|Cost: $35 From: Hans im Glück Players: 2-5 Playing Time: 45 minutes Type of game: Family strategy Skill level: 8 Complexity: 3 Reviewed by: Ben Baldanza, Issue 19, Summer/Fall/Winter 1998|
Cheops is a speculation game with an Egyptian pyramid theme. Each player collects treasures from the pyramid and must decide to sell them immediately at the current market price or hold them until the end in the hope that they will be worth more. The game is up to the usual Hans im Gluck standards in terms of production, with a nice game board and multicolored stones representing the treasures of the pyramid.
There are four members of the Ahliman family who are used to extract the goods. Each player must place a piece representing one member of the family on a spot in the pyramid in order to take the treasure located in that spot. Extraction begins from the bottom, and no two family members can ever be adjacent, on the same row or the row above. Each player begins with one of each family piece, and replenishes his stock back up to four by choosing from one of three randomly shuffled piles after each placement.
When the treasure is taken, the extractor can choose to sell it at the market price (default is 10 piasters), or hold it until the end of the game. Above the pyramid is a “price table” for each of the treasures, randomly chosen for each at the beginning of the game. The price table lists a ladder of prices, with the top price being the current price. If you choose to sell the treasure you extract, you take your market money and then place the treasure on the price table, covering the top price and making the next price active. In this way, each player can modify the end price for each treasure in the way defined by the price table. The table is full when only the last price is showing; the game usually ends when two price tables are full or the pyramid runs out of treasures (the former is more likely).
In addition to the treasures on the pyramid, there are 6 “law boards” randomly placed from a stock of 12. The law board is taken the same way as a treasure, but affects the game in a number of ways. Law boards can, for example, change the market price for treasures sold on extraction, protect a price table from being further modified, make one color treasure worthless, etc. The law boards add some variety to the game and inject a bit of variability to what is otherwise a very deterministic contest.
And that is the problem with Cheops - too much information. Every player knows exactly what treasures are available in the pyramid and when they will likely be able to get them. You know the exact ending price of every treasure at a given time, and how that price can change with each update of the price table. You know just who is collecting what, and thus who is helped and who is hurt through a price table update or law board application. You know what family pieces each person is holding, so therefore their ability to take additional treasure given the placement-adjacency rules. This creates a game environment which feels almost completely mechanical. On any move, there is usually only one best move for that turn and it is usually quite clear. The law boards do shake things up a bit, but not enough to keep you excited until the end.
One critical decision to make is when to end the game, since this is controllable by filling price tables. You can’t control this perfectly, but can bias the game depending on your relative position. The adjacency rules and some law boards can create spaces on the board which cannot be filled; this effectively freezes out some pieces of the pyramid. While this may be a good defensive strategy it is more often frustrating.
Overall, this game looks real nice and seems to have enough to keep it fresh and variable (law boards, random price tables, different family markers to extract the treasures, and even four “neighbor” pieces which, for a fee, can be used to make two moves in a single turn.) But in practice, the game is slow and is over long before its over in most cases. The concepts applied in this game are so clearly better implemented in other games that you must question why you’d play Cheops versus, say, Modern Art. If you like the Egypt theme, Tal der Koenig requires much more sound decision making and delivers stronger consequences to bad planners. Save your money.