Last Rites is the third Valley of the Kings product and, like the first expansion (Afterlife), Last Rites is a stand-alone expansion that does not require either of the prior to releases to play. Valley of the Kings remains a great game, and Last Rites is a worthy addition.
Valley of the Kings is a small-box deck-building game with an Egyptian theme. Cards are acquired from a pyramid that “crumbles” new cards into availability as old ones are purchased. But, unlike a typical deck-building game, simply adding cards to a players’ deck is not worth any sort of victory points. Rather, cards are only worth points when they are “entombed” – removed from the deck and placed in their own zone. This introduces a significant tension about which cards to entomb, and when – players will usually want to entomb even powerful cards at some point, but that means they don’t get to play those powerful effects anymore. Last Rites plays identically to the original Valley of the Kings and Afterlife, but (of course) with a whole new set of cards.
For standalone games I sometimes do more of a rules rundown, but since Last Rites is the third standalone Valley of the Kings iteration, I’ll just link to an earlier explanation, and move on with the differences with Last Rites.
The most significant of these is that the new cards in Last Rites include the starter cards, with the starting decks being made up entirely of new entries. Overall, I think the new starter cards are notably more useful than the old ones, making me a little less excited to entomb them as quickly as possible. Leading this pack is the Menial (4x in the 10 card deck), who lets the player buy from anywhere in the pyramid or is mild card filtering. That can be a genuinely strong effect, letting the player grab a better card higher in the pyramid, rather than letting it hang around for someone else to get (the Kite, a 2x, is a variation of this, turning a card face down until the player’s next turn – so no getting the card now, but instead holding it until the next turn). Four Menials plus the lone defensive card, the Medjay (elite ancient Egyptian police), makes five cards I’m pretty good having in my deck for a longer stretch of the game. The original set of starter cards featured nine I just wanted to cram in the tomb ASAP (the one defensive card being the lone exception). I think this overall makes for a few more interesting decisions early on about entombing starter cards vs. using the Menial to grab a slightly better set card.
One non-mechanical change might be detected from those card names is that the cards in Last Rites represent people involved in the Egyptian funerary process, rather than objects that might be buried with the pharaoh. This does weaken the theming of the game a bit – and the saying “he who dies with the most toys, wins” is no longer quite as applicable. With the objects, the entombed cards were things that would literally be put in the player’s tomb. To the best of my knowledge, the people depicted on the cards in Last Rites were not literally buried with the pharaoh. So what does it mean, exactly, to ‘entomb’ them? I’m not sure that this theming disjoint will really matter to many players, and it isn’t a big deal to me, but I did notice it.
All of the set cards are new, and I’m not going to go over those new things one-by-one, but there are some themes in the actions on the cards in Last Rites that are played up more. There are a lot more cards that interact with different “zones” of the game – deck, discard pile, boneyard, tomb. There are cards that sacrifice from the tomb, cards that entomb cards from the boneyard, cards that care how many cards are left in players’ decks, and cards that care about what the top card (or two cards) of the discard pile are (or the most expensive, the cheapest, etc.). Not that these effects weren’t present at all in prior iterations of Valley of the Kings, but they showed up a lot more frequently in Last Rites. I ended up liking the set cards in Last Rites a bit less than I liked the set cards in Valley of the Kings or Afterlife (for example, it was a bit of a hassle thinking which card I would discard last each turn, knowing that I might draw a card that copied the ability of the top card of the discard pile, or that entombed the top card of the discard pile).
I’ve really enjoyed Valley of the Kings, and I would put Last Rites on the same plane as the first two versions. The game remains a unique deck-builder, with the balancing of keeping cards in the deck v. sending them to the tomb really adding an extra spice to things.
If I was only getting one Valley of the Kings, I would get the original or Afterlife, because I liked their set cards better. The second one I would pick up would be Last Rites, because it has different (and better) starting cards. Plus, with more than one set of Valley of the Kings, they can be combined in a variety of ways. For example, each set card appears twice in its version of Valley of the Kings. If two different versions are available, they can be combined to produce one normal-sized deck that has one copy of each set card. Players could get to customize their starting decks, picking their favorite ten (although this will weaken attack cards since, IMHO, the correct play would be to take both defensive cards). Or each player could get identical starting decks, but those decks could be a blend of the different options. One could theoretically even make a super-game of Valley of the Kings, combining everything together, although I think the game is a great length as-is, so I personally wouldn’t want to go there.
Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.