Players 2-4
Length 20-40 mins
Equipment Required 1 piecepack
Designer Phillip Lerche
Version 2.0
Version Date 2004-07-02
License Copyright © 2004 by Phillip Lerche. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license can be found at


Each player takes the part of an archeologist discovering the secrets of one of the great pyramids and its sacred sarcophagus, hoping to gain the most fame by the end of the expedition.

Sarcophagus with house rules for two players (Daniel Ajoy, public domain)


Reviews & Comments

One of the RecommendedGames. (./) (./) (./)

Sarcophagus is an area majority type game, rather like a simple El Grande or Web of Power, the only one I know of for the piecepack. It fits the restrictions of the piecepack neatly, with every component used. The rules are similarly tidy and organised, with good examples. It also plays quickly, from initial instructions to the end of the game only took about 45 minutes. My only complaint that it is a bit mechanical and lacks the fun or serious skill that would made it a great game. It lacks fun because it does not have much direct player interaction or aggression. I can forgive a game for being serious if there is a lot of skill involved, but there was not a huge amount of that either.

I am not sure what I could suggest that would improve Sarcophagus, because it is a well tested, tight design and I cannot easily see what could change without wrecking it. It might work better with a more serious group of analytical players, but it did not light a spark for us. However, I did not think this is a bad game at all and must congratulate Phillip Lerche for doing such a thorough job. I will definitely check out his other games, like KingArthursCourt and PharaohsHeir.

--IainCheyne, from inconsequential ruminations

I've played a few games of Sarcophagus, and was one of the players who recommended it. I really like the bluffing / majority bidding mechanic, and the theme of digging into a pyramid is fantastic. My one concern, however, is that with the default layout, the sarcophagus is uncovered relatively early in the game, leading to a somewhat anti-climactic ending. This might be improved by either moving the sarcophagus itself down in the existing layout or using an alternative three-dimensional pyramid layout (from the bottom up: 12, 6, 3, 2, 1, with the sarcophagus tiles along the center of the bottom level). I have only tried the three-dimensional version once, but having some of the other tiles completely hidden at the beginning of the game seems to create more mystery that, in my humble opinion, adds to the already way-cool archeological dig theme. Using face-down tiles throughout could add even more mystery, but might feel too random in actual play. Anyway, there's already a good game here, and it's one of the piecepack games that I most enjoy. But the archeologist in me can't help but believe that digging beneath the surface may reveal an even better game. (./) (./) -- ClarkRodeffer

I was thinking about adding more 'exploration' to the game after all the very helpful feedback it has received. Off the top of my head, here is a possible variant that might create the feel of exploration without adding any additional randomness to the game: lay out the pyramid and sarcophagus as normal with the exception that ALL tiles are placed face down (ie grid-side up). At the start of the game, turn the tile at the top of the pyramid face up. Play is as normal, except that when the first coin is placed on a tile, the player turns over tiles that are adjacent to that tile. Tiles are only adjacent to other tiles if the tiles share an edge. Additionally, coins may only be placed on tiles that are face up. I'd love to know if this is more fun than the standard version. One recommendation if you try this would be to leave a small gap between the tiles during setup to make turning them over easier.

As for the Sarcophagus tiles being too high up the pyramid, if you want to you can always place those 3 tiles as the center of the 6-row and 5-row. They would be discovered much later in the game this way.

-- Phillip Lerche

Right, Phillip! That (moving the sarcophagus tiles down to the 5th and 6th rows) was the first thing I did in the second game I played. Having them further down in the pyramid does delay the tension until the end game, but it also increases both the usefulness and the probable availability of the god tiles. Additionally, it introduces a new tactical element in that, now, a player can try to hurt his fellow archeologists by trying to monopolize the god tiles and force the others into situations where they'll be almost certain to run into traps in the end game, thus increasing excitement and injecting a sort of "mummy's curse" feel. :-) -- ClarkRodeffer

Thanks for the additional feedback, Clark (I guess I didn't read your initial remarks carefully enough). My aim is to make this into the best game it can possibly be. What do you think about the 'exploration' variant idea? -- Phillip Lerche

