21st Aug2019

‘Luxor’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

luxor-box

Not everyone has heard of Germany’s Spiele Des Jahre award, but to provide a basic translation of what it is; it’s Germany’s way of declaring the best game of a given year. There are several categories, with one of the most prestigious being the Kritikerpreis, which broadly means the Critics Choice. Games that win this category are usually those that embody what dedicated fans like to see in games – fast turns, clever mechanics and meaningful decisions. Whilst it didn’t win, Luxor was a nominee for the Kritikerpreis in 2018, which means it is a game to be taken very seriously.

Luxor is simple to setup, very fast to play and filled with interactions. There is a decent shot of luck involved, but where chance has an impact on gameplay, it affects all players equally to the extent that no one player should feel that they have been disadvantaged in any way. Like most classic board games, the objective of Luxor is to score the most points at the end of the game, and based on my experience, it’s a game that rewards steady and meaningful progress with rushing ahead for the best prizes in a broadly equal manner.

The concept of Luxor is simple. Each player controls a party of adventurers (beginning with two and rising to five) who will explore an ancient pyramid, with the aim being to reach the valuable sarcophagi in a central burial chamber. The first and second player to reach these sarcophagi will score significant bonus points, with the other players who reach the chamber later scoring a much more modest amount. Those who simply don’t reach the chamber won’t score at all, but that can be OK if enough points have been collected from other sources along the way.

The board in Luxor is made up of a series of individual spaces that loop around the edge and wind down towards the central chamber. Players actually make progress along them by playing cards, in what is perhaps Luxor‘s most unique feature. When playing a card, the player may only choose to use the card from either the top or bottom of their deck – giving them two movement values to choose from. They may move any one of their adventurers, and whilst each player begins with only two, others can be collected further into the pyramid up to a maximum of five.

Each space will contain a tile of some kind – either treasure or one of the special tiles relating to an ancient God. Treasure tiles can be collected for points simply by placing enough meeples of your colour onto the space. Horus tiles allow the player landing on them to take a bonus, such as a powerful Horus card which allows the player to change the normal movement rules in one way or another. The idea, of course, is to manage your pieces to move in the most efficient way and claim as much treasure as possible.

As the game draws closer to its conclusion, the behaviour of the players will change. The first and second players into the main burial chamber will take five and three point bonus tokens respectively, as well as triggering the end game. Players may only enter the burial chamber if they have gathered keys, however, so there’s a bit of preparation that has to go into making the final run. Each space has a score on the wall next to it, and the more adventurers that each player can get into the burial chamber, the higher their finishing score will be.

These closing turns tend to be a bit of a race, even if up until that point your plan was to work methodically to gain treasure. This leads to a really exciting end to each game of Luxor, because once it becomes clear that one or more players are going for the burial chamber, the rest of the players will be caught up in the infectious desire to race to the bottom as well. Without a shadow of a doubt, Luxor is far better at higher player counts, with four being my favourite and two being my least loved variant. That said, when played with just two, Luxor takes on a very different feel that can either be extremely confrontational, or a little disconnected, with the two players more or less doing their own thing.

As a Queen Games product, Luxor is very nicely produced. The cards are clear and of good quality, with artwork on them which is not especially exciting, but completely functional which is the most important thing. The various treasure tiles, scarab and key tokens and other features are thick, chunky and easy to handle, whilst the wooden adventurer meeples, although small, are well cut and richly detailed in a unique shape that reflects an adventurer on the move. Like most Queen manuals, the instructions are brief and simple, but there’s a lot of information on every page and you may need to sit back and take your time with them.

The actual experience of playing Luxor is fast and fun. A turn is made up of a simple decision and then essentially a very straightforward action which (usually) involves moving one meeple. As more pieces are introduced, turns slow down slightly, but because you know which cards you can choose from and which pieces are in play, you can plan ahead almost every turn. The interactive element in Luxor comes almost exclusively from stealing treasure from under the nose of another player, and this is the only thing that can really “spoil” your turn before it rolls around.

The level of interaction, as I mentioned before, can feel a bit stingy when played with two players, if both insist on spiting each other. It’s much more likely (and efficient) though, if both players focus on their own aims, coming together only occasionally when they happen to have cards that land their adventurers on the same spaces. At four players, this is unavoidable, but it feels less confrontational and more like a chaotic rush, which I think is how the game is intended to feel. the closing turns are always an exciting race, and I really love they come together.

Overall, Luxor is a fun racing and set collection (there are bonuses for sets of different treasure tiles) game that is light and fast to learn, but filled with interesting and enjoyable decisions. Luxor excels at three or four players and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, making it an ideal game to add to any light to midweight games collection. It’s also a fairly unique proposition that doesn’t feel quite the same as any other game, which means that it will likely occupy a space in my collection for a long time to come.

**** 4/5

Luxor is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator

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