Full disclosure: A review copy of Imhotep was provided by KOSMOS.
I’ve reviewed a fair number of games from KOSMOS by now, mostly by way of the EXIT series. For some reason, I haven’t managed to get around to some of their classic titles, which is weird, so, let’s fix that, finally? I’ll be talking about Imhotep for a couple weeks and then moving on to Targi, which was recently reprinted by KOSMOS once that’s done. Diving right in.
In Imhotep, you play as builders in Egypt seeking to emulate the legendary Imhotep himself by constructing temples, pyramids, burial chambers, obelisks, basically whatever comes to mind that you can reasonably justify. Even if you can’t justify it, it’s not like the Pharaoh is going to bury you in whatever building you constructed poorly; that’s a ridiculous concept. Will you be able to take your place as maybe the second-greatest builder in Egypt’s history?
Set out the scoreboard:
Keep all the stones together and give each player one in their chosen color to put on the scoreboard:
Give each player a supply sled tile matching their chosen color:
Now give the first player two stones, the second player three stones, the third player four stones, and the fourth player five stones in their player color. Once you’ve done that, you can set out the site boards:
For your first game, they should be on the A side; you’ll notice that each has two sides. Once you get familiar with the game, go hog wild; you can use whatever side you prefer. Now, onto cards. First, shuffle the Market Cards and then fill the Market according to the board’s instructions:
Then take the Round Cards corresponding to your player count, shuffle them, and remove one:
You’ll want to grab the ship tokens, next:
You should be ready to go! Flip the top Round Card and set out the corresponding ship tokens.
The game is surprisingly not too challenging to pick up, which I appreciate. On your turn, you may only do one of four things:
- Take 3 stones from the Quarry. You add them to your Supply Shed, and you can’t hold more than 5 stones.
- Add a stone to a ship. You may only add one stone to one ship, and a ship can hold up to the number of spaces on the ship.
- Set sail. You may move any ship to any open board, provided that it has the minimum required number of stones (pictured on the front of the ship). You unload stones from a ship front-to-back, and each stone may be placed to use that board’s ability. The owner of the stone gets the benefits; more on that below.
- Use a Tool card. Blue Tool Cards can be acquired at the Market, and they give you a one-time-use ability that you can take instead of another action.
That’s not too bad, right? Now we just need to talk about the boards and what they do.
This one’s pretty simple; as you unload stones, the owner of that stone may take a card from any space on the board. On the B side, there are two face-down cards; a player who wants those may take them, but must discard one of them.
On the A side, you’re building one large pyramid, column-by-column. As you add stones, players score instantly. On the B side, you’re building three small pyramids, column-by-column. As you add stones, the player’s owner may choose which stone goes to which pyramid, and then gains the bonus.
This has the same shape for the A and B sides, and generally the same rules. You place stones in a row, and when you complete the row you place stones on top of the first row. At the end of a round, whichever player’s stone is on top of a space gains the bonus, whether it’s points, extra stones, a card from the market, or what.
For the burial chamber, you’re generally looking for connections, and you have until the end of the game to make them. On the A side, players score each orthogonally-continuous group of stones. On the B side, players score each row based on which player has the most stones in that row.
Obelisks are fun. On the A side, the players score highest tower to lowest tower. On the B side, as soon as a player places 3 stones of their color on the board, they create a small obelisk that scores points.
End of Round
The round ends when the last boat is moved to a board; the player to the left of the player who sailed that boat goes first in the next round.
End of Game
Once the Round deck has been depleted, the game ends after the final round. Tally scores and the player with the most points wins!
If you’re looking for a harsher game, for some reason, you can also try the Wrath of the Pharaoh variant, where any player who doesn’t participate in all four of the building sites (Pyramid, Temple, Burial Chamber, Obelisks) loses 5 points. That’s a hoot, especially at higher player counts.
Player Count Differences
It just gets meaner. It’s not like that many more spaces open up between three and four players, but now you have even more players fighting for a limited supply. Expect scores to generally decrease as player counts increase, for one, but also expect fighting for things like the Burial Chamber or the Obelisks to get more heated. If you’ve got nice players, it’s not bad either way, but the game can get a bit intense, so just make sure you know what you’re getting into. I don’t have a strong preference on player count for Imhotep.
- Find a dumping ground. At least one of the locations is going to be a fantastic place for you to place your opponents’ pieces, especially things like the Obelisks Side A, where an overwhelming majority isn’t actually that useful. This can waste a lot of their turns and a lot of their points, if you’re lucky enough to get the drop on them in time. Sometimes the best dumping ground is the Pyramid, where an unlucky player can get one point for a stone while another player ends up with four points for a similar stone. Each location sort-of-has one (even the Temple, if you consider maintaining the status quo to be a dumping ground), so try and see where you can use that to your advantage.
