Phil Walker-Harding on the origins of his hit tabletop title Imhotep

Robert Hutchins

By Robert Hutchins

July 18th 2016 at 11:36AM
UPDATED July 18th 2016 at 12:05PM
Phil Walker-Harding on the origins of his hit tabletop title Imhotep

Sell out success and a Spiel des Jahres nomination has already made 2016 a big year for tabletop title Imhotep. ToyNews chats with the game's creator, Phil Walker-Harding.

Imhotep has recently been nominated for the Spiel des Jahres 2016 award, when developing the game did you have the feeling you were creating something special? 

I really enjoyed designing Imhotep, but I did not imagine it would be nominated for the SdJ. It is a game with a theme and mechanisms that I personally really enjoy, but I was not sure how a wider audience would receive it. 

It has been really exciting to see it find an audience this year. 

How did you come up with the idea and where did you get your inspiration? 

At the very beginning, I wanted to make a game about building the pyramids. I have always been fascinated by ancient Egypt and particularly the Pyramids of Giza.

There is so much mystery around how they were constructed that I thought this would make for a fascinating game. 

Later, as the design developed I was inspired by a favourite game of mine, Coloretto, when developing the way the ships work in the game. I also learnt a lot from Reiner Knizia and all the wonderful scoring systems he has used in his games. 

Quite quickly I had the idea of using large wooden blocks to represent the pyramid, with the players scoring points as each stone is built. This in turn naturally suggested other shapes and scoring configurations, and so I expanded the game to be about building multiple monuments. 

Imhotep is the first of your games to be nominated for the “Spiel des Jahres”. How is it different from your other games? 

Many of my other designs have been card games or relatively small and simple designs. Imhotep is on a larger scale, both in terms of theme, components and gameplay (although it still remains quite easy to play). 

I also think Imhotep has the best player interaction of my designs. It encourages the players to get inside each others’ heads and predict what they are planning.

It makes players work together and against each other on a few different levels.  I think this makes the game an exciting and quite social experience. 

In your opinion, what gives Imhotep its special charm? 

I think it is this player interaction, and the fact that it is generated out of a small selection of basic actions. On each turn your choices are quite simple, but the results can be exciting and affect the players in different ways. 

Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that the production is beautiful. 

How long did the prototyping and development of the game take before it came to market? 

I designed Imhotep in 2010. I worked on it solidly for quite a few months. I then submitted it to the Premio Archimede design competition in Venice where it received 2nd place. 

From there, a publisher showed interest but ended up deciding not to release it. After quite some time, the design ended up at Kosmos. 

At this stage I developed the game some more, for example adding the B sides to the site boards. When we were happy with all aspects of the game, it was finally set for a 2016 release. 

Are you currently working on any new game ideas? 

Yes, I always have a notebook filled with different ideas for games, at different stages of completion. At the moment I am playing lots of social games like Codenames and One Night Ultimate Werewolf.

I would love to design something in this genre. 

What is it about board games that fascinates you? 

People have always played board games and I think always will.

Board games do not require any technology or extra equipment to play, and yet they can create so many wonderful and varied social experiences. 

All of this comes from simply an agreed upon set of rules. How just these rules can generate fun for the players is fascinating to me. 

How did you become a board game designer? 

I started designing games for fun when I was very young. I suppose I was always interested in how games work.

Once I discovered modern German games, I was drawn back into the hobby and decided to start self-publishing some of my own designs.

Over time and with much practice I began to grow as a designer. 

Where and with whom do you test your prototypes? 

I do most of my playtesting at a regular game group that I have at my house most weeks. My wife Meredith and cousin Chris often have to do the most testing so I am very thankful for them. 

How important/well-known is the award Spiel des Jahres“ (Game of the year) in Australia? 

I think it is as well known within the hobby as it would be in the USA, but not very well known beyond this. Unfortunately, not many modern designs have made it into the large chain stores here yet.

Although, I do remember playing Scotland Yard as a child and seeing that the box proudly stating that it had won. I thought to myself how amazing it was that there was a place that had an award for board games.