Reviewed by Herb Levy
IMHOTEP: BUILDER OF EGYPT (Kosmos, 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, 40 minutes; $39.95)
Ancient Egypt is well known for its amazing pyramids and the incredible civilization that created them. But these accomplishments did not happen by accident. They were the result of careful planning and vision. And now, two to four players will have to use their own careful planning and vision to duplicate (in a fashion) the achievements of the architect behind those wonderful structures in the game designed by Phil Walker-Harding and named for him: Imhotep.
All players begin with a supply of blocks (in their chosen color) which comprise their quarry. Depending on turn order, players will begin with 2, 3, 4 of 5 of these stone blocks on their “supply sled”. Players are placed in the position of the great architect and need to load stones onto ships and sail them to where they will do the most good, constructing impressive structures and the like. But, of course, your opponents will be trying to do the same.
A game consists of six rounds. Each round, a card is drawn showing four ships available for loading. These ships will have room for anywhere from 1 to 4 stones and, eventually, the ships will dock at one of five possible locations:
The Market – Four cards from the game’s card deck are drawn and placed on display here. Red cards have an immediate effect and allow you to move one stone from your QUARRY right onto a ship (in effect, allowing you to do two moves at once). Green cards grant you end of game bonus points (granting you 1 Victory Point per 3 stones at a specified location). Purple “statue” cards grant Victory Points at game’s end based on how many you manage to accumulate (from 1 point for 1 card to 15 points for 5 cards and more). Blue cards, like red cards, grant you the ability to do two specified actions at once but the difference here is that you can choose when to play them.
The Pyramids – Here, stones are unloaded from the docked ship and are placed so that a pyramid is constructed. The pyramid is built, column by column, with points scored based on what space they fill and immediately noted on the scoring board.
The Burial Chamber – Again, unloaded stones are placed to fill up the area column by column. But points are scored at the end of the game based on stones CONNECTED, horizontally or vertically (not diagonally). A single stone earns only 1 VP but longer connections earn significantly more (five connected stones would score 15!). Players CAN score for more than one “field” too.
Obelisks – Stones delivered here get stacked with the highest stack earning 15 points (in a four player game, less with less players) and smaller stacks scoring lesser amounts of VPs.
Temple – Unloaded stones are placed in a line. When the line (of four or five, based on the number of players) is reached, the next stones are placed on TOP of the previously placed ones. At the end of each round, players score 1 VP for EACH stone that can be seen from an “aerial” view of the Temple.
(In this review, we concentrated on the A sides of the five locations and it should be noted that there is an A and a B side to all. Although you might assume that the B side is somehow more “advanced” or “difficult”, this is not the case. The B sides just slightly modify what happens at each location and you can mix and match the sides to create different configurations as you wish, an easy way to add variety to play.)
On a turn, a player may move ONE stone from his supply sled onto a ship (provided that a space is open there) OR “excavate” 3 stones from his quarry and place them on his supply sled (assuming that there is room there as sleds can hold up to a maximum of 5 stones) OR sail a ship to one of the game locations (provided that the minimum number of stones have already been placed on that particular ship) OR play a previously gotten “blue” card. Eventually, all ships will dock, ending the round. Points scored at the Temple are added to the running totals of the players. Then any remaining cards at the Market are removed, a new round card is drawn revealing the configuration of the four ships available for transport and we do it all over again. After the sixth round, points scored at The Burial Chamber and for the Obelisks plus any bonuses from any held Green cards are added to players’ running totals. The player with the highest total wins!
To a certain extent, there is a “push your luck” element to Imhotep as you need to decide how much time to spend loading stones onto ships and when (and where) to dock them. There can be a bit of “take that” in the game, particularly as it relates to deciding where to dock a ship. Each round only four ships are available to sail and there are FIVE possible locations for docking so one place each round will not be touched. Since you do NOT have to have a stone of your own to pilot a ship to a destination, you can guide a ship to a less than optimal location to prevent a player or two from creating large – and high scoring – connections at The Burial Chamber or grabbing an additional Statue card or scoring bunches of points in building pyramids etc. But, that aside, the emphasis of the game is on what YOU can do with generally minimal interference. This leads to smooth and quick tactical play, ably abetted by a very pleasing graphic presentation (those large blocks are tactile treats to handle and stack). For these reasons, Imhotep is a game with definite family game appeal which accounts for its well deserved nomination this year for the Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year Award). – – – – – – Herb Levy
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