Imhotep (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designer: Phil Walker-Harding
  • Publisher:  KOSMOS
  • Players:  2 – 4
  • Ages:  10 and Up
  • Time:  40 Minutes
  • Times Played:  > 3

Imhotep 3DBox

In Imhotep, players are master builders in Ancient Egypt, using ships to transport stone blocks to various building sites. Imhotep has been out in Germany for a couple of months, but it didn’t generate much buzz on this side of the pond until it was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres. Though Kosmos originally planned to release Imhotep later this summer, they are now planning a release soon in the United States.

Imhotep: Stones, ships, and monuments…

Each player is a master builder in Egypt. In short, players are trying to acquire stones, put them on ships, and then ship them to one of five monuments, earning points along the way. The game is played over six rounds, with each round ending when all of the ships have sailed. The player with the most points at the end is the best builder.

ImhotepComponentsA predetermined number of ships — each with a varying number of spaces — will be put out at the start of each round. On a player’s turn, they can choose one of four actions:

  • Get new stones. Players can take a maximum of three, but they must have space on their sled for the stones taken.
  • Move one stone to an available ship. Stones can be placed on any empty space.
  • Sail one ship to an empty site and unload the stones. Each ship also has a minimum number of stones that must be loaded before it can sail. Stones are unloaded by owners from front to back.
  • Play one blue market card. The card is then discarded.

There are five sites to sail to, each of which awards points in different ways. Each site has “A” and “B” sides, but I’m only going to discuss the “A” sides in this review. Just know that the “B” sides add variability and replayability!

  • Market – The owner of each stone picks one of the available market cards. The stone is discarded to the stock.
  • Pyramid – Stones are placed from left column to right and from top to bottom. For example, you only move on to the middle column after the first column is full. Points indicated by the number in the box are scored immediately. The board also shows points for the second and third levels. Further stones score one point and stones are placed to the right of the site board.
  • Temple  – Stones are placed from left to right. Once a level is full, a new level is placed again from left to right. Points are scored at the end of the round, with one point for each stone visible from above.
  • Burial Chamber – Stones are placed column by column, top to bottom and left to right, with scoring at the end of the game coming from orthogonal connectivity. The value increases arithmetically for additional connections, up to 15 points for five, then 2 points for each additional connection. Score all your areas.
  • Obelisks – Each player builds a tower, and the tallest towers at the end of the game earn points.  In the event of a tie, points are added together and divided, rounding down if necessary.

The cards that can be taken from the market are either used immediately (all non-blue colors) or are held for later use (the blue cards). Red cards allow you to move stones from the quarry immediately to certain sites. Green cards award additional points at the end of the game for every third stone in the specified area. Purple cards (statues) earn points based on the number of them you have at the end of the game. Blue cards give various special powers, everything from allowing the unload of stones in any order you choose to allowing the placement of multiple stones.

The game ends after the sixth round. The player with the most points is a winner!

My thoughts on the game…

I’ve enjoyed my plays of Imhotep, and I see what drew the Spiel des Jahres jury to the game. The mechanics are fun, and the game’s theme works exceptionally well. Each action makes me feel like I’m actually building monuments. Watching the pyramid and obelisk emerge from game boards is eye-catching, and the overall presentation of Imhotep is high. The large, chunky blocks add greatly to the production value, as does the attractive artwork. (My favorite comment on Imhotep comes from Eric Martin, who wrote, “I like big blocks and I cannot lie.”)

Imhotep offers clever and original gameplay that is high on both strategy and interactivity. You must constantly watch what your opponents are doing, all while planning your own route to victory.

The game is easy enough to learn, with most of the actions and ways to score points being intuitive, but experience and tactical play matters. I’ve found it better to focus on a couple of different monuments, although you don’t have complete control over your ability to do that.

If there’s one element of Imhotep’s Spiel des Jahres nomination that surprises me, it is that this can be a cutthroat game. If played well, you’ll constantly be blocking your opponents, either by sailing a ship to a different location than they intended or using the cards to undo their best laid plans. Aggressive play is rewarded in Imhotep, a rare characteristic among the games that impress the SdJ jury. I don’t find it overly adversarial — and besides, I like a little confrontation in games — but I expect that some players might find it offputting.

Gameplay is fast. The box advertises 40 minutes, but I have yet to have a game go that long, even with 4 players. Imhotep has decisions to be made, but it doesn’t induce the dreaded analysis paralysis, and time between turns is short.

