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GC ’14: Asmodee Preview Party – The Builders: Egypt

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The were several expansions on display at the Asmodee Play Mania event.  One such has been hotly anticipated (7 Wonders: Babel) and another was completely new to me (The Builders: Egypt).  There has been plenty of coverage on Babel already so I’ll take a look at the exciting new standalone game for The Builders.

Gen Con 2014 Andrew - The Builders Egypt
The Builders moves from the Middle Ages to Ancient Eygpt

The Builders: Egypt (which may or may not be the final title) is very similar to the previous release in the series, The Builders: Middle Ages but with expanded gameplay that offers several new card types.  The emphasis is on providing players with additional options and flexibility.  The setting has also been moved from Middle Ages to Ancient Egypt but has a very familiar look and feel to those that have played the original game.  The gameplay and decks (both workers and buildings) have remained largerly unchanged so let’s focus on what the new card types bring to the game.

The picture that I took (above) ended up kind of blurry and isn’t the highest quality but you can see four new stacks of cards above the available workers.  Players now have the option of using their actions to pick up any of these cards but there are two main difference from the worker and building offerings.  First, when you take a card from one of these stacks you can look through them and select any of the remaining cards.  Second, they have a limited supply so once they pile is exhausted they are gone.  So what are these juicy new options?

1. Tools can be assigned to a worker for free and provide a single bar of expertise in one of the four skills.  Once a building is complete they are made available to be sent out with a different worker.

2. Slaves are workers that don’t cost any money to assign to a project.  The catch is that at the end of the game you will receive negative points for each slave in your employment.  To avoid this penalty you have to option of freeing your slaves, flipping them over, at which point they become a standard worker.

3. Training cards are clear overlays that you permanently place on top of one of your workers to give them a significant boost to a single skill type without increasing their cost to work.  This replaces whatever amount they previously had in that area.

4. Loans immediately provide you with 10 money but if you don’t pay it back at the cost of 15 then you’ll lose points for each loan you have.

The most exciting thing that The Builders: Egypt brings to the table is the expanded variety of options that players are given.  And unlike the random offerings provided from the workers and buildings these new cards are consistent but limited.  This takes the race aspect of the game and amplifies it by forcing players to not only prioritize the key cards from the current worker/building offerings but also grab the Tools and Training they need before they’re taken.

On the other hand there is also more flexibility provided to players.  Both Slaves and Loans provide some better options for money strapped players to allow those that fell behind to potentially catch up.  It also means that your money can potentially go a lot further if you’re willing to take the gamble of being stuck with negative points.  Will you give yourself a big boost right out of the gate with plenty of time to free your slaves and pay off your loans?  Or perhaps you can grab one in a pinch near the end of the game when you’re just one dollar short.  Tools and Training allow players to fill in the gaps that the random offerings may create and gives them exactly what they need when they need it (assuming they manage to grab it first, of course).  These additional options not only smooth over the punishing aspects of these efficiency engine building games but also gives the players new strategies to pursue.

At first glance there isn’t a lot new in The Builders: Egypt but the introduction of these four new card types really amps up the strategic offering.  If the price wasn’t already very reasonable I could see simply wanting the option to buy the new cards as an add-on to The Builders: Middle Ages but introducing a new setting was a great idea in my opinion.  For those that already own the original game, it can now be revisited with wonderful new art for all your favorite buildings as well as having two separate games to choose from when you want a lighter (Middle Ages) or deeper (Egypt) experience.

I love optimization and engine games with tableau builders and card driven ones being my favorite. This usually means medium-heavy euros and medium-light card games.

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