Full disclosure: A review copy of Imhotep: The Duel was provided by KOSMOS.
We’ve got a few games coming down the pipe from KOSMOS; I’m very excited. Obviously, I’m most excited for more EXIT Games, but I don’t have those yet so I’m going to have to be patient. Currently, given that I’m writing about them on top of another game’s review, I’m doing a real bad job of being patient, but that’s just how things work in Busytown. In the meantime, I can tide myself over with Imhotep: The Duel! I was a bit concerned with how this one plays given that I already like (and am quite terrible at) Imhotep’s base game, but let’s dig in and see if those fears are justified (that’s an archaeology pun, for those of you at home).
Alright, in Imhotep: The Duel, none of you are Imhotep. To be fair, this shouldn’t be a particularly big surprise; none of you were Imhotep in the base game, either. Who you are are Nefertiti and Akhenaten, and you’re here to build the best … monuments, there it is. Obelisks, Pyramids, Tombs, and Temples; you’re going to need to build them all and build them all the best if you want to prove that you’re the greater leader. Which will triumph?
Setup isn’t too intense. Set the board out in the center:
Set a boat in each of the available ports:
There should be six. Now, shuffle the tokens. Place three face-down in the reserve at the top of the board, and three on each boat:
Give each player a set of Location Tiles on either the A or B side. Make sure both players are using the same side for a game:
Once you get familiar with the game, try the B side; it’s fun:
Each player is going to get some of the player figures in either white or black, and you’re ready to start!
Alright, so this is a game of tile collection. Over the course of the game you’ll place figures, unload boats, take tiles, and score points. At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins!
A game is played over a series of turns. On a player’s turn, they may either Place a Figure, Unload a Boat, or Use a Blue Token. More on each below.
Place a Figure
This one’s pretty simple; take one of your figures from the supply and place it on any of the nine spaces on the board, provided it’s unoccupied. That’s … pretty much your entire turn, if you choose to do that.
Unload a Boat
If a row or column has at least 2 figures in it, you may choose to unload that row or column’s boat. Starting with the figure closest to the boat, take the token furthest from the board (at the end of the boat) and give it to the player who owns that figure. Return the figure to that player’s supply, as well. If there are only two figures, the token at the front of the boat is removed from the game. Replace all three empty spaces with new tokens.
If there aren’t enough tokens left in the supply to refill the boat, refill it from the reserve on the board. Once that happens, if a boat needs to be refilled, remove it from play, instead. Once the fifth boat has been removed from play, the game ends.
Use a Blue Token
Blue Tokens are essentially super actions. They let you place extra figures, swap tokens around, place figures and unload, and more. That said, they come at a cost; if you use one of those, it takes up your entire turn.
End of Game
When there is only one boat remaining (and five boats have been removed from play), the game immediately ends. Now, tally your points based on each location; the player with the most points wins! If it’s a tie, the player who didn’t start wins!
Player Count Differences
None! It’s a two-player game.
- You’re going to need to get spiteful. This is a duel game; you’re not here to make friends in any way, shape, or form. It’s not going to feel quite as hateful as, say, 7 Wonders: Duel, but it’s definitely not going to feel awesome all the time. You’ll need to swap tokens to mess with your opponent, give them garbage they don’t need, and all-around play like a bit of a jerk if you want to win. It’s a bit aggressive, but, that’s a lot of duel games.
- As far as the Tomb goes, if you’re on the A side, try to take numbers in the middle. If you take the highest or lowest number, it becomes only possible to expand in one direction. If you take the generic middle, then you can expand in two. Just be careful; the tokens you need may be in the reserve, and you may never even get a chance to claim them.
- For the B side, just try to get every other number. For the Tomb? If you can keep the groups all separated, you can get 4 points per tile. That’s generally pretty good! If you can’t, well, it’s still 4 points per group, it’s just that the groups are becoming rapidly less valuable on a per-tile basis. That’s not great. That said, it’s not a bad idea to really sacrifice the Tomb to force your opponent to take as many of those as possible — imagine taking 5 or 6 tiles to ultimately earn 4 points for the whole of them? That’s a cruel move by anyone’s measure, but it will most likely win you the game.
- Not much better you can do than force an unload action when your opponent wasn’t expecting it. I often do this to make sure an opponent doesn’t get a tile they need. It’s hard to prevent them from ever getting it, but I can certainly force them to work for it.
