Updated: Feb 27
One of the banes of the board game buyer is the oversized box. Many publishers labour under the delusion that if they don't put their game into a 12 inch by 12 inch box no-one will buy it. That often means boxes padded out with cardboard or plastic inserts to more than twice the size needed for the actual components. Hats off, therefore, to Oink Games. Oink have gone the alternative route of cramming an often unfeasibly large number of components into a compact (4.5 inch by 2.5 inch) box.
And Oink have an enviable track record too for publishing good, often innovative and usually easy-to-play games.
Open the Pyramid's Deadline box and it certainly looks like a repeat of the successful Oink formula. Inside the small box you'll find a heap of cardboard shapes and a set of custom wooden dice. The premise of the game is that players are architects in Ancient Egypt and they are competing to build the most impressive (ie: highest scoring) pyramid. Each round, the dice are rolled and players in turn take a die and the shape shown on it, adding that shape to their pyramid. Squares ultimately act as a game timer, representing the Pharaoh's mortality. You can declare your pyramid complete and so add no further shapes to increase its score: this avoids the risk of being the player who has to take the last square (this 'causes' the Pharaoh's death and means that player will automatically lose).
Designed by Jun Sasaki, the Pyramid's Deadline sounds simple and eminently playable. The problem is that the rules (or at least, the English translation of the rules as supplied in the box) are inordinately confusing about how tiles can be laid and about the end-game penalties and scoring. Sure, there's nothing here that you can't sort by agreeing your own house rules, but, for such a seemingly simple game, you just don't expect to face so many arguments about how to play.
If ever a game demanded a clearer, simpler set of rules, it's this one. Let's hope Oink take another look at the rules and publish an improved version. In the meantime, The Pyramid's Deadline is nonetheless worth considering. It incorporates an individual puzzle element as each player has to decide for themselves how best to utilise the shapes they take. The game play involves some strategic choices, including deliberately denying opponents a piece they need and taking squares to hasten the Pharaoh's demise in the hope of catching other players out. There's much to enjoy here, just don't even think about playing until the players have first agreed on a mutually accepted interpretation of the rules.