Bruno Cathala &
Ludovic Maublanc





Proven by the undeniably high quality of their last smash-hits Schatten über Camelot and Zug um Zug, DAYS OF WONDER has created quite an expectation among the audience of gamers so that they could be sure that their newest game Kleopatra und die Baumeister would be object of close scrutiny and comparison with the previously published titles. Being rather fond of DAYS OF WONDER`s company policy to publish sophisticated games with premium graphics and components, I could not wait to lay my hands onto the new game to find out whether the game would hold true to the wonderful flair of promise which the teasing website - online for a few months now - had created.

Already upon unpacking the box I could not help but observe that I had not seen a game with such rich playing equipment for a long time. Making use of the gamebox for a basic palace structure and coming equipped with a whole set of plastic palace parts such as obelisks, sphinxes, columns, archways etc, the game strongly reminded me of older MB games which also hosted a plethora of plastic objects to give the game an outstanding look. However, I was quite sure that here the similarities would end, since I knew that DAYS OF WONDER usually lays great importance on the creation of some unique, captivating rules, whereas MB games quite often tend to be quite unimaginative dice-rolling games. Still, there always lingers a prejudice that the presence of spectacular plastic parts usually serves to cover that fact that players have less strategic options, and here Kleopatra und die Baumeister would have to show whether it could stand true with the previous DAYS OF WONDER products.


The game itself tells the story of the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra who has charged her most able architects with the task of building for her a spectacular palace in the Nile-Delta. On this basis, the players who have assumed the roles of the architects have set out to compete to become the most able architect by building the most valuable palace parts and thus to rise in Cleopatra`s esteem. Acquiring and building palace parts either through legal or illegal means, the game will be won by the player who has acquired most talents (old egyptian currency) at the end of the game, but before the victor is established there first will be made a sacrifice in which the most corrupt player in the game will be fed to the holy crocodiles. Thus, the player who has resorted most to illegal means to acquire his building materials will drop out of the final evaluation, and only then the richest remaining player will be the true winner.

As preparation, the multitude of available gaming parts are prepared and spread among the table. The basic structure of the palace is set up by the upturned gamebox and a courtyard in front, and around or on top these two structures all the palace parts will be built. A figure of Cleopatra is placed in front of the five steps through the courtyard, and every time during the game when a whole part of the palace (for example ALL sphinxes, or ALL obelisks etc) has been finished Cleopatra will move one step forwards. Thus, the game comes to its end when the fifth of the six palace parts was finished and Cleopatra has made the final step. Next to the palace the quarry is placed, and here rest all the palace parts: 9 sets of columns, 6 sphinxes, 2 obelisks, a two-part archway, a two-part throne and 12 parts of the Mosaic of the Gods. Also prepared is the deck of building cards. Most of these cards show one of the five building materials needed in the game, but there also are some corruption cards included displaying double quantities of building materials or doubtful personalities offering help by giving the players some illegal advantage. The players receive three random building cards as starting equipment, and in addition each player gets a starting capital of five talents, three trader counters (each of which may be used once as a joker to substitute any one building material) and a "corruption pyramid" in which each player stores his corruption amulets which he may acquire during the game by resorting to some unlawful actions. The rest of the building cards is newly shuffled (with half of the cards being shuffled face up into the deck) and the top three cards - either face up or face down - are placed to form the three booths of the "resources market". Having finished the game setup, the contest may start.

It might sound a bit astonishing after all these preparation measures, but a player only has the two basic options to chose whether he either wants to visit the "resources market" or the quarry during his turn. At the market, the player choses one of the three market booths and takes all building cards displayed there into his hand. Afterwards, he draws three new building cards from the remaining stockpile and distributes these cards on his liking equally among all three market booths so that the market is refilled. Due to the special way the deck of building cards was prepared at the beginning of the game, the player at most times only will be able to see part of the cards he chooses. Inevitably there will also be face-down cards at the market, and here a player must take the risk to find cards he might not like. At the end of his turn, a player also will have to check his hand of cards whether he holds more than 10 building cards, in which case he must either take one corruption amulet and discard all cards in excess of ten or take one corruption amulet for every card he keeps in excess of ten.

Instead of going to the market, a player also may chose to go to the quarry, and here he has the possibility to purchase and build new palace parts with his building cards. Basically, each kind of palace parts has its own price in term of building cards, and the more expensive a card is the more talents a player will receive upon building such a part. Thus, building one of the nine columns costs a player one labourer, one block of stone and one wood and brings the player three talents, whereas the building of a throne part instead costs three labourers, two blocks of marble and two gems, but it brings the player 12 talents. When building, a player may use both the normal building cards and the "corrupt" building cards with double quantities of a desired material, but whenever using such a material the player has to take a corruption amulet which he places within his pyramid. The player may build as many palace parts as he desires (or can afford) during his turn, but he may not forget to move Cleopatra forwards for one space in the courtyard if he should build the last palace part of a kind.

Once the player has finished building, he will end his turn by rolling the five sacrificial dice of the High Priest. These special dice have mostly empty sides but each dice also displays a Priest symbol. The player rolls only the dice not yet displaying the Priest symbol, and all the Priest symbols then are kept for the next player`s building phase which once again ends with the player rolling the sacrificial dice. However, if at the end of a player`s building phase all five sacrificial dice should display the Priest symbol, a special sacrificial ceremony will take place. In this ceremony, each of the players secretly choses an amount of talents for sacrifice, and all players then reveal their sacrifice at the same time. The player with the highest sacrifice will be allowed to take three corruption amulets from his pyramid and discard them, whereas all other players have to draw some corruption amulets corresponding to the value of their sacrifice.

