Imhotep: The Duel – Construction Made Compact
Who will be the builder of Egypt?
Anyone who has been following us probably knows that I am a huge fan of Imhotep by Phil Walker-Harding. Abstract strategy that switches back and forth from offensive to defensive moves, combining a sort of area control with set collection for points. And best of all, you get to build with blocks!
Now Phil Walker-Harding and KOSMOS have released a sequel of sorts in Imhotep: The Duel. Does this two-player-only game live up to its predecessor? There’s only one way to find out.
Each player gets their own player board with four separate sections for scoring. This is a sort of reverse of Imhotep: instead of jockeying for position with our generic blocks in common scoring areas, this time we’ll be trying to grab specific types of tiles to put into our own areas.
The common board contains nine spaces to place pawns. There are six boats, each attached to a row or column, and each boat holds three tiles.
Fill the boats with face-up tiles. Put three face-down on the special refresh location (the “nub” on the center board). The rest of the tiles stay face down to refill the boats later. After each player picks a pawn color, we’re ready to begin.
How to Play
On your turn, you may either place a pawn, unload a boat, or play an action token.
Place a Pawn
Place one of your pawns on a free space in the 3×3 grid. If all four of your pawns are on the grid, you (obviously) can’t do this action.
Unload a Boat
You may choose to unload any boat, as long as its corresponding row or column has at least two pawns.
Each pawn’s position corresponds to a specific spot on the boat – that pawn’s owner takes their pawn and that token. Immediately place the token on its corresponding spot on your board.
You can unload a boat even if none of the pawns in that row/column belong to you. If there’s a spot without a pawn, discard the corresponding token to the box.
Once a boat is completely unloaded, refill it with new tokens.
Play an Action Token
If you have an action token, you can use your turn to play it, then discard it to the box.
The action tokens all let you do more than simply place a pawn or unload a single boat. Many times, you can use one to foil your opponent’s plans by stealing a planned token from spot they’re occupying.
Ending the Game
Eventually, we’ll run out of tiles to put on the boats. When a boat is unloaded and cannot be refilled, it sails away. When only one boat remains, the game immediately ends.
Each type of tile scores in a different way, affecting your strategy – what do you want, and what can you afford to give up? We’ll discuss the “A Side” scoring here, but every portion of the player boards also have a “B Side” for advanced play.
Obelisk tokens each score 1 point, and the player with the taller obelisk gets a bonus of 6. Temple tokens score 1 point per dot.
Pyramids score based on the number of tokens present. There are two different pyramids, and you cannot mix them; but you’ll want to get as close to a full pyramid as you can, for big bonus points.
The tomb scores groups of contiguous numbers. Small groups of 1-2 tiles aren’t worth much, but groups of 4 or 5 are very valuable. Be careful not to let your groups get too large, as groups larger than 5 don’t score any higher.
Players score 1 point for each leftover action tokens and pawns still on the board, so if the end of the game snuck up on you, you’ll still get a few more points.
We were so excited for a two-player-only version of Imhotep that we bought this when it was released in Germany. (You may have noticed some German text in the pictures.) But I didn’t really know what to expect from the game.
Just like Imhotep, you’re jockeying for position against your fellow builder. It’s still a dance between getting more resources or being the one controlling when and how the boats unload.
However, Imhotep: The Duel is designed to only be played by two players (as you can tell from the name), so the gameplay is tighter than its predecessor. You can’t focus too closely on your own board; you need to pay attention to the tokens your rival is taking. Don’t let them get too many of any one kind of tile! Or maybe you can force them to take a number for the tomb that will connect two larger groups and reduce their points that way.
At first, I didn’t really care for Imhotep: The Duel. The tokens are nicely printed, but shifting them around on the table is simply not as satisfying as building with blocks. The game definitely took a hit on component quality compared to Imhotep, but that might have been necessary for keeping tokens secret, and certainly helps keep the game affordable.
The Duel also requires a very different kind of focus than Imhotep. Every pawn you place opens two possibilities for unloading a tile.
It’s harder to “hate-sail” – forcing a boat to unload in a way that the occupant(s) don’t want. Instead, you’ll play “chicken” with your opponent. Who will go first to unload a boat? Because unloading is what gets you tiles (and thus points), but placing a pawn is what locks down the tile(s) you’ll receive.
The more I played it, the more I enjoyed Imhotep: The Duel. It flips the area-control concept from Imhotep: instead of controlling where blocks end up, you’re trying to control who gets each token. There’s six boats, which means eighteen tiles at any time – a lot of options! You need to find the intersections that are the most valuable to you (and to your rival).
I still don’t like it as much as the original game. But Imhotep: The Duel is much more compact and the “playing chicken” aspect works really well in a two-player game.
Overall, we’d recommend The Duel if you play a lot of games with only two players. It’s filled with a good kind of tension that will have you on the edge of your seat.
Buy the German game before it’s released in the USA! No, scratch that. We don’t recommend that unless you’re fluent in German. We’d like to thank KOSMOS though, for providing us a set of English language tiles.
You can buy Imhotep: The Duel (in English) on Amazon or wherever board games are sold.
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Imhotep: The Duel
Age Range: 10+
Number of Players: 2
Playtime: 30 minutes