Pharaoh's Heir

Players 3-4 (includes rules for 2-player variant)
Length 45-90 mins
Equipment Required2 piecepacks (1 'pack for 2- or 3-player game), 2 different types of tokens (like pennies or matches), optional playmats and score sheet
Designer Phillip Lerche
Version 1.2
Version Date2003-07
License (c)2003 Phillip Lerche, GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1, or later


The setting is ancient Egypt. Pharaoh is dying, and, in a break from tradition, has decided that he will name an heir who will best serve Egypt's interests rather than hand the nation over to his handsome but rather dim-witted first-born son. Each player is the leader of a powerful Egyptian Noble Family with the ambition to rise to the level of Pharaoh. Rival Families will provide stiff competition, and all will have to contend with the force of nature that dictates the pattern of Egyptian life -- the River Nile. In flood the Nile can provide increased harvests but may also damage structures, whereas severe drought will cause starvation and suffering.

Pharaoh has issued several decrees. He demands a great harvest, sufficient people to build yet another mighty monument to himself upon his death (most likely a pyramid, although occasionally the Pharaohs preferred big cat-like things), as well as in increase in the worship of (read: sacrifice to) his favorite gods. In return for excelling in these areas of ancient Egyptian life, Pharaoh is willing to make you his heir. Oh, yes, one last thing -- Pharaoh also rewards the Families that develop the most valuable buildings and the most desirable land districts...

What are you waiting for? Get those whips cracking!

Pharaoh's Heir is a German-style game that has at its heart a role-choosing mechanism similar to that found in Puerto Rico and my own KingArthursCourt, where players take turns choosing a role, which signifies a specific phase of the game. The river Nile is represented as a random event 'deck' of tiles. Players participate in civilization building through selection of land tiles which are tuned over randomly each turn. These land tiles are improved by constructing buildings and canals. Once each player's civilization consists of 9 tiles (3 from the starting play mat plus 6 selected) the first round of scoring occurs, after which the play mats are cleared (similar to Amun-Re).

-- Phillip Lerche


Reviews & Comments

One of the RecommendedGames. (./) (./) (./) Winner of the 4th design contest, HistoryRepeatsItself.

Here's what the judge, Rob LeGood, had to say: "The winner of the 4th piecepack contest is "Pharaoh's Heir", a German-style board game set in the lands of Ancient Egypt. The game is basically a rehash of Puerto Rico, with elements of Amun-Re and the classic scoring mechanism of El Grande thrown in. While feeling strongly borrowed from other games, "Pharaoh's Heir" changes it up enough to result in a very enjoyable experience. Two piecepacks are required to play the game, but it's definitely worth it to pick yourself up an extra copy. Our group enjoyed it because there were some tough choices to make throughout the game. I love Puerto Rico and this game uses the main mechanism very well. In fact, one gamer in our group who doesn't enjoy Puerto Rico, enjoyed "Pharaoh's Heir", so there's a glowing review itself. The rules are a tad repetitive, but this is fine as there is little that's questionable about them. All in all a very enjoyable experience, and a worthy winner of the 4th piecepack contest. Congrats!!! (On an aside, if you have a copy of La Citta, use the population tokens from that game in this; it really adds a whole lot to the experience!)"


"Pharaoh's Heir had us all in a brain-bender, attempting to beat the system and each other, struggling each round with tough choices. In one game, even the player far and away in last place was having a good time with it."

Great game with a wonderful theme. Highly recommended for anyone who likes variable phase and power games such as Puerto Rico and Goa. (./) (./) (./) -- ClarkRodeffer

The thing that really stood out to me about this game was the rules, I have been reading and watching lots of discussions about what makes for a good rules document recently and these rules followed all that advice! Whenever something was unclear there was an example to clarify it, whenever I had a question during the game I could quickly and easily find the answer in the rules. The only thing I couldn't find was the two player variant mentioned so I made up my own based on Morten Monrad Pedersen's article about making solitaire versions of multiplayer games.

Two player variant:
Play as for three players with an auto player. Use the dice instead of the pawns to represent the actions and use one ordinary die to represent Land Development. Every time it's the auto player's turn to be the overseer, roll all the unchosen action dice. The one that shows the highest result (Ace=1, Null=6) is the action the auto player will choose, in the case of a tie roll tied dice again. Whenever the land development action is chosen (by anyone) the auto player on its turn to pick will pick the land tile with the highest value, in case of a tie it picks the leftmost one. The auto player does not score.

-- Jessica Eccles

Design Notes

The game started out as an aborted attempt at a Changing Landscapes contest game. I couldn't get the central mechanic to work, and left it alone fairly quickly. When the 4th contest was announced, I went back to it as I really wanted to make it work.

The main feature of the initial game was a river that ran through a kingdom. (The river was four piecepack tiles long and the kingdom was built on either side.) The key point about the river was that it could move - a tile could be added at one end and 'push' the rest of the river down a tile length. This meant that a player's farm or city or whatever that on one turn was adjacent to a lot of water could end up next to less water or no water at all the next turn.

The game also featured a set way each turn developed -- I think it was something like river phase, develop phase, harvest phase, population phase, mining phase, build phase then religious phase. Each phase followed from the previous one, and players had no influence over the phases. The piecepack coins were the villagers, and I did have money and canals/grain. (See some of my other games like Kingdoms of the Middle Sea and Piecepack Subways for other examples of my 'pennies and matches' resource games.) The aim of the game was to have the best kingdom after 6 turns.

