At the heart of this novel is the game itself. The Egypt Game requires both imagination and dedication of its players. April and Melanie complement each other very well in this regard. Elizabeth and Marshall repeat and follow directions for the rites. Toby, a jokester at school, is serious about the game. He and April have conflicts because each of them wants to be in charge. Elizabeth serves as peacemaker in allowing the boys to play and succeeding in persuading them to keep Egypt a secret. Ken seems to enjoy the game less than the others, becoming embarrassed at times; he would probably prefer to be playing basketball.
Zilpha Keatley Snyder also examines friendship and the awkwardness associated with fitting into a new crowd, issues to which most young readers can relate. April often wears false eyelashes, taking them off when she reads because she cannot see through them. Melanie, who makes friends easily and is understanding of other people’s feelings, takes the eyelashes from April’s room so that she cannot wear them the first day of school. Melanie knows that April does not relate well to people and that the children at school are not likely to accept her, especially if she were wearing false eyelashes. Eventually, the others do accept her, and Toby and Ken give her the nickname “February.”
This process of establishing friendships continues when Caroline and Mrs. Ross suggest that April and Melanie walk to school with a new girl, Elizabeth Chung, who is nine years old and has just moved into the Casa Rosada apartments. Elizabeth is shy. April and Melanie decide that her profile looks very much like Nefertiti, and they name her “Neferbeth”; she becomes the fourth player in the Egypt Game. The four players make Egyptian costumes and wear them for Halloween. Two of the fathers of the students at Wilson School have volunteered to take the neighborhood children trick-or-treating. The four players hope to become separated from the others and meet to play the Egypt Game. They succeed, but Ken Kamata and Toby Alvillar follow them and are allowed to become the fifth and sixth players of the game.
In addition to the lighter topics of friendship and games, however, Snyder introduces a much more serious element into her novel. One day, a girl in the neighborhood is killed, and the children are no longer allowed to play outside. A boy from the neighborhood had been killed about a year before. April, for all her pretense of worldliness, is naïve and cannot imagine why someone would kill a child. Melanie explains that it is a sickness in a person.
An important theme of The Egypt Game is acceptance of others and the need to connect with society. All the children in the neighborhood except April and Marshall seem to be afraid of the Professor, perhaps because of his appearance—tall and bent over with deep-set, expressionless eyes. Marshall is the only one who knows that the Professor has been watching them at play. The Professor has lived within himself for twenty-five years ever since his wife was killed. He becomes a part of the real world again when he calls for help when April is attacked. The police think that the Professor is the attacker, but Marshall tells them that he was the one who said “Help.” Marshall identifies the attacker as the spotted man with orange hair who carries things at the toy store (the red-haired man with freckles).