Reviewed by Herb Levy
IMHOTEP: THE DUEL (Kosmos, 2 players, ages 10 and up, 30 minutes; $19.95)
Back in 2016, Phil Walker-Harding designed Imhotep: Builder of Egypt, a game set in ancient Egypt where players competed to build pyramids and more. The game was successful enough to garner a Spiel des Jahres nomination (as well as being featured in the Winter 2017 Gamers Alliance Report). As is so often the case with successful games, spin-offs follow. This time, four players become two when two players clash, one as Nefertiti, the other as Akhenaten, with the goal to construct four monuments to win Imhotep: The Duel.
The game comes with a harbor board which is a 3 x 3 grid with moorings for 6 ships (3 on two sides) and a reserve space. The 60 cargo tokens are mixed with 3 randomly assigned to each ship (with 3 more placed on the reserve space). Each player gets 4 meeples (white or black) and a set of “site” boards showing an obelisk, temple, pyramid and tomb. (Boards are two-sided. Both players use the same side A or B.)
On a turn, a player may do ONE of three actions: place one meeple, unload one boat or play an Action Token.
A meeple may be placed on an unoccupied space on the 3 x 3 grid. A boat moored at the end of a row or column containing at least two meeples may be unloaded by any player – even if that player has no meeples in that row or column. Each meeple in that row or column takes one cargo token from the boat with the meeple closest to the boat taking the token farthest away. The meeple is returned to supply and the collected cargo token immediately assigned to its matching site. Any unloaded tokens on the ship (because there are 3 tokens and there might only be two meeples) are removed from the game. (The ship is then reloaded with those tokens in reserve with new ones drawn to fill the reserve vacancy.)
Sometimes, a player will collect one or more “Action Tokens”. These blue tokens are special and bend the rules (such as allowing you to place a meeple AND unload one or more ships, take a token right off a boat, swap 2 cargo tokens on a boat and then unload or place 2 or 3 meeples at once). Playing such a token is your entire turn.
As the game progresses, you will reach a point when no more cargo tokens remain to be assigned. When a ship cannot be restocked, it is removed from the game. When the next to last ship is unloaded, the game ends (the final ship is not unloaded) and points tallied.
When playing with the A side, each obelisk token earns 1 point with a bonus of 6 points available to the player who has collected the most. Circle tokens go to the temple, scoring points based on how many circles on each token (from 1 to 4). Pyramid tokens come in light and dark shades and are used to build like colored pyramids. The more of each you have, the more points they will score. Finally, tomb tokens are numbered from 1 to 12. For each set of connected tokens (for example, 3-4-5), players score more and more points. Players also collect 1 point for each unused Action token and 1 point for any of their meeples left on the board. The player with the highest total wins! Tie? Then the player who did NOT start the game earns the victory! (The play is the same when using the B sides but the scoring and goals vary.)
This game does not boast all of the wooden pieces found in the original game that made Imhoptep: Builder of Egypt so eye-catching; except for the eight meeples found here, wood has been replaced by tokens. But the critical point is the game play.
The grid mechanism used in Imhotep: The Duel is a tried and true device seen in many games (including another recent Kosmos release, Targi) and it is used to good advantage here. The game offers a combination of positioning and timing challenges. On a 3 x 3 grid, there is not much room to maneuver but that does not limit your choices. A player has to decide which ship to unload and when to do it. If only two meeples are on a row/column, only two cargo tokens will be unloaded, leaving the third discarded. Where a token is positioned on the board figures into this too as unloading order is strict. When building a pyramid or trying to create a run of tomb numbers, this can be devastating. (Another reason why those Action Tokens can be so valuable.) You can try to put three of your meeples in a row or column but, because your opponent can unload a ship even if he/she has no meeples there, you can find yourself gathering up less valuable (at least, to you) cargo while your carefully staked out position on the board has changed dramatically. This fluidity makes you think tactically with an eye to grabbing immediate advantages.
In Imhotep: The Duel, Phil Walker-Harding has crafted an easy to learn game that offers a surprising amount of decision making in a small package, an excellent follow-up to the original. – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy
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