Imhotep comes to us from Australian designer Phil Walker-Harding. This isn't his first hit: he's also known for his work in Cacao and Sushi Go!. Imhotep is a great addition into his line of interesting, approachable strategy games.
The Rules, Briefly
Imhotep is an action-taking, European-style strategy game. Players compete to earn the most points over six rounds of play. In each round, players take turns performing one of their four possible actions. These are:
Action 1: take three stones (player markers).
Action 2: place one previously acquired stone on a free space on a boat.
Action 3: move a boat containing stones to one of five destinations, which results in points for the players who had stones on that boat.
Action 4: play a card (which generally results in getting to do two of the above action choices).
When a boat is moved, the area it arrives in is no longer available. When all four boats are moved, the round is over.
Mechanics: What Makes Imhotep Unique
If you have ever played Zooloretto, you'll notice a similar mechanic: when a player takes their turn, they are choosing between resolving something, and loading more stuff onto a pile that will get resolved.
Imhotep shines in the tension that arises from this mechanic: when you spend your turn placing a stone, you don't get to make a decision where these stones will end up. When you spend your turn choosing a boat's destination, you don't get to contribute as many stones (which will result in a smaller presence when the boats sail). If you don't take the time to restock your supply, you won't have a stone to place when it's really crucial.
Since each of the five destinations reward points in a certain way, choosing where the boats go is incredibly important. Some places reward points right away. Some reward points only at the end of the game. For almost all destinations, the order stones are placed on the boats is also important, as not all positions are equally lucrative.
None of these mechanics are new, necessarily, but they are very well-implemented here, and the product feels polished and playtested. More than anything else, Imhotep is a study in careful timing.
Imhotep's graphic design is tight. Symbols make sense, and there is never too much text or too much iconography. The stones (wooden cubes) are pleasingly large, which is important as they have to stack. The art is attractive enough that the theme shows through in spite of it being fairly generic. The clever stacking mechanics help with this. For a reasonable pricepoint (~$30), Imhotep comes in a nice package.
One drawback stands out, though: the box is oversized. I suspect the contents could fit within Codenames, but the box is the size of Small World.
Weight and Learning
Imhotep is light enough to learn within fifteen minutes with the rulebook. The game plays within an hour, and has rules that would be simple enough for a novice gamer to easily understand. I believe the game could be easily played within half an hour.
A caveat: this game rewards backup plans, and an understanding of what other players will attempt to do. Players will often be served just as well by sabotaging others as helping themselves, and the relatively low luck will mean experienced gamers may have an advantage. In spite of this, there is enough of a shakeup from some of the special cards that skill levels may even out in the end.
Interaction and Player Counts
This game is highly interactive. Players who want to quietly build will become frustrated by other players ruining their plans. The game scales well, but will be more strategic with two (and more tactical with 3 or 4).
Imhotep is an excellent, tight, interactive game. This is my personal favourite among those I've tried from this designer. It is ideal for those who are seeking a light game involving tactical thinking and multiple point sources in a short time frame. It is not a good choice for those who enjoy games where they will be able to complete their own works in peace. It is obvious why this game was nominated for the SdJ.
You have intrigued me with the comparison to Zooloretto. Will have to give it another look. Thanks for the review!