PLAYlist 40: Imhotep & A New Dynasty expansion | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, November 18th, 2019  

PLAYlist 40: Imhotep & A New Dynasty expansion

Jun 05, 2019 By Austin Trunick
Bookmark and Share


While we try our best to stay ahead of the curve, we’ve occasionally shown up late to a party. Sometimes, embarrassingly late. When it comes to Imhotep, an acclaimed game of sailin’ ships and buildin’ temples from designer Phil Walker-Harding and Kosmos Games, we’re a full three years behind the buzz. But! But! There’s a new expansion for the game on the market, which gives us a lovely excuse to deep dive into a game we’ve been missing out on all these years. (Consider this our attempt to sneak in through the back door of the party and casually pretend we've been there the whole time.)

Of all the famous Ancient Egyptians – Tutankhamen, Cleopatra, Ramses, Nefertiti – it’s possible that Imhotep may be the one whose achievements are most grounded in legend. Simultaneously said to have been an astronomer, mathematician, architect, poet, judge, wizard, and/or the father of modern medicine, there’s a chance that he may actually have been none of these things. Over the two millennia following his death, however, the Ancient Egyptians kept attributing all sorts of abilities and amazing feats to Imhotep no matter how unlikely, or unfounded. (Think of Imhotep in the context of today’s Chuck Norris Facts meme, but 3,500 years ago.) By the final centuries of Ancient Egyptian civilization, Imhotep had essentially been elevated to a status in which he was revered almost as highly as the gods. 

We’ll leave more qualified historians to debate whether or not the real Imhotep possessed healing powers or ever defeated an enemy sorceress in a magical duel. Of the very little that is known about the real Imhotep, it’s generally accepted that he was probably an architect of particularly high skill – and possibly the dude who pioneered the use of stone columns as building supports. And, if anyone knows anything about Ancient Egyptians, it’s that they built some ridiculously impressive stone structures.

The game of Imhotep puts you in the shoes of those Ancient Egyptian architects, extracting stone from faraway quarries and using it to construct your civilization’s colossal wonders. On each turn you’ll choose one of four actions revolving around gathering new stones from the quarry, loading them onto ships, and sailing those ships to one of the game’s five construction sites. Imhotep limits your choices on any given turn, but every choice is loaded with significant depth. There’s always a lot to consider, but the choices you’re presented with are never overwhelming.

When a loaded ship arrives at one of the building sites, stones are unloaded from front to back in the method shown on each board. These boards are Imhotep’s super-clever secret weapon: you’ll earn points from each in entirely different ways. For example, on the obelisk card you may be stacking the game’s chunky wooden cubes on top of each other, and the player who constructs the tallest pile will earn the most points. In the burial chamber, stones will be arranged from top to bottom, left to right; scores will be tallied based on the number of contiguous cubes when viewed from above. On the pyramid board, you’ll be building an actual pyramid, with players earning a different number of points depending on exactly where within the structure their cubes are placed.

Many other games come with bags and bags of wooden cubes, but Imhotep is one of the few that asks players to think of them as three-dimensional objects. Imhotep not only asks its players to think, but also look at the board itself in various ways: from above, from the sides, and so forth.

Because each building site scores so differently, players must think through how they want their cubes aligned on a ship. The tricky twist of all this is that rarely will you be the one deciding where a ship you just loaded will be sailing. While you’re eyeing a particular building spot when placing a cube, it’s possible your opponent may just have been waiting for you to help them fill it enough so it can be sailed somewhere entirely different. In the same sense, it may be more advantageous for you to use a turn to sail a ship you don’t have any of your own cubes on, just so that you can dump off your opponents’ cubes in a place that doesn’t help them at all or prevents them from making a really big move. (Imhotep can be downright cutthroat.)

You have so little control over your own fate in an evenly-matched game of Imhotep that it rarely pays to steer yourself towards a particular strategy; your opponents will see through it, and have ample opportunity to counter your gameplan before it ever comes to fruition. You have to be really sly about what you’re doing, or try to set yourself up in a way where you’re achieving consistent, tiny victories no matter where the other players send you. In a game of Imhotep, everyone around the table will take notice when someone pulls off a really clever move, either because they unwittingly helped set it up, or because they missed their window to prevent it. There’ll be two or three moments per game where everyone pauses to remark, “Oh, wow. That was a really smart play.”

