Favor of the Pharaoh
Reviewed by: Dave
Rise from the ranks of ancient Egypt’s peasantry to a meeting with the Pharaoh himself! Gain the influence of your fellow Egyptians with the power of dice! Which may have been the best way for an actual Egyptian peasant to meet the Pharaoh, come to think.
Favor of the Pharaoh is an engine-building game, but unlike most such games where the engine involves building up money, workers, or some other resource that one might expect to multiply faster the more you have of it, this engine is based entirely around dice. Players start with three red dice; with each roll, players must lock at least one die and reroll whichever others they choose. Depending on the outcome of the first roll, a player might gain a permanent buff or a temporary one, but eventually players begin to build a team of people who add dice or affect dice rolls in particular ways. More dice give players the opportunity to move up the grid- stronger buffs anywhere from four to seven dice to complete- while dice alterations allow them a better opportunity to make the combinations they need to gain stronger buffs and improve their dice engine further. Making seven of a kind earns that player the Queen’s favor and triggers the endgame, where each other player tries to make a better combo (bigger seven of a kind, eight of a kind or more, etc).
Although the game is so straightforward a single paragraph can explain it, players will usually gain enough methods of altering dice rolls as to require strategy in deciding what type of combination to chase after the first roll of a turn, as well as when to use the alterations available. Giving players more to consider than just the straight odds of the dice coming up with certain numbers is unusual in a dice-based game, and never happens to this extent. There is also good replayability, as the game comes with many more tiles than can be used in a single sitting, and can be combined in a substantial number of ways. Given that the luck of the dice is some kind of a factor no matter how strong your engine becomes, this means the game is usually not going to be playable with the same rote strategy, which is a very good aspect.
On the other hand, the positives of being able to create a tableau that gives you enormous control over your dice comes with one real drawback: the question of how long it will take to gain the pieces you need to exert that control. A few bad rolls at the start can leave a player still grasping for a lucky turn of the dice when her opponents have started flipping and boosting their rolls to gain precisely the combos they need, turning their engines into runaway machines. The way the math works, it’s quite unlikely a player will have little to work with after the first three or four turns without taking some bad risks, which is probably the best a person can hope in terms of control from a game based entirely around dice. But the possibility for a frustrating experience regardless of a player’s decisions exists, so players should be willing to accept that and understand that, should it happen, the next game will probably be much different.
Overall, it fills a niche for players who like games with a clear amount of chance, but also room for a good amount of strategic thinking (even if it’s usually on a turn-by-turn basis rather than planning ahead). Would recommend at least one playthrough for anyone.