatra is the corruption. When I first read through the rules, I thought to myself, "this sounds interesting, but I'm guessing people will just avoid getting corruption to prevent this. It'll unfortunately become a non-important factor of the game". Me, you were wrong! The game is set up very well so that there's not really a way to avoid getting corruption tokens. Since whenever you draw cards you draw the entire stack, you will at some point or another end up with some corruption tokens. Because you have some, you're at risk anyway, and so you are more willing to get a few more - after all, you see your opponents getting "probably" more than you, right? And there are also a few ways to get rid of corruption tokens - you can do that by building a sanctuary (this deals with how you place certain elements that you build; I won't go into it, but needless to say it lets you remove about 3-8 tokens at the end of the game), and through sacrificing to the Great Priest (which I'll talk more about later).

The next thing that I really like in Cleopatra is a very minor thing. When setting up the draw deck, you take half of the cards face down and half of them face up and shuffle them together. After this, whenever cards come out, they stay in their current orientation (face up or face down). Therefore, when you are drawing a pile of card (normally containing 1-5 cards), you don't know entirely what you're getting. As I said in the previous paragraph, you can't always avoid corruption - and here's one of those times. If you draw cards with the corruption symbols you might as well use them because, if you don't, they are worth corruption at the end of the game (if they're still in your hand). Aside from the corruption aspect, it is also a neat concept that you take a pile either because it has some of what you want or because it might have something useful to you. As I said, this is a fairly minor point, but I really like it.

The final pro that I will mention is the visual quality of the game.  As you can tell from looking at the picture, the game is beautiful.  The designers, publishers, or whomever was involved were really creative in making this game amazing.  You actually take the bottom of the box and flip it over to represent a raised level, and you build things on top of the box, around it, and in front of it.  Playing the game takes up a decent amount of space because of this, but it is really gorgeous.

One of the things I promised to talk about is the sacrifice to the Great Priest. I consider this a neutral point in the game. Every time that a player builds on his turn, he must roll all of the dice that are not currently showing an ankh symbol. Once all five dice are showing an ankh, a sacrifice occurs to the Great Priest. Players each secretly bid victory points (which they don't get back), and based on how much each player bids, you will either gain or lose corruption tokens (1st place loses 3 corruption, each other player gains at least 1 corruption). In theory, I really like this mechanic and think it is a good addition to the game, but it occurs so infrequently in practice that it becomes a non-factor. Only 1 of each of the 6 sides of the die is an ankh, so most of the dice rolled will be blank. I personally think this would have worked best if on average the sacrifice occurred 1-3 times per game, but whenever I have played it happens more like 0-1 times per game. I think if the dice had 2 ankhs on them, it might help.

For the main con, the game suffers (to a lesser degree) from the same problem a lot of Days of Wonder games suffer from - replayability. Days of Wonder makes excellent "gateway" games that can be taught to gamers and non-gamers alike (I didn't write this in the pros section, but another pro is that it is easy to teach to anybody). However, to achieve that level of ease in teaching the game, the games are often not very involved; thus limiting the number of strategies that can be applied in the game. Fortunately, the corruption element of Cleopatra adds quite a bit of replayability compared to some of their other titles, but I still don't know how many times I will play it long-term. Again, I think that this does have more replayability than several of their other titles, but I don't see myself playing it as much as something like Dominion or Pandemic. Honestly, though, replayability is based more on what your friends fall in love with than anything else about the game; so if your friends love Cleopatra, you may be able to play it dozens of times with no problems.

Overall, I give Cleopatra an 8.5/10. I bought the game knowing nothing about how it worked, but only based on the fact that Days of Wonder made it - and I was quite pleasantly surprised. This is a quite enjoyable game that I think most people should try.

Cleopatra on Noble Knight Games (about $35)
Cleopatra on Amazon (about $31)

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