This game just plain sizzles, in terms of it movie . A round of Imhotep usually only takes 30 – 60 minutes depending on the player count; it’s also really quick to set up and tear down, making it a game where it’s especially tempting (and easy) to knock out back-to-back sessions. Each building site board is double-sided, letting you shake up the combinations available in any given game. While both sides of a site board are conceptually similar, they play in different ways, and require you to find new approaches every time you play.

Imhotep retails for an MSRP of $39.95. With its big, chunky wooden cubes and thick cardboard tiles, the quality is higher than many games at a similar price point, and the variety of set-ups available out of the box makes it hard to beat.

Buuuuuut… if you find yourself loving Imhotep as much as we did, and playing it enough to actually burn through its already-vast replayability, the newly-released Imhotep: A New Dynasty expansion ($24.95) brings even more variety to the base game’s building sites and marketplace as well as a new, optional module to play around with.

New market cards and building sites can just be shuffled into the main box, adding some additional spice to the game you already knew and loved. This expansion doubles the number of possible building sites seen in a game, and while the new board stay true to the spirit of the game’s original sites, they definitely add new wrinkles to the game. For example, one of the new Pyramid sites has players building a multi-leveled scaffolding, with scoring bonuses based on the order your cube is set down as well as for finishing off levels. One of the new Obelisk boards hands players Tetris-shaped pieces which they’ll need to arrange on the table without leaving any gaps. (This one was a fun surprise that made sense once we remembered that Imhotep’s designer, Phil Walker-Harding, was also responsible for UTR’s favorite bear-stacking game Barenpark, a.k.a. Bear Tetris.) The new “Prophecy of the Gods” module adds an extra layer on unpredictability to any game in which you choose to use it – it’s easy to incorporate and, again, shakes up the game even further. A New Dynasty’s box boasts that it brings the number of possible setups to over 1,000, which is crazy to think about. Odds are low that you’ll ever, ever play the same game of Imhotep twice.

Our recommendation? Grab Imhotep, for sure. There’s a lot of value to be found in the base box for any fan of fast-paced yet thought-provoking puzzles. Chances are you’ll eventually want to grab the add-on New Dynasty, which for a reasonable price introduces a bunch of really creative ideas to an already top-notch formula.

In this column, we’ll be listening to a collection of late-career tracks by Fela Kuti, the iconoclastic Afro-beat musician, composer, producer, political activist, and lifelong rebel. Yes, Kuti was a Nigerian musician – and that’s on the opposite side of the continent – but he named the band he played with for the last decade-plus of his lifetime Egypt ’80. His reasoning behind this was to send out a reminder that the Egyptian civilization was an African one, and that its many contributions to mankind’s development should be remembered as such.

The spotlight always seems to shine brightest on Kuti’s prolific work from the 1970s – and with such intense, blistering classics such as Zombie, Gentleman, and Confusion, you can’t blame anyone for doing so – but there are many cuts from his later discography that shouldn’t be overlooked. This is an excuse for us to share a few of them.

***

Previous PLAYlist columns: Hex Roller, The Table is Lava, Happy Salmon, The Quacks of QuedlinburgThe ClimbersNEOMCrusaders: Thy Will Be DoneReykholtPandemicEverdellKingdomino, CitrusHistory of the World, Altiplano, Pioneer Days, Crystal Clans, Jurassic Park: Danger!, PhotosynthesisIce CoolFood Truck ChampionArs Alchimia & LemuriaA Game of Thrones CatanTroyesTwilight Imperium: Fourth EditionFlip ShipsNMBR 9UnearthEscape from 100 Million B.C., Orleans (plus Trade & Intrigue)Whistle StopCaverna: Cave vs CaveTwilight StruggleHonshuBärenpark, Notre Dame & In the Year of the DragonYokohamaClank! A Deck-Building AdventureVillages of ValeriaNew York SliceWatson & HolmesHanamikoji.



Comments

Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published

URL

Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.