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Subject: Does Ramses Pyramid achieve the ultimate geek synergy? rss

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Harold Jansen
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When I first heard about the new line of Lego games, I was intrigued by what seemed to be the ultimate geek synergy: Lego and board games. I was sad to hear that the line wouldn’t be available in North America for some time. However, on a recent trip to the United Kingdom, I saw a display for the games in a department store and snapped up Ramses Pyramid. I chose it over the others largely because it was the one game with a big name designer listed on the front cover. This is a Reiner Knizia design, so I figured it was the most likely to reward my purchase with some quality gameplay.

When you open the box, you find a sight that will be familiar to you if you’ve ever purchased a Lego set. There are a few bags of bricks, an instruction booklet for how to assemble the game and another booklet of rules. The game is not difficult to assemble and is colourful and attractive. Once assembled, the game forms – surprise, surprise – a pyramid. The pyramid is built so that the layers of the pyramid can be lifted – and in an essential part of the gameplay – rotated and replaced. Around the pyramid are a series of capsules (known as secret temples) set on eight brown spaces around the pyramid. Most exciting for my kids were the pair of scorpion pieces, which are strictly ornamental, and the mummy king and nine mummies (which are a central part of the game). There are also a series of coloured jewel, which are arranged on the brown spaces, inside the temples and up the sides of the pyramids. There are also four explorers, each of whom has a tent in a corner of the board. Finally, there is a Lego die, with special sides that you get to attach. For most boardgame and Lego geeks, this little die is almost worth the price of the game itself. Besides the fact that Lego is just innately cool, the game is also functional. It would be easy for the jewels to get misplaced. Being able to attach them to the board makes it far less likely that a piece will get lost.

It’s not surprising that the game has great bits, given its Lego pedigree, but how does it play? Those expecting something grander, given the Knizia name on it, may be a bit disappointed. The play is hampered by the fact that the rules are unclear on a number of points. We did our best to interpret the rules as best we could.

The game breaks down into two phases. In the first, players roll the dice and move around the eight brown spaces around the base of the pyramid. Once they land, they have a choice of taking the jewel on the space, or, if there is a temple, opening it up to peek at the jewel hidden inside. If the space has neither a jewel or a temple, doing nothing. Once a player has made a circuit of the board (we assume – the rules are not clear on whether you have to land back on the entrance space with an exact roll), the second phase of the game begins. The player has to scale the pyramid. As in the first phase, players roll the die to move. However, to move up levels of the pyramid, a player must match the jewels on the side of the pyramid either with jewels he or she collected or jewels he or she remembered from the temples encountered when going around the base of the pyramid. Alternatively, a player can choose not to roll, but can move laterally to another side of the pyramid, as long as he or she can match the jewel on that side.

The twist with the game is that the dice can also produce results that alter the game. Sometimes, the die roll will allow you to steal a jewel from another player. Another die roll will let you rotate a level of the pyramid (and all the levels on top of it). Yet another die roll will send the mummies down the sides of the pyramid, blocking the players’ way or even knocking a player back down to the base of the pyramid. The game is over when a player manages to make it to the top of the pyramid and defeat the mummy king. How do you defeat the mummy king? By rolling a “3.”

If that last line in the description of the mechanics troubled you, then you’ve already realized one of the flaws of the game: it is heavily dependent on the roll of the die. This game is clearly aimed at children – and I’m willing to tolerate a higher level of luck in children’s games – but Ramses Pyramid seemed to come all down to luck in the end. A couple of us sat at the top waiting to see who could roll a “3” first. Hardly satisfying.

This is too bad, because there is some potentially clever stuff here. The idea of having to collect and remember jewels that will enable you to climb the pyramid is interesting, but the first phase of the game is over so quickly that there is little opportunity to build a strategy. Furthermore, the fact that there are only eight spaces around the base means that going first is a huge advantage, especially when playing with four players. The last player will likely have little or no opportunity to collect jewels and may find there to be no temples on the spaces on which he or she lands. So, this potentially clever idea doesn’t work as well as it might. I also liked the idea of being able to rotate the temple layers to set up a pathway to climb the pyramid. However, since opportunities to do that are constrained by rolling the right die number, the ability to plan those moves is fairly limited.

In all, I felt let down by Ramses Pyramid. As expected, it was a lot of fun to assemble. Despite some good gameplay ideas, however, the game didn‘t really come together the way I hoped it would. The game is inordinately luck-dependent. As I mentioned, though, it is possible we had some rules wrong, given the ambiguities in the rulebook.

To be fair, adult gamers are likely not the target market for the game. My kids enjoyed both building the set and playing the game. The game seems to have succeeded on that level. Also, if you or your family members have Lego, if you don't like the game, you still get some cool Lego pieces. As a game, however, the game feels like a missed opportunity for the perfect geek synergy.
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Andreas
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Very good review indeed! I add what some german reviews told about the Lego games: Lego 10, Gameplay 2.
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Harold Jansen
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Xeenu wrote:
Very good review indeed! I add what some german reviews told about the Lego games: Lego 10, Gameplay 2.


