The original Imhotep is one of my favorites when I want to play a quick competitive strategy game. Despite its simplicity, gameplay can be oddly intense since every move requires you to think one or two moves ahead. You must figure out where you want to go, try to anticipate where your opponents are intending to move, and whether it’s more beneficial to foil their plans or focus on your own.
My biggest problem with the original Imhotep is the two-player mode, or the lack thereof. While I don’t agree with those that say the game becomes to cutthroat with only two players; I did feel there was a lack of strategic decision making at the two-player count, as you are often forced to counter your opponents every move with very little wiggle room to do anything else. Imhotep: The Duel was created to fix that issue. Sitting down to demo the game at Gen Con, our teacher jokingly called it “the marriage saving version,” and I could see why pretty quickly.
Hows it play
In the original game, players were tasked with loading boats with stones of their colors before eventually sending the boats to different areas on the board in order to build the monuments that will score them the most points. In Duel, instead of stones, players each have 4 workers to place on a tic-tac-toe style board which is surrounded by boats. When a row or column has at least 2 workers of any color any player can unload that boat on their turn gaining the tokens in the boat that correspond to the placement for their workers.
Boats are unloaded in a specific way that may be a bit different from what players are accustomed to. The player closest to the boat unloads the back end of the boat and each player in the line continues unloading the boat from back to front. Once a boat is unloaded every worker involved in that unloading is taken off the board and given back to their owners. It’s a simple dynamic, but it works remarkably well in execution.
For example, you may notice that your opponent is working towards a specific tile on a boat by placing their worker on the corresponding spot on the grid. To thwart you, the opponent you could unload a different boat on a different axis to give that player a token they don’t want, or you might remove some of your own workers requiring them to put down another worker on their turn in order to have the two workers required to unload. The worker replacement mechanism combined with various action tiles that let you take bonus actions on your turn give this simple game a surprising layer of depth. The game has a nice ebb and flows that I really appreciated, and I’m looking forward to diving deeper into its mechanics in future plays.
The game’s scoring mechanisms are very easy to understand. There are four ways to get points. The first is building monoliths which give you a point for each level constructed and bonus points if yours is taller than your opponent’s. Second, you can construct two pyramids that will give you points for each level you build. Third, you can add tiles to your temple, earning points equal to the value of each “stone” used. Lastly, in the tomb, you gain points for having a run of up to five consecutively numbered tiles. Once you have a run of five tiles you have to start a new run in order to gain more points from your tomb. The tomb takes a second to grasp, but it can be a major point earner.
I really enjoyed our play of Imhotep: The Duel. It fixed most of my complaints with the two-player mode of its larger counterpart. Without Imhotep’s chunky wooden blocks that actually form three dimensional monuments on the table, Duel doesn’t have the same impressive table presence as its predecessor. Even so, I would much rather play this version if I only have one other person to play with. If you’d like to know more about this game, check back for my full review in the near future.
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AKA “The Board Game Mole”
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