Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Card Game Review - The Perfect Pyramid
Most people know about games like rummy or poker, but what they don't know is that Egyptians actually invented these games (in the interest of full disclosure, I made that up). However, the Egyptian versions of these games did not include our four suits and face cards and numbers and what-not. Instead, they had different parts of pyramids on their cards, and instead of trying to match numbers, they had to stack the cards on top of each other to make pyramids. This sometimes required the use of slaves, since the Egyptians did not have standard cards, and used big stone blocks with numbers carved in hieroglyphics (it is worth nothing that it was very easy for Egyptian game geeks to cheat, thanks to the fact that each 'card' was about the size of a large dog, and it was tough to hide them before your opponent could get a peek).
Today, we no longer have these giant stone cards, but thanks to Bucephalus Games, we do have some of the better games the Egyptians played with these cumbersome pieces. Of course, considering shipping cost for games that have to come out of China, it's probably a good thing we don't try to play Cribbage with giant stone blocks. Plus we don't have slaves any more, so there would be lots more back injuries (not that there were not back injuries when slaves were hauling the stones around, but they didn't have health insurance, so nobody really paid attention).
The similarities between Perfect Pyramid and regular ol' cards are pretty obvious. Where set collection in regular cards is done by matching suits or numbers, now you have to find full pyramids, with three base cards, two center cards, and a capstone. Each pyramid comes in one of five colors, and there are two pyramids in each color, only some have black capstones (if that sounds a little confusing, buy the game and you can see what I mean). So you have to collect different sets, but the rules to the games haven't changed much since Cleopatra and Marc Antony played after long days of looking androgynous.
Because pyramids could be constructed out of different color pieces, there are different scores for different pyramids. Like a chaotic pyramid, which is made out of basically random colors, is worth less than a striped pyramid, where each level is from a single color. If the whole pyramid is the same color, it's a perfect pyramid, which is a pretty crazy coincidence, because that's also the name of the game.
One big difference from a regular deck of cards is the inclusion of seven star cards. These are used in different ways in different games, but they basically add a sort of extra suit. Also, they all have really cool cartoony Egyptian art, as an homage to their roots.
In essence, The Perfect Pyramid is just a deck of wacky cards. Four different games are described in the rules, though I suspect you could come up with lots more, if you had the time. You could probably play Hearts, but then it would be Pyramids, which might be confusing since you would be playing Pyramids with Perfect Pyramids, but you probably wouldn't be trying to get Perfect Pyramids, just avoid picking up the mummies and white capstones.
The first game in the box is Pyramid Rummy. This shares a shocking similarity to Rummy, which is probably why the names are so close. You have a hand of 12 cards, and you're trying to build two pyramids before your opponent. I'm not explaining the entire game of Rummy - it's not like the game hasn't been around for a while - but basically, the cards add a cool new twist to an old stand-by favorite. I don't know how many weekends I spent playing Rummy at a cabin in the mountains, but I do know it would have been more fun if I had been using these cards.
Then you've got Solitary Pyramid. If you've ever played Klondike on the computer, you'll probably recognize this one - only instead of trying to stack four columns from king to ace, now you're trying to build pyramids. You flip three cards, start from the bottom up, and build your pyramids. This is a wicked hard game to win, but you do get points for each pyramid you finish, so you can compare your score from game to game.
The third game is Pyramid Poker. It's very exciting to see the origins of poker - you can almost imagine a stone back room full of incense smoke, with a table surrounded by Egyptian men who would have looked tough if they hadn't been wearing eye shadow, betting camels as their slaves hoisted their cards all over and eunechs fanned them with palm fronds. Come to think of it, maybe it's for the best this one came to America. A bunch of cowboys with guns, cigars and facial scars is quite a bit more intimidating than men wearing makeup.
Path to Perfection is the final game in the rulebook, and it's the first one that doesn't closely resemble a game you already know how to play. In this one, players are competing to build two perfect pyramids face-up. You have to start at the bottom and work up, and your pyramids have to be perfect. But to mix it up a little, you also get six dice, three that show colors and three that show pieces, and you can use these dice in conjunction with cards in your hand to cheat a little. This is actually the most interesting game in the box, if just because it's new. It might take a couple hands to understand, but it is definitely an interesting way to use the cards.
It's nice to see Bucephalus Games make another cool game. So far, this and Kachina are the stand-outs, the kinds of games that tend to make up for having to play crappy review copies. But just because I really enjoy The Perfect Pyramid does not mean it doesn't have any flaws.
For one thing, the dice are just white cubes, and you put stickers on them, but the stickers are too big and stick out past the sides of the dice. The dice roll funny, and sometimes they stick to each other. I've seen some slipshod Chinese construction before, but this is just sloppy. Like embarrasing sloppy.
And the cards are really nice, with great art, but the symbols in the corner need to be farther in the corner. When I'm holding 12 regular cards, I know what I've got, but when I'm holding 12 Perfect Pyramid cards, my hand cramps up from trying to fan them enough to see what's in the corner. Compared to the sticker thing, this is practically a non-issue, but it's basically just a design oversight. It doesn't hurt the game, but it can be a little irritating.
Happily, The Perfect Pyramid is still a pretty cool set of games. The art is cute and fun, the games are relaxing and engaging, and the cards are attractive and easy to hold. You can play with your family, your girlfriend, or all by your lonesome, and still have a good time. This is a good solid purchase, and one you won't regret unless you're some snobby jackass who looks down his nose at people who play regular games like Gin and Pinochle.
The Egyptians would probably look down their noses at those people, but they also put skirts on their menfolk, so their judgment is questionable at best.
Fun cartoon art
Clever twist on traditional cards
Enough variety to play with nearly any size group
Great games that are easy to learn and fun to play
Not made out of stone
Symbols are too big and make it hard to read the cards at a glance
Horrible sticker oversight means the stickers are too big for the dice
This one doesn't appear to be out yet. Watch the Bucephalus Games website - hopefully they'll be selling it soon. If you like standard card games, but want to try a cool twist, you really need to get The Perfect Pyramid.
Posted by Matt Drake at 8:52 PM