Game Day September 2010: Cleopatra

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series September Game Day

Cleopatra Box ArtThe next morning we kicked off a game of Cleopatra, a Days of Wonder game, after breakfast.  Cleopatra is another resource management and building game, but varies quite a bit from Catan.  In this game, each player is an architect in Ancient Egypt, trying to build parts of a palace for Cleopatra herself.  During the game, players will collect resource cards, build different structures, and occasionally play special “character” cards to try to help them earn the most Victory Points.  However, some of these building pieces come at a cost: use of sub par resources or interaction with shady characters may help you build faster but will earn you “corruption points” at the same time.  The person with the most corruption points at the end of the game is beheaded and loses – even if he has the most victory points (known in this game as “talents”).  The person with the most talents after the most corrupt person is eliminated will be the one who wins the game.

One of the neat things about Cleopatra is that the game’s building pieces are mostly in 3D.  It makes for a nice looking and fun experience.  Obelisks, walls, doors, and other pieces of the game board are built of plastic and placed on the colorful game board when built.  Characters earn talents based on a number of factors, including the placement of their pieces on the shared game board.  Building pieces are acquired by spending resource cards: wood, stone, marble, lapis, and artisans.  Each game piece requires a different combination of these resources to build, but once you have the necessary ingredients you can produce a building and earn your points.

Acquiring resources is simple: on your turn, you may take a pile of resource cards from the market.  The market has 3 different sets of card options at any given time, and include a random assortment of resources and “character cards” (beggars, smugglers, courtesans, envoys, and more).  Some times these cards will be in the market face-up, while some times they will be face-down “mystery” cards.  You always take a chance when picking up resources from the market, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

There are several different ways in which players earn corruption tokens, which they place inside a cardboard pyramid that has a sort of “piggy bank” slot in it, to be counted at the end of the game.  If you have  more than 10 cards in your hand, you gain a corruption point for each card over 10 (unless you discard immediately, at which point you gain only 1 corruption point); if you use a character card for a seedy character, such as a courtesan, you gain a corruption token; if you use poor building materials (which give you 2 of a single resource on 1 card) you gain a corruption token; if the time comes to make a sacrifice to the god Set and you don’t offer the most talent points, you gain a corruption token (or more than 1, if you’re deemed to be the stingiest).  It is essentially impossible to play the game without at least some amount of corruption, but don’t worry; you can build Mosaics of the Gods and erect statues to Anubis to remove some of your corruption at the end of the game.

One of the interesting dynamics to this game is actually the removal of corruption points.  During our game, I managed to score only 4 corruption tokens, while the person with the most had earned around 10.  However, by the time everyone had their scores tallied and their corruption tokens reduced, the person with the most leftover tokens only had 4 (while I had 0).  If I hadn’t made an earlier to decision to build a shrine and reduce my 4 tokens to 0, I would have been tied for the most corruption – even though I had played the entire game with the very least!  It seems to be that the person with the most corruption points generally has the most talents as well; my struggle to avoid becoming corrupt netted me the lowest score in the game, while the more corrupt players had significantly higher scores.  Apparently, corruption was okay in Ancient Egypt as long as you were willing to repent and make the appropriate sacrifices to the gods.

Cleopatra is not a difficult game to play with a visual impairment, or as far a disability of any sort as far as I can tell.  The cards are fairly large and contain very little text, for the most part.  Resource cards have both text and pictures, so it is easy to determine what each resource is even if you have trouble reading.  Character cards, on the other hand, do have text to explain their specific rules, and I did need a magnifier to read them.  The game’s large cheat sheet with rules for building various game pieces was also small and required a magnifier, but it could be easily converted in to a larger booklet format for people in need of large print or Braille.

Building placement is a little more difficult.  The game board is shared amongst all players and does require placement of some pieces on top of others.  In our game, other players described to me what some of my options were for building placement, and I selected which one I thought was best.  There may be other ways to modify this, but without having prepared the game board in advance it didn’t seem like an option.

With four games under our belts, we bid our friends farewell and headed home, lugging our bag full of mostly-unplayed games with us.  Even though we only played two of the games we took with us, it was exciting to play so many different games in a single weekend.  We got to try a couple of new games and play a couple of familiar ones as well, and overall the experience is one that I would like to repeat in the near future.

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