Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Saturday 16 May 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Imhotep: The Duel

Game: Imhotep: The Duel

Publisher: Kosmos Games

Designer:  Phil Walker-Harding

Year: 2018

Imhotep: The Duel is a standalone, 2-player only, sequel to Imhotep - a game where you play as builders in Egypt, from designer Phil Walker-Harding. This smaller format game sacrifices the cubes of the original and replaces them with square tiles, which are more versatile and some in a greater number of specialties. Building the different monuments like the obelisk and the pyramids is still the goal, but otherwise the game plays out significantly differently to its bigger brother.

In Imhotep: The Duel, players take on the role of Nefertiti and Akhenaten, one of Egypt’s most famous royal couples. Each player must build their own four monuments by unloading goods from the six boats in order to outshine the other player in the head-to-head rivalry.


In Imhotep the Duel you'll be doing one of 3 actions every turn in order to get your share of the goods on the docked boats. Each type of good has its own use and scoring mechanic which may sway your choice on how to take these actions. The first action is to place one of your workers. you can place them in any empty square of the 3x3 grid that the boats are docked around. Each worker therefore will end up in both a row and a column associated with 2 different boats.

The second action is to unload a boat, when you do this every worker on the associated row/column will get to take 1 good back to the player who placed it. The worker closest to the boat will get the first good, the next worker (if any) the second good and the third (if any) gets the last remaining good. The goods are given in the order that they are on the boat, so deciding whether to be closer or further from a boat you want is important. After a boat is emptied all the workers go back to their players and the boat is refilled from the supply, or removed if the supply is empty. The final action is to use a blue tile, these are one of the goods that you can claim and give one-use special abilities. Most of the special abilities involve doing the other 2 actions either in combination or repeatedly letting you shift the balance of play.

You'll be doing all of this to score the 4 different types of goods that are worth points. Each of which scores in a unique way and each has a reversible player board section letting you mix and match between 2 different scoring methods for each tile. The game will end once there is only 1 boat left with any goods on it at which point the player who has the higher score wins.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Imhotep: The Duel is a game that presents you with a question and a problem. The question is what do you want to try and score? As almost every type of tile rewards you for having as much of it as possible, and typically has exponential rewards for large collections, so focusing down is often a good strategy. You also have the issue that whatever you do your opponent will be getting approximately half the goods in the game. The problem then, is how do you get them. Sometimes this can seem simple, when the tile is at the first spot on a boat you can claim it simply by placing a worker down in front of it. But if you are desperate for an item in second or third place things get trickier.

The challenge in the game comes from predicting your opponent's needs. If you know that they want to empty a boat for a certain good, is it worth you getting a worker into that column to get that item? Perhaps it's worth emptying the boat early even if you get little to no reward, it might feel like a wasted turn, but you can remove your opponent's board presence and restrict which goods they get. The game is full of an ebb and flow as boards get emptied and the board empties with it, leaving it ripe with possibility. Until the game begins to come to an end, the ships start leaving the docks and whole columns become almost useless. Imhotep: The Duel is certainly a game where you are pitted directly against the other player and you must try to outsmart them at every step.

The scoring methods for the different good types do enough to make each one unique, from the masks where you care about getting numbers in order, to the pyramids where you want to collect an equal amount of each. Being able to mix and match the two sides keeps the game's replay-ability up, but even so I didn't find myself drawn back to the game to play again and again. I think that is in part due to the simplicity of your options. You have 3 actions in the game, but one is gated behind token ownership and often feels like recompense for getting a bad deal on a boat. The two remaining actions are useful, of course, but don't feel powerful a lot of the time. Placing a worker down rarely makes your opponent howl in frustration and emptying a boat, even when done tactically, can often be countered in one turn.

Imhotep the Duel has two very interesting parts. Figuring out how to get what you want is clever and scoring is very varied which leads to you having different goals. But the problem of how you do it is often the same. While you might change which tiles you want from game to game, how you get them is the same and so, despite the high level of player interaction, the game starts to get a little tired ahead of its time. That's not to say it's a bad game, in fact I think it's a rather good game, it's just not calling me to bring back to the table again and again.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Imhotep: The Duel treads carefully along the line of games that Amy is inherently better at than me. Forward planning on an abstract grid, is a skill Amy will forever have the upper hand at, so for me, games of this nature are very cat and mouse, where I am the outsmarted and befuddled cat! Fortunately, the added layer of the different scoring objectives, which changes the relative value of different boats between players means that during most games, Imhotep: The Duel, falls on the good side of the line rather than the bad. I have only played one game where I felt like I was the underdog throughout and just couldn’t get back on top.

The best bit about the game for me is the variety added by the A and B sides of the personal player boards. You can play all A, all B or mix and match. I’ve found player B to be the most interesting because it causes non-negative player interaction. There are blocking moves available, such as preventing someone from completing the obelisk, or trying to stop them from getting into the big points for pyramids, but it doesn’t feel mean and it seems less likely to result in a runaway victory than some of the side A options.

Imhotep: The Duel marries a clever method for obtaining tiles, through an abstract area control mechanism, with some clever elements of set collection and scoring. I think for some, this will be a fantastic two player game that really encourages a tug of war and has many opportunities to out-think and pull the rug from under your opponent. Even though there isn’t any direct attacking in the player interaction, there sure is a lot of antagonism and it’s just a bit much for me. I don’t want to be angry with you while we’re gaming.

Ultimately, Imhotep was a forgettable game for me and I’m sorry to say that Imhotep: The Duel probably falls into the same category. While I can see that it does a few things that none of our other two player games do, none of them are exciting to me – the gameplay sort of reflects the drab beiges of its own artwork. While I don’t find anything fundamentally wrong with Imhotep: The Duel, I think there’s just too many more interesting things to play for two players.

You Might Like...
  • Side A and Side B offer a real contrast in terms of their effects on gameplay.
  • You can either focus or diversify and both can result in a win.
  • You won't win without paying a lot of attention to your opponent.

You Might Not Like...
  • The game can be mean and one player can get some momentum with a good setup on the board.
  • Your best moves are sometimes your weaker moves, which feels a bit underwhelming.

The Verdict
7/10 Imhotep: The Duel is a good 2-player set collection game. It feels unique in both the many different ways that your sets score as well as the ways that you obtain pieces. Obtaining pieces has a bit of an area control flavour with some strategic chess-like moves which might feel a little adversarial for some, but most games end in a close match with very different strategies all being positive. It's a great addition to the Kosmos 2-player line that so many love, but it just doesn't quite hit all the right notes for us.

Imhotep: The Duel was a review copy kindly provided to us by Kosmos Games.

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