[Editors note: The following is a Nemesis Review, featuring opinions from our in-house eurogamer, @Farmerlenny, and his deadly enemy the thematic space-loving @Futurewolfie. Make sure to read both opinions to get a better overall picture of the game!]
At Christmas when I was a kid, I always wanted to unwrap the big presents first. My line of reasoning went like this: toys are in big boxes, clothes are in small boxes. There are some toys small enough to fit in small boxes, but these aren’t as cool as toys that come in big boxes. If I open the big boxes first, then I’ll have something to play with once all I have left to open is small boxes.
Sometimes we don’t grow out of these things.
It’s easy for me, now that my toys are disguised as board games, to continue in the “bigger is better” mind-set. Bigger box: better bits. But this is not always the case, which brings me to Nile Deluxor.
What did I think of this small-box game? Check out the review below!
How It Works
Nile Deluxor is a card game of planting and harvesting crops along the fickle Nile River for 2-6 players. The game play lasts from fifteen minutes (with fewer players) to a little over a half hour (with more players). The winner is the player who harvests the most crops in their weakest category .
Nile Deluxor is a pure card game: a deck of cards is the only component in the box. The deck is composed mostly of crop cards, but there are also speculate cards, a Plague of Locusts card, and cards to keep track of the flood and seasons. Each turn in Nile Deluxor follows a simple pattern: Flood, Harvest, Trade, Plant or Speculate, Draw. (There’s no clever ABC acronym, but it’s pretty easy to remember once you’re in the flow of the game.)
A player’s turn begins with the flooding of the Nile River. The top card of the deck is turned up, and the player who has that crop planted gets to harvest one card from that field, moving the card into his storage pile. (The flooded crop may not be planted this turn.) Next, the player may trade two cards–from a combination of his hand or storage pile–to either draw one card from the deck or to cause a new flood. A player may trade as many times as desired.
Then, a player may plant or speculate. Planting involves playing crops in fields in front of the player. There’s no restriction in the number of fields a player may have, but there may only be one field of each crop at the table, and only the player who has the most cards of a crop may keep their field. Players may plant in one of three ways: 1) by playing any number of crop cards to existing fields of those crop types, 2) by playing as many cards of one crop type (at least two) in a new field, or 3) by playing exactly two crop cards (in new fields or otherwise).
A player, in lieu of planting, may speculate. A player may play one or two speculate cards, each of which features two crops. If one of those crops is revealed in the next flood, the speculating player draws three cards. (Otherwise the speculate cards are discarded.)
A player’s turn ends with drawing two cards. At any point, if a player draws the Plague of Locusts card, the player with the largest field must discard it (in the case of ties, all tied players must discard their largest fields).
The game is over when players exhaust the draw deck once for each player in the game. Players then sort their storage piles, and the player with the most harvested crops in his weakest category is the winner.
Nile Deluxor may be a pure card game in a tiny box, but it packs quite a punch. While it does involve some luck, the strategic choices and tension the gaming experience provides make this one worthwhile.
The first thing I really like about Nile Deluxor is the scoring system. Yes, I know, the scoring system is “derivative” from Reiner Knizia’s Tigris & Euphrates and Ingenious, but I’m okay with that. Tigris & Euphrates is somewhat difficult to teach (and very difficult to grasp), and Ingenious (being an abstract) is hard to get others excited about. Nile Deluxor acts as a great introduction to these longer, meatier games and has simple mechanisms at its heart that allow the scoring system alone to shine.
And shine it does. Because players are judged by their weakest crop, the game is a rush for balance. It may be awesome to have a field of several grapes that keeps getting harvested, but that won’t help a player win the game. Players must delicately balance being strong in some areas with harvesting any crops in others. (It’s possible for your weakest crop to score 0.) This helps mitigate the luck. Players are in some ways rewarded for having the most of a certain crop (as it’s less likely that other players can outplant them and more likely that that crop will be harvested), but in other ways they are hindered: by focusing on one large field, it’s harder to achieve the balance necessary to win the game. Larger fields are also the target of the Plague of Locusts.
Let me pause for a moment to say that I think the Plague of Locusts is a fantastic addition to this game. It keeps players on their toes and can make them think twice about going on a planting spree. You can never be sure when it will show up, and it always attacks as soon as it does. And as the deck dwindles through rounds of play, there is less and less time between attacks. The Plague of Locusts is a reminder that you can’t always plan too far ahead.
And that’s something that might bother some players. Being a pure card game, Nile Deluxor is very dependent on luck. In one game I played, I had a balanced portfolio of crops in my storage pile, with more than two of each—except for wheat. I hadn’t drawn a single wheat card all game, and without wheat, I knew I didn’t have much chance of winning the game. Still, while I might have been “unlucky” in this regard, the tension of trying everything I could to get a wheat card still kept the game fun and interesting. And lo, despite my initial bad luck, I was able to pull out the victory in the end.
Nile Deluxor is thus more of a tactical game than a strategic game, but that’s okay. It works for what it is. It’s quick, it’s addictive, and it still offers plenty of satisfying decisions. In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of another card game in this category that I enjoy more. (The closest I can think of is Bohnanza—also a farming game of planting and harvesting. Interesting.)
