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Dave Shapiro
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The Crown is Passed

Before proceeding to a discussion of Imperios Milenarios a little history is in order. Many of today’s gamers have heard about some of the games mentioned below but will not have played them. Very often in the case of Civilization especially, the descriptions are memories of games played decades ago. If you are not interested in this pre-review discussion, just scroll down to the Imperios Milenarios section. For this discussion I deliberately eliminated consideration of any 4X games as I consider that to be a similar type but essentially different game requiring different strategies and planning.


Thirty years ago I played in several game groups regularly. One of these groups was large and ran games of Dune, DIplomacy and Civilization regularly. All of these are classic games and seemed to draw the same type of gamers to the table. Others in the group would spend hours, days, weeks, lifetimes playing ‘monster’ war games that included so many cardboard chits that tweezers were used to move the stacks. In that era there were very few ‘adult’ multi-player games available. (Most war games were two player games.) The situation today is entirely different with companies catering to the adult game market and hundreds of games from which to choose. Due to the dearth of adult games available, flaws in games were accepted as there was no alternative available. It is important to note that all of these games were long, very long with playtimes exceeding 3 or 4 hours regularly.

In DIplomacy there are two types of units: land and sea. The object of the game is to expand to the point where you control a specific number of supply centers; basically expand in an attempt to conquer the map. In reality, the map portion of the game involves strategies identical to playing Risk however, rather than dice to resolve conflict a player needed support of other players. This required long and arduous negotiating periods between turns. Moves were simultaneous and hidden which is basically a formula for backstabbing. Personalities played a significant part of the game. Diplomacy never grabbed me; too much strategy based on selling an idea rather than the actual implementation. The board strategy was always obvious but the need to convince someone to support your decision just diluted the experience. Oh, I played several memorable games but the game itself just wasn’t very much fun. DIplomacy is still available from Avalon Hill (Hasbro).

Dune was a blast; one of the best games I have ever played. When playing with gamers that understand the game, there are not many games that can compare to the experience. Dune has been rethemed and is available from Fantasy Flight as Rex. Though not a civilization type game, it tended to draw from the same pool of gamers that enjoyed multi-player adult games.

The third game in this trio of adult games is Civilization. There is little doubt as to the impact of Civilization on gaming. There have been numerous digital versions as well as similar games set in different periods. (The original Civilization game sold more than 800,000 copies for the PC which was exceptional at the time.) The board game was the invention of Francis Tresham and was published in North America by Avalon Hill in 1980. (Tresham designed many 18XX games as well as Revolution: the Dutch Revolt.) Though extremely popular, the game has been out of print for years. The quest for a replacement continues today. It is a holy grail of game designing.

I am certain that those who played the game remember it fondly. Many probably remember how great it was and how nothing today compares to it. Unfortunately the mind is selective and some of the flaws of the game have been forgotten. Though a great design at the time, today we would suggest that the game requires further development. There were three game breaking flaws with the original Civilization. First was the Time Track. Each nation in the game had a unique time track. Certain requirements had to be met in order to move ahead on the track. Unfortunately, if you fell behind on the track it would be impossible to cause all of your opponents to fall behind also, and there was no method to compensate for the loss. For example: if your nation required that two cities be constructed by the second turn of the game and you failed, you were done...zap...you lose. Though the game could last for three or four more hours (it was a very long game), you could not win. Worse, you and everyone else playing, knew of your predicament.

The second major flaw (in my opinion) was that no matter how well you planned, if you could not trade properly (negotiate) then you might not achieve the turn’s requirement and you fell behind. Now I don’t find trading to be something bad in a game however, the trading in Civilization was flawed. Assuming I had something that was ‘do or die’ for you this turn, well you could offer me your first born and I am not giving it up. That single trade could cost you the game and remember, these games ran for hours.

The final flaw was the disaster cards. It was important to plan carefully so that when a disaster appeared you would not be devastated. Again, a single card could put you out of the game very early on and these cards could be passed to you by an opponent during a trade.

With all of that said, I enjoyed Civilization tremendously. I honestly do not know how many games of this I have played and I never, never turned down the opportunity to play even with it’s flaws. Tresham was a genius of design. Prior to Civilization there was nothing to compare to this type of gaming. Some might say it was a Risk derivative; if it is, what an improvement. Unfortunately time has not been kind to the game. Game design has moved beyond this design and, if it should ever be republished, it would require significant changes to render it acceptable to gamers today.

