Reviewed by: Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
(Portal Publishing, 1 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, 20 minutes per player; $55.99)
There is no doubt I’m a fan of Ignacy Trzewiczek productions: Stronghold, Pret-a-Porter, Robinson Crusoe and the 51st State series. So, I was really intrigued reading about Imperial Settlers, an empire building card game that inherits some core mechanics from 51st State. What I really like in Ignacy’s games is how the theme and mechanics fit. Playing the game, you are really immersed in the story the Polish designer is telling you. In an interview in 2011 Ignacy told me, “I care about merging theme with rules. In the future, I’d love to be known as this guy who makes games so strongly and deeply connected with theme. I put a lot of work in that part of design”.
Imperial Settlers is about empire building. Your empire is represented by a set of locations (cards) that will give you goods and features; some locations will offer you the possibility to use goods to make actions and/or score points. The game’s essence is something close to Dominion: you will build your empire getting and playing cards that will offer you the possibility to get and play other cards and finally score points. It is a card-combos game where you have to build a good engine that will let you have quality production in the first turn and score points in the end. Now we go into details.
Imperial Settlers is a 2-4 player game (actually there are also solo rules that I haven’t gotten to test yet) where every player runs a faction: Romans, Barbarians, Egyptians and Japanese. Every faction has a special 30 card location deck and differs in initial production and special abilities. There is also a big deck of common location cards.
The game is played in 5 rounds and every round is divided into phases. In the Lookout phase, a player will draw a card from their faction deck and two cards from the common deck. Then there is Production. The different factions will produce different goods that have a deep impact on the strategies. Production locations will give you goods and also deals done in previous rounds. (I’ll talk about deals later.)
In the Action phase (where actually the game is played), players take one action each in turn until all pass. The possible actions are: build a location, make a deal, raze, activate a location and change workers for something else. The first three actions are about card uses. You can add a card to your empire (build) paying the needed goods, usually wood and stone. Faction cards are usually better but you need to build over an already existing location, actually discarding it. You can play faction cards also as a “deal”, giving up a food resource. Deals will give you a resource every round. Faction cards are really important for your empire development and using them as a deal is sometimes a hard choice. Finally, you can discard common cards to get some resources using the raze action and expending one raze token. Common cards can be built or razed; faction cards can be built or used as a deal. You can also raze opponents’ common locations paying 2 raze tokens. This is the only real player vs. player interaction in these games but sometimes this can make the difference.
There are three kind of locations: productions, features and actions. Production locations will give goods once every round and also when built. Features will improve your empire with something good, like getting victory points for building particular locations. Action cards offer you some advantage paying some goods. Most of the action cards can be used only once every round.
The last phase is just clean-up. Every faction can store just one kind of good (workers for barbarians, raze tokens for Romans, food for Japanese and gold for Egyptians) so you need to plan and use your resources at their best round by round.
Imperial Settlers is all about getting the best production engine and finding the right card combinations to better convert production to victory points using actions and features. Every faction has special location cards and different strategies. Barbarians can get a lot of points razing and Romans have really great combos related to location buildings. Egyptians get points using special actions, usually connected with the use of gold and stone, and the Japanese can make a lot of deals, thanks to food storage ability and having location cards able to convert goods into points.
When playing Imperial Settlers, it is fascinating to see the amount of little-big choices you have to take turn by turn. The faction and common cards vary so every game will play differently. In two player games, you can take time looking at your opponent’s empire but this is much more difficult with 3-4 players. As far as I know, there is no real “killing” strategy and/or unbalanced faction.
Imperial Settlers is great if you like games like Dominion where you have to build up your engine, racing with other players but without real interaction. I really like the game and I think I’ll play Imperial Settlers a lot, exploring the different strategies and possibilities.
Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.
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