Playing dice games out in the middle of the desert can be a trying task. You throw the dice and they just land without actually rolling.
“Look! I just got seven 6s!!!!”
“Nonsense, you just tossed them there!”
Not to mention that it’s hot. Very hot.
Throwing dice may have been even more difficult in Ancient Egypt. I wouldn’t know, I wasn’t there.
Or was I?
Anyway, even if you don’t know what it was like, you can certainly get the feel of rolling dice to try to become the Pharaoh with Favor of the Pharaoh, the dice rolling game published by Bezier Games in 2015.
Favor of the Pharaoh was designed by Tom Lehmann with art by Ollin Timm and is a re-skin of Lehmann’s To Court the King. I have only played Court online once or twice, but I definitely have to say that I prefer Favor.
Gameplay is really simple. A set of tiles is laid out that increase in power and “cost” as they go up. Players start with three red dice (colour is important, as will become clear) and a number of scarab tokens depending on where you are in the start order (none if you’re first player, then one, two and three as it goes around). These tokens either grant you a re-roll of one die or the ability to increase a die pip by one.
On their turn, players roll their dice. They have to keep at least one of them in their little pyramid (if pyramids had this many holes for real, archaeology would be a lot easier!), but can re-roll as many others as they want, each time keeping at least one.
Once a player has finished their dice-rolling, they use the dice they’ve kept to purchase one tile that’s laid out in the stacks. These tiles can do anything from allowing you to manipulate dice to giving you extra dice to start each turn.
For example, the Farmer gives you one more red die to start each turn. The Builder gives you a scarab token every turn and a white die to start each turn.
Which brings me to the colour of the dice.
Favor of the Pharaoh has tons of dice. I mean, literally tons of dice (Editors Note: not literally, but it feels like it).
Many of the dice are red, but there are other colours as well. White dice, for example, are “immediate” dice. This means that while you can manipulate them with any tile powers you have, they must be saved. They can’t be re-rolled.
Other colour dice (purple, green, black, orange, blue, yellow) have some special abilities or limitations. Orange dice only have 1-4 on them (they’re Serfs so not that great) while the yellow Noble dice only have 3-6 on them. Which one is more important depends on what the costs of other tiles are. If a tile requires “Three 6’s and a Pair of 1’s”, then you can’t be rolling a bunch of yellow dice (or orange ones either) by themselves.
Play continues around until a player rolls a Seven of a Kind and claims the Queen tile. This makes that player the Pharaoh (I guess she impresses easily), and he is holding court for a final roll-off. Anybody who didn’t get a turn this round (which is why knowing who is first player is so important) gets an extra die for their turn and tries to beat the current high score.
For example, if you rolled seven 5’s to claim the queen, the players around the table, starting with the one to your left, participate in the roll-off. If the next player rolls seven 6’s, they take the Pharaoh and the next player has to beat that, with eight 1’s or something like that.
If anybody other than the original Queen-claimer has the Pharaoh once all players have participated, the player who triggered the roll-off gets one more chance to reclaim Pharaoh status. (I can just imagine this really happening in Ancient Egypt). The Queen tile gives that player one more die that they can use as any number they want in addition to the dice they start with.
Whoever wins the roll-off wins the game! And gets to bury all of these tiles in their tomb with them when they die.
Because that’s how Pharaohs roll.
Did I like it?
Favor of the Pharaoh is a really fun dice game. Like any dice game, there is a lot of luck, but there are so many opportunities to manipulate the dice that it’s rare you will actually be able to say that luck killed your chances of winning.
Of course, that depends on your ability at the start to get the manipulation tiles. If that doesn’t happen, you are at Lady Luck’s mercy, and she is not always a forgiving soul.
But for the most part, luck is mitigated a great deal.
It’s always fun chucking dice, which is one reason this game is still in my collection.
The artwork on the tiles is beautiful, really immersing you in that Ancient Egypt feel. The tiles are thick and sturdy, giving that tactile feel that many gamers love in their games.
There’s also a great deal of variety in the tiles that are available. It also helps that the costs of the tiles can vary too, making it even more replayable.
It can be a bit of a bear to set up, but Bezier Games has done a couple of things to make that a lot easier.
First, the tiles that are available each game are randomized. You can do it using dice rolls as shown on the tiles, or you can use the nice little app that Bezier produced that runs on both iOS and Android. This randomizer will have you up and running in no time.
I know you’re next question. Isn’t the next annoying thing actually finding the tiles?
Not at all!
The insert is amazing, and one of the few that I will never throw out.
It’s built to organize the tiles into their logical groupings so you just grab the stack, pull out the ones you need, and put the rest back. It also has a lot of space for the dice.
The game comes with enough dice for everybody to use if they pass them around.
But what’s the fun of that?
That’s why you can also buy extra dice direct from Bezier Games so everybody basically has their own set, no matter how many starting dice they’ve earned through tiles. I received my extra ones because I pre-ordered the game when it first came out.
It really comes in handy.
The game does have a couple of minor points that detract from it, however.
The pyramids are pretty flimsy. When all of the other components are so awesome, the flimsy pyramids are a bit disappointing.
Secondly, while I love the insert, one thing it doesn’t do is let you store or carry the game on its side. If you do that, dice and tiles will be all over the place.
Finally, while there is a lot of variety in the tiles, it can start to feel a bit “samey” after a little while. Dice games do have this problem to begin with, but many of them are short and don’t require that much set up, so it’s not much of an issue.
Favor of the Pharaoh doesn’t have those caveats, so you may have to take a break from it occasionally.
All of that aside, though, I love Favor of the Pharaoh and I highly recommend it for those of you who like chucking dice.
You will be chucking a lot of them!
Bonus points to you if you play while dressed in the Pharaoh’s headdress.