Valley of the Kings Design Diary

Designer Tom Cleaver has kindly provided us with a look into the creation and development of Valley of the Kings.

Egypt! Land of the Pharaohs. Its magic and mystery have fascinated me ever since I first saw Abbot and Costello Meet the Mummy. Many years later I traveled to Egypt with my family. We visited Luxor, Karnak, Abu Simbel, and the Valley of the Kings. These experiences were the inspiration and influence for the game.


Egyptian nobles stashing goods for the afterlife seemed like a perfect theme. Ancient Egyptians really believed they could keep their stuff after they died, so long as it was properly stored in their mastabas (tombs). Naturally, they sought out the best quality goods, including the amulets and sacred texts that were crucial to their religion. Valley of the Kings includes these features, and I have tried to make it as historically accurate as possible, consistent with good game play.

Some of the mechanics in Valley of the Kings were inspired by other deck-building games. But I believed that many of them had flaws. Why did the games need so many cards? Why couldn’t a card have three or more functions (purchasing power, action, and victory points)? Couldn’t the games have more player interaction? Wouldn’t the games be better if all the cards weren’t available all the time? In Valley of the Kings, I have tried to address these (perceived) flaws.

VotK_tombWith each turn, a player must carefully decide whether to spend a card for its cash value, use it for its action, or entomb it for victory points. Valley of the Kings requires that players carefully manage deck building and victory point accumulation. The most valuable cards to have in your hand are also the most valuable to have in your tomb. The end game is frequently a scramble to get the good stuff stored away.

It can’t be Egypt without a pyramid, so Valley of the Kings has one. At the beginning of the game, players build a pyramid out of six cards, as shown in the example below.


Players can buy cards from the base of the pyramid. When this happens, the pyramid “crumbles;” cards tumble down from the upper levels to fill in the gap. At the end of the turn, the pyramid is rebuilt.

As with all of my game designs, Valley of the Kings went through multiple iterations – it’s never right the first time. I took every opportunity to get friends and strangers to try out the game, and I learned something new with each playtest.

When the design was mature, I began pitching it to every major game company. AEG had the wisdom (in my opinion) to pick up Valley of the Kings. I am both happy and grateful. John Goodenough and AEG’s staff have been fair, pleasant, honest, and competent.

If you play my game, I hope you enjoy it, and you might just learn something about Egyptian mythology.

Origins 2014

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Lexicon 2015 tournament winner Sean Henrickson

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About the Designer

Tom Cleaver

Dr. Cleaver is Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering at the University of Louisville. During the day, he teaches engineering students about circuits, microprocessors, motors, and electrical safety. At night, he designs games. His published designs include Sword PlayThe Conquest of SpaceGalaxy!, and Darkhorn.

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