Nubia: Egypt’s Black Heirs is a solitaire game where the player controls the Black African civilization made up of three Christian kingdoms in the Nile Valley including Nobadia, Makuria, and Alodia. The culture of these kingdoms goes back to Ancient Egypt and the legendary Kingdom of Kush but is now far removed from those days of glory and survival is now the focus. The game is set in 1172 AD and Nubia is currently under siege from various other tribes and kingdoms. The game covers a period of nearly 400 years, and will see the player attempt to defend the Nubian civilization against the pagans of the Funj, and a jihad of marauding Arabs who have designs to acquire your land.
The game is a States of Siege design where enemies will advance down five different Path towards the capital city of Soba. The player will have to manage their affairs, dealing with the abilities of new Kings, staying in communication with the Coptic Church through various skill levels of Cosmopolitans (Priests) and seeking the aid of other Christian Kingdoms such as Portugal. The player will gain a number of Efforts each turn that will be used to take various actions on the Paths and in the management of their kingdom.
In Action Point 1, we covered the Game Map, examining its various Paths, Tracks, Boxes and the Royal Assets that the player must manage to fend off their enemies. In this Action Point, we will take a look at the makeup of the Event Card Deck and how the cards drive the action by confronting the player with social, political, military and economic challenges.
The game includes a deck of Event Cards that are used to represent the different eras of the history of the Nubian Kingdoms from the game’s beginning period of 1172 AD to its end in 1504 AD. Each single card represents a period of approximately 14 years and the card constitutes an entire game turn.
The Event Deck contains 27 total cards and these are divided into three different Eras of differing lengths. The first Era contains cards #1-6 and covers 84 years of history from 1172 AD to 1256 AD. These cards are color coded with a green bar at the top. The second Era contains cards #7-18 and covers 168 years of history from 1257 AD to 1425 AD. These cards are color coded with a tan bar at the top. The third and final Era contains cards #19-27 and covers the final 78 years of history from 1426 AD to 1504 AD.
These cards give all the instructions necessary for the player to navigate each approximate 14 year period. You will also notice that there is a lot of flavor text taking up about 75% of the card and this teaches facts about Nubian society and history, sometimes referring to history from long before the period covered by the game.
The cards will confront the player with all type of challenges, including social, political, military and economic, and the player will have to respond to these challenges by using their scarce resources and wits to simply survive. The main challenge to the player will be the pressure that is put on the kingdom by the advancing hostile tribes, which consist of Arab and Pagan tribes that are referred to in the game as Meks. Mek Tiles are placed on each of the five Paths that lead to the capital city of Soba. At the start of the game, a certain set of Mek Tiles will be placed on these paths but will change throughout the game as different Events happen or they advance to certain Lands along the Paths. The starting Mek Tiles are as follows with their Path identified: Juhayna start in the Selima Oasis Land on Path A, Ayyubid start in the Aswan Land on Path B, Beja start in the Aydhab Land on Path C, Shilluk start in the Sobat River on Path E, and Kawahla start in the Kordofan Land on Path E.
The Juhayna were the largest of the Arab tribes that migrated from Arabia to the Nile Valley in the 11th century in search of land and plunder. This tribe has a Defense Value of 4. The Juhayna will later change over to the Ja’d which were an aggressive clan of the Juhayna and their Defense Value is higher at a 5. The Ayyubids are the Arab dynasty founded by Saladin, which conquered Egypt in 1171 AD and violated the long truce that the Arabs had with Nubia. This tribe has a Defense Value of 5. The Ayyubids will later change over to the Mamluks which are a Turkish dynasty that toppled the Ayyubids of Egypt in 1250 AD. They were less aggressive vs. the Nubians but encouraged migrant Arab tribes to pillage Nubia instead of Egypt. Their Defense Value is 4. The final Arab tribe is the Kanz which are a mixed people composed of migratory Arabs and Arabized Beja. Their Defense Value is a 5 and they replace the Beja, which are Cushitic nomads and herders (hence the goat shown on their Mek Tile) and have a Defense Value of just 4. Finally, we come to the pagan Shilluk who are one of the great cattle herding Black Nilotic tribes in the south of Sudan. Their Defense Value is just 3 and when you conquer them with the use of an Effort and drive them back on their Path, the player will acquire the Slavery Tile. Possession of this counter gives the player the chance to block one Arab Mek as it attempts to move down their Path. But, it can only be used against an Arab Mek.