For at least two decades there has been a quest for a quick playing civilization game. Though there have been many attempts, the majority have failed but there have been a few that were successful in most aspects. Through the Ages is the closest to the feel and much of the planning found in the original game. The one area where it is lacking is in the absence of a map of any kind. Through the Ages is a card game; a very good civ card game but a card game none-the-less. The lack of a map results in a game that is much more ‘about the number’ than about positions. It is a good game but it is essentially a highly abstracted version of Civilization.

Mare Nostrum was touted as the holy grail - this was hyped as the civ game. Some claimed it required more than two decades of development. The game is played on a gorgeous map of the Mediterranean and includes various nations and armies as well as a host of cards for trading. The game was originally presented as the successful replacement for Civilization (and I had great hope for this). Unfortunately, Mare Nostrum is simply Settlers of Catan on steroids. The entire game depends on trading; little else matters. The expansion introduced an additional map section and mythical creatures but it still remains a game where trading is everything. It would not require much effort to eliminate the map and the units altogether. Civilization this is not.

The final of the three heavily promoted civ games is Civilization from Fantasy Flight Games. This game is based on the digital version of the game, not the Avalon Hill version. The map is a set of generic tiles and the unit density is very low. The map does play an important role in the game and the various nations have a unique attribute. This is a good civ game but will not give you the feel of the Tresham/Avalon Hill version. Due to the small map area, there are no sprawling empires and there is significantly more combat than was present in the original game. Is this a civ game? Yes it is and it will suffice to please some of the marginal civ devotees. I play it; I enjoy it but it does not satisfy that Civilization itch.

There have been many, many other contenders. Most have failed miserably. It is not an easy type of game to design. If not done properly then the game is reduced to a series of mechanics that do not deliver. I believe it is impossible to design a ‘quick playing’ civ game. Too much must be eliminated in order to reduce the playing time; too much must be abstracted. Personally I cannot understand why someone would reasonably expect such a game to be possible. Consider another medium for a moment. The Game of Thrones novels and the TV series are long, sprawling and complex. It would not deliver the same experience if was reduced to a single two hour movie. The same is true of civ games.

So after this long introduction we have reached the point where it is proper to examine the latest entry into the civilization genre: Imperios Milenarios.

Imperios Milenarios
I have played a variety of civilization type games over the years. Some excelled in one area and then failed in others. None seemed to generate the same type of play that Tresham’s game did; until now. Imperios Milenarios is simply the best version of a civilization game to date. It exceeds the Tresham design.

The game was designed by Juan Caballal and published through Eurojuegos Buenos Aires. The title translates: Ancient Empires. The game will play 3 to 7 players. (Note: we even tried a 2 player game with each player taking two nations. Initially it was a bit awkward but improved to the point that I would be willing to play that way again.) It is suggested that the game should take about a half hour per player. After we understood the concepts, I would suggest that this is a fairly accurate estimate.

Mare Nostrum and the original Civilization are played on maps of the Mediterranean area. The Imperios Milenarios map expands the area to include parts of Asia and much of the Middle East. In addition to this there are significantly more territories on the map as each area is much smaller than that found on Mare Nostrum or Civilization maps. (The map itself is printed on “eco-leather”. It is gorgeous and reminds me of the unusual tea cloth maps from the Ragnar Brother games.) The map is well designed with several crunch points as well as a limited number of capital cities which is a critical element. We have found that though there is not a significant amount of combat, the map design, combined with the advancement requirements, encourages, even necessitates some conflict. Some of the finest maps I have encountered in games have been designed by Sergio Halaban and Andre Zatz. Their maps often are very subtle, channeling play through the map design rather than specific rules. The same is valid for Imperios Milenarios. For example: in the third age controlling three capitals is required. In a four player game, 12 capitals would be required for each player to attain this requirement. The map area for a four player game does not include twelve capitals so if a player is attempting this method for victory, he will have to fight someone for control.

As with Tresham’s Civilization, units of opposing nations can coexist in a given territory. Combat is not required and, when it does occur, it can be costly. At times during the game it can become confusing as you attempt to see all of the different units and how large each empire has grown.