That's a great line!
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Andreas
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DoctorJ wrote:
How do you defeat the mummy king? By rolling a “3.”


shake I thought long and hard but I could not come up with a dumber rule. A "designer game"??? shake
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Graham Staplehurst
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Harold, Andreas,

Thanks for the comments. I can tell you that LEGO Company is currently test marketing the games in UK and German prior to a potential global launch.

I think that you hit the nail on the head when you remark that the games are aimed at children (and, ideally, the sort of parents who tolerate being asked to play games with their children, rather than the sort who initiate games with them). These games are designed to compete with Monopoly, Operation, and so on. On that level I think they are quite successful. I bought a small selection, being a bit of a LEGO fan, and having an 11-year old son who enjoys both LEGO and boardgames.

I particularly liked a mechanic using the LEGO dice in Lava Dragon, where each player adds their own coloured spots to a side when it's rolled, and all players with spots already on the side rolled get to benefit. However, the first three of these games (Rameses Pyramid, Lava Dragon and the weaker UFO Attack) required you to fulfil victory conditions then roll a certain number to win. In the first two of these, you could not even 'attack' a player in the just-need-to-roll-to-win condition.

LEGO have obviously imposed a constraint that the rules should be as short (and simple) as possible - 1 page seems to be the norm. AND ... they actively you encourage to customise the game and create your own rules. This is a fantastic innovation in boardgaming - most of the time it's just us geeks that tamper with rules! But LEGO is all about doing it your own way and I would encourage you to think of new and different victory conditions. I'd imagine that most people reading BGG would be able to design a couple of rules. And if you need additional game components, well, just look in the LEGO box under the bed/in the attic/wherever...
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Andreas
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I am sorry but I tend to disagree. A real game is actually extensively playtested so the game publisher can roll it out with the best possible rules and a ruleset that the testers have found to be the best. Sometimes there are different rulesets (see for example Homas Tour / Um Reifenbreite with beginners, advanced and expert rules), sometimes there are variants. But in general the rules provided are those that have passed the playtests. With Lego it seems that they either didnt playtest or that they couldnt come up with really good rules. Either one is not a good thing, especially in regard of the prices charged. The street price for a superb Haba or Hans im Glück game is sometimes lower than the Lego variety. With rules.
Competing with Monopoly and Operation isnt a very high goal regarding actual gameplay methinks.
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Jesse McConnell
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IMO would you always play this game with kids...and the rules state that the youngest person goes first, which means they are going to start the game collecting the most crystals whilst the older kids/parents will come along behind and have to pick up secret temple locations.

I think that mechanic works well, the older you are the better you are at keeping track of secret temple crystal locations..

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Chris
United States
Huntington Station
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jmcconnell wrote:
I think that mechanic works well, the older you are the better you are at keeping track of secret temple crystal locations..

Really? Memory improving as you age? I don't think so. Children really are better at the 'remembery' aspect of games.
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Andreas
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Indeed. Children are much better at that as their brain has many more connections between braincells. Ravensburger commissioned a study on this - why children are excelling in Memory and its many variants.
That is why childrens games often have a memory mechanic, a die roll or spinner, or a dexterity element in them to level the playing field between differently aged children and children and parents.
Though this age-old trick does not make Ramses Pyramid a desirable game. It is Lego, it is marketed well but thats about it. Being adult only makes one cringe on the mechanic "roll a 3 against Ramses". And they needed Knizia coming up with this? BTW I think Knizia IS usually a good designer. He has his bad moments once in a while maybe.
Anyway: I think I made my point clear. Until Lego comes up with any innovative game I cant recommend it. If somebody else thinks the shiny package makes up for the poor content more power to him.
 
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Craig Sanderlin
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Maryland Heights
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DoctorJ wrote:
A couple of us sat at the top waiting to see who could roll a “3” first. Hardly satisfying.


While it may be anti-climatic to just roll to win the game, you may have been playing it wrong. If you FAIL the roll, YOU are knocked all the way down to the bottom of the Pyramid, resulting in your fighting your way up again. This adds some tension to the game a bit...
 
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Andreas
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This adds length to a game with an anticlimatic end doesnt it? Fall back because You rolled the wrong number. This has been developed before. Its snakes and ladders.
 
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R S
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I just don't expect it to be an overly complicated game. Lego is really made for kids, and than you have not so many adults that buy Lego for themselves.

That being sad though, I'm not against "luck" games at all.
 
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Andreas
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A game of luck is OK for undemanding (or young) persons and only when its very short. A game with meaningful decisions gives better satisfaction (I won because I am smart) and can be the foundation for a longer game. When having the choice a game with strategy and luck is better than one with pure luck. The balance between strategy and luck should be decided depending on the players and their age/experience. That said e.g. Haba manages to combine both their games to give a meatier but nevertheless kid-friendly game. But then Haba has lots more experience with good games than Lego.
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Vince Lupo
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ALEXANDRIA
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They could have said, roll a 6, but add 1 for each jewel you have.
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Freddy Dekker
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I was considering this because we own Lego's Harry Potter and quite liked it.
Especially as I anticipated it would be bad, but the only thing I disliked about it was the fact it's not build for the larger fingered people among us.

Not sure if I'll bother with this now.
 
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