Imhotep Builder of Egypt is a Great Modern Gateway Game – Review

Imhotep Builder of Egypt from Thames & Kosmos has proven to be an excellent modern gateway game.

Running public play gaming events means I’m always looking for new gateway board games. Imhotep is one of those board games that is great for new gamers but also fun for experienced players.

Disclosure: Some links in this post are affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support this blog and podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thames & Kosmos provided me with a review copy of Imhotep, no other compensation was provided.

What do you get in the box with Imhotep?

The best way to learn what’s in the box for Imhotep is to check out our unboxing video for Imhotep Builder of Egypt. That way you get to see all the components as I go through the box for the first time.

The first thing you find is the rulebook which is sitting on top of a bunch of punch boards. It’s an 11-page rulebook which includes a reference page for the market cards. The rulebook is full colour with lots of examples which feature pictures of the actual game components. The actual rules of how to play are only 2 pages with the rest of the book being how to score each of the various boards in the game.

The punch boards are extremely well cut. Boards and bits were falling off of them as I was trying to unbox the game and show off all of the components to the camera. By the time I was done the unboxing video most of the components had already been punched! The cardboard is pretty much standard thickness and the artwork is very clear with a nice unifying sandy yellow theme. The main boards are two-sided with A and B sides.

Under the punch boards is a uniquely shaped box insert that’s covered in pretty images and serves no purpose whatsoever. I think they were trying to go for a quarry pit feel. While visually appealing there’s no actual purpose to it and I wonder if the game couldn’t have been a bit cheaper by skipping this superfluous add on.  I would have much prefered somewhere to actually put the components.

These components include a bunch of cubes. These cubes are noteworthy because they are huge compared to the standard resource cubes you get in most games.  They are painted wood, in four different colours, and there are a lot of them.

Next we  have a set of hobbit sized cards. These are of a good thickness and quality. There are two different sets of cards, market cards and boat cards.

The final thing you will find are plastic baggies, which are appreciated, especially with the silly box insert.

All about Imhotep Builder of Egypt the board game.

Playing the board game Imhotep a great gateway gameFirst off, Imhotep the board game has nothing to do with The Mummy or Brandon Fraser. Imhotep Builder of Egypt is an Egyptian themed monument building board game designed by Phil Walker-Harding, featuring art by Miguel Coimbra and Michaela Kienle, published by Thames & Kosmos in 2016. It plays 2 to 4 players with most games taking under an hour.

In Imhotep players are builders in Egypt trying to impress Imhotep by moving stone from the quarry to build various monuments. Each monument is represented by a different central playing board and there are four of them in the base game. In addition, there is a market board where players can earn end game scoring cards and rule-breaking abilities. Each of these boards is two-sided and the game can be played with the boards laid out in any combination.

Each round starts by placing a number of boat tiles. There is a deck of cards to determine which ones to put out and which deck you use is based on the number of players. Boats have room for one to four stone and there are always four boats available at the start of each round.

Each turn players pick one action to take:

  • Collect stone from the quarry, taking up to three cubes of their colour but only if they have room. Each player can only store five pieces of stone.
  • Load a boat by taking one of their cubes and placing it anywhere in one of the four boats. Each boat only has so much room.
  • Sail a boat by moving it to one of the five boards. This can only be done once the boat has a set amount of stone in it. Once a boat “docks” at a board it is unloaded from front to back. Each player’s stone is placed onto the appropriate monument board.  The Market is a bit different with players drafting market cards for each stone they deliver to that location.
  • Play a market card. These cards give players special actions like loading a boat and sailing it in the same round, adding cubes to a monument directly from the quarry, etc.

An end of game shot of the Egyptian themed board game ImhotepHow each monument board works is unique and each scores in a different way. Some score during the game, others only at the end of the game. For example, at the Obelisk Monument A-Side, players take their cubes and stack them building a tall obelisk. At the end of the game, the player with the tallest obelisk is going to score points, the player with the second tallest will score points as well but less, the player with the third tallest gets even fewer points and so on. The Pyramids board, on the other hand, scores points as each stone is added to it.

After six rounds of play, end game scoring is calculated which includes the monument boards as well as end game scoring market cards. The builder with the most points has won Imhotep’s favour and won the game.

My overall thoughts on Imhotep Builder of Egypt from Kosmos

This was our first time playing Imhotep. I picked up Imhotep Builder of Egypt at Origins 2019 but didn’t get it to the table until September. The first time we played it was over beer and charcuterie at The Sandwich Brewing company and I was instantly hooked. Since then I’ve brought this game out to multiple public play game nights. I’ve had it out at home games. I’ve played it with hardcore euro players as well as players whose only game experience included Sorry and Monopoly. The one thing that has been common with all of these various plays is that every single person I teach this game to loves it.

One of the biggest appeals of Imhotep is how easy it is to teach. In the section above I taught you all you need to know to get started playing. The only step left is to explain how each of the five boards works. It takes under 10 minutes to teach gamers of all experience levels how to play this game. The mechanics are dead simple.

Imhotep being featured at an Extra Life board game tournament.What I find even more appealing through is how deep the strategy and tactics are in this game once you start playing. Almost everyone I have shown this game to has had a eureka moment when they realize just how much depth this game has. It’s that moment when you notice that it’s not just what you are doing each turn that matters but what everyone else is doing and potentially more importantly what you think everyone else is planning on doing next.

An interesting side effect of this is that my plays of Imhotep have been rather varied. One game will be light and playful, with people quickly taking turns and spending almost as much time, if not more, socializing rather than focusing on the game. Another game will be deadly serious and filled with AP (analysis paralysis) as players plan out every move and try to figure out what each opponent is going to do before making their move. I’ve even played a game that was almost a social deduction game with players bluffing about where they are going to ship boats and players negotiating to work together on one monument while swearing not to interfere in another, which of course led to an inevitable betrayal. All of this just shows the breadth and depth of Imhotep.

Three player Imhotep Builder of Egypt.One of the best parts of this game are the two-sided boards. While the box suggests starting with all A-Sides for your first few games (and I agree) you will quickly be trying out the B-Sides. These are a bit more complex in that many of the boards give you in-game bonuses as well as scoring points. They aren’t hard to understand, just harder to understand than the A-Sides. The thing is you don’t have to play with all A or all B sides, you can mix and match, leading to a crazy amount of replayability.

If you can’t tell, I really dig Imhotep. It may just be the best Gateway game in my collection. It has replaced Azul as the game I bring out to every event where I know there are going to be new gamers. It’s even easier to teach than Azul and has just as striking a table presence. To me, this game is pretty much a solid buy for any game collection, especially if you often game with new or inexperienced gamers. Even if you don’t play with newer gamers, your experienced gaming friends are likely going to dig Imhotep as well.

Have you played Imhotep? Did you share my joy in discovering this game? What is your favourite board combination?

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