The game ends once all palace parts of five of the six kinds have been built. At that time all players reveal their number of corruption amulets and the player with most corruption amulets will be ceremoniously fed to the crocodiles. Afterwards, the remaining player with most talents has won the game.

This effectively outlines the basic playing mechanism of a gameturn in Kleopatra und die Baumeister, but I guess we would be a bit disappointed if the game would really stop here. So far we have seen a more or less common collection and purchase mechanism, including the nice, inventive twist of the removal of one player before the final evaluation takes place. However, a good deal of playing fun and calculation is added by the special scoring rules which are assigned to most of the palace pieces so that the purchase of a palace piece at a proper moment may yield an additional sum of talents or an other benefit for the player.

  • Most interesting here is the Mosaic of the Gods, the parts of which are placed within the palace garden which has its place on top of the gamebox. The differently shaped parts of the Mosaic of the Gods slowly cover the garden, but the clever placement of Mosaic tiles may create garden areas which cannot not be covered with the remaining Mosaic tiles anymore. If a player should succeed in creating such a "sanctuary", he may place one of his two Anubis-statues within the sanctury. At the end of the game, the player will be allowed to discard one corruption amulet for each space his sanctuary consists of. Also, additional talents may be scored by the covering of palm-spaces in the garden, so that the good placement of a Mosaic tile may bring some nice advantages for a player.
  • Also interesting are the columns which are build at spaces along the outer ridge of the gamebox. Here a player may look for spaces where the Mosaic of the Gods on top of the box is close to the outer border of the garden, and for each space where a column can be placed adjacent to a Mosaic of the Gods tile the player will receive an additional talent.
  • Directly connected to the columns are the two parts of the entrance archway. Here the builder of the archway will receive as many additional talents as there are column-parts in an unbroken chain adjacent to the archway.
  • Finally, the sphinxes also form a special scoring mechanism. The sphinxes are placed in pairs next to Cleopatra`s pathway, and whereas the first sphinx of a pair only will count for two talents, the second sphinx which completes a pair always will be worth five talents.

Apart from the palace parts, we also may not forget the special personalities which are mixed into the building deck and upon the help of which a player may call for some unlawful assistance. However, as with the corrupt building materials, each of these personalities also has a price in terms of corruption amulets which a player has to take when calling upon assistance from such sinister sources.

  • The Beggar allows the player the collection of additional resources. Each other player must surrender either one building card or two talents to the player of the Beggar.
  • The Bootlegger comes in handy if a player has too many cards after visiting the market. The player may keep all cards in excess of ten by just paying taking corruption amulet.
  • Beautiful but also dangerous and useful is the Courtesan, since she allows her player to search the pile of discarded cards for a cards of his liking. He may chose a card from the stack, but he is not obliged to show the others which card he has chosen.
  • The Legate establishes contact with other players, and his player may ask others for a building card. If such a card is offered, the active player may take it, but he also receives a corruption amulet from the donor of the card.
  • Rising in standing and power, we now turn to the Scribe. He allows his player to build a Mosaic of the Gods tile of his choice, not just the topmost of the quarry. Alternatively, the Scribe also may be used to change one of the sacrificial dice.
  • Most powerful and only included once in the stack of building cards is the Vizier. He allows a player to take secretly the five topmost cards of the building cards deck. However, for each card he wants to keep the player has to take one corruption marker.

As you can see, it is especially the special building rules and the corruption cards through which variation and an increased element of tactics comes into the game. Foremost, the question where and when to build palace parts often is a matter of timing and speculation, and a player constantly has to align his hand of cards to reflect the changing conditions of the palace construction site. Thus, it may be advisable to hold back some cards in the hope of building an even larger and more valuable palace part, but refraining from action too long could mean a decisive waste of time which no player can afford.

This brings me to an observation which I think notable of Kleopatra und die Baumeister, although it may not necessarily be called a real weakness. During playtesting, I noticed that the game does not really offer the players a possibility to develop a long-term strategy. A player`s actions and planning are pretty much restricted to the current turn and perhaps the one or two turns thereafter, but it is virtually impossible to plan a development on a longer scale. It is simply too unpredictable how the "resources market" will develop and how the other players will contribute to the progress on the palace, so that the ever changing conditions will force a player to concentrate on his current need to score as high as possible without resorting too often to illegal means.

It is this observation which gives the game a somewhat other background than Schatten über Camelot, Zug um Zug or Piratenbucht. All of these games had an element of advance planning which was much more pronounced as now in Kleopatra und die Baumeister, but I guess that the people at DAYS OF WONDER deliberately decided to go for a game with other strengths. Kleopatra und die Baumeister stands fully in accordance with the company doctrine to publish good family boardgames, and it rather succeeds in uniting nice, inventive twists like the dropping of one player, the special sacrifices and the clever building rules into a game with a high entertainment value. The game demands of the players a keen eye for making the most useful scoring, a will to take risks and - if they keep at least partly track of the other players drawing of cards and taking of corruption amulets - some strategic thinking in order to evaluate their best options at their current position. Keeping in mind these strengths and saluting once again to the perfect design of the game`s graphics and components, I deem Kleopatra und die Baumeister a worthy addition to DAYS OF WONDER`s ever growing range of remarkable boardgames!

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Copyright © 2006 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany