The Pyramids. Across the desert’s landscape, they’re the first thing you notice. And when you consider the civilizations that might be buried beneath the sands, they’re the only thing that remains of an earlier era.
Not content to be forgotten, you are committed to making your provinces littered with the gigantic structures. But will you be better remembered than your rivals?
How It Works
Amun-Re: The Card Game is an auction/hand management card game for two to five players. Players are Egyptians trying to create the best provinces and longest-lasting dynasties. The player with the most points wins.
Players begin by taking all the money cards and the money disc of a single color. They choose a start player, and then in turn order, each player chooses money cards that add up to 14 and sets the rest aside. The province decks are separated by age and shuffled. Play begins.
The game is played over three ages, and each age follows several phases: province auctions, offering to Amun-Re, revenue and construction, and scoring.
In the province auction phase, each player will claim three provinces from the current age over three auctions. For each auction, a number of province cards equal to the number of players is laid out face-up. Then, starting with the first player, each player bids on a single province with a single money card from their hand. Players continue taking turns, only participating in the auction if they don’t have a card in front of one of the provinces. If another player overbids a player, that player retrieves their card, and the next time it is their turn, they must either bid higher on that province or bid on another province. When each of the provinces has a money card in front of it, the auction ends, and each player discards their money card and claims their province. (If this is age 2 or 3, the new province card must be used to extend a previously won province by covering all symbols on that card except for pyramids.) Players reevaluate first player based on how many ankhs are shown on their provinces, and new provinces are laid out. This is done three times.
Next, players make an offering to Amun-Re. Players reveal what money cards they have left in hand, and each player secretly and simultaneously decides how much to contribute to the communal offering. Once everyone has decided, players reveal their contribution, and the amount of the total offering determines how much money each farm and caravan (represented on province cards) will generate in the revenue phase. In addition, whoever made the single largest contribution adds three pyramids to their provinces, second adds two pyramids, and each other player who contributed to the offering adds one.
Players then, in turn order, receive revenue for their farms and the amount of money they had leftover from the previous phases of the round and may buy pyramids to place on their provinces. Then the player decides how to divide the money leftover from buying pyramids into money cards to be used the next round.
Finally, players score their provinces. They earn one point per pyramid on their province with the fewest pyramids, one point for having nine or more farms, and one point for having the most ankhs (or they lose one point for having the fewest).
After three ages, the player with the most points wins.
The $50,000 Pyramid
When I first discovered Amun-Re almost five years ago, it was at a time when most of my gaming opportunities were in one-hour chunks. Amun-Re was one of the few longer-than-an-hour games that could easily be split into two distinct halves, so we once tried playing it over consecutive lunch hours at work. This was okay, but when longer game sessions became more plentiful, I abandoned my lunchtime plan for it.
Amun-Re: The Card Game (further abbreviated TCG) was designed for the me of five years ago, where one hour was all I had but I still wanted to experience the cutthroat auctions and long-term strategy of ancient Egypt. And it retains many of the elements that still make Amun-Re a great game today. Amun-Re: TCG is a good game, and an excellent adaptation of its source material, but it falls within a strange niche when it comes to recommending it: it never quite reaches the heights of Amun-Re (and thus doesn’t replace it), but it also doesn’t stand out enough from the full game that I would choose it over Reiner Knizia’s other short auction games. In short, the ideal audience for Amun-Re: TCG is, really, lunchtime me (and maybe lunchtime you).
In my estimation, Amun-Re is one of Reiner Knizia’s best big-box games, and it’s also one of the few games of his where you can see the theme without squinting. The idea is that the game is played in two kingdom periods, and the only thing that survives on the board from one period to the next is the pyramids and building stones. Farms and even province ownership all get buried under the sands of time, and it’s possible that you will be building houses that the descendants of your enemies will live in.
Amun-Re: TCG retains this conceit–at least mostly. Each province card displays some combination of pyramids, ankhs, farms, and caravans, and only pyramids last from round to round. Each age, new province cards will expand your old provinces, but again, only pyramids remain. The idea of expanding provinces is a good one, and a clever adaptation for a card-based game.