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, unless you control the basket. Having a ton of your stones on one ship isn’t necessarily a bad move, but it sets you up for potential negative consequences, because an opponent can pull that ship of yours and dump it onto a spot that won’t earn you as many points. Sometimes you need to make sure you control the boat, too.
- Know which locations matter to you. Are you going after Tools? Trying to wrangle the Burial Chamber? Do you really need that Obelisk? If you know, make sure you’re going there. If you don’t know what matters to you, you risk spreading yourself a bit too thin, strategically, and then ending up with no positive outcomes. Naturally, that’s bad, too.
- You can use boats to block locations, too, don’t forget. It’s not terribly aggressve, but if you notice that your opponent is planning to make a big play on one location, putting a different boat there might shut them out or disrupt their plans enough that you can mess them up.
- Don’t forget to get your stones on boats. As you play this game there’s a real temptation to just manage the boat aspect of things. The problem is, if you do that, you’ll never actually score any points. At some point, to score, you have to get stones onto the boats. It’s occasionally an easy thing to forget, since there’s usually so much happening each time it gets to your turn, especially at higher player counts. Just make sure to remember that.
- If you see a player investing in Statues, you should go for them, too. I’ve tried this numerous times and it’s consistently unwise to let one player have all of them, despite my best efforts to mitigate it through other means. They’re just worth a lot if you have a lot.
- It’s not a bad idea to get some Tools, but it may not be the most efficient thing. Think of it this way; you spend actions to get stones and place stones. Assuming you spend another action to move the boat to the Market, you’re effectively getting a card that can do two actions for the price of one as the result of three actions. Getting only one card from the Market isn’t that great of a deal, then, I’d offer.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I usually appreciate the little bonus tidbits in KOSMOS’s game type explanations. On every KOSMOS box, they rank where the game sits in terms of certain mechanics. This one is no exception; I’d recommend checking that part out. I was amused.
- Very nice tactile game. The blocks are impeccable, honestly; they’re a good size, a good weight. That’s exactly what you want in a game where you’re moving them around a bunch.
- Pretty straightforward to learn. There aren’t that many actions, and correspondingly not a ton of boards. The major point of difficulty is going to be changing from the A Side to the B side, but that’s not the worst thing in the world, either. Think of it as a mini-expansion! Or something. One that’s included with the game. Yeah.
- The extra boards add some nice variety to the mix. I’m generally a fan of more options. These, though, I think just open up some variable plays; they don’t add too many new strategic options. That’s fine, honestly; I think that it gives you new ways to approach the game.
- It’s very difficult for players to remember not to pull from the Quarry when they want to place a block on a ship. This isn’t really a complaint about the game, just more of an “oof” observation. My current fix is mixing the Quarry blocks together and setting them aside. You just, you know, see all the blocks and think “oh I want those” and you forget the rules for a hot second, you know? It’s happened quite a bit to us.
- Small cards are routinely the bane of my existence. They’re difficult to shuffle, mostly. The Supply Shed tiles could be a bit larger, too.
- Players can occasionally benefit from the “random draw” mechanics of some of the boards in ways that might feel unfair. We definitely had a game where one player drew 5 Statues over the course of the game, and literally any other draw would have resulted in them losing, but they won instead. Needless to say, that wasn’t the most satisfying outcome. There’s no way to control for that, but, it can happen.
- Some players may not like the potentially aggressive actions you can take. I mean, you can spend a few turns building up a boat only to get it dumped somewhere useless. It’s worth considering your play group before you bring a potentially mean game to the table, and this might be mean enough that you don’t want to take the risk.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I’ve quite enjoyed Imhotep! I think, for me, the very tactile nature of the game is really appealing; you load up blocks, you sail ships, you create markets, and the whole thing kinda looks great. The table presence of games is often enough to draw me in, and this is definitely an example of a game with a rock-solid table presence. I particularly like that the tactile treatment also differs based on which board you’re going for, be it the vertical obelisks, the flat burial chambers, the wall of the temple, or the literal pyramids; they’re all very unique, and I appreciate that. I do kind of wish that there were a board for the quarry or something so I’d remember not to pull from the area with all my stones before I put them on boats (just a personal problem; it’s unintentional), if I were allowed to nitpick, and I’d love fewer random Market draw effects; they can be kind of swingy. That said, I’m still enjoying it a lot, and I’m looking forward to the expansion. If you’re looking for a neat tactile game and you’re not afraid to get a bit mean, Imhotep might be right up your alley!