Fluch Der Mumie (Curse of the Mummy)

Designer: Marcel-Andre Casasola Merkle

Artist: Michael Menzel

Publisher: Ravensburger

The title is perfect. Why rename the game to “Pyramid” for the English-speaking market? (Photo credits: @yzemaze@BGG)

Fluch der Mumie is not even Casasola Merkle’s best game. That distinction belongs to Attika, a game I enjoy and cherish since it was part of a larger first lot of games I purchased for my collection (from the now defunct Timewellspent.com). However, I dare say that Fluch der Mumie is one of the most innovative and unique game I have in my collection which I actually enjoy playing. Now that my kid is about the right age for the game, Fluch der Mumie is making a regular appearance on our table, and I think will become part of our rotation in the near future.

So what makes the game so unique? Well first of all, the game has a glossy, metallic board that is slotted perpendicular to the base of the box such that players can put magnets on either sides of the board. The board itself shows a cross section of a pyramid with a collection of tunnels that form a maze. Scattered throughout the maze are different treasures, each color coded to a different region of the pyramid so that all treasures of the same colored are distributed in the same area.

To play the game, one person will be the dreaded Mummy that roams the pyramid trying to catch adventurers (or mercenaries!) looting the pyramid. Each adventurer is given 5 treasure cards, each depicting a treasure of a different color. The game ends when one adventurer finds all their designated treasures in the pyramid and announces victory. The first adventurer to find all the treasures win the game. However, it is also possible for the Mummy to win the game if it manages to capture enough adventurers throughout the game. Each adventurer is given a specific number of ankh tokens depending on the number of players, to symbolize the number of lives they have. If you lose all your ankhs, you can never win the game as you are actually eliminated. Yes, there is player elimination in this game! Collect all the treasures before others do or before the Mummy catches enough adventurers and you win the game.

So, what’s the gimmick? Well, the Mummy will be sitting one side of the board while the adventurers on the other. The layout of the pyramid is the same on both sides and each adventurer will have a magnetic token attached to their side of the board, but the Mummy cannot see where the player tokens are in the pyramid. In contrast, the Mummy’s magnetic figure is attached to both sides of the board and as the Mummy moves, the players are aware of where the Mummy is at all times, just not which direction it is moving. So, it’s a cat and mouse game! There are 5 movement dice for the adventurers. At the start, all dice are roll and players get to choose one of the die to execute movement which can range from 1-4 and also an arrow which allows unlimited movement in one directional until you hit a wall or obstacle. If players are unhappy with the roll, they are free to reroll as many times as they want. The catch is that one of symbols on each die is a Mummy. If you roll the Mummy, the die or dice must be set aside and becomes locked. You now have fewer dice to choose from and the next player will as well unless the dice are reset. A reset allows the Mummy to interrupt the adventurers turn and move a number of spots corresponding to the number of locked dice. Once the Mummy moves, all the set aside dice are reset and the adventurer has 5 dice again. Of course, the Mummy also has a regular turn. The Mummy has its own single die which allows a movement of 1-3. However, the movement points are supplemented by any locked dice the adventurers have accumulated during their turn. This allows the Mummy to really roam around the pyramid easily if the players do not reset the dice often! If an adventurer is caught, they will respawn at the entrance of the pyramid.

Since players are given treasures of 5 different colors, they must move around the dungeon to collect all the treasures from different areas of the pyramid. This allows the Mummy to catch them in transit. With more players, it is easier to catch someone moving around, but the Mummy is required to collect more ankhs to win the game. So, it’s a trade off. Once a player reaches a treasure, they must reveal the corresponding treasure card, but in doing so, will momentarily reveal the location of their adventurer as the treasure location is printed on both sides of the board. If the Mummy is within striking distance, then it is possible for the Mummy to chase after the revealed adventurer. Timing the reveal is important as you want the Mummy to be as far away as possible when that happens.

There are many interesting things to consider for Fluch der Mumie. This is a competitive game, but it requires mutual cooperation for the players to prevent the Mummy from winning. You can easily backstab a player once they reveal a treasure by potentially unlocking the dice and allowing the Mummy to move closer in their direction. This is particularly potent if your turn precedes the Mummy’s turn as it gets to move during the interruption and then again during the regular turn. However, if you do this too often, then the Mummy will have an easy victory. So, when do you cross the line from being friend to foe? There are a lot of opportunities for mind games and metagaming. You need to help each other as much as possible while not forgetting your own objectives.

It is also very satisfying to play the Mummy. When you occupy the same spot as an adventurer and you hear the “click” as two magnet pieces come together, it’s is very cathartic. Of course, any table talk among adventurers can also reveal there whereabouts, but it is up to the Mummy to catch the bits and pieces of conversation. If players are particularly greedy and backstabby, then there will be lots of groans and laughter during game play. Overall though, it is still to the benefit of the adventurers to cooperate.

I don’t really know why this game has not been more widely available. When it was first published, the English version was really hard to find and I managed to grab a German copy. Later, I found out that the game was titled “Pyramids” in the English market. Why? Curse of the Mummy sounds a lot more fun, no? More recently, the game has been rethemed with penguins in the pyramid with the title “Pyramid of Pengqueen”. This has something to do with the publisher of Ice Cool trying to thematically link these games together. I have not seen the new version, but I guess I don’t understand why penguin treasure hunters and the not-so-intuitive box title. I thought the pyramid theme for this game was perfect! I guess it works and if the game gets a wider audience, then all the better.

The one thing I wished Casasola Merkle had done was to publish a co-op variant for the game. It is just screaming for one. It is particularly useful with small kids and families where the adventurers may want to work together to defeat the Mummy. I could see a dozen ways to house rule this, but the number as well as the distribution of the treasures for each player must be play-tested. Without the right balance, it may be too easy or hard for the Mummy to catch the adventurers. In particularly, the colors of each treasure must still be evenly distributed so that players aren’t able to visit one area and grab all the similarly colored treasures. That would make it too easy. Perhaps there could be a combination of personal and common pool of treasures for players to hunt. I’m convinced there is a way of doing this. I could also easily see modules for this game as well. Power-up tokens in special areas of the board, a special deck of “evil” cards for the Mummy to use, individual adventurer powers, additional dice, new pyramid layouts and co-op rules etc. That said, I also think the base game itself is already perfect and does not require any expansions.

A note on the mechanism: I really think this is an untapped and under-utilized mechanism for a game. I can see how the board could be repurposed for deduction games with a spatial orientation component, or even co-op game with partial information from both camps trying to piece together clues to solve a problem or puzzle. It could also be integrated into a larger design as a peripheral mechanism.

Initial impression: Good (for family gaming as well)

Kid’s Corner

5 years 5 months: My kid can play this game with a little help. These are her first few attempts and she likes it. She also likes a co-op version of the game where the adventurers collaborate to hunt for the treasure. Together as a group, she does not have to make that many decisions and can consult with her fellow adventurers. However, the co-op rules we have now is somewhat sub-optimal. We’d have to figure out a right balance. I don’t know yet if she can play competitively, but she might. I anticipate the dice, especially when to unlock, might give her some trouble. Otherwise, we have been pleasantly surprised by her ability to play more complex games and should not underestimate her abilities.

6 years 6 months: Yeah, so now she is able to play this game competitively. It takes the game to another level all together. I cannot stress how difficult this game is to play because when played competitively, it matters how cutthroat you are against your opponent. Unlocking dice right when the Mummy is close to an opponent is just plain nasty. She is not there yet, but is able to make some strategic decisions on how to tiptoe around the Mommy. This game is fantastic both for adults and for kids. Severely underrated in my mind.

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