Time: 30 minutes
Times Played: 40~
After playing The Quest for El Dorado, Kingdomino, and Magic Maze (Finally!!), I took a look at our collection to see what other Spiel des Jahres winners and nominees we had and realized I needed to talk about a forgotten love, Imhotep.
Imhotep was a nominee in 2016 and finished behind eventual winner Codenames. While I completely understand why Codenames won, as far as a strategic gaming experience goes Imhotep is far and away the superior of the two but honestly it’s like comparing apples and oranges.
This game has you playing as builders in ancient Egypt who are trying to imitate the countries most famous architect, wait for it…Imhotep.
Imhotep is played over six rounds and at the beginning of each round, a card is revealed that shows which ships will be available for use for the duration of the round. For each turn during the round, players can take one of three options:
Take two stones and add them to your supply;
Add one stone to a ship (choosing which empty space you want, if available); and
Sending one ship to a monument (only if that ship is carrying the minimum amount of stones).
This continues until all ships have been placed at a monument for the round. There are unique cards that can be acquired from the Market that can alter or add an additional action to some of these options, but this is the basis of the game.
Stones that are moved via shipping are placed on the monuments in the order they are placed on the ship. Some monuments are scored immediately whereas others occur at the end of the round or the end of the game.
Regarding the market, the order of stones dictates the order in which the players that control those stones can choose which cards they want to take. There are four different kinds of cards available:
Red cards have an immediate effect;
Blue cards can be used later to improve actions;
Green cards are scored at the end of the game for the total amount of stones in a particular monument; and
Purple cards are Statues, which accumulate points for the more Statues you collect over the course of the game and are scored at the end.
After a round has been completed, a new set of boats is pulled from the deck and the market is replenished, the round begins.
Once the sixth round is completed, the game is over and everyone tallies their points with the player having the most points being the winner.
That’s the game. Fairly quick and to the point. But how about the components?
The production of Imhotep is top-notch. This is a game about moving stones and whoever decided to make the cubes representing the stones bigger deserves a raise. They are a decent size with some heft to them and it makes you feel like you’re moving stone; this isn’t the tiny featherweight cubes from Pandemic that you’re putting on a ship. These might be the best cubes of any game I’ve played.
All the cardboard tile used in the game are thick and sturdy in quality. After all our playthroughs, we had no issue with wear on any of the components which was especially surprising considering that when we move the ships, we just slide them back and forth along the table as we can’t be bothered to pick up a piece of cardboard and the cubes resting on top of it out of sheer laziness…or maybe we’re just so immersed in the aspect of shipping that sliding them adds to the engagement. Let’s side with that (we also don’t want to pick them up and lose the position of the cubes since that’s so important for a more realistic answer).
Imhotep is one of our hidden gem games. We never hear anyone say a bad thing about the game but we also never see anyone talking about it. The game plays in under forty minutes and can be taught in under ten. Nothing is overly complicated, there are few options for a player to take each turn, and the monuments and cards are easy to read for first time players which translates to a smooth experience.
This is a game we recommend to friends that want to take the jump to the next tier of gaming but don’t know where to go after they’ve exhausted the life out of their copies of Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne. It is simple to teach and learn but offers a decent amount of depth and strategy with each turn. Games are relatively quick so if a move is botched, it won’t weigh on someone’s conscious for the next few hours.
For the number of options you can take per turn, there is a surprising amount of decisions that can be made but more importantly, the decisions are clear and the consequences are easy to decipher.
When and where are you going to place a stone?
As the ships defer in sizes and the minimum amount of stones needed to move a ship, placement is utterly important especially in three and four player games as that ship might be gone next time your turn comes up. Being able to place on any space does offer some options to try and mitigate being sent somewhere you do not want to be but is playing it safe the best play?
When and where are you going to move a ship?
