Review of Giza: The Great Pyramid

Review Summary
Comped Playtest Review
Written Review

May 9, 2012


by: Shannon Appelcline


Style: 4 (Classy & Well Done)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)

A meaty pyramid-building game of auctions and worker placement.

Shannon Appelcline has written 679 reviews (including 357 board/tactical game reviews), with average style of 4.03 and average substance of 3.85. The reviewer's previous review was of Catan Scenarios: Oil Springs.

This review has been read 2467 times.

 
Product Summary
Name: Giza: The Great Pyramid
Publisher: Mayfair Games
Author: David Heberer
Category: Board/Tactical Game

Cost: $35.00
Year: 2012

SKU: 4122
ISBN: 1-56905-257-3


Review of Giza: The Great Pyramid
Giza: The Great Pyramid is a worker-placement game by David Heberer, published by Mayfair Games.

Players: 3-4
Playing Time: 60-90 minutes

Summary of the Components

Giza comes with: a game board; some cardboard bits; some wooden bits; and 9 plastic chunks that together form a pyramid.

Quality: The board and cardboard bits are all thick and linen-textured. The wooden bits are very hefty and solid feeling. Finally, the plastic pyramid chunks are all very nicely molded, even including little tabs that help you fit the whole pyramid together. 5 out of 5.

Beauty: The game board is very attractively produced with Egyptian-looking artwork and symbols. I also think the pyramid is a stand-out piece for attractiveness. My only real complaint with the beauty of the game is that all the cardboard chits are produced single-sided, which means that you have stark and unattractive white on the back. However, that's a minor element in a generally good-looking game. 5 out of 5.

Usability: Unfortunately, the usability of the game is a bit more mixed. To start with, I found the rulebook intimidating on a first read, then confusing as I tried to use it for reference in my two games. That's primarily due to the way rules are laid out for moving stones, reassigning workers, starving, and scoring; it's somewhat hard to figure out the ordering of those actions from their organization (unless you look at the examples instead of the rules text). Nonetheless, there are lots of illustrations and examples, which make the game easier to learn.

The game board itself uses some symbols to help remind you of what happens in which spaces. Many but not all of these symbols are helpful (e.g., a "+" and arrow symbol look almost identical from afar, while the purpose of an eye symbol and an ankh symbol aren't intuitively obvious). Still, the board is generally helpful; these issues are relatively minor nuisances.

However, my real problem with the usability of Giza comes from its complex system of victory point scoring. Points are earned differently when you push stones, when you lift stones, when you decorate stones, and when you finish tiers. Scoring values are also different for the last stone (for lifting and for decoration, but *not* for completing its tier). Some of this is a development issue with the game, but the result comes off as very intimidating and the only player aid, printed on the back of the rulebook, just makes it look more intimidating. Unlike the issues with the rulebook and icons on the board, the lack of a really helpful aid for all these sorts of victory points is an issue that players will have to overcome. 3 out of 5.

Theming: Giza feels very much like a simulation, as players push stones away from the quarry, then lift them up atop the pyramid. As such, its theming is strong, particularly for a Euro. 4+ out of 5.

Overall, Giza is a well-produced game whose only real misstep is not providing enough help to make it easy to understand the somewhat complex scoring variations built into the game. As such I've given it a "4" out of "5" for Style.

Summary of the Gameplay

The object of Giza is to earn points by building a great pyramid for Pharaoh.

Setup: A sled is placed in each quarry with a pyramid stone on it.

Each player gets some food and some art. He then places his 8-10 workers in the work areas on the board: fishing & farming; the Temple of Ra; the artist camp; any of the 4 quarries; or the 2 lift camps.

Choosing Turn Order: Each round of play begins with players choosing among eight roles on the turn order track. Each role other than the "no bonus" space gives some benefit to the player: four of them allow the instant movement of a worker; one allows the player to fish twice on his turn but not farm; one allows him to farm twice but not fish; and one allows him to create art twice.

There's one catch: you can't take the same role twice within a 5-year period. (There will be two of these 5-year periods over the course of the game).

The roles are all ranked, and the players who take the less useful roles get to go earlier in the round. Contrariwise, the players who take the most useful roles will go later, but will get to select roles first on the next round.

In the newly determined turn order, each player now gets to take three actions, then nominate a stone to move.

Taking Actions: There are two types of actions that players can take: move actions and production actions.

