Berlin, Nov 2017
House of Tales’ take on an Egyptian game had perhaps the longest intro story I remember in any game. Very abbreviated, it went something like this: there’s a cursed vase that you bought and attempted to return in a case of supernaturally-induced buyer’s remorse, but now the shop you bought it from has been mysteriously replaced by a pyramid, which you’re now exploring so as to find the Philosopher’s Stone. Also, you’ve decided to split up, I guess since that always works so well in movies.
This is therefore a split team start, and one that keeps the two halves separate for much longer than normal. Even so all players see all the game content, because the initial part of the game is duplicated, such that both halves of the team are working on the same puzzles.
It’s an unusual and curious design, since other than a few co-operative tasks that bring the team back together again, the game could have been built without the puzzle duplication and the split team structure. Although it means the game has a higher minimum number of players, the split means that more people get to tackle the puzzles. On the other hand, there’s an odd change of pace partway through when the group reunites and the effective number of players doubles.
This is another House of Tales game where I thought the style was stronger than the substance. A succession of puzzles had weaknesses that grated to a greater or lesser degree: one ambiguous one that we brute-forced by trying all combinations, another that confused unnecessarily due to an answer having an obvious but wrong place to use it, and a linguistic brain teaser that perhaps would have been better worded if we’d been playing in German.
The style, however, was excellent. Claustrophobics should think carefully before booking this game, but those who like their ancient pyramids to be large-scale will enjoy the amount of exploration required. It says something that it feels like the other half of the team is genuinely far away and unreachably behind vast blocks of stone.
House of Tales describe Secret of the Pharaohs as their family game, and while that’s partly due to the larger team size required (and the more adult themes of some of their other games!), that also reflects the game style. It’s an entertaining tomb crawl with a couple of great moments of drama, which looks cool without worrying too much about strict fidelity to theme.