Review: Favor of the Pharaoh
Designer: Tom Lehmann
Artist: Ollin Timm
Publisher: Bézier Games
Category: Dice Rolling
Price: $49.01 Amazon.com
Favor of the Pharaoh is a dice-rolling game with a light engine-building vibe. An expanded reworking of Tom Lehmann’s To Court the King, Favor of the Pharaoh is an enjoyable family game with lots of variability.
I don’t care for most Tom Lehmann games, but Favor of the Pharaoh is an exception. In this game, players take turns rolling increasingly-large handfuls of dice and using them to claim tiles that offer helpful rewards.
At the start of the game, players create a central tableau, consisting of multiple rows of 4 tiles. Above every row, a narrow “header” bar lists the requirements to claim each tile in it. The higher a row is, the more dice are required to acquire tiles there.
Everyone starts with a tile that grants 3 dice. To begin a turn, the active player rolls all her dice and must keep at least 1 of them.
Here, the player chose to keep both 2’s. Dice that the player does not wish to keep can be rerolled, but after every roll, at least 1 must be locked.
Next, the player chose to reroll the 4, and she had to keep the new result, a 5, since she must always lock a die. When a player is satisfied with her results (or simply has no dice left to reroll), she may claim a tile from the tableau according to what she rolled.
The header bars list the requirements for claiming tiles; a tile might require, for instance, a full house or a straight to claim. (In the example above, the tile requires a pair.) Only 1 tile can be acquired each turn, even if a player‘s results would allow her to take more.
The tiles themselves offer all kinds of bonuses, including extra dice, special dice, dice manipulation, and one-time-use abilities. In addition to the basic, red ones, players might earn white dice, which must be locked immediately after rolling, or colored dice, which have various special rules. (All of them are interesting and powerful in their own, unique ways.)
As players earn more and more dice, their rolls will tend to get better and better. In the topmost row of tiles lies the Queen, who always costs 7-of-a-kind to claim. The titular Pharaoh meeple sits on her tile.
When a player claims the Queen, she also takes the Pharaoh. At this time, the final stage of the game is triggered. All other players get a chance to steal the Pharaoh’s favor by rolling a better result than the player who claimed him. If the Pharaoh was claimed with, say, 7-of-a-kind in 3’s, another player could steal him by rolling the same set with a better result (like 7-of-a-kind in 5’s), or a better set (like 8-of-a-kind). Since opposing players get a chance to steal him, it’s possible that the Pharaoh can get passed around a few times, until someone’s roll is so good that no one can beat it. During this part of the game, things can get pretty tense.
At the end of the game, the player who possesses the Pharaoh wins!
I naturally gravitate toward games with piles of dice, so it’s no surprise that I really enjoy Favor of the Pharaoh. This game has a bit of an engine building flavor, but in the most streamlined, simple sense – spend dice to get more/better dice and abilities. Unlike some engine builders which require lots of bookkeeping and minutiae, this game flows very smoothly.
Thanks to a modular setup, this game has a huge amount of variability. It moves quickly, such that it is easy to play multiple games back-to-back. The components are nicely produced, and the box contains a sturdy plastic insert that organizes everything well.
The game includes 1 set of dice, so players will have to share them throughout the game. Some folks might not care for this, but it doesn’t bother me, and it helps to keep the price point down. (It’s also worth noting that the publisher’s website has extra dice sets available for purchase.)
I haven’t played this game’s predecessor, To Court the King, so I cannot offer a comparison between them. However, from what I understand, Favor of the Pharaoh is a great improvement over the original; personally, I like it a lot. I find it much more intuitive (and much less fiddly) than other Tom Lehmann games I have played. While it may look like a giant dice-fest as first glance, it has a solid game underneath. If, like me, you love family games with tons of dice-chucking fun, I recommend checking out Favor of the Pharaoh!
A review copy was provided by Bézier Games.
The Bottom Line
I enjoy Favor of the Pharaoh a lot. At face value, it looks like it would be a dice-rolling luck-fest, but it offers an unexpected level of strategy.