This is an adult game with a variety of strategies and routes to victory possible. Caballal has incorporated many Euro mechanics to those found in the original Civilization game. It streamlines the game play and actually creates a variety of possibilities that were not available in the original. (Please understand - I am not suggesting that this is a copy of Tresham’s game but one cannot help but make the comparison just as we do with every other new publication in this genre.) To demonstrate how streamlined this design is one only has to examine the TWO pages of rules! What Eclipse did for the 4X genre, Imperios Milenarios does for civilization games.

The game comes with 400 small discs in 4 colors. These are the heart of the game. Each player does not represent a particular, historic nation as they do in Tresham’s Civilization or the FFG version. These discs eventually determine the type of civilization each individual player creates. It is a deck building mechanism and as the game progresses, the style of play for each player becomes evident. On a turn, a player will pull X (depending on the Age) number of dics from his cup. These determine his actions for the turn. (Players may bank a specific number of discs for a later turn.) In addition to this each player selects one more disc from the ‘bank’. As turns progress, the number and type of discs (actions) in the player cups increases.

The discs are presented in four colors: red, blue, yellow and black. Each disc allows for two different actions. Red represents the military. When red actions are taken a player may increase the size of his army and subdue a neutral city or attack a city (or army) controlled by an opponent. The yellow discs allow a player to increase the size of his treasury or purchase a technology. The blue discs allow a player to explore sea areas and the adjacent coastline or trade with another player. Finally, the black discs permit a player to expand on land territories or build a wonder. That’s it; those are all of the actions available during the game. It is important to remember that being a ‘deck building’ system, one must consider the extended ramifications of selecting additional discs. Too many of a particular type may prove ineffectual later in the game. As the population of discs in a player’s cup increases, the nature, the soul of his civilization develops.

Each turn the start player shifts. I enjoy this mechanic in games as it eliminates advantages that the first or last player in turn order may enjoy. There is little downtime as all players will perform their actions during the ‘color’ phase rather than one at a time. For example: red is the first color to be played. Each player who drew red discs will play in this phase (in turn order) so there is minimal downtime. In the standard game there are three Ages: Stone, Copper and Bronze. If players are interested in a longer game, there is a fourth Age, Iron, with all of the appropriate information on the map.

The game ends when one of the following conditions is met:
1. One of the colors of action chits has been depleted.
2. A nation loses all of its capitals.
3. Half of the nations in the game reach the final Age.
4. Anyone accomplishes the objectives for the last Age.

When the game ends, players total their points and the winner is the player with the most points. This system is the second significant improvement to the original Tresham concept. Where in Tresham’s game a player who falls behind cannot win; Imperios Milenarios corrects this problem. It is possible for a player to have a sufficient number of points to win while not having achieved the objectives of the final stage. A player may have a sufficient number of cities he controls, capitals he has captured and at the proper tech level but may be lacking in trade goods. He may be an Age behind his opponents but has developed a better civilization. Unlike the near linear victory conditions in the original Civilization game, Imperios Milenarios provides a variety of strategies for achieving victory.

The mechanics in the game are superbly integrated and implemented. Everything has a monetary value designated by coins on the specific item. This actually results in more player control when making decisions during the game. For example, assume a player is considering trading a technology for a trade good. The value of the coin printed on the item will assist the player in determining how equitable the trade actually is. Ah, but this is not a simple accounting procedure as we discovered in our first play of the game. There are victory points attached to almost every item that can be traded. What may appear as an even trade may give your opponent more than you receive; it is another consideration during play.

The negotiating for trades has been eliminated. A trade is determined by the acting player. The acting player decides what is to be given and what is to be received - no 20 minutes of pleading, etc. Obviously this appears as if most trades would be closer to theft than trading however, this has been accounted for. When trading, if the active player gives less than he receives, then he must compensate the balance by transferring funds from his treasury to his opponent’s treasury. If he chooses to give more than he receives, he does not receive any monetary compensation as he is determining the trade choices. This can become a significant factor when trading as there are victory points attached to the treasury also.