Move actions simply move a piece from one action space to another. You can move workers to the production areas to improve your production, to the temple to be nice and holy when the next tier of the pyramid is completed, or to the quarries to help move a stone.

Production actions create something, but you can only do each production action once during a turn:

Nominating Stones: Next a player nominates a stone to be moved. This either has to be a stone in a quarry that has at least 3 workers (and at most 4) ready to push it or a stone in a lifting camp that has at least 3 workers ready to push it.

Once the stone has been nominated, players do a once-around bid of 0-2 food per worker they have that could move the stone. If less than 3 total food are bid, then there's starvation, and the stingiest bidders lose a worker. If 4 or more are bid, then the stone moves.

Moving in the Quarry. Each quarry has 3 spaces, and depending on how much food was bid, a successful push results in the stone moving 1-3 spaces.

When a stone clears the end of the quarry, players get victory points (VPs) depending on how many workers they had involved in the movement.

If the stone was a ground-level stone, it's placed in the pyramid, else it's moved to the first lifting camp.

Moving in the Lifting Camps. If a stone was successfully lifted from a lifting camp, the involved players earn VPs depending on how much food they bid (not just their number of workers, as in moving stones from the quarry).

If the stone was a first-level stone in the first lifting camp or a capstone in the second lifting camp, it's placed on the pyramid. Contrawise, when the capstone is lifted from the first lifting camp, it's just hauled up to the second lifting camp.

Finishing a Row. Whenever a row (two stones) of the pyramid is finished, it's decorated. All the players make simultaneous closed-fist bids of art, then earn VPs depending on how much art they bid.

Finishing a Tier. Whenever a tier (four stones) of the pyramid is finished, there's a religious ceremony. Players earn VPs depending on how many workers they have in the Temple.

Reassigning Workers. When a stone was moved out of the quarry, players have the opportunities to assign their workers to new locations once all the scoring is done. They can put them anywhere except the quarries (and in fact this is the main way to move workers to the lifting camps).

Ending the Game: The game ends either when the pyramid is completed or after ten turns have gone by. If you do get to the capstone, lifting it and decorating it are worth a few more points than usual.

The player with the most points at the end (earning from pushing, lifting, decorating, and praying) is the winner.

Relationships to Other Games

Giza is at heart a worker placement game (with some majority control elements). The worker placement mechanics include some unique elements in the way that workers stay in place from turn to turn and in the way that lots of workers working together help you to collect more resources (though Stone Age and Belfort have both used similar combinations of worker placement and resource management).

Giza is also a role selection game, since each player chooses from a limited palette of options at the start of his turn, and that affect impacts the rest of his turn.

Egypt has been a very popular time period for game designers. I'm reminded the most of Cleopatra and the Society of Architects since it put a similar emphasis on building things (though mechanically the games are entirely different). Meanwhile, Tutankhamen is another Egyptian game with a cool plastic pyramid.

The Game Design

It took me a full game to really figure out Giza. But after that (and especially as I played it a second time) I came to realize that the core gameplay of Giza is in those bids to move stones across the quarry. And, those bids are quite clever. There's a lot of brinksmanship as players try and push the responsibility of feeding the workers off on each other. There's also some opportunity for some very clever tactics (such as forcing the leading player to pay all of the food, because he doesn't want his sled stranded without enough workers far down the line; or forcing a player with just one worker to pay more than his share so that he's not bumped off of the sled).

The role/turn-order system is also quite well done. It offers some tactics that are slightly orthogonal to the actual worker placement and there's some interesting brinksmanship here too (as you try and get the best role you can while, usually, staying ahead of the roles you expect the other players to choose).

The rest of the game all works well though it's not quite as visionary. You never have enough workers to do everything you want, and thus there's a constant pressure to move workers from one area to another. You have to work really hard to maximize efficiency of food and art production, while never quite knowing how much you'll need to play out the game.

On the downside, I thought the game could have used a little bit more development. I found the numerous different ways to score confusing, where I think it could have been polished better. I also have some concerns with the endgame where you can occasionally end up with not enough things to do with your actions, depending on how your workers are arranged.

Despite these minor development issues, Giza is still a strong game, and I've given it a "4" out of "5" for Substance.

Conclusion

Giza: The Great Pyramid is an interesting strategy game that mixes worker placement, role selection, and auctions -- all in quantity. It's got a few very clever systems, and a few that could use more polish, but overall it's a strong game that should appeal to europlayers, especially those who like games with heavier and more thoughtful mechanics.

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