Last year one of my favorite games was Tom Cleaver’s Valley of the Kings, a deck-building game that required you to weed things out of your deck in order to score points. This year, AEG published a stand-alone sequel to the game, Valley of the Kings: Afterlife.
At a glance: Valley of the Kings: Afterlife is a deck-building game for 1 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 45 minutes to play. It retails for $19.99 and is available now. The original game is not required to play, but when combined with the original game, you can play with up to 6 people. The solitaire rules, available online, are also included in the rulebook this time.
- 96 Artifact cards
- 4 Tomb cards
- 4 Reference cards
The components are the same type as the original: nice, linen-finish cards as you’d expect from AEG, in a small, portable box. I did find that you can make both sets of cards (the original and the sequel) fit into a single box if you want.
Afterlife uses similar colors as the originals for the various sets of cards, but more saturated so that if you mix the sets you can still tell them apart. The starting cards for players are exactly the same as the original, but the rest of the cards are new. This time there are Mummification, Jewelry, Chambers, Weapons, and Tomb Art (along with the set of Unique cards).
As I mentioned before, the cards can be a little busy visually but they are fairly easy to decipher. There’s a cost for each card, a gold value if you use it as money, a card ability, and some flavor text providing historical details about the item on the card. At the bottom is small text that indicates what set the card belongs to as well as the number of different types of cards in that set (or a VP value for the starting cards and Unique cards).
How to play
The rulebook is available as a PDF here.
Since the gameplay is identical to the original game, I’ll refer you to my explanation in my original review here, with a few more notes about the new cards.
Since the starting cards and the Tomb are identical, with both games you would have 8 sets of starting cards, and you can easily increase the number of players to 6. However, the designer doesn’t recommend going beyond 6 players (and, after all, if you have 8 players, you could just have two games going concurrently). The rulebook has information about recommended tweaks for more players, by combining some of the sets to make supersets based on the number of players you have. You can also use the supersets rules to make the game longer for fewer players.
You can, of course, also mix and match sets. Each game has sets of 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 unique types, with 2 copies of each type. You could swap out one set for the other–for instance, the 4 Canopic Jar types (8 cards total) from the original could be replaced by the 4 Jewelry types from Afterlife. Or, you could take half of each set: mix one unique set of Canopic Jars with one unique set of Jewelry. That introduces more variety in card types and abilities, but makes it harder to collect an entire set because you’ve only got one chance at each card.
In Afterlife, there aren’t any new types of abilities (that is, you won’t have to learn any new game terms) but there’s a different mix of things. For instance, there are more cards that manipulate the Boneyard, the discard pile where sacrificed cards go. The Dagger lets each player take one card from the Boneyard if there are enough to go around. The Judgement card, on the other hand, lets the player sacrifice any number of cards from their hand to take cards from the Boneyard.
There are also more cards that have direct effects on other players–some good, some bad. In the original game, one powerful strategy was to strip down your deck so that you were cycling through your entire deck nearly every turn. Now there are some cards that can counter that strategy, or at least provide benefits to those who have larger decks and discard piles.
Afterlife is a fantastic follow-up to Valley of the Kings. It adds a whole new set of cards for you to play around with, but I particularly love that it’s a stand-alone game. Sure, AEG could have released the game without all the starting cards in an even smaller box, but I like the flexibility for players to pick up one or the other without having to get both. I haven’t played with more than 4 players yet, but I appreciate the option of having the game work with bigger groups.
I think Tom Cleaver did a great job on the new abilities. As he explains in his Design Diary, it’s common for new players not to buy enough gold-value cards early in the game. And then when the Level 3 cards start showing up, they can’t afford anything. In Afterlife, there are still cards that cost a little less in Level 3, so those players aren’t totally out of the game. And the added player interaction is great, for those who feel that deck-building games often feel like multi-player solitaire. You’ll have lots of opportunities to affect your opponents’ hands and discard piles throughout. The “Senet Game” card is like a hot potato, going into another player’s discard pile in exchange for a set card from their hand.
Even if you haven’t played the original game, I highly recommend giving Valley of the Kings: Afterlife a try. It still amazes me how much gameplay Cleaver was able to wring out of a small set of cards, and there are meaningful choices to make on nearly every turn. Valley of the Kings: Afterlife is available in stores and online now.
Disclosure: Review copy provided by AEG.