Kayla and I are subscribers to a service called UnboxBoardom, where we get a new board game every other month. Kayla and I saw Imhotep one month, but decided not to get it due to the theme. However, our friend decided to get it for us anyway for Christmas and we’re glad he did. There’s a reason this game was one of the 2016 Spiel des Jahres nominees up against Codenames.
Imhotep is an interesting type of worker placement abstract strategy game where you place blocks of a pyramid on ships and then move the ships to different destinations to accomplish different tasks and score points. These destinations are the Market where you get cards to help with your operations and scoring, the Pyramid where you build to score points, the Temple where the more you “worship” the more you score, the Burial Chamber where you score more by having more cubes grouped together, and the Obelisk where you build the tallest monument. The difference between other worker placements and this is that placing a cube (“worker”) is a two step process where you first place it on a ship. Another player takes their turn and on their turn, they can move your ship to a destination you weren’t planning on going to.
Building a pyramid oozes throughout this game. Each destination found a way to utilize the game pieces to fit a part of the theme. The market had items laid out for you to choose from. The Pyramid allows you to actually build a pyramid with the cubes. The Temple requires you to go there (deliver a cube) enough to make sure that other players don’t overtake you in being the most pious. The Burial Chamber fits the idea that people were buried with their followers in pyramids so the larger the group of your cubes, the more points you score. Finally, with the Obelisk, you are actually building a tall tower of cubes and trying to be taller than the other players. It is a creative use of components and an excellent theme for the various game mechanics.
The rules of Imhotep in terms of what to do per turn is pretty straightforward, however because each destination is different, understanding what to do at each destination is what takes a little longer to figure out. Within one game, it is possible to learn what to do at each destination but it does take some referring back to the rulebook. However, all players in our gaming session got the hang of it by the end of the first game. This then allowed the strategies to start to form for optimizing score.
With 5 different ways to score, the strategies are endless. Not only are there 5 methods to scoring, each method of scoring can occur at different points in the game. The Market and Pyramid are points that are given instantly, the Temple scoring occurs between rounds, and the Burial Chamber and Obelisks only score at the end of the game. So while you try to out do your opponents during the game, you have to keep an eye at the end game potential scoring as that could create the game winner. In addition to the scoring, keeping an eye on the boats is important as you share boats with other players and they may move to a destination you’re not targeting. If you place a cube on the smallest boat that holds only one cube, another player can decide they don’t want you to build onto the Obelisk and get the tallest stack. In some of the destinations, however, the scoring doesn’t have a clear pattern to it so it is more difficult to create a coherent strategy around it. Balancing all these elements take a great deal of thought and leads to trying out various options across multiple games.
The game is fairly short at only 6 rounds so you are left with the feeling that you could have done better if you did one thing differently. This leads you to play the game again with a new strategy to see if you can do better. We think that the designer was able to balance game time with strategy so well that is inherently makes it replayable. The only thing that would hold one from going straight to the game on the bookshelf is the deep Egyptian Pyramids theme. It is such a specific theme that it may not resonate with all players at first. If you can convince your friends to try that first game though, we believe they will get hooked.
Imhotep takes an interesting approach to worker placement where you rely on your opponent’s strategy to properly place your worker, a cube in this case. It goes all in on incorporating theme into the physical use of the game pieces with scoring opportunities such as building a Pyramid or Obelisk. The rules are easy to learn, but understanding how to use each destination to score points takes a little time to get used to. There are several paths to victory and you’ll find yourself wanting to play again to try different ones in order to win.