I’ll also say that this game works great with just two players. I’ve mentioned before that with a new baby in the house, finding two-player games that fit our more sporadic gaming times has been difficult. Usually shorter games are unsatisfying because they cut out the meat that makes a game fun. I’ve heartily enjoyed my plays of Nile Deluxor, though. When I taught my wife how to play, there was some initial skepticism, followed by raised eyebrows as she tried to understand the scoring system…followed by absolute domination. After I won the first game, she said, “Again!” After I won the second game, she demanded yet another. I won the third game…and I haven’t won a game with her since. (I blame the time she spent in Egypt when she was younger.)
And that’s okay. This is a game that I enjoy quite a bit. The theme is nigh absent (it seems more like a business game to me), though I don’t mind the Egyptian flavor superimposed, and the design is beautiful. I think the price might put some people off: it’s around $25 for a deck of cards. (Though, really, I think it’s worth that in game enjoyment.) And this version of the game comes with a mini expansion, which I haven’t tried yet; I usually wait to try expansions till I’m bored with the vanilla game. I’ve played upward of ten games already, and the fun of the base game hasn’t waned, so I haven’t felt the need to pull it out.
If you’re looking for a fun card game that’s fairly easy to learn, offers good choices, rewards skill but still has the equalizer of luck, and on top of all that is fun to play, I can’t recommend this game more highly.
Nile Deluxor was quite a pleasant surprise. I’ll be honest, I did not expect much. The Egyptian theme didn’t thrill me—the only other Egyptian game I’ve played (that wasn’t about archaeology) does not agree with me. And it seemed like just yet another game about collecting and selling resources for points (in this case, planting and harvesting).
Well in this case, the game is a winner. It’s fast, easy to learn, colorful, and enjoyable. Let’s break it down.
The game is theme-lite (the cards could be anything… fruits… car parts… football teams… wouldn’t make a difference), but the art on the cards is colorful and attractive. The colors are bright and it’s easy to distinguish each type of crop from the others from a distance. Even if you can’t read, you could still play this game. The cards themselves are quality enough; flexible and easy to shuffle (and it’s a fairly large deck), but it doesn’t feel too flimsy.
The gameplay is simple and easy to teach; it may be the fastest-taught game I’ve ever played. It’s also fast to play; even with new players, once we went through a few rounds, turns lasted a few seconds each.
The game relies a lot on luck—you have to draw the right cards to plant, you have to draw more than your neighbors, and once you plant them, you need to harvest before they’re stolen or destroyed. You have little control over these elements; however, you do have some strategic choices. You generally have options regarding what you plant—you could plant a lot of one item to protect it, or try and spread out and hope to harvest before someone else takes it away. You can decide if you want to put all five of your lettuce cards down, but that makes it vulnerable to the Plague of Locusts, as well as decreases the possibility of lettuce being drawn in future rounds (which may prevent you from harvesting lettuce ever). You also have the option of speculation cards, which can give you more choices by having more cards in your hand, but that’s assuming luck goes your way and puts speculation cards in your hand, and then rewards you in the Flood phase if your speculation was correct.
Fortunately, the ability to trade cards for a new card draw or a new flood helps; and with the nature of scoring, it also helps that you have the option of trading from your score pile. You can get rid of useless cards, or balance out your scoring stack by getting rid of the crops you have an excess of to get something else you need. Getting a new flood could get you an extra harvest, could shrink another player’s crop small enough that you could plant your own of the same type and steal it away, or it could just free up that one crop you wanted to harvest.
The endgame scoring is brilliant. It’s so simple: no complex mish-mashing of goods that multiply and divide and subtract. It’s just whoever has the most of the least. It forces players to spread out their goods; it prevents anyone from becoming a real runaway leader. It can be easy to collect a bunch of one type of crop, but that won’t do you any good if you don’t have any of the others. Everyone is in the game the whole time, because even if someone seems to be collecting a lot, you might just have the edge where you need it.
The game includes a mini-expansion that adds monuments and a special type of “crop”—stone. Stone is treated the same way as other crops; however, when stone is “planted,” you get to claim one of three monuments that gives you a special ability. While, like other crops, there is only one of each monument on the table, monuments can be spread out so there may be multiple piles of stone. This doesn’t add a lot of complexity, but it does add a bit more strategy—which special ability will help you the most? would it be best to grab a new monument or steal the one from your neighboor?—and it’s a great add-on once you’ve mastered the basic game.
Nile Deluxor is a fast, fun, light filler. It plays in a very short amount of time, even with six players. It’s easy to set up and take down. Despite it’s lack of distinct theme, it’s colorful and nice-looking. It’s probably more random than some hardcore gamers would like, but there’s enough strategy for it to feel like your choices matter, and enough randomness to keep it from being “solvable.” For what the game is trying to be, it does it extremely well. I don’t know what a Deluxor is, but it must be something good.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Minion Games for providing us with a copy of Nile Deluxor for review.