Thursday, July 23, 2009

First impressions of "Imperial"....

Got a chance to play a game of Mac Gerdts' "Imperial" last night and I must say I was impressed. This game has been very highly rated on BGG and the lovely Rondel mechanic has been mentioned time and again and rehashed in other Gerdts games like Hamburgum. So why did it leave such a good impression?

Firstly, the components. Big colourful board, great wooden pieces, and large heavy cardstock for the bond markers. All the colours were very distinct which my colour-blind self always appreciates and it seems like a game that will last a very long time. The rules, though, seemed rather confusing but I think that just may have been the person explaining them. The player reference cards helped a lot and I expect by our second game they won't be necessary.

Speaking of rules, I will readily admit that this game is complex. I will not get into a full rules explanation here but I will say that they are logically implemented and ridiculously elegant once grasped. That said, we were in a complete fog through the first half of the game until we'd seen how everything starts to play out. So what really happens? Well, there are six countries none of which are owned by any single player and bonds for each of the countries. The players invest in the various countries and the person with the most bonds at any given time for a certain country makes all the decisions for that country. So there are really two games going on: a Diplomacy style wargame (w/o the diplomacy, which is fine by me) and an Acquire style investment game. The countries build up armies, conquer lands, and tax these lands to earn money and points to increase the bonds of their investors. And the investors (players) buy bonds in the different countries and earn money off the interest paid by the countries amongst other things. Tying this all together is a simple circular mechanism called the "Rondel". The Rondel contains all the different options for a country: build factories, produce armies, tax lands, maneuver (conquer lands), and allow investors to buy. A country, controlled by a player, can only move up to three spaces for free limiting its choices greatly in the early game. This makes most turns lightning fast which is fantastic! It also provides a good ebb and flow to the game as investments seem to come all at once and then lots of maneuvering by countries and back and forth. It's really quite brilliant and must be played to be fully appreciated. There are a LOT more details which I will leave out here but once grasped the game seems to find a rhythm and strategies do emerge.

One thing did bother me about the rules, though, and this was the Investor card. At each Investment turn usually only one person gets to invest, the one holding the Investor card. The card then moves clockwise to the next person who buys during the next investor round. Well, at the end of the game two of us didn't get as many investor rounds as the others so we had one less opportunity than everyone else to purchase bonds. Considering how big the investments were near the endgame, I think this may have cost me the game. Our scores in player order were 104-109-116-104-82, I think. It was really close and if I had one more buy, I wonder if I could have gotten my 104 to 117. Quite possible. Of course this is where ending the game early could secure you the win but I don't like when people aren't on even footing. I'm curious to hear what others thoughts are about this and to try the No Investor variant.

Having said all that, I thoroughly enjoyed this game. I won't get to play it much because my game group hates complex 3 hour brain-burners. But for me, it was a brilliant mix of wargame and Eurogame that seemed to succeed wildly on both fronts. It plays unlike anything I have tried and most turns speed along at a good clip even if you don't control any countries at the time. I mentioned Acquire earlier but that may not be the best analogy - this game plays more like a cross between Chicago Express and Diplomacy w/o the diplomacy turns. Great, great, great.


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