Having just returned from a holiday in Egypt to get a copy of this from Thames & Kosmos just a few days later was kismet. I haven't as yet seen or played the original IMHOTEP boardgame, which is for 2-4 players, so an actual comparison as to how it plays as a 2-player game against how it plays as a 3 or 4 player game is something I cannot offer, at least at this current time.
I can however, offer a sort of comparison, and that is that both games are designed by Paul Walker-Harding and published by Kosmos (Thames & Kosmos in the UK) with nice comfortable artwork by Miguel Coimbra; they cost £34.00 and £18.50 respectively, and looking at the 2-4 player game online, the differences, apart from the number of players, appear to be the components, quantity and quality, for the cargoes - 120 wooden blocks (no Meeples) instead of 60 cardboard counters and 8 wooden Meeples.
Of the 60 card counters there are 12 of each type of token: Obelisk, Temple, Pyramid, Tomb and Action. Four of these, all bar the Action tokens, are to be collected on the players own assembled (sort of) Site Board; the Action cards can be played to gain advantages during your turn, though you may only use one per 'your' Turn, so part of the game is knowing when to play them. The game is about collecting cargo tokens to gain points and each Token type offers a different way to collect a different number of points.
The token counters graphics are adequate, apart from the Tomb tokens which have a fair rendition of Tut Anhk Amun's golden death mask, the remainder are plain to the point where they 'do what it says on the can', you know, the supermarket's own brand, cheap n cheerful etc etc etc. To be honest they look like the basics illustrations that one might use for a prototype close to being ready for production only someone forgot to swap them out for the 'real' ones. Uninspiring is the word I have been searching for and now that I have found it I will use it; the Tokens, apart from the Tomb tokens, are awesomely uninspiring.
Action Tokens not used will gain you one point each but you generally get better results by using them rather than saving them. The Obelisk Tokens Stack (or rise) upwards depending on the table space available, and having the largest column gains additional points. The Temple Tokens are red circles on a yellow background with each circle representing a Temple and thus a point. The next two sets of Tokens along the left-to-right line are the Light and Dark pyramids. You place the tokens in rows of three with two on top and finally the last one to create a pyramid effect and finally the Tomb tokens are numbered 1 through 12 and need to be positioned in numerical order to get the bonus points. Apart from the Temple tokens the other four scoring possibilities require you to collect tokens in sets or groups. Flipping over the player's boards to side B offers variations on the scoring, just remember that both players have to begin the game using the same side of their board.
The basic idea of the game is that Nile barges arrive at the dock bearing building materials (or Action tiles which may be considered as events of a kind). There are three tiles on each barge and their positions align with the grid spaces on the island at which they dock - always ensure that barges arrive with the men at the back. The grid is 3x3 with 6 mooring quays over two sides and set around a doglegged corner. The directly opposite corner has a peninsular with a single small square imprinted on it - three random tiles are placed face down on this space at the beginning of the game, these being replacement tiles for those taken by the 3 'free' cargo token Action tiles.
The gameplay is simplicity itself. On a player's turn they have two options of which they may take only one; place a Meeple or Unload a Boat; I imagine that 'boat' is a translation error from German to English (or vice versa) as the Egyptians used Barges to move materials along the Nile. There has to be a minimum of two meeples in the row/column in which the front of the Barge has moored, thus if you place the board so that the peninsular is at the bottom left (as you look at it) then the mooring spaces will be on the two opposite sides, three on each. The players meeples can be in any of the spaces on the grid but only one per space, and that space relates to the same position on the barge, thus a meeple in the space directly in front of the barge will collect the resource in the front space of the barge, the meeple in the middle position collects the middle Token from the barge and of course the last one on the Barge goes to the meeple farthest away from it.
The barges are always full of three Tokens, the grid spaces can have meeples from either player to be able to unload the barge, you do not have to have any of your meeples in the row/column to unload the barge, all there needs to be are two (or three) meeples in the line. Naturally there are times when a meeple will be in two lines but of course can only collect from one of them as all meeples in the unloading line are returned to their owners and any Tokens not claimed from the barge are removed to a storage warehouse (out of the game) and the boat refilled with new Tokens. The game continues thusly until just one barge remains unloaded and then both players add up the points scored on their personal boards, meeples on the board, Action tokens unused etc. and the one with the highest total is the winner. The rules are succinct and all necessary explanations given, along with descriptions of the Action/Event Tokens. Action Tokens can be used during your turn, only one per turn, and are not one of the player's options.
This is a fun game that has, to the inexperienced player, hidden strategies, but they soon become not so well hidden. At first we wondered why we would want to unload a barge with just opposing meeples in the line but then it dawns on you that the Tokens on the barge might not be as much use or value to the other player plus it means their meeples (in the line) are removed from the board back to their owner giving you a chance to get another of your meeples into position before your opponent can kybosh you.
There are a lot of good things I like and enjoy about this game. Apart from the wooden meeples, the components are all card and the illustrations are basic, thus keeping the production costs down and therefore the purchase price (found at £17.00 - £20.00 online). The rules are understandable from page one onwards even to a non-regular boardgames player and even the variant play (the B sides) only really changes the scoring so all players will see this as fun rather than confusing like so many game variations. The play is thoughtful yet quick, has some 'gotcha' moments and with the random supply of Tokens on the barges, it means that there can be no exact recipe for winning, all types of scoring can be the way to the winner's podium.
There are a couple of things about it that I like to, putting it in a way only an expert would understand, fiddle about with. 1. Already mentioned, Barges instead of Boats. 2. Using a bag to draw the Tokens from. 3. Playing until all barges have been unloaded - there seems no logic in stopping before all the barges have been unloaded; I can only guess that play-testers tried this and decided the scores were too close, I cannot think of any other reason and yet our games have never been ruined by playing through to the end, in fact because the strategies require the careful and thoughtful positioning of the meeples it is frustrating and annoying to have the game end before your final plan comes to fruition.
The name 'the Duel' suggests a combat of some kind and yet there isn't any duelling at all, not even the cut, thrust and parry of meeple positioning. Finally the two characters involved in this duel, Nefertiti and her husband Akhenaten, only worshiped one God and he was Aten. Why then would they be in competition to create and build a Temple for Imhotep who was neither a Pharaoh or a God? He was most likely an architect, possibly of the step pyramid for Djoser (a 3rd Dynasty Pharaoh).
So Imhotep:the Duel isn't strong on historical accuracy but the mechanic needed a tangible theme and ancient Egypt supplies all the chrome required. I was going to say that I would have enjoyed playing it with more players but then I remembered the 2-4 player game this is based on, so it is already available. As a 2-player game this is like a maddening version of 'noughts & crosses' with knobs (barges) on. I can only imagine how much fun it would be with more players. I can certainly recommend this version as I haven't played Imhotep, but I would happily suggest, based on this version, that if you wish a game which more players can enjoy take a chance on the larger version. (I just checked online and it is available between £17.00 - £30.00) plus there is an expansion for it, also about £17.00 online. If it plays anywhere near as good as the 2-player game, and I can think of no reason why it wouldn't, then it's great value at £17.00.