An Arab Mek is identified with a white oval behind the Defense Value on the Mek counter. When the Arab Mek attempts a move, the player must return the Slaves counter to the Slavery Pool. This is an important aspect of the game for the player and obtaining the Slaves counter will aid in keeping the Arab Meks, including the Ayyubids, Juhayna, Kawahla and Kanz, at bay on Paths A, B and E. Once the Shilluk Mek is replaced by the Funj, the Slaves counter is removed from the game. The historical reason for this is that in Arab culture, it was acceptable to trade in pagan slaves but not in other Arabs. So when the pagan Shilluks get replaced by the Arabic Funj, this ends the practice of using slaves taken in battle to pacify other aggressive tribes.
Each card lists a number of different items on the top of the card just under the title. Not all cards are the same, which means that some cards will include steps while others will skip that step, but the different items will appear in the order that you will follow so you have to pay attention to the cards and not the Sequence of Play as it lists all possible actions. The items in the top are to be followed in strict order, from top left to bottom right.
Let’s take a look at the different actions that are listed on these cards and what they mean.
On almost every single card there is listed one of these Special Events. These Special Events are denoted on the card with a star preceding the title. They represent different aspects of the struggle of the Nubian Kingdoms that are really out of the control of the player. Some are good while some are bad.
Coptic Pope – The player will be forced to return the current Metropolitan (priest) from the Metropolitan Box to the draw cup and randomly draw out another. The good news, or bad if the Metropolitan was the 0 Efforts one, about this is that you return the Metropolitan to the draw cup before drawing it out again. The Metropolitans have the following numbers: 0, 1, 1 and 2 (Shenoute). This means that 25% of the time, you will have no additional Efforts, 50% of the time you will have 1 additional Effort and 25% of the time you will have 2 additional Efforts.
Crusades – The player will roll a die to see how the ongoing Crusades are going at the other end of Egypt. On a roll of 1-4, the Crusade Level will be set at 2, on a 5 it will be set at 1 and on a 6 it will be set at 0. Setting the Crusade Level means replacing the existing Crusade Tile in the Crusade Box with the one matching the result. This level will effect the Land Sales by penalizing the revenue by reducing it by the Crusade Level. So if the Crusade Level is at 1 and the player sells the 4 Land Tile, they will only gain 3 Efforts rather than 4. The distant Crusades, while not fought in or around the Kingdoms of Nubia, disrupted Arab trade and travel near Egypt. As the Crusades waned, the Arabs would focus more on attacking Nubia and less on protecting themselves.
Ethiopians – This is the one that I discussed in Action Point 1 that is pretty difficult to get. If there is a +1 Feudal on Path D when this card is drawn, the player may now place the Ethiopians Tile anywhere on Path D. Now the Efforts used on this Path can be modified by allowing the player to roll 2D6 and choosing the best result. This Special Event appears on Event Card #21, which is in the last Era and comes up sometime between Event Card #19 and #27. Prepare for this one as it will help immensely!
Flip – The player will remove the Mek Tile named on the card and then replace it with the other Mek of the same color. This is not always a good thing for the player as the Meks sometimes increase in strength, as in the case of the Shilluks who are a 3 Defense Value but get replaced by the Arabic Funj that are a 5 Defense Value. But sometimes they decrease as well, such as the Ayyubids (5) will later change over to the Mamluks (4).
Mosque – This Special Event has two instances and different results. The first time this Event happens, the player will locate the Meks on Paths A and B and determine which is closer to Soba. A green Mosque will get placed on that Path and it means that the Mek on that Path can never be pushed back up the Path past the Mosque with an Effort. The second time the Event happens, the player will place the other Mosque Tile on the other Path where the Mek is located at that time. It has the same effect. This Special Event appears on Event Card #10 and #15. You will want to prepare for this one as well as you want those Meks as far away from Soba as possible.
Portugese – This Event is tied to Portugal discovering East Africa and signifies an alliance with Nubia. When it occurs, the player will place all 4 Portugese units into the the Downtown Soba Box for use. These units can be discarded to reroll any die for any reason. If these are remaining in the Downtown Soba Box at the end of the 27th Event Card, they will earn the player 1 VP each.
Shekanda War – The player will move the Mek Tile on Path B one box closer to the Soba Collapse Box as a result of this Event. If the player survives a Collapse Check if triggered by the Mek making it into the Soba Box the player will then earn 1 free Effort that must be used immediately to attempt to drive the Mek back. If the Mek is successfully pushed back, the Event ends. But if the attempt fails, the Mek will advance one more Land closer and the player will earn another free Effort that they must use to attempt to attack the Mek and move it backward. If this attempt to push it back is never successful, the process will continue until the player loses the game due to failing a Collapse Check. This can be really nasty so you must be ready to improve your rolls with +1 Feudal Tiles or Eparchs that grant a +1/-1 to your rolls on a Path it is assigned.
