Those of you who are married men can probably relate to this. It's the day before your anniversary and you've nearly forgotten to buy a gift! Lucky for you you're the all powerful ruler of Egypt with a legion of flunkies (well, three or four flunkies anyway) at your disposal. Send your flunkies into the market to get as much loot as they can so you can impress your queen before she pulls a freaky and kicks your sorry butt onto the sandstone recliner in the foyer.
That's all you need to know about the theme behind Nefertiti, one of the new releases from Rio Grande Games. The theme may be kind of pasted on to what is otherwise a pretty abstract bidding/set collecting game but it works and it certainly wins high marks for originality! It also means that you get a whole bunch of very cool Egyptian artwork. The board, bits, and cards are all super attractive and reinforce the theme quite nicely. I was very happy with the presentation.
The rules are deceptively simple. It only took me about fifteen minutes to breeze through the four pages of full color rules; well, six if we count the double-sided reference sheet, which we had better do since the information there is essential and isn't found in the main rule sheet. The rules are presented very clearly and organized very well. Score another point.
The basic goal of the game is to collect item cards. Items are worth points based on two factors: the more of a given item are in the deck, the less it's worth; and the more players have a given item, the less it's worth. So you might prefer to have the rarer items, and you'd like to be the only player who has them.
The way you collect items is by bidding in the market. Each player has some coins and four worker pawns. A turn consists of placing a pawn on a tent in one of the three open markets. Each tent has a value. Each market has a condition that will cause it to close. As an example, one of the markets closes when there is a string of four adjacent pawns in it.
When a market closes, it's scored. Whichever player has placed his pawn on the most valuable space in that market must pay that number of coins into the market's reserve (a small pool of coins associated with that market), for which he receives one or two of the item cards that were placed above that market when it opened. Then each other pawn placed in the market (even if belongs to the same player) awards its owner a choice: either pay the value under that pawn and take any of the remaining cards, or take half of the coins (rounded up) in that market's reserve. This seems pretty simple but it can lead to some very clever play. For instance, if you can manage to get two of your pawns on the most and second most valuable market stalls when the market closes, you can have your first pick of the cards in the market and then immediately take back half of the coins in the market, in some cases paying much less than half the value you might otherwise have paid. It makes for some surprisingly difficult choices. Do you take the cards or take the money? You can't take both although you would dearly love to.
Whenever a market closes, a new market opens up. Each market has unique value structures and unique conditions that cause it to close. This, coupled with the fact that you never know which items will become available in a given market when next it opens, creates a lot of replayability. And I haven't even discussed the special advisor cards which you can buy for a special favor on your turn if you're lucky enough to have a seal.
In case it isn't obvious, I really enjoyed this game. I played it twice last night and even though I lost both times (the first time to a ten year old!) I still enjoyed it quite a bit and am eager to play it again.