What is this game about?
The tagline of Valley of the Kings, a small-box, Egyptian-themed deck builder, is "You can take it with you." The goal of this game is ultimately to acquire sets of cards (statues, canopic jars, sarcophagi, etc.) and entomb them—i.e. take them out of the game—for scoring at the end. Your cards, however, are good for more than being stashed away. They give you actions and purchasing power that are key to winning the game!
What makes this game interesting is the tension between entombing cards and playing them. You need your cards to take actions and purchase more cards, but you also need to start thinning your deck early enough in the game. Otherwise, you'll get to the end and not have enough time left to stash away your stuff for the afterlife.
How does it play solo?
Valley of the Kings comes with an official solitaire variant. Its rules are on the Alderac Entertainment site, as well as printed in the rulebooks of the game's expansions, Afterlife and Last Rites. When playing solitaire, the goal is to get a perfect score, which means entombing one copy of every card in the game. Also, duplicate cards count against you, so you can't just conveniently entomb cards as a way of thinning out your deck.
If you get familiar enough with the cards to make the main solo mode easy for you, you can also play at "master level," where you no longer receive one free entombment action per turn. Instead, you must use only actions on cards you acquire in the game. This restriction definitely adds to the challenge and forces you to learn your cards and manipulate them more efficiently.
Valley of the Kings is a fun little deck builder with a creative variation on the usual deck building mechanics. The need to "entomb" cards means that you can't just concentrate on acquiring cards with exciting actions—you also need to choose the right moment to get them out of your deck. I also like that there are two ways to play solo. You can go with the more relaxing "standard" game, or go for the "master" level and really burn your brain figuring out how to maximize card abilities.
There are some drawbacks, however. Many of the cards have actions that affect opponents or interfere with their plans, meaning that several of the cards you must acquire to win are partially useless to you. Also, without other players to interact with, you lose a little bit of the rush to acquire cards before others do.
Additionally, while the ancient Egyptian theme is cool—and while many of the game's mechanics fit with the theme—theme and gameplay never fully intertwine. There are cool pictures and flavor text, but your mind will be occupied with card interactions and puzzle-solving without much connection to the theme.
There are two standalone expansions to Valley of the Kings. The first is Valley of the Kings: Afterlife. The second is Valley of the Kings: Last Rites. My thoughts on those can be found here.
Do I recommend it?
Yes. If you like deck builders, Valley of the Kings is a good one. It's small, portable, and full of interesting choices.
Overall Rating: 3.5 stars
5 - I love it!
4 - I really like it.
3 - I like it.
2 - It's okay.
Note: I wrote about Valley of the Kings in June of 2016, but I wanted to revisit the game and to review it in my new chosen format. For my first set of thoughts, click here.