04 September 2016

Board Game Review: Imhotep

A friend of mine recently acquired a copy of Imhotep. He brought it to game night, and I got to play it. Now I shall review it for you.

As you may remember, last time I did a board game review, I added some categories based on the Quantic Foundry board gamer motivation profile tool. I have codified those into my ratings system. Here is the new one:
Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take. Gamer Profile Ratings measures how strongly a game will appeal to players based on their interest in one of four areas. These areas are measured as High, Medium, or Low. Strategy describes how much a game involves cognitive challenges, thinking and planning, and making sound decisions. Conflict describes how much direct hostile action there is between players, from destroying units to stealing resources. Social Manipulation describes how much bluffing, deceiving, and persuading there is between players. Fantasy describes how much a game immerses players in another world, another time.

Strategy: 5
Randomness: 1
Complexity: 2
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Gameplay: 45 minutes
Gamer Profile Ratings:
   Strategy: High
   Conflict: Medium
   Social Manipulation: Low
   Fantasy: Medium

In Imhotep, players are working to build the structures in Ancient Egypt. This includes the pyramids as well as temples, obelisks, and burial chambers. This is accomplished by the use of wooden blocks. These blocks are not huge, but they are a good deal larger than the wooden cubes used as resource counters in most games. Players score points depending on what type of structure they're building.

Here's how this works. Each player has a sled that can hold up to five blocks. In the middle of the table are five boards, each one representing a different structure, plus a fifth one representing the market. Nearby are four boats. Each boat can hold between one and four blocks. There are also turn cards and market cards. The turn cards tell you which boats are available for the current round. Market cards are made available in the market board.

Here's a photo to give you a better idea:
The five main play boards, each with a variety of blocks, in white, black, brown, and grey, stacked on them in different ways. The Market Board is the exception; it has no blocks, but does have some market cards on it. The boat tokens are docked with four of the five boards by having their prow placed in the notch on the left side of the board. All the blocks that were on these boats have been moved to the play boards, except a white one and a grey one on the second boat which haven't yet been transferred.

Notice that the boats in this photo have already docked with the play boards. At the beginning of each round, they start off to the side, so we don't know which boat will dock at which board.

Here's what happens. At the beginning of each round, you draw a turn card. This card has four boats drawn on it, each of a different capacity. This determines which size boats are available this round. A card may show two of capacity four, and one each of capacities three and two, just as one example.

Once the boats have been placed, players take turns taking actions. There are three actions that a player can take on his turn:
  1. Take up to three blocks of his colour from the supply and place them on his storage sled. He may not exceed the five-block capacity of his storage sled.
  2. Move one block from his storage to a boat that has not yet sailed.
  3. Sail one boat that has not yet sailed and has no more than one empty space.
The point is to get your colour blocks into the various structures being built. You score points based on the placement of your blocks on these boards. This works a little differently for each structure:
  • In the pyramid, blocks are moved from the boat onto the structure in a specific order. There is a little chart that tells how many points blocks are worth based on where in the pyramid they are; for example, a block placed on the corner of the bottom level is only worth one point, whereas the block placed in the centre of the base is worth four points. These points are scored immediately.
  • In the burial chamber, blocks are again moved from the boat onto the structure in a specific order. At the end of the game, you score points based on how many of the blocks of your colour are connected by adjacency.  Thus, you want to get your blocks unloaded in such a way that they will be touching one another.
  • In the temple, blocks are unloaded into a row of five. Once that row is full, the next row is begun on top of the existing row. At the end of each round, players score points for each block that does not have another block on top of it.
  • In the obelisks, blocks are stacked according to colour (all white blocks stacked on one space, all black blocks on another space, etc.). At the end of the game, players score points based on the height of their colour obelisk. Thus, this is the only board in which the order of the blocks does not matter.
Now, at first, this may sound like a simple case of moving your blocks from your storage sled to the boats to the boards. That's certainly what I thought when I was first learning the rules, before we began playing. However, I quickly learned that there's a lot of planning involved. Not only do you have to place your blocks on the board in such a way that your colour will hopefully land on the highest point value space on the destination board, but you also have to account for whether the other players will place their blocks on the boats in a manner that won't screw you over, and also whether the other players will choose to sail a boat to a board that will end up scoring you fewer points.

For example, at one point, I looked at the scoring spaces on the pyramid board, and decided to place a block in the middle space of the boat, knowing that whether the first space was filled with another player's block or not, I'd land either on a 3 point space or a 4 point space. I took my turn to place my block on the middle space of that boat, planning to sail the boat to the pyramid board on my next turn. However, when Player Z took his turn right after me, rather than placing one of his blocks on a boat as I had expected he would do, he sailed the boat on which I had just placed my block, not to the pyramid board as I had wanted, but to the obelisk board. Thus, instead of the three or four points I had intended, I only got a single point from that block.

And that's where the surprising level of strategy came into this game: planning your own strategic moves is one thing, but accounting for the actions of other players ruining your carefully laid plans is entirely a different situation.

I haven't mentioned the market yet, so I'll quickly describe that, at the beginning of each round, four market cards are placed here. Market cards include statues, which are worth points based on how many of them you have at the end of the game, double action cards, which allow you to take two specific actions on one turn, and bonus points cards, such as one that gets you an extra point for every stone (both your own and other players') in the burial chamber. When a boat sails to the market, the player who owns the first stone gets to pick a card from the available four. The second stone determines who gets to pick from the remaining three, and so on.

Another good thing about this game is that the boards I have described above are the basic version. Each board has an A side and a B side. Players can choose to turn over any or all of the boards to the B side, which involves a slightly more complex scoring system. For example, the B side of the pyramids board has multiple pyramids being built, allowing players to choose the pyramid into which they put their stones. On the B side of the temple board, depending on where in the row the scoring block appears, the block may either get the player two points or one point and two blocks from the supply. This grants the game an extra level of versatility and replayability.

I like this game a lot. It has very little randomness (appearing only in which boats are available each round and which market cards appear on the market board), thus granting it a very high level of thinky-thinky characteristics. The one thing I will say about this game, in terms of downsides, is that the box is much bigger than it needs to be to store all the pieces. They could have made the package much smaller and still fit everything in. But in terms of game play itself, I quite enjoyed it.

But that's just my opinion! Try it for yourself! If you're into thinky-thinky games as I am, you'll probably like it too.

That's it for this week! Until next week, remember to

Game on!

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