Initially the problems were that the river idea worked fine (although it was pretty abstract -- a flood tile could be adjacent to a drought tile on the same river), but the rest was both unbalanced, since if a player got a crop tile earlier than the others it was pretty much predictable that that player would win, and, it was inflexible in that it was really only a game for four players. With two players there wasn't enough interaction, and with three, one player was left alone on one side of the river and the two players on the other side had a harder time competing for resources.

The first major breakthrough was to change the river (which had always been the 6 blue arms tiles) into a river "deck", which functions like the event decks that are present in many games. In fact, I feel that the river "deck" is the central mechanic of the game (more about this later).

This left the problem of an uneven start for the players. I toyed around with different starting setups, but if each player started with three tiles already in play then half the game was over -- plus it was still unbalancing as at that time the numbers on the tiles reflected production ability. The conception of the play mat was the second major breakthrough. All players now started on equal footing with a 'tile' of each type, and all players were now affected in the same way by the river tiles.

The two above changes now made the rest of the phases incredibly boring! If everyone started on an equal footing and did exactly the same thing each phase, then the game ended in a tie -- I had changed the game from an unbalanced one into a very tedious but extremely even one!!

Between the initial idea and this point in the design process I had been playing a lot of Puerto Rico. It is a great game that I am not very good at. I realized that the phases in my game, while linked in various ways, would be very interesting if they happened in a different sequence each turn. And if you give the players the choice of what happens next, then there has to be an incentive for choosing that phase. So I ended up, eventually, using the role-choosing mechanic from Puerto Rico. I'd like to point out that I enjoy games with this type of mechanic, and had in the past designed a piecepack game where this mechanic is also central (King Arthur's Court).

Partly because it came so late in the design process, and partly because of the river "deck" mechanic which had been my initial epiphany, I have never felt the phase selection to be central to Pharaoh's Heir. I saw much later that if you are fresh to the game (and have played Puerto Rico even once) you could at first think I had "rehashed" it. However, there are many differences between the two. Unlike Puerto Rico, all five phases are selected every turn in Pharaoh's Heir. Players also take turns in selecting phases -- thus, downtime between choosing is kept to an absolute minimum, unlike Puerto Rico where you choose last in the turn after you choose first. While it is true that the player choosing the role gains an advantage, that player is also at a disadvantage in all cases except Land development because he or she has to perform the action first.

The final major change was the introduction of the 'period of unrest' where the play mats are cleared. It was at this time that the theme of ancient Egyptian civilization's ups and downs crystallized as part of the game. The design reason for including this is actually so that you don't need to have three piecepacks to play, since a number of turns that was divisible by 4 and 3 -- that is, 12 -- was needed! I was already concerned that people would be put off by the two-piecepack requirement, so I decided to 'reuse' the tiles in a second cycle. This is where the Egypt theme, as well as a sense of the game repeating history within itself, came from. As a note, I had included this in the game by the time Amun-Re (a game which uses a similar 'half-time clearing' mechanic) was released, and although I have since read the rules I have not played it -- although I want to!

I tweaked the scoring a lot, as I didn't want it to be too easy for one person to get ahead. At one point, the difference in scores from first through fourth in a resource was large, but in the final version the points scored are much closer together. This kind of scoring is prevalent in many games; I didn't personally associate it with any particular game, although since the whole discussion on re-use of game mechanics I have since read that El Grande is considered one of the first games to get a lot of attention (and awards) that uses this type of scoring. By the way, this is another game that I haven't played before, and want to.

Lastly, I usually make comments on game design within my game rules and Pharaoh's Heir was no exception. I decided at the last minute to remove them. I felt that it would be better to let the judge and his playtesters decide for themselves how the game played, and what mechanics it used. As it turns out Rob, the judge of the contest, saw from one read through that the game had elements used in other games, almost to my poor creation's rejection!! Fortunately for me, the way the game plays saved the day.

-- Phillip Lerche

Background: The Pharaohs and Kingdoms of Ancient Egypt

One of the interesting requirements of the History Repeats Itself contest was inclusion of a description of the history each entry was repeating...

Egypt was ruled by kings, and occasionally queens, all known as Pharaohs, for two and a half millennia. From 2630 BC when Upper and Lower Egypt were first united, until 31 BC when Egpyt became a Roman province, Egyptian culture, civilization and influence dominated the ancient world. However, the good times were interspersed with the bad. Four times of plenty, the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, the New Kingdom and the Late Period, were separated by periods of unrest and decline, often associated with failures of the usual flood of the Nile and resultant famine, known as intermediate periods.

The Pharaohs were treated as living gods, and spent much time preparing for their spirits to enter the afterlife. As living gods, the Pharaohs were considered to be immortal. Of course, advisors to Pharaoh were not stupid, and several "immortals" succumbed to quiet assassination when they proved worthless as leaders. The title of Pharaoh was hereditary, with the first-born son as heir. Female heirs were forced to rule jointly with a male regent and were usually married to a male relative such as a brother or uncle in order to retain dynastic control. During this time Egypt was ruled by 31 numbered dynasties, followed by the Macedonian kings (after invasion of Egypt by Alexander the Great) and finally the Ptolemic dynasty. Egypt passed into the hands of the Romans when the last Ptolemic Pharaoh, the infamous Cleopatra (the VIIth ), took her own life after she and her lover, Marc Antony, lost a conflict with Octavian.

Pharaoh's Heir reflects the repetition of ancient Egyptian history, with the game consisting of a period of unrest sandwiched between two cycles of civilization-building, as well as the dependence of Egypt on the flow of water down the Nile, represented by the Nile tiles. The game offers an alternate history to the hereditary succession of the dynasties by allowing powerful noble families the chance to prove they are worthy of the title of Pharaoh.


BGG Link:

CategoryGame ThemeCivilisationCategory RecommendedGamesCategory