The Ptolemaic period is near its end and Cleopatra’s allure has taken over the Kingdom. Beautiful, mysterious, and image-conscious, it only makes sense that she would want the finest palace to reside in! Fantastic riches are promised to the architect who constructs the most majestic and important parts of the palace. As a member of the Society of Architects, this is an offer too tempting to refuse. The competition will be tough, as which architect wouldn’t want to curry favour with the divine Queen? There are dangerous risks involved when working for the monarchy, however. With all that competition, the opportunity to seek help from Egypt’s underbelly is extremely enticing… Smugglers, beggars and worshippers of the crocodile God Sobek are happy to assist, but if Cleopatra discovers your descent into corruption then she’ll ensure you come to a very sticky end – by ironically feeding you to her pet crocodile. Don’t say Cleopatra doesn’t have a sense of humour.
The object of Cleopatra and the Society of Architects is to become the chief architect of the Kingdom without becoming too corrupt. To keep up with the competition, a little corruption here and there will be necessary. But aim to reign it in, because the player with the most corruption tokens at the end of the game will be automatically eliminated. I mean, there’s really no coming back from death by crocodile. Your goal is to be the architect with the most money that’s actually still alive.
Cleopatra begins as a card collection game where you’ll collect resources from the market (artisans, stone, marble, wood etc) that you can then exchange at the quarry for valuable pieces to build with. If you’re anxious about your competitors taking the best parts from the quarry before you, and therefore don’t have the patience for organically building up the resources you require, then you may want to have a secret chat at the market with a worshipper of Sobek. They’ll speed the process up, but you’ll have to pay by taking a token and placing it under your pyramid of corruption. This way your competitors can never quite be sure how truly corrupt you are. If you’re growing concerned about your tainted work ethic then perhaps an offering to the Great Priest will help. At certain points in the game all architects will secretly offer as much of their hard earned cash as they desire, and the most generous architect will discard some of their corruption tokens as a reward.
When it comes to visiting the quarry, there’s plenty on offer. You may want to buy the pieces for a simple door frame or column wall. But maybe you don’t want to bother with the small fry so you blow all your resources on a fancy throne or obelisk. You’ll take your pieces over to the construction site, which in a novel aspect of the game actually includes the game box itself. That’s right, you’ll be placing column walls around the box and mosaics on the top, which has now been transformed into the palace gardens to create a spatial puzzle element of the game.
As construction takes place, Cleopatra will be slowly inching towards her palace. When she arrives, it means she’s ready to inspect everyone’s efforts. Here’s where things get tense. Standing back, looking at your work, you may feel immensely proud of that beautiful Sphinx you built. But then you grimace as you remember it took two corrupt courtesans and a beggar to complete it. You can hear the growling of a hungry crocodile nearby…
Cleopatra and the Society of Architects is a fun game involving elements of set collection, push-your-luck, token management and hidden info. And of course it’s incredibly thematic, which I love. The three dimensional palace is immediately eye catching and as with all Days of Wonder games, a great deal of care has been put into the game’s components and overall aesthetic. It requires a healthy level of competitiveness and strategic thinking, but it’s not a heavy game. I find 4 players is ideal. A usual game runs at around 60 minutes and ends with many laughs as the architect who played the dirtiest is revealed.
Good luck trying to resist the charms of the corrupt worshippers! Cleopatra and the Society of Architects gets 9 crocodiles out of 10.