The concession here, though, is that the game loses its connection to geography. In the full game, each province is named and has unique characteristics that are the same from game to game. There’s Mendes, which doesn’t offer much except for room to farm. There’s Abydos, whose main claim to fame is the ability to draw special cards. There’s Avaris, which is depending for its bank on donations from other parts of the world. And there’s Damanhur, which cares very deeply about the offering to Amun-Re. I mentioned before that Amun-Re is one of the few Knizia games with a recognizable and easily understandable theme–provinces by the water have space for farms; provinces on the outskirts are closer to trading hubs if there’s a bad harvest–so it’s a shame to lose that connection in the card game, whose provinces are unnamed and contain just some combination of assets.
Of course, while using unnamed provinces is a concession in the thematic department, it’s also a boon to player count. I’ve not played Amun-Re with fewer than five players, and I’m not sure I’d want to. The reason is that with fewer than five players, some of the provinces are not in play, but I like the unique flavor of the provinces so much (and the special scoring cards are such) that in order for it to work as intended, it needs a full table of players. Since there’s no map and no special cards that score based on province location in the card-based version, it’s much easier to play with fewer players. And it’s even fun to play at lower player counts.Now, I don’t care for the two-player game much: it’s far too easy to have a boring round with either widely disparate or too similar provinces, where the player with the higher card will just claim the better province or neither player will care and the bids will be low. But each player added means three more provinces distributed, and you’re more likely to see a spectrum of provinces in each auction, and that’s where the bidding gets interesting.
Another adaptation takes center stage in the auction, and that’s the money hand management. The mechanism here is similar to Ra‘s bidding suns or to High Society‘s money cards, where there’s no change and players are limited to what they have on hand. Here each auction can be even more tense because, unlike Ra (where the suns are an entirely separate currency), spending money cards on provinces prevents you from spending those cards in the offering to Amun-Re and on pyramids. And unlike High Society, players choose the value of their cards, but they can only bid one card on a province: they can’t increase their bids by adding more cards. But players also have to consider whether they should take high-value cards, because in doing so, they may be competitive in claiming one province they really want but at the cost of losing out on future auctions (or in making their farms pay out in the offering). The money-card auction, and players choosing the values of their own cards, is a novelty unique to Amun-Re: TCG, and it’s a fascinating mechanism that I wouldn’t mind seeing in more games. That being said, there is a downside here if players spend a long time considering which of their cards they will choose. Even for decisive players, there is some mental math that can slow the proceedings down.
A more direct port from the board game to the card game is the offering to Amun-Re, which in my view is one of the best features of the parent game. I love how tense the offering is because each player determines how much they will contribute in secret and players are rewarded based on where they fall in the offering. If the high bid is 8 and the next highest bid is 3, you’re better off bidding 4 than 7, but playing well requires reading what other players have and what they want. Do they have lots of farms? Then they benefit from a high offering and might bid accordingly. Do they have caravans? Then they might benefit from offering less this round and saving their money. Yet players will often surprise you. Maybe the player with the caravan will bid high in order to get the pyramid reward. Maybe the player with lots of farms will try to save money, allowing other players to do their dirty work. I love the offering because for as much planning as there is, the human element takes center stage. Once the cards are revealed, there’s usually a moment of surprise.
This surprise and excitement is more pronounced in Amun-Re than in Amun-Re: TCG, and for a few different reasons. For one, in the parent game, rewards can be building blocks (for pyramids), additional farms, or special power cards, which makes player motivations harder to parse and surprise more frequent. For another, players don’t reveal how much money they have at the start of the auction in Amun-Re, and the totals are more dynamic (players can make change) than in the stricter card game, meaning there’s more variation in the outcome. And finally, there are special power cards and incentives to not contributing in Amun-Re versus the card game. In Amun-Re, players can rob the offering, decreasing its value but also getting money in return. They can reduce or increase the offering via special power cards. In the card game, there’s usually little incentive to not contributing (getting a pyramid for $1 is a great deal), aside from what cards you might be forced to offer with.