Wonders and Technologies are limited in the game. There are only three Wonders and once a particular Wonder is built, no other player can build it. There are only 12 technologies in the game; three in each color. Each technology provides some benefit while playing, helping to carve the nation’s personality as well as providing victory points at the end of the game. But there is a catch. Consider that during the game we each manage to reach the mid-level Military (red) Technology. When the game ends, this would score 9 points for each of us. However, let us assume that I managed to gain the highest level Military Technology, then I would score 15 points for the technology while all of the lesser values score nothing. (That would be a 24 point swing in my favor.)

So how does one score? There are six factors that are assessed when the game ends; the highest total wins. The six factors are listed below:
1. Wealth in the Treasury (Censo) - every two coins increases the victory point count.
2. Cities - Each city and Capital have a numeric point value; these are totaled.
3. Marginal Areas - many territories on the map have a printed value even though they do not contain a city. If a player is the sole occupant of the area, he scores the value for the area. This encourages player conflict as the scoring tends to be very close and these areas may determine the actual winner.
4. Wonders - each Wonder is worth 12 points.
5. Technology - each level of technology is worth a specific number of points. All first level are worth 4, mid-level are worth 9 points and the highest levels are worth 15 points. (Remember only the greatest tech level achieved in each color scores.)
6. Players lose 3 points for each Trade Good they lack for the specified Age.

When I received the game I was surprised. The components are simply excellent. What surprised me the most was the game itself. This IS the best best version of a civilization game I have played since Tresham’s. And guys...this is better than the original. All of the flaws/imperfections of the original have been corrected and improved. The game plays in a reasonable amount of time and is very easy to teach as there are (literally) only two pages of rules. It delivers what no one has been able to do thus far - a quick playing civilization game.

With all of that said, I must emphasize that it is the gameplay that is so great. If you enjoyed the old Civilization, you must try Imperios Milenarios. It would be criminal if some US or German game publisher did not acquire this game.

Note: I have never met, spoken or written to Juan Caballal nor do I have any connection with Eurojuegos Buenos Aires. (However, if he wanted fly me down for a dinner....)
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EXTRA AVOCADO! Sonderegger
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Well, this just shot to the top of my wishlist. How much was it to get yours shipped?
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Wow, just wow wow
Thanks so much Dave for this extraordinary review
It grasps so much of the essentials as well as the design subtleties

Btw, I know who YOU are of course
I used to almost-study your articles back in The Games Journal days
Now reading a piece of yours about my game makes me feel totally humbled blush


PS I'm gonna tell everyone I know about this
Thanks again If you ever fly down south is on me thumbsup
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Bleicher
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I guess it's time to plan my vacations in Buenos Aires
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Gabriel Kudric
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time to think of finding a us and europe editor, juan!
congratulations!
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Daniel Espínola
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lbleicher wrote:
I guess it's time to plan my vacations in Buenos Aires


Well, I'll put my hands on it in a few days in Buenos Aires... and eat a lomo with quilmes and an alfajor after it A very good porteño regalo isn't it?
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Thank you guys for your support
Hope you all get your chance to play and enjoy the game

See you soon Daniel! I'll join you for a
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Daniel Caldas
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I'm very interested in a copy, but I can't go to Buenos Aires unfortunately. I've sent you a GM.

Best regards!
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I have played it, and I have enjoyed it alot!!

great game!
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Well, thanks to Daniel and Daniel,
now I'm eagerly hoping for a review in Portuguese...

Good gaming!
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Sebastian Real
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Congratulations Juan! Now I have a couple of fans of your game in La Plata and are planning a future meeting to play it.
See you soon.
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I'm setting up tables of Imperios in La Cantera's gathering.
Hope to see you guys there.


PS I play with Minos. arrrh
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oh yeah! we will be there.

Whe setting up tables of Pro Manager and Honor (beta).
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I'll have to either see this in play, or give it a play myself before buying. It sounds interesting, but then again, I didn't see the "flaws" in the original Avalon Hill Civilization game.

So while this was a modestly informative review, the comparisons to "negative" aspects of Civilization were lost on me as I have not had those instances of "flaws" prove true in the many games I've played.

Hopefully someone around here gets the game so I can look at it or play it.
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GrimacePCH wrote:
the comparisons to "negative" aspects of Civilization were lost on me as I have not had those instances of "flaws" prove true in the many games I've played.


