But Imperial Settlers is a pretty brilliant game that has genuinely surprised me in terms of how it works and ultimately how fun it is. I mean come on, how else can one feel about a well-executed game that seems to capture elements we've only really seen in real-time strategy games?
The game is absolutely brilliant and I think my only complaint at this point is the fact that it only supports 4 players. Well, maybe that and how much table space it needs once everyone has a lot of cards in play. Go fish.
Synopsis: Imperial Settlers is a strategic card game created by Ignacy Trzewiczek. The game supports 1-4 players and has been nominated for a good number of awards.
The game places you in control of one of 4 major factions vying for control of the world (or really just victory points) - Romans, Egyptians, Barbarians and the Japanese. Each faction has their own unique abilities and play style that will become important in achieving victory. And considering how the game takes place over only 5 rounds, that's a pretty limited period of time to work your strategy and make the most of things.
There are two decks of cards that players can draw from. There's the common deck that everyone takes cards from and are important for getting started but are vulnerable to attack. Then each player has a faction-specific deck for their chosen group which somewhat more powerful cards, but also require you to sacrifice and already built card as a foundation for that building. Cards fall into one of three major categories - Production that yield Goods, Features that add passive effects and Actions that must be activated by allocating Goods of some sort to trigger them.
Each race produces a fixed amount of Goods per turn, which include wood, stone, food, workers, gold, raze tokens and defense tokens in different combinations. Each faction can also store a certain type of Goods between rounds since you discard all other unused Goods at the end of each round. Players take turns taking one action per turn in an alternating fashion until everyone is done with their moves. Thus your goal per round is to maximize all your possible moves and resources and score the most points. Once you're out of moves, you can pass and let other players complete all remaining moves. This also removes you as a target of their attacks.
Each faction is amazingly different and it's really up to the player to make the most of the potential strategies. Barbarians produce a lot of workers and they can store workers, thus they can have a lot of moves per round. Egyptians store gold and over time they can produce a lot of stone and gold to build their faction cards. Romans store raze tokens and a lot of their cards offer bonuses for building faction cards in the form of points, workers or other resources. And the Japanese can store food and this leads to a lot of creative approaches to making Deals, another interesting action in the game.
There are a bunch of other rules around things like using raze tokens on cards in your hand or the common cards of your opponents and other nuances to scoring. But everything is really tied to what points you manage to score in-game and the value of all the cards that survive to the end of Round 5. You can totally play this game like a SimCity type of experience without interacting with others. Or you can go totally aggressive and try to destroy rival Common structures and use that for acquiring resources.
One of the biggest gating factors that I've experienced in the game is the limited ways to draw cards. As efficient as your production engine can become over time, without new cards to build or more options to choose from, then you become dead in the water. And you draw at minimum 3 cards per turn - 1 faction card and 2 common cards through the Lookout process, which is essentially a card draft. That isn't much really and you'll need a lot more cards to do so. Japan has some interesting bonus effects for certain faction cards that give you more cards. The Romans have a production card that provides more common cards. And the common cards include a production and an action card that provide card draw options. Other than that, there's not much to go on. And that's a brilliant strategic mechanism in the game.
And then there's the whole worker / resource placement mechanism that allows for diverse options. Certain card effects must be paid for in resources. All cards are built by spending resources. And hen you have innate abilities for all factions that allow two workers to be traded for wood, stone, food, or a card. Barbarians have a bit of an advantage in having more workers in this regard, but don't worry it balances out in the end.
Imperial Settlers is a lot of fun and we continue to try and figure out new strategies for each faction. You can stick to playing one faction over and over again, but there's more fun in trying the others and seeing what comes out. Thus the game gets a clear 5 adorable cartoon figures on all the cards out of a possible 5.