While the offering is still one of my favorite parts of Amun-Re: TCG, it does disincentivize caravans, which pay out based on low offerings. Because players are rewarded for contributing to the offering, and because their offerings are limited to the money cards they have, in my experience players will usually contribute more to the offering rather than less if given the choice. If the choice is to contribute 2 or 0, at least 2 will give you a pyramid at a cheaper rate than buying them in the next phase. Across all the offerings in my several games, the offering has been low enough for the caravan to pay out only once. (Incidentally, this was in a five-player game.) While this one aspect of the game is much less interesting, the offering still mostly works.
The provinces and offering auction are the two main selling points of Amun-Re: TCG, but there are lots of other clever aspects to it. Because players score points for complete sets of pyramids across their three provinces, for example, players have to be choosy in covering up their provinces as the game goes on to distribute their pyramids evenly. But they also have to balance covering ankhs, which provide their benefit until they are covered up. Which province to extend and when can have ramifications on scoring, so players have to pay attention. There’s also tension in when to buy pyramids and how many. It can be tempting to wait to buy pyramids until late in the game when you’ll know better how to arrange them, but the more pyramids you buy at once, the more expensive they become, meaning players will need to spread out their buying over the course of the game to maximize their money spent.
The one aspect of gameplay that may be hard for players to get around is that, like its parent game, Amun-Re: TCG is fairly unforgiving. As I mentioned, if players bid too high in the offering, or pay too dearly for their provinces, or don’t get enough farms, or fall on the wrong side of turn-order tiebreakers, it can be hard to come back. Amun-Re: TCG is a low-scoring game to begin with, so an early lead of even two to three points can be tough to overcome as all the methods of scoring points set players up for more success as the game goes on. This is less of a bug and more of a feature. There’s usually some skill gap in auction games, and players who already like some of Knizia’s more punishing auction games won’t have any trouble here. It’s just something to be aware of.
The components in Amun-Re: TCG are nice for what they are. The cards are on excellent stock, and the cardboard pyramids are great. I also like that the bottom of the box acts as a revenue track and offering chart. This is a clever use of space and a way to keep the physical cost of goods reasonable. The look of the game is understated but not cheap or drab. I do wish the point tokens were a little larger and especially the money cards were a more standard size, but these are minor grievances.
I think Amun-Re: TCG is a very clever game, but like I said, I think it occupies an odd niche that may not suit the masses. As already mentioned, Amun-Re is a more dynamic game than its descendant, so I think players looking for a longer, richer, more thematic auction game will probably turn to Amun-Re before the card game. For players looking for a shorter auction game, Knizia’s Ra–also set in ancient Egypt–is a tough one to beat, and Modern Art and Medici are other excellent options that I would probably choose before Amun-Re: TCG for filling a lunch-hour slot. Okay, okay: but Amun-Re: TCG is more portable than Knizia’s auction trilogy. This is a fair point, but Knizia has several small auction games that are portable and easier to get into than Amun-Re: TCG. The aforementioned High Society comes in an even smaller card box than Amun-Re: TCG (and is more thematic and easier to explain), and the recently released Lost Cities: Rivals–which is another remix of Knizia’s previous work–has more fun moments in it and an easier-to-digest flow. I like Amun-Re: TCG, but would I recommend it over these others?
As I said, Amun-Re: TCG is a perfect fit for the me of five years ago, who wanted to experience Amun-Re but never had the opportunity to. I think it’s also a great choice if you have the other Knizia auction games I mentioned but want this one for variety. It’s a good game, and one I enjoy playing, especially if I want the Amun-Re experience with fewer players than five and in a shorter time frame. But in most instances, I would reach for Knizia’s other auction games first.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Surfin’ Meeple for providing us with a copy of Amun-Re: The Card Game for review.