You can be excused for raising an eyebrow at the title of Phil Walker-Harding’s Imhotep. Isn’t that the bad guy from The Mummy? You’ll have to push all the pop-culture references to one side – there are no curses or reincarnation of evil mummies here. Hollywood’s given Imhotep a bad rep, you see. Many Egyptologists actually credit him with architectural accomplishments such as designing pyramids and the smart use of stone columns for structure.
In KOSMOS’s Imhotep, 2-4 players compete to be the greatest architect in ancient Egypt. You’ll be aiming to contribute towards building five monuments, all of which offer up a range of different scoring possibilities, ranging from area control/area majority, pattern-building and set collection.
The mechanisms are wonderfully simple to teach. At the start of each round, a card will be revealed that shows which four boats (among varying sizes) will be in play during that round. Players will also start with a set amount of stone (the max they can store at once is five pieces). On your turn, you do one of four actions: place one of your blocks of stone onto one of the boats that have not sailed yet; sail any one of the boats to one of the five monument locations (providing they have a minimum required number of blocks on them); play a blue market card (these have bonuses and benefits on them), or receive three more pieces of stone from the supply.
The key to Imhotep is sailing boats. When boats ‘dock’, the stones come off the boat and are activated in order, front-to-back. The pyramid, for example, accepts stones in order and rewards specific points for where they’re placed, while the market rewards players with a card in a first- come-first-served manner. Therefore, you might notice your opponent place a stone in a specific spot on a boat. You could suspect that they intend to sail that boat to a certain location to earn a juicy reward, but of course, you have the power to sail that boat somewhere else – regardless of whether your stone is on the boat, or not!
Once a boat sits docked at one of the monuments, no other boat can visit it that round. This results in superb tension and interactivity between players – boats could depart at any moment, and possibly not where you expect! A round ends once all four boats have set sail, and there are six rounds in total, after which the player with the most points is crowned the best Egyptian architect! Imhotep himself would be so proud…
Imhotep comes from designer Phil Walker-Harding, designer of other fantastic family-weight games such as Bärenpark, Sushi Go and Gingerbread House – so you know you’re in good hands. Nominated for the 2016 Spiel des Jahres, it ticks all the boxes for a superb ‘gateway game’: easy to teach, easy to learn, and difficult to master.
Player Count: 2-4 Players
Time: 40 Minutes
Imhotep, designed by Phil Walker-Harding, of Barenpark and Archaeology fame, puts you into the role of rival master-builders competing for the favour of the pharaoh in ancient Egypt. You compete to build burial chambers, temples, obelisks and pyramids in honour of your ruler.
We Built This City
During the game, you will be transporting stones to the various sites to erect monuments in such a way that you score the most points. The game takes place over six rounds and each round you will either be acquiring stones from the quarry, placing stones to be transported to the monument sites, sailing a ship to a site or playing cards acquired at the market
There are a couple of twists that add depth and a competitive edge to Imhotep, however. Each space on a given site yields different points and the points are scored in the order that your stone blocks are off-loading from the boats. What begins is a quietly furious jostling for position on the boats as you second-guess your opponents’ desired locations. You can sail a boat to a location of your choice, for example, sending it to the obelisk site when you know full-well that your opponent would be sailing to the pyramid on their turn.
Boats are of different length allowing for varying loads, but all have a minimum load capacity denoted by block icons – once that capacity has been met they are free to sail. You have to think on your feet, adapting your strategy as you go; yes, your schemes can be dashed but there is something so charming about the game that you don’t really mind.
Player's scores are tracked on a separate board and the player with the highest score after six rounds is the winner. There is rarely a run-away winner in Imhotep and it is very amusing to leap over your opponent on the tracker when you have fulfilled the criteria on a card purchased at the market.
Then there are the market cards, which give you either an in-game advantage or bonuses at the end of play for meeting particular criteria. Are you eager to speed up your quarrying? Then use the hammer card, which enables you to excavate three stones from the quarry to your supply sled and place one stone on one ship. Do you want to go mad on obelisks? Choose the card that gives you one point per three stones in the obelisk site (your own + others).
These cards add a wonderful sense of satisfaction, even if you lose as you fulfil your own sub-text to the game.
As always with Kosmos, the components in Imhotep are beautiful and add to your immersion in the theme. The reed boats and illustrations of the tombs and monument site help to evoke the Egyptian atmosphere and the building blocks, which come in different colours for each player, are satisfyingly tactile and solid.
On the reverse of each monument card there is a different version of the site with an alternate way to score points; this even includes the market. This variety adds greatly to replay-ability as you try different configurations. Your group will often find their favourite configuration through this process.
Four players are given as the best player-count for Imhotep on Board Game Geek, but we found that three was the sweet spot. It scales well for varying player-counts but the laughs and unpredictability rises with more players.
Final Thoughts on Imhotep
There is something cosy about this game. Imhotep is a lovely game for you to play with your family as its elegant design means that it is accessible for all. Simple rules lead to deep gameplay rewarding those who adapt their strategy as the game progresses.
The box states 40 minutes and ages 10+, and Imhotep certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome; also, the ease of set-up and the relative speed of the game means that it will hit the table frequently. I didn’t feel that the player conflict was a problem as each turn offers you a variety of ways to score points.
I have played this game with players who love Euros and can’t abide conflict in games and they thoroughly enjoyed it. We have had great fun with this game and I am now eyeing any expansions that have been released.