Thursday, August 11, 2016

Monumental Game

When trying a new board game for the first time, it's only natural to have a better opinion of it if you win. That's how I know Imhotep must be good -- I'm eager to try it again, even though I got crushed when I played it, dead last of four players.

Players take on the role of builders competing in the construction of five ancient Egyptian monuments. On your turn, you may either add 3 stones from the quarry to your personal supply (which holds a maximum of 5 stones), assign one of your stones to a ship (each ship having a limited number of slots), or sail a full or nearly full ships to one of the monuments (where it delivers its stone cargo).

In classic Eurogame style, each of the monuments scores points in different ways, and you'd be foolish to pursue them all. Unlike many Eurogames, you're not in full control of where your focus will fall. That separation between first loading stones onto ships and then sailing ships to monuments is a big deal. You may have your eyes on, say, the Burial Chamber, but if an opponent chooses to sail a boat full of your stones to the Pyramids instead? Maybe you need to shift plans. Or if an opponent sails a ship with none of your stones to the place you were chasing? Well, it's probably time to rethink your plans, because each monument can receive only one ship per round.

I failed spectacularly in my first play by misjudging the power of those thwarting kind of moves. But was that a bad appraisal of the game's power balance in general, or in just that one playthrough? I have no idea, and that's what has me intrigued about the game. So many Eurogames rely on less direct interaction between the players -- opponents beating you to a space on a board, taking all of a limited resource and leaving you none, that sort of thing. Here's a game that, without any mechanism for directly "attacking" a rival, has a mechanic that lets an opponent say: "That thing you were building toward? Yeah, not so much."

Add to all this the fact that the game has many mechanisms for variance on each replay. Each of the five monument boards in the game has an A side and B side that score differently, making possible plenty of different setups. Also, the ships used to transport stones have different capacities, and the options for available ships each round are determined by a shuffled batch of cards.

The box for Imhotep promises a 40 minute play time. That proved right on the mark (even with time to quickly explain the rules), giving you just as many meaningful decisions as lots of strategy games that take two or three times as long to play. That makes it a "filler game" (played while waiting for more friends to show up on game night) that isn't actually filler.

I'd give Imhotep an A-. (And maybe the "minus" is just me pouting about getting beaten the first time I played.) I look forward to playing it again, and trying to "figure it out."

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