Tom Lehmann has been designing games all his life and has been a full-time designer since 2007, with over 40 games and expansions published. Among his best known games are Race for the Galaxy and, with Matt Leacock, the Pandemic expansions.
The following interview is about Favor of the Pharaoh, a dice game he designed.
Jason (GameGobble): Even though this is a dice game, there are a number of decisions to be made. Can you talk about what kind of strategy is involved?
Tom Lehmann: The core tension during play is between gaining “more dice” or “more control” over the dice you roll. You must gain enough dice to compete in the final roll-off, but control (from the blue and red tiles) can be decisive in winning it. If all the other players just go for dice, then having a single control tile can be decisive. If they all go for one control tile, then a second control tile can be useful, particularly if it allows you, along the way, to gain a tile that gives you two dice, such as the General.
Jason: I’ve heard players say that Favor of the Pharaoh is like “Yahtzee on steroids.” How do you feel about that comparison?
Tom: I’m fine with it. It gives players — particularly casual ones — a “hook” into the game: it’s about rolling dice and forming combinations with them. Instead of scoring for these dice combinations, players use them to buy tiles that give you more dice and special powers to claim still more powerful tiles and, ultimately, to win the final roll-off. That’s the game in a nutshell. The rest is just details, which they now have a framework to help them understand and remember.
Jason: I’ve also heard players say the game is highly replayable. What factors contribute to that?
Tom: The large variety in tiles is the biggest factor. You set out about one third of them in each game, so no two games are ever alike. Further, each player gains only a few tiles during play and there’s usually two or three good tile combinations in every set, allowing players to try different approaches. There’s also variety in the white dice, which can be quite strong in certain setups, and in special dice, such as the Artisan or Conspirator dice, which combine control and dice in interesting ways.
Jason: Why did you decide to have an Egyptian theme for the game?
Tom: Theme is often the publisher’s, not the designer’s, choice. I offered the publisher three different settings and the publisher liked the Egyptian setting best, so we went with that. Some games are more tied to a particular theme than others. Here, the players’ goal — to gain influence by rising up the ranks of a hierarchical society — lends itself to many different historical settings.
Jason: Favor of the Pharaoh was a Mensa Select winner in 2016. Why do you think your game stood out?
Tom: It’s accessible, fairly quick to play, and offers interesting decisions without too much “analysis paralysis”, due to the strong random element and luck that dice games offer. Most important, it’s fun and often leaves the players wanting to play it again.