In short, I see why Imhotep is on the Spiel des Jahres jury’s radar, and I could see it winning the award, even if it wouldn’t have been one of my picks. (That said, I’d still describe Codenames as the favorite!)  Imhotep’s design is top-notch, and there is enough meat here for gamers, yet there’s still enough approachability for non-gamers (even if this is a bit heavier than Camel Up or Colt Express). The game has everything the modern jury looks for: a family friendly weight, clearly-written rules, excellent presentation, and originality. Add in the fun theme, and Imhotep could be a hit. Best of luck to Phil Walker-Harding and Kosmos this summer!

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers . . .

Greg S:  I enjoyed my one play of Imhotep … but  not enough to explore it further. I found it decent, but nothing spectacular. As you mention, it is nasty, with players constantly interfering with the plans of their opponents. After many, many years in the hobby, I am seeking games that truly “wow” me and grab my attention. Imhotep simply fails to do that.

Joe Huber(1 play): Imhotep is a very reasonable game – while there is something of a cutthroat nature to the game, as Chris notes, it didn’t bother me in spite of a general preference against such game play. I did play the advanced game, and can easily see the basic game being a reasonable fit for the Spiel des Jahres. Reasonable, but unexpected; I would have expected (and did expect) some other game to have taken the nomination. I’d play Imhotep again if others wanted to – but that wouldn’t be my first choice.

Dan Blum (1 play of the B sides): It’s a decent game I’d be happy to play, but not outstanding. I’m a bit surprised by the SdJ nomination; it’s not complex enough for the KdJ, and it does have a nice simple selection of choices each turn (a quality shared by many SdJ winners), but the different methods of scoring each site struck me as a bit fiddly for the SdJ audience. (It’s still better than Camel Up,)

Mary Prasad (1 play): Similar to Greg, I enjoyed my one play OK – mainly because most of us were new and I liked the people I played with. I don’t like mean games, where players can mess with your plans, so this game is probably not going to be my cup of tea.

Jonathan Franklin (1 play): I played one game on the all A sides, so feel it is a bit unfair to judge the game.  At the same time, I want to comment for two reasons.  First, I am a relative carebear and was worried based on early reports that the game was ‘mean’.  It is not mean.  It is just that you can either take an action that will score something or move a boat that will define how the items on the boat score. Given how Feldian the scoring is, you might get 1 point vs. 3 when you boat is take to the ‘wrong’ place.  Yes, the scoring is tight, but you cannot really be hosed and barely even directly targeted.  Second, it is a game of inches, and hence had little excitement.drama for me.  If you like micro-efficiency games, you might like it, but I was disengaged due to the minimal variability in results even when that is what determined the winner.

Fraser (1 play): In our house we call this game Land of the Cube Giants, or Land of the Meanie Cube Giants – note it is not the Cube Giants who are meanies, but those who control the shipping.  The game looks great and plays much faster than I expected it to.  The Meanie aspect comes in as you set up a ship with your stuff with a destination in mind and some meanie sends it off to a completely different destination :-)  However, you are still going to get the advantages of your unexpected (well it probably should not be entirely unexpected really) destination and also you can return the favour on your turn!  As the game is fast, you will still be scoring, just not as much as you were expecting to however it will not be a game changing event.  For me the length of the game supports the Take That aspect of the shipping and the possibilities of using the Giant Cubes are interesting and varied.  I am looking forward to the English edition being available.
Dale Y: (3 plays A side, 1 play B side): I have liked my four plays of this game.  If it were ten years ago, I’d put my money behind this one winning the SdJ – however, given the recent jury selections, this just seems way too complicated when compared to previous recent winners.  The game has a delightful balance of strategic planning of where to place your own cubes mixed with some delightful tension on when to move ships (sometimes/oftentimes ships that don’t even have your own cube on them!).  It definitely has that old-school feeling of wanting to do more things than you are allowed each turn.  As I mentioned earlier, it’s a bit more complex than recent winners for SdJ and there is a bit more targeted play that what I’m used to in a SdJ.  Though I’ve enjoyed the game, I’m not sure that I’d even put this in the “gateway game” classification – this is something that I’d reserve as a lighter game from experienced gamers, not something I’d introduce the hobby with.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Fraser
  • I like it. Chris Wray, Dan Blum, Karen Miller, Dale Yu, John P.
  • Neutral. Greg S., Joe H., Mary Prasad, Jonathan F.
  • Not for me…  
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