If this Special Event appears on a card, then it manes that an unpredictable and sudden catastrophe has happened. The player will have to draw a random Tile out of the Disaster Draw Cup and it will be one of two outcomes, either a Famine or a Migration.
This result will cause the player to have to move a randomly determined Royal Asset on the Royal Assets Track. The Famine Tile will be discarded and a die rolled. A result of 1-2 will mean that you must move the Nobility Asset down one spot, 3-4 means the Kingship Asset will move down one spot and a 5-6 means the Army Asset will move down one spot. These Royal Assets dropping to below 1 will lead to a Defection (the random loss of one of your Uru) or a Collapse Check if it moves to the Collapse Box.
This result will mean that the Mek indicated on the drawn tile will move one Land closer to Soba. This is the only other way that Mek Tiles will advance closer to Soba.
If this appears on a card, it means that hereditary local landlords and kinglets attempt to assert their authority over the monarchy of Nubia. This is more often than not a bad thing for the player but it can be good if the Mek on the Path is very close to Soba. Feudalism Tiles are used to show this insurrection on the Paths that are determined randomly. When this Event occurs, the player must roll two dice, the first for determining what Path is affected and the second to determine which Land Box the Tile is placed in. Each Path is assigned a number on a die face and Path A is 1, Path B 2, Path C 3, Path D 4, Path E 5 and 6 is specifically tied to the Faras Land Box.
If the chosen Land Box is under your control, meaning that the Mek hasn’t yet entered this space you will place a -1 Feudalism Tile, which will enforce a -1 on all of your Effort rolls to attack that Mek. This is bad for you! If the Mek has already entered the rolled Land then the player will place a +1 Feudalism Tile in that space and it will grant a +1 bonus on all Effort rolls against that Mek. These Feudalism Tiles will stay until removed by Events or by the abilities of one of the Uru that can remove these tiles. If a 1 is rolled on the Land Box portion of the roll then a -1 Feudalism Tile will be placed in Soba and it enforces a -1 on all Effort rolls on that Path as well as all of the other Paths. This is really bad and you need to hope that the appropriate Uru shows up soon to get rid of that or it may lead to you being overrun.
The absolute monarch in Nubian society was the Uru or King. An interesting tidbit of history, in a blend of African and Byzantine traditions, the Uru was a priest who could officiate mass in church, but was never fed in public to preserve the superstition that he was otherworldly or godlike and didn’t need food. The Uru was aided by a council of Bishops and Scholars and at this point in the turn the Uru has died and must be replaced by his successor.
Each of the Event Cards remind you of this need to change the Uru each turn and the player will take the current Uru out of the Uru Box, return it to the Uru Draw Cup and then reach in and randomly draw out a new Uru who will take the throne and be placed in the Uru Box. This Uru Tile has a printed number on it that determines how many Efforts the player gets to use for the turn. These range from 0-5 and the distribution among the tiles is as follows:
As you can see, there is quite a spread of results and this part of the game is very interesting and a bit tense as if you do not consistently get 2-3 or more Efforts each turn you will find that you cannot keep up with the continual onslaught by the Meks and the results of Famine and Disasters as your Royal Assets will be whittled away. All told, there are only 2 total Uru Tiles or just 16.67% of the total tiles in the Draw Cup that do not give any Efforts, but I swear those seem to come up more often that you would think. As you have to thin this pool out over the course of the game due to Collapse Checks, Defections and the Crown Prince losing battles with the Meks and other issues that arise, if you have to discard one of the better producing Uru Tiles then the percentage of poor ones will increase and you will find yourself drawing them more often. Normally, I will lose the 5 Effort Uru pretty quickly it seems then followed by one of the other goods ones. It is all about the draw and it is random so you never know what you will get.
As previously mentioned, the hostile armies that are assaulting your kingdom and moving down the Paths towards Soba to conquer it are referred to as Meks. This word comes from the Sudanese word for warlord or king (Mek). Meks advancing down the Paths from Land Box to Land Box is a mix of several factors including military conquest as well as cultural aggression. At this time, Muslims took advantage of the dynastic disputes in Nubia to offer help to a rival Uru in exchange for land or influence in the court at a later point. All of this combined to destroy Nubia and make way for future cultures to inhabit the area.
On the cards, you will notice that a number of Paths are listed with a down arrow symbol to the right of the listed Path. This means that the Mek on the identified Path is to be moved down one Land Box closer to Soba.
