Online, Nov 2020
Rise of the Mad Pharaoh is the latest game by Seattle’s Hourglass Escapes to be converted for avatar play. They’re perhaps best known for their Evil Dead 2 game, and as you might guess from the title this one shares a certain B-movie tone to its story, gleefully hamming it up with tongue firmly in cheek.
This game is particularly distinctive for its role-play system; I believe the venue’s other two avatar games use similar ideas but not to the extent Mad Pharaoh does. Players have a choice of six roles, such as Egyptologist and Cartographer; these are provided beforehand complete with costume and role-playing suggestions. Naturally it’s up to players what extent they do any of that – you could ignore all role-playing elements entirely. The suggestions for how to play the characters seemed a little prescriptive for my liking – but of course it’s entirely your call whether to play along, and how to interpret your character if you do. If you’re inclined towards a bit of dress-up silliness, then this is certainly a game that encourages and rewards it, and you’ll likely enjoy the game all the more if you do.
Mad Pharaoh uses the Telescape inventory system, as a separate screen where you can view items that you’ve found and not yet used. In fact, it uses Telescape in an unusually sophisticated way. Within the inventory screen, each player has their own separate area, and each clue item appears in a specific area based on which of the six roles it’s appropriate for. All players can view and interact with all these areas, but this approach means that every item has a default ‘owner’.
Both this and the role system more generally seem designed to encourage all players to get involved with the game, and I think it succeeds in doing that. Given the choice, I’d still rather play an avatar game with a team of two or three – but if I were playing in a larger group anyhow, then Mad Pharaoh would be a distinctly better choice than most for avoiding the frustrations of a large team.
The game area itself is on the small side, though balances that with some impressive decorations, especially one particular centrepiece. Hosting style is always critical for an avatar game, and our host was an entertainingly larger-than-life character with a Brooklyn (?) twang. He wasn’t slow to nudge us in the right direction, but did so in subtle ways rather than with more obvious hints.
Where we went astray it tended to be due to overthinking, with a couple of solutions turning out to be more straightforward than I’d guessed. Combined with the adventure-comedy tone, that makes likely a good recommendation for beginners, or for enthusiasts who want to have a giggle with the role-play. If the roles don’t appeal to you then it’s a compact but enjoyable remote-play game; if they do, then the more extravagant silliness you can bring, the more fun you’ll have.
Disclaimer: We played this game on a complementary basis. This does not influence the review or rating.