Board Game Review: Under the Pyramids | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

Board Game Review: Under the Pyramids

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I’m a big fan of Eldritch Horror and love the narrative it creates. The expansions have been coming fast and furious and the second big box entry is Under the Pyramids. Adding a new sideboard, the expansion focuses on the tombs of dark and forgotten pharaohs.

The Basics. Throughout everything, the expansion has an Egyptian theme. It includes two new Ancient Ones – including the dark pharaoh, Nephron-Ka. New investigators also break onto the scene, including a few with some remarkable and unique abilities.

Like other recent expansions, Under the Pyramids also features prelude cards that give you a chance to start the game off differently. Plus, you get impairment tokens. Some of the encounters in this expansion will cause you to impair your abilities – reducing your effectiveness in various skills.

Impairment tokens aren't cool, bro

Impairment tokens aren’t cool, bro

But the main addition is the side board. As with Mountains of Madness, you get a new side board for characters to travel to. This one displays environs around Egypt and gives you a chance to mill around in Cairo, Alexandria, or the Bent Pyramid. But what sets this board apart from the previous one is the Local Paths. Players can travel a local path at any time on their turn without using an action. This is great because it gives you freedom of movement. And, even though the board adds a ton of stuff to do, it doesn’t add a significant number of spaces that’ll slow you down.

You also get more of everything else – monsters, encounters, etc. While neat, the sideboard is not included in every game of Eldritch. As with the previous expansion, there is one particular Ancient One who requires its use, as well as one prelude.

The Bent Pyramid is just a hop away from Cairo

The Bent Pyramid is just a hop away from Cairo

The Feel. One of the best aspects of Eldritch Horror is how the unique research encounter decks create a strong narrative that really make you feel like you are facing a particular and definite threat. Under the Pyramids dramatically succeeds at this. The research encounters for Nephron-Ka have you constantly looking for Egyptian relics. In fact, that Ancient One drags you closer to the Bent Pyramid with every reckoning. Places like San Francisco and Sydney become far less important than staying near North Africa.

The new investigators, too, have some of the most interesting abilities in the game. One, Rex Murphy, starts the game cursed. He gets a special amulet that allows him to re-roll all his dice, so it isn’t as terrible as it might be (though still bad). But when he removes his curse, he gets a free clue, a free skill improvement … and another curse. Effectively, he’ll never be un-cursed. But his ability allows him to “level up” over the course of the game. He starts fairly helpless, but can become a powerhouse at game end.

The new investigators are pretty neat

The new investigators are pretty neat

Like Mountains of Madness, the use of the side board is muted. It isn’t something that will appear every game. This is good for two reasons. First, it makes the appearance of the side board a special event and helps to distinguish those games from more traditional affairs. And second, it allows you to keep some of the components in the box instead of bloating out every single game. Plus, it won’t be obtrusive when you’re defending against a thematically distinct Ancient One.

And I adore the use of Local Paths. While the Mountains of Madness sideboard is a fun excursion, it could be difficult to travel around it. It might take several turns to get to your destination, all while Mythos cards and gates piled on you. By contrast, the Egypt board has several entrance spaces and the local paths make it much easier to get precisely where you want to be. The “hassle” of the board is reduced and the fun quotient is increased.

Under the Pyramids hits just the right tone. On the one hand, they give you more for the base game – encounters, monsters, etc. But on the other, they stretch out with interesting new mechanics and a thematic feel that won’t intrude where it doesn’t belong. It feels like a mature expansion. The design team is adding substance to the game while minimizing the amount of extra bloat.

The dark pharaoh and the dead

The dark pharaoh and the dead

Components: 4.5 of 5. It’s Fantasy Flight so you know the components are stellar. Chits are on thick card board and the cards are the same high quality with no apparent color mismatches from prior expansions or the base game.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 4 of 5. While this is largely unchanged from the base game, I think the new investigators do a good job of injecting strategy into the mix. You get different and interesting choices for actions and abilities. This means you’ll have more than just the spell-guy or the monster-killer. Those new considerations are welcome.

Mechanics: 4 of 5. As with every expansion, it borrows from the base game. But what Under the Pyramids adds is great. The way the narrative builds, yet is contained. The local paths and new investigator abilities. Even the impairment tokens, while they make the game harder, are an interesting challenge.

Replayability: 3 of 5. Under the Pyramids extends replay value by adding more investigators and more Ancient Ones, as well as new encounters. While some of the additions, like preludes and the side board, won’t be used every game, it nevertheless enhances replayability by increasing the options.

Spite: 0 of 5. As a co-op game, there is no spite.

"Despair" is a condition I've unofficially acquired on previous games

“Despair” is a condition I’ve unofficially acquired on previous games

Overall: 4 of 5. I was fairly impressed with this expansion. Moving around the sideboard is less of a chore than it was in the previous big box and it altogether has a more appealing theme. The mysteries of the pyramids just lend themselves to a lot more flavor than the South Pole does. And that theme is cohesively represented and awesomely reinforced.

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