Playing board games is a popular pastime and a great way for Egyptophiles to connect, whether they’re at home or in the field! The Nile Scribes are avid board game players and we want to share some Egypt-themed games that we have played with our readers. Our next game review is for Imhotep: Builder of Egypt, released in 2016, a game that is based around contributing to the construction of pyramids, obelisks, tombs, and temples. This game was designed by Phil Walker-Harding, who also designed Archaeology: The New Expedition, an Egyptology-focussed game we reviewed previously.
How to Play
Advertised for 2-4 players and for ages 10 and up, this game is set in ancient Egypt. The decoration of the cards, unfortunately, does not make clear which period of Egyptian history we are visiting. Could it be the early Old Kingdom? After all, Imhotep, the famed architect, who serves as the game’s namesake, lived during the Third Dynasty (ca. 2,592-2,544 BC) and is known for designing Djoser’s Step Pyramid at Saqqara.
Setting up the game
Each player starts the game with a stone quarry and a supply sled to move the stones from the quarry to the building sites. The goal of the game is to use as many of your stones in the four ongoing building projects on the site boards: a stepped pyramid, an obelisk, a temple, and a burial chamber. The game proceeds through six rounds, marked by one new round card drawn for each round, with points earned at each of the four building projects as the game progresses which are tallied on the scoring track board.
The round cards tell you how many ships are in play each round for moving your stones from your supply sled to the site boards. We know this is how the Egyptians conducted their building projects: quarrying stone from the hill-side, moving them via sledge to the Nile riverbank, and then sailing the stone up the river to the site, where the monument was being built. Recently, a French excavation team at Wadi el-Jarf was in the news for their exciting discovery of a journal that details such a transport of stones from Tura to Giza. In the game, you can do one of four things each turn:
- Quarry more stone, or
- Load one stone onto a ship, or
- Sail one ship to a site, or
- Play a market card
There are four types of market cards in the game that are shuffled together at the start of play and stacked face-down next to the market site board. Each round, four new market cards are placed face-up in the market. If a player chooses to sail a ship to the market site board, the owners of the stones can select as many market cards as they have stones on the ship. The market cards have different attributes:
- Cards with a red band can be used immediately
- Some cards give you bonus points at the end of the game (purple or green)
- Cards with a blue band must be saved to use at the appropriate time later
The Four Site Cards
Players build a step pyramid over the course of the game and points are given immediately, depending on where (and in what order) the stone is put on the pyramid.
For the temple, players put their stone on the card. At the end of the round, whatever colour stone is visible from the top of the temple determines what points are allotted.
(3) Burial Chamber
At this site, players want to ensure that the stones they lay in sequence will have their sides touching. Points here are given based on the number of continuous sides of stones touching, and are assessed at the end of the game.
Stones are dropped off to build an obelisk in the colour of each player’s quarry. At the end of the game, the tallest built obelisk garners the most points, with the second highest getting the second-most points, and so on.
Thoughts on the Game
Imhotep: Builder of Egypt is a fun Egyptian experience based around the monumental buildings we associate with ancient Egypt so well. The detail on each of the tiles and cards is truly immersive, from the papyrus reed boats to the illustration of Dendara Temple on one of the site boards. There is not as much strategizing as it would first appear, however:
- Every player has control over moving the ships to the site boards
- There is no telling on which monument your stones will end up
- You must take whatever points chance awards you
It is truly a delight to watch as players slowly build the monuments over the course of the game; as the Step Pyramid is completed and the obelisks grow ever taller, it is as if you are building a miniature version of ancient Egypt right in your living room.
What other Egyptian-themed board games should we review?
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There is also a downloadable variant that is available online: The Stonemason’s Wager – it may add some more competition to the game.