Imhotep Review

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The ancient Egyptians were builders and when they built they built big. And that’s what Imhotep, a game from Phil Walker-Harding and KOSMOS, is all about.

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The basic idea of the game is that players load building blocks in their colour on boats that can transport different amounts of blocks. With these boats the players can transport their, or other players’, blocks to the different building sites. There you can score points in a variety of ways, some sites give you immediate points, some at the end of the round and others at the end of the game.

Let’s dive in a little deeper. Imhotep is a family game and what I wrote about it above is really what the game is. Simple rules, simple concepts, but it still gives the players enough choices to make.

In a turn a player can do one of several things. The first things is that she can take three new cubes, big chunky wooden cubes. You only have room for five of them in your storage, so you can’t stockpile cubes.

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Another option a player has in her turn is to load one cube onto a boat. The game takes six rounds and at the start of a round a card will show what kind of boats will be used that round. There are boats with room for one, two, three and four blocks. When you place a cube, you may choose where to put it on the boat. It’s important, because the cubes, when the boat arrives at the dock of a building site, are unloaded from front to back.

And that’s the third option you have on your turn. Move a boat to a building site. A boat is only allowed to move when it has a certain amount of cubes on it, the amount it can take minus one. Except for the smallest boat, that needs to be full. You can also move boats which have none of your cubes on it.  This adds an interactive, take-that, element to the game. It’s not too bad, because it mostly means that you get fewer points then you wanted, if another player moves the boat to a location you didn’t wanted to go to, not no points at all.

Once a boat arrives at a building site, and there can be only one boat per site, the cubes are unloaded.

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The pyramid gives the players immediate points. You are building a pyramid and you start filling the columns from top to bottom, left to right, and every cube gives you an amount of points if the cube in your colour is placed on it.

The temple gives you points at the end of the round. You place cubes in a row of five from left to right, if the row is full, you place them on top. At the end of every round you look from above and the player whose stone is visible gets a point.

The burial chamber gets filled column by column from left to right and gives the players points at the end of the game. You get points for every stone of yours that is connected to another, the bigger the area the more points you’ll get.

At another site you can build an obelisk of your own. You place the stones from every single colour in a stack and the player who has the highest obelisk gets the most points at the end of the game.

The last site is the market. Here you can get action cards, or cards with end-game scoring conditions. Players have a choice of four cards and the player whose stone is first on a boat can choose first.

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There are red cards, which you must use immediately, like place a stone from the supply on your obelisk. There are purple cards that give you points at the end of the game, the more you have of them the more points you’ll get. There are green cards, which have end-game scoring condition written on them, like for every three stones in the burial chamber you get a point. And, lastly, there are blue action cards, like place a stone on a ship and immediately move that ship or move a ship and change the order of the cubes before you unload them.

This is also the fourth option you have on your turn. You can use a blue action card you’ve acquired earlier.

A round ends when all the ships have docked and the game ends after six rounds. Surprise, surprise, the player with the most points wins the game.

Above I described the A-sides of the sites. There are also B-sides, which have ways of scoring that are a bit more complicated. In this way you can mix and match, once you are familiar with the game concepts.

Like I said above, the rules aren’t difficult and the game concepts are quite simple, but Imhotep still gives you things to think about. You have to think about the location of your stones on a boat. You probably have a location in mind when you place a cube on a particular, but you also have to take into account that a boat can be moved by all players, so it may never go to your preferred location. Which is one of the cool things of the game, you can only do one thing on your turn and placing another cube on a boat maybe gives you more blocks on the sites, but sometimes you just have to move a boat instead, if you really want it to go to a specific location. And you will always give the other players points as well, but you we’ll need to balance the points you will get from a boat and the point the other players will get.

I must say that the last turns of a round might be a bit boring, because there are only two locations left and one boat and sometimes nobody really cares where it goes. So everyone thinks, you move that boat, I’ll take cubes, so the last player, once everyone has filled their storage room, moves the last boat and the round ends and the next one begins with everybody having a full storage. This makes the cube management aspect a bit less interesting.

This is a minor issue, it is also part of the strategy, trying to let other people do the work for you.

Overall this game is an excellent family game. It is a strategic family game, European style, not your laughing out loud, King of Tokyo or Codenames, kind of game. It’s dry, it’s brown, black and white. Not the colour scheme that will instantly grab the attention of your parents or friends. Which isn’t bad, but you might need to convince people to play it with you.

But once you do, you find that this is a wonderful game. It is more strategic with three or two players, because with four players the take-that aspect is more present and because of that it’s more chaotic compared to the lower player counts. A four player game is still nice, but you just have too many horses to bet on.

Phil Walker-Harding did it again. He is one of my favourite designers. He can create games that are engaging, have very simple mechanisms and are easy to explain, so I recommend every one of them when you are looking for a solid, fun game to play with your family.

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