Some of the cards only activate one Path, while others activate as many as 4 Paths. Here is the full breakdown of the 27 Event Cards and how many Paths each card activates:
The cards may also direct the player to reduce a Royal Asset by moving that Royal Asset Tile, either Nobility, Kingship or Army, down one box to the left. The cards sometimes direct just one Asset to be reduced but also can do 1 or 2. Here is a breakdown of how many instances of cards that direct for the reduction of 0, 1 or 2 Royal Assets:
One of the unique things about this game entry in the States of Siege Series is that normally the player gains their number of actions for the turn from those listed on the card that is being played. This is not the case in this one though as those actions, referred to in the design as Efforts, come from a combination of the drawing of the Uru Tile and the current Coptic Pope that is active. This element of the design makes this one impossible to “count cards” and understand what cards with certain actions are left in the deck.
The cards don’t provide the number of those Efforts but the Efforts Phase is listed on the card as a reminder that at this point in the sequence the player can attempt to defend themselves from the continual onslaught that will have happened in the first 5 or 6 parts of the sequence thus far. During this step, players will have a range of 0-7 Efforts, or possibly more if they Sell Land Tiles, use a Bishop or Throw a Daughter to the Wolves. These Efforts are used to either fight back the Meks on their Paths by attacking them or to roll for a possible increase in a Royal Asset on the Royal Asset Track.
BXF – Bonus, [X] and Faras – Turn End Phase
After all of those steps, we finally come to the Turn End Phase, which is referred to as BXF. This is simply an acronym for the steps that occur during this phase on the cards, namely Bonus, [X] and Faras. We will not cover each of these aspects in depth here, as I would like to do that in our next Action Point, but will simply give you quick look.
Earn Royal Asset Bonuses
As I mentioned earlier you can utilize your Efforts to attempt to increase each of the Royal Assets by rolling a die and trying to meet or exceed the number listed in the next box up the Royal Assets Track. When you have successfully reached the end of the line and the Royal Asset Marker is located in the 6 box, you will rotate that counter to remind you that you have earned the bonus and must spend it at this time. If you do not cash it in, the bonus will be lost so make sure you pay attention.
The Nobility Bonus is a +1 DRM Feudalism Tile that you can place on any one Path to provide you with a +1 to your attack rolls on that Path. This effect will last until it is removed by the placement of a -1 DRM Feudalism Tile of from one of the effects of an Uru TIle with a Blue Box or Brown Belt. The Kingship Bonus is a is a special Eparch Tile that can also be placed on any one Path that will allow the player to cash in that Tile to add +1 or -1 to any die roll on that Path. This could be used for an attack roll against a Mek, a Monastery roll or Feudal Land roll, but not on a Collapse Check roll. The Army Bonus allows the player to place a special Nubian Archer Tile in any Land Box on any Path. This Tile will prevent a Mek from entering that space one time, after which it will be discarded.
If a Mek Tile has come to rest in a Land Box with an [X] symbol in it, which are the final Land Boxes before you enter the Soba Box, this is called a Defection. This Defection will lead to the player randomly drawing an Uru from the Draw Cup and placing it in the Mosque Box. Asset Tiles located in the [X] box on the Royal Asset Track will also cause this Defection. This is something that they player should work hard to prevent and get those Meks or Royal Assets out of the those boxes before the Turn End Phase or you will find that you will lose the game to a Collapse Check.
The final step of the Turn End Phase is to check the Mek on Path B and its relation to the Faras Land Box. We discussed this earlier but if a Mek is located in the Faras Box at the end of the turn, this will lead to the change of a Mek Tile on Path C from the lower value Beja Mek to the tougher Kanz Mek. This will also result in the Shenoute Metropolitan, the one that provides 2 Efforts, to be removed from the Metropolitan Draw Cup as well.
The Event Cards are very important to the core of the game and will cause all of the difficulties that the player must deal with over the course of the 27 turn game. I like how the cards are used. They are simple to understand, as everything you have to do for the turn is written at the top, and the flavor text at the bottom of each card teaches about the history of the Nubian Kingdom and is one of my favorite parts about playing these States of Siege Series games. You must pay attention to the cards, what is expected to come up and how you prepare for those challenges, but I do like that this implementation has limited that ability to card count and clearly understand what is left. In this game you still have no control over the number of your Efforts, as they are determined randomly each turn, versus being listed on the card as a predetermined number. To me this lends this game to greater replayability and bit more tension from turn to turn.
In Action Point 3, we will examine the various options that the player has in the assets held in Downtown Soba and on the Royal Assets Track including how your Uru or King is chosen each round, how they are used and how they might die in battle as the Crown Prince, the use of Bishops, arranged marriages and throwing your daughters to the wolves in the name of forging alliances.