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Subject: Imperial Settlers: An Apple With a Razor Blade Inside rss

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Dave Lartigue
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This is the game I was most looking forward to at Gen Con. Not only is Ignacy Trzewiczek a designer whose games I like, Imperial Settlers is a lighter, cleaner version of The New Era, one of my favorite games. It was designed to take the core tableau-building concept from The New Era and make it more streamlined and accessible, shedding the dismal post-apocalyptic theme in the process.

As a result you have the box cover, in which a jolly little guy and his dog caper under the marshmallow title. That's a major difference from the Neuroshima universe of The New Era. This continues on the cards, full of roly-poly little cute citizens inhabiting the Roman, Barbarian, Japanese, and Egyptian worlds. The worker tokens are plump little pink figures, "food" is represented by charming red apples, and even the raze tokens, which are swords, have a chunky cartoony look to them.

Yes, raze tokens. As in razing something to the ground. Because you're going to be doing that. You're going to be attacking your opponents' tableaus and hoping you're wrecking their plans and bringing ruin to their nation. Imperial Settlers is like one of those adorable red apples, only filled with razor blades. If you prefer your games to be ones where you try to build the best civilization in order to win a ribbon from the magistrate, you might want to pass it by.

Be aware, this game is more confrontational than it appears on the surface. It also has a thing where, to build most faction buildings you have to get rid of an already built building. A lot of players don't like this because they want all their stuff to last forever, and you're not always getting a direct upgrade (i.e., trading a building that produces one food for one that produces two). You also get resources by razing cards out of your hand or making deals with them, which means having to give up a potentially good building later for a stone now, and that seems to bug some folks. Your settlement will change. Cards will come and cards will go, sometimes through the actions of others and sometimes through your own.

I'm not going to go into the rules, but there are some details to know. There are four factions, and they are not identical. Your settlement will consist of two types of cards: common cards, drawn and drafted from a single deck, and faction cards, which are specific to that faction. Faction cards usually require destroying one of your own buildings (probably a common one) as part of their cost. In addition to what the buildings do as themselves, common cards can be razed to provide one-time resources and faction cards can be used as "deals" that provide ongoing resources. Cards that can be razed can be razed from your hand (for one raze token) or from other players' tableaus (for two or more), and in the latter case the victim receives a wood token and flips the building over, allowing it to still be used as a foundation for a faction building. At the end of the game common buildings are worth one point, faction buildings are worth two. Both types of buildings generate resources or victory points during the game.

From what I have seen so far in my plays, the Romans are about building synergy; they have a lot of buildings that work together to score big points. Barbarians do a lot with workers and generate tons of them. When they get going, they are all about razing. Japan has a weakness in that its faction buildings can also be razed, but it can deploy workers as samurai to protect them. Egypt has a lot of just straight up VP point buildings.

Whenever a game has asymmetric factions, there are immediate complaints about balance, and Imperial Settlers already has been accused of having overpowered factions. It's true that each of the factions has some buildings that are powerful. For example, Japan and Rome each have cards that can take out any opponent building. They're not completely unstoppable, as they are a little expensive to use