- The blue tiles are definitely useful, but don’t over-rely on them. They’re not really worth any points, so if you take too many, you’re going to be stuck with a bunch of extra actions while your opponent has a bunch of bonus points. This usually means that if you’re unloading the last boat, choosing one that sticks your opponent with a bunch of blue tokens that they can’t use is often a fantastic strategy.
- Especially if you’re on the B side, don’t neglect anything. A fair number of those are negative points (or, at least, the Pyramids are; it makes sense, since Egypt is really not where you would want to skimp on pyramids). It may be fine to neglect the Tomb, since it’s better to underindex on that location than it is to overindex, which would be bad.
- Just like standard Imhotep, the Obelisk is a great thing to dump on a player who is already winning it. It’s only one point per tile (and six points if you win it) on the A side; if you know it’s getting away from you, you might as well “help” your opponent really lock it down. If you think about it, in a way, that’s almost really kind of you?
- Don’t forget; the last boat doesn’t get unloaded. That’s pretty key; you need to make sure that you’re getting the benefit from choosing which boat gets unloaded. If your opponent chooses, they may not be as kind to you (unless you’re not giving them other options, which is also fun).
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Much smaller than the base game. I mean it’s literally like a quarter of the size; it’s really awesome.
- Very easy to set up! Shuffling the tiles is kind of a pain, but you can throw them all into the box lid and just shake them up there. As long as nobody looks into it before they draw, it’s random enough.
- Plays pretty quickly, too. Pretty solidly faster than the base game, if my games have been any indication, which is nice.
- Honestly, it reminds me of the base game while still being distinct enough that I could justify owning both. It definitely has the “aggressing your opponent” that I remember from the base game of Imhotep, but it seems a bit streamlined since you’re not dealing with the blocks as the middleman. Flipping the script to make the boats essentially carry the Location actions was a pretty smart move to make the game more streamlined.
- I appreciate that it came out with the A / B sides; it makes the game feel more variable (especially since you can mix and match A / B sides as long as you’re consistent). It’s always nice to see that happen. I hesitate to strongly associate variability with replayability, so I won’t, but I appreciate having more starting options for the game.
- All tiles seem like pretty solidly decent ways to win, if your opponent neglects them. No particular location feels strong to the exclusion of others (maybe the Obelisk is, again, a smidge weak). That’s great! It means I can explore multiple strategies when I play without fearing penalty.
- I mean, it’s smaller, but not always in a good way. I expand on this a bit more in the cons, but this is mostly about mentioning that the tokens are a bit small; it would be nice to have a slightly bigger game so that all the pieces were easier to pick up and read from a distance.
- I get why the pieces are black and white, but I’m surprised they’re not, say, grey or brown or something more thematic. This is mostly me complaining because they’re hard to photograph against a black or white background, as I have done in the past and will do forever.
- If you found Imhotep too spiteful for you, this is not going to be much better in that category. This is an even meaner game, which I respect, since it’s two-player only. There aren’t additional players to help temper your aggression; there is only the opponent. If you’re looking for a friendlier game, I’d definitely recommend pretty much anything else. This game is maybe a bit nicer than 7 Wonders: Duel, but not much.
- In order to be smaller than the base game, it had to lose a lot of the physical components that made Imhotep fun.I kind of miss the blocks? Though it is nice to not be constantly accidentally pulling from the quarry when I want to take a turn. The duel game feels a bit more streamlined, as you’d expect from the benefit of a few years of seeing the critical and audience reception of Imhotep.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, though, I think the portability and ease of setup win out for Imhotep: The Duel! I don’t have to deal with cards or blocks or all the complexities therein; I can just shuffle up the tokens, place them on the boats, and I’m good to go. That counts for a lot, even if the core game isn’t that much different. That said, I wasn’t sure where to say it in my review, but the actual process of picking and unloading boats is pretty interesting, since your figure can be used for a row or column; it means you need to be smart about looking at both possible placement opportunities. It’s a really clever design to increase the complexity of that decision without overcomplicating it. Naturally, in the wrong hands, everything can be overcomplicated, but within the scope of this game it flows very well, in my experience. I’ve played a lot of “Duel” games, and several of them work pretty well at encapsulating their original game without taking away from it, and I definitely think this one is a worthy addition to that category. I think it does a good job remembering what people like about Imhotep (the spiteful placement and punishment) and shrinks it down so that it’s easier for two people to pick up and play a quick game. I’ll be interested to see if they add complexity to it in an expansion, if they choose to go that route, but if you’re looking for a solid two-player title or you just enjoy Egypt-themed games, I’d certainly recommend Imhotep: The Duel! It’s been a lot of fun to play.