I haven't tried the "exploration" variant yet, but my initial feeling is that it would be an improvement over the basic game. Not knowing where certain tiles are, the god tiles in particular, adds tension. I think this is a good thing. I'll have to try it and get back to you. I have Penguicon this weekend, so if I can find a couple of other players there, we'll give it a go and compare. -- ClarkRodeffer

Variant #3 idea: bonus points for set collection. Players gains bonus points for collecting numbered tiles of the same suit. No bonus points for 1 tile of a suit, 1 bonus point for 2 tiles, 3 bonus points for 3 tiles, and 5 bonus points for all 4 tiles of one suit (ace/god tiles and null tiles - the traps - never count towards bonus points). Have fun at the con, Clark, I look forward to hearing how your piecepacking goes! -- Phillip Lerche

Phillip, your variant idea #3 sounds interesting as well, plus tacking on a Fibonacci number adds only a very minimal amount of bookkeeping to scoring. I'm not sure what it would do to game balance. Since the regular scoring is based on simple sums, this type of bonus could dramatically change tactical preferences in that, it would now be more advantageous to go for the fourth (or even third) in that set of rank two tiles than it would to go for two fours that come up in sequence, especially if both of the other fours are split between your opponents. Nevertheless, it's certainly worth fiddling around with it a bit. With respect to set collection, did you by any chance consider giving bonuses based on collecting multiple tiles in a suit rather than ranks? Or if this has too dramatic of an effect on game play, possibly giving a bonus only for collecting a sequence of tiles in a suit (for example, the 2-3 of suns would get a bonus of 1, the 2-3-4 a bonus of 2, the 2-3-4-5 a bonus of 3, the ace-2-3-4-5 a bonus of 5 with the stipulation that the god tile must be unused, and the full suit sequence null-ace-2-3-4-5 a whopping bonus of 8)? Just typing as I think here. Feel free to ignore my drivel. All this talk about sets and sequences makes it sound like some form of "mummy rummy". :-) -- ClarkRodeffer (running and ducking....)

Mummy Rummy is probably a title that would sell very well ;) I'll split the profits with you 50/50 ;) My variant #3 is only for collecting tiles of the same suit, so your sentence "With respect to set collection, did you by any chance consider giving bonuses based on collecting multiple tiles in a suit rather than ranks?" didn't make much sense to me. I think that giving bonuses for collecting tiles of the same rank is too unbalancing in favor of the people who are able to collect the 4s and 5s. Giving bonuses for sets of tiles in the same suit could help players come from behind in a close game. The idea of collecting sequences is interesting, but I don't want to add too much to the bonus scoring as I feel it then becomes the most important part of the game. I would like the bonuses to be at most equally important, and preferably less important than the general mechanic currently in place. Note that the null tiles are not collected as such in the game - they have their effect (discard a number tile unless a god protects you) and then they are discarded. As for the bonus score, it may prove to be too high for a full set, so possibly 0,1,2,4 bonus points for 1,2,3,4 tiles in the same suit may end up being more appropriate. -- Phillip Lerche

Too late, there's already a game on the market called Mummy Rummy published by Gamewright. -- Mark A. Biggar

Mark, that's a bit of a bummer that Mummy Rummy is already taken, but I suppose it was inevitable. And Phillip, I think the 0,1,2,4 bonus sequence probably will be more appropriate than the 0,1,3,5 bonus sequence. I hope I get some people willing to play at Penguicon. -- ClarkRodeffer

I have no idea how the Con works, but you could have the pyramid set up and ready to go - pyramids seem to be attractive to gamers! I think I will go with the bonus points. Works a little bit like having a factory in Puerto Rico ;) and even the most tenuous of links to PR is worth mentioning in my book. Have fun this weekend. -- Phillip Lerche

I have incoporated the 3 variants as standard rules in version 2.0 of Sarcophagus, which has been submitted to and is now available in pdf format - enjoy! - Phillip Lerche

--- I think that for a two player game each player has to collect two Ace tiles to get God's protection. Otherwise it is to easy to get God's protection.

Also, it is weird to have to bet for a trap. What usually happens is that it ends up as a tie of two coins (in a two players game) all of them null. So the tile is discarded. I wonder if it's not better if traps are sprung by the player who turned them face up instead, and when they have at least two sides free, just remove them...

-- DanielAjoy


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