Saturday, November 01, 2014

Nile Deluxor review: it's good! buy it!

Originally, I submitted this to The Proof, but as they are on hiatus, and Minion Games is running a great sale on Nile Deluxor and some other games, I dug this out of my email, just for you. Seriously, $9.99 for this game is fantastic, grab it while you can.

Review of Nile Deluxor ($27.99 from or your friendly local game store)

Minion Games, a small games company based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has risen in my esteem by publishing Nile Deluxor and Manhattan Project. I got several games in their back catalog by Kickstarting Tahiti (true to form on games I kickstart, I printed but didn't assemble the print-and-play file they provided, and still have the published game in the original shrinkwrap on my shelf of "Games To Play Sometime Soon."  Nile Deluxor is the Minion Games product I've played the most, so I decided to walk through why I like it.

The original print run, called simply "Nile" had a major printing error where the game was printed on soft paper instead of sturdy backing, making the game nigh-unplayable.  Fortunately for the world, Minion Games scraped together the cash to reprint it, along with an expansion, in a beautiful, sturdy production run, and called the result "Nile Deluxor." I have played it both with and without the expansion with several audiences, and I am pleased to report that it's become one of my favorite smaller card games for 2-6 players.

My sister Amy has a degree in historic preservation, and was quick to point out that the Art Deco style of the typeface and illustrations on the cards is reminiscent of the 1920s when Egyptology was the rage.  The goods cards, such as castor, wheat, lettuce, and papyrus  (essentially, suits) are easy to distinguish and pretty, even to my untrained eye. Seasons (shuffles of the deck) are tracked with attractive pictures of the various Egyptian deities.

The actual play is straightforward.  The active player flips a card from the deck, representing the flood of the day.  If a player has a field with the good or goods shown on the card, they score a card to their face-down score pile. The flooded good is then unable to be planted, presumably since the field for that type is underwater.  The active player then has the option of discarding two cards from their hand to either draw a replacement card, or flip a new flood card. (This option is often used to dramatic effect in the last run through the deck.)

They can then plant one or more cards to fields in front of them, enabling them to hopefully score on future floods. A clever take-that mechanism is in place where planting more cards of a good than an existing field causes that field to be discarded.  This leads to friendly banter at the table. "I'm gonna shame your lettuce!" "Oh no, ruin his flax instead!" Instead of planting, the player can also play Speculation cards to win, hopefully, more cards by predicting the next flood.  At that point, they draw two cards and are done.  Typically, hands build as the game progresses, providing more options for tactical play.

Much of the tension and decisions of the game come from a single Plague of Locusts card, which, when revealed, eats all of the fields that are tied for having the most cards.  It's tempting to push your luck and ruin opponents' fields, but the threat of having your fields eaten makes for interesting decisions.  There's no absolutely-best answer, and enough of the deck is in players' hands and score piles that card-counters who prefer perfect information will be frustrated by it. One of my most hardcore gamer friends rejected Nile Deluxor for this reason.

One nice feature is the game scales for number of players by adding more crops, but the length of the game is barely affected. As more cards are harvested, the deck gets shorter and shorter, so the last couple of seasons (reshuffles) in a 5 or 6 player game go very quickly, with players cashing in their hands at an attempt for one more precious harvest.  There's slightly more down-time between turns in larger play groups, but the action moves quickly enough it's barely noticeable.

Games typically last around 45 minutes or so.  Once the game ends, players look at the number of crops they harvested, and then look at the crop where they harvested the least, hoping for the most.  The goal is variety, which is even tougher to achieve with more players.  Scoring is fast and simple, which I liked.

The expansion adds the "crop" of stone, which permits players to build monuments with special powers.  Overall, this adds even more options and make games play out with a different development arc, and give the players even more choices for how to play their cards (this may make some turns slightly longer as players consider their options). The powers seemed balanced, and a clever "erosion" mechanism keeps them moving in and out of play without cumbersome bookkeeping.

Overall, I'm a big fan and take Nile Deluxor to game days frequently. I was able to teach it to gamers and non-gamers alike, with little trouble.  The planting rules are a little convoluted, but the rulebook has excellent illustrations to help explain, and non-gamers had a bit of difficulty understanding scoring (for old-school gamers, I just said "it's Tigris And Euphrates scoring," which sufficed). If I were to lose my copy, I would buy a replacement immediately. The great art and smooth play of Nile Deluxor evokes a nostalgia for an earlier generation of games like Touring or Mille Bornes, and I think it deserves a place in almost any collection.