Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Through the Desert #1 - Imperial

I thought I'd start writing the odd report of the heavier - and often dry - Euro stuff I try. It might nudge you towards games you'd never have given a second look based on their appearance ;)

So to kick this off here's Imperial, which I tried for the first time on Monday. It's a slightly older one (by modern standards) that plays 2-6 warmongering number crunchers.

This rather drab looking game has a premise you might find even drabber - players are powerful Swiss investors using their cash to influence 6 of the strongest European nations. The nations will take actions to build factories, produce armies and fleets, fight for territory, tax the masses and pay out interest to their investors. It's surprisingly fun to get stuck into though, and I think a big part of this is that the game actually ticks along at a nice pace as you choose your actions from a 'Rondel':


You have to move the country's marker clockwise around the Rondel and choose from the next 3 actions. Or take one further on but pay $2 million per extra space you had to travel to get there. So most of the game you'll be taking one of 3 options and you can usually decide very quickly which one suits your plans.

One of the really interesting things about this game to me is that these actions are chosen by whoever has the most money invested in that nation. If one nation is battering the rest, things actually get pretty tricky for their controller - someone else might buy up their shares and take them over, or worse, everyone who hasn't invested will just dogpile them! For me this also made other people's turns unusually interesting. If France just had an awesome turn, maybe I want to invest in them... or are they too large a target? Oh, Italy just got battered? Not spending my money there!

As a nation moves its forces around the map, new territories they acquire get marked with that country's flag. The more factories and flags a nation has when it demands tax, the more money it reins in - and this also moves it up a power track, which is ultimately how the game gets pushed along. Once a nation hits the end of that track, the game ends and the players see how many points they scored, which is based on how much they had invested in each nation and how far up the power track those nations were. One player might have pushed a single nation to the top and had the most money invested in it, but they could still lose to someone who managed to invest more across other nations that did slightly less well.

And so another thing I enjoyed about this (even though it meant I came dead last) was how obscure the path to victory is. It's not simply a case of picking a nation and bashing face, nor can you just sit back and invest a little everywhere. I think a lot of it comes down to being able to figure out how the next few turns are going to unfold and reacting accordingly. It's also about... management, the last plus point I'll talk about. Each nation has their own set of funds, but the players have their own wads of cash. The nations need to tax (or have players invest in them) to get the money to build stuff and to pay out interest. The investors need to get the interest back from the nations to invest more, because they can't sell the stocks once they've bought them. Without going too heavy into the rules, this makes for loads of really interesting decisions and I've not yet seen anything quite like it in other games.

So it's safe to say I really enjoyed this one. There's conflict, money management, short and long term strategy and a real ebb & flow to the whole thing. It might take a couple of rounds to wrap your head around but playing it is surprisingly straightforward once you get rolling. Winning though... that's a completely different question!

Rating: Rice Krispie Squares. Dry on the outside, squidgy and delicious on the inside.

What do you folks think? Curious? Appalled? Interested in more of these?



  1. A really good write up. Not my usual choice but I would always be happy to try a new game (and I cam guarantee you wouldn't come last this time!). Looking forward to the next one.

    1. Cheers! I'd like to do this weekly, though I think I'll have to cover a few reasonably attractive games as well - hopefully sticking to the "games you lot might've passed on" brief