The main idea to think about is do you ever want to “waste” a turn by moving an opponent’s ship to a sub-optimal location in place of doing something beneficial to yourself and what will the repercussions be for such a move? On round six, go for it. On round two, maybe it’s not the best move.
When are you going to take more stones for your supply?
This one is funny to me as in our games when it comes down to one or two spots left to fill on a ship, everyone tends to replenish their supply before someone bites the bullet and places their stone down. This happens because they know that they will not be able to control where this ship is going and usually by this time there are two options left: one optimal and one sub-optimal.
If sent to Market, which card will you take?
When this happens, you must be prepared for it. Scoring cards are typically the bread and butter in my group as they can really snowball at the end of a game if things go your way. The Blue and Red cards that provide additional and/or immediate boosts are nice but none has ever pushed a player over the edge in our games (which might also be because of how we view scoring cards and the importance we place on them).
As seen above, Imhotep has a surprising amount of player interaction even if a player is not trying to directly involve another player; it’s just the nature of the game. Often it does not come off as an aggressive move but that does not mean there isn’t room for such aggression.
Imhotep rewards playstyles that can screw other players over. You can move ships that are not your own or sabotage yourself to send someone to someplace they don’t want to go. It can get incredibly frustrating. My group personally loves that aspect but I know that’s not for everyone. If you think you can just put your big cubes on a ship and sail them effortlessly to a location of your choosing, think again.
In fact, I would argue that this game comes down to two decisions each player turn: making a move that may benefit yourself in a future turn versus making a move that will deny your opponent’s points. It becomes a gamble because not only do you have to make this decision, you know that what you decide on is impacting what the other players at the table are going to do.
Something small that I want to point out that I don’t think gets talked about enough regarding Imhotep is that you can “technically” pass on your turn, as long as you have space to add another block from your supply. If there’s a tough decision ahead and you don’t know the right call, you can reload and force that upon someone else. Even better when there is a play that will hurt another player but you don’t want to earn their ire, you can refill your board in the hopes that the next player makes that calculated play.
Is everything great about this game though? No but nothing that impacts gameplay.
While there is a theme here and the components and verbiage do their best to help immerse players in that theme, this is still an abstract game at heart. Absolutely nothing wrong with that but not once did I feel like I was working towards constructing an actual great monument to the God’s.
Another thing, for how beautiful the components are, the box is a massive waste of space. Maybe with the mini-expansions and promos all tucked into one box the space is more evenly distributed by as a base game it rivals Terraforming Mars for most empty box. With the size and weight of the cubes, I wonder if overtime the box and other components will suffer any type of damage with transporting and storage. I have sleeved my cards (we were playing this a lot) but I also store this game vertically and it is a question that rattles around the back of my mind.
Imhotep can also be prone to “King-Making”, which means that a player that is more than likely out of the game can take actions purposefully that will decide who will win the game. The nature of the gameplay makes this a tendency that can occur. I say can as the possibility is there but due to the ability to nullify points for other players, most of our games are relatively close. We also have a group that prides themselves on not being last so the optimal play is typically whatever puts themselves ahead.
Another drawback is that this game only fits four people. I think it’s best at four and highly enjoyable at three. It’s totally playable at two but it loses some of the appeal of the harsh decision making as there are only two players adding cubes to the ships. Most of our plays are at three players and there’s really nothing wrong with it at that level unless someone is clearly out of the game or has a vendetta against another player as that’s when King-Making appears. Four players just feels the most competitive and has the most opportunity for the game to really showcase what it’s about.
I also wouldn’t say that Imhotep is a game that I would want to play at every game night. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy it and don’t ever see it leaving our collection but this is a game that hits the table once a month or once every few months and we’re good with that. With its length, we usually get two or three plays in and that’s enough to wet our whistles.
Basically, if you are looking for a light(er)weight game that offers a surprising amount of intricacy for the amount of decisions you can make a turn that plays fast, I recommend Imhotep and all that it offers. It can usually be found for around the $20 mark which really boosts this game in my opinion.