Well, then I say you won't find them in Imperios either

Thanks Phil for checking out the game.
Hope you get your chance to play it soon
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Victor Soares
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Pastor_Mora wrote:
Well, thanks to Daniel and Daniel,
now I'm eagerly hoping for a review in Portuguese...


my copy arrived Saturday, on Sunday I played 3 in a row and yesterday I played another 2 in a row

the game is superb and I'm not a very good writer, but I'll be doing a short review in Portuguese soon at our discussion list
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I am very glad you liked it that much
and will be eagerly waiting for your short review
please let us know when and where you are posting it
thank you

GG
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GrimacePCH wrote:
I'll have to either see this in play, or give it a play myself before buying. It sounds interesting, but then again, I didn't see the "flaws" in the original Avalon Hill Civilization game.


This game sounds interesting to me even though I love Advanced Civilization, which already eliminated the flaws listed by qrux.
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TaijiJohn wrote:
GrimacePCH wrote:
I'll have to either see this in play, or give it a play myself before buying. It sounds interesting, but then again, I didn't see the "flaws" in the original Avalon Hill Civilization game.


This game sounds interesting to me even though I love Advanced Civilization, which already eliminated the flaws listed by qrux.


I second that.
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Well, for what is worth, it is flattering that many fans of civilization games have found interest in Imperios. Most of the games Dave mentions I have a lot of respect for. Some of you may even recognize the influence of Civilization: The Expansion Project in the map design. The first prototype of Imperios was even playtested on that same giant map. Of course, that didn't work, but it was well worth it! Guess this design was my way to make something like that playable for me and my friends
 
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Joe Masinter
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In the English rules, the scoring for technologies at the end of the game is like this:

5. Technologies: Only the most rewarding Technology
in each color is scored as indicated in the board (for
4, 9 or 15 points per color).

That's kind of ambiguous..

We've only played a few times, but we were scoring every player points for the highest level of each color they had achieved. It sounds like this is maybe incorrect, and you only score any points for the player(s) who advanced the furthest on the tech tree in each color?

in other words-
In the Red color tech: P1 has 1st level, P2 has 3rd
P2 scores 15 points of course
but P1 scores 4 points or 0 points?



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Joe

My English translation may not be too clear, sorry about that. The translation for the extended rulebook (with more notes and examples) is currently being done by a pro who really knows what he is doing.

I think you've being playing it correctly

Everybody scores all their technologies
If you just have a level 1 tech on a color, you score 4 points
regardless of what everyone else has

Only mind that if you have a level 1 and a level 2 tech of a color
you only score the highest one (9 points for the level 2 one)

Hope this helps
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Luiz Cláudio Silveira Duarte
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Pastor_Mora wrote:
Joe

My English translation may not be too clear, sorry about that. The translation for the extended rulebook (with more notes and examples) is currently being done by a pro who really knows what he is doing.

I think you've being playing it correctly

Everybody scores all their technologies
If you just have a level 1 tech on a color, you score 4 points
regardless of what everyone else has

Only mind that if you have a level 1 and a level 2 tech of a color
you only score the highest one (9 points for the level 2 one)

Hope this helps


It certainly helps me! I was playing with a different rule, that a player only scored techs that he alone possessed and no others.

Thanks for the clarification, Juan.
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lclaudius wrote:
It certainly helps me! I was playing with a different rule, that a player only scored techs that he alone possessed and no others.

Thanks for the clarification, Juan.


Oh, that could be a really mean variant! arrrh
but it would really underpower technologies
and increase confrontation dramatically


As a matter of fact, technologies scoring was quite a design challenge until I found the right balance. See, being a deck-building game, as players advance in skill, games tend to last less rounds (although not necessarily less time). Given enough rounds (a lot of rounds), you can score up to 60 points in techs only. That is a lot of points in game terms; treasury can score you up to 24, cities a little more, a wonder adds 12 and trade goods less than 18. That means techs rule in the long run, and advanced players will take advantage of that against beginner players (not so efficient in deck management). With experienced players, you won't have the chance or enough number of rounds to spend so much in yellow actions, so scoring techs loses a lot of weight (I guess it works something like the gold strategy in Dominion).

Anyways, I'm realizing I really need to speed up the professional translation of the rulebook blush
 
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Thanks for a great review of an interesting game. As many others, I've searched for the "Holy Grail" of civilization games: a game that delivers an epic experience in a short time. Is Imperios Milenarios the end of my quest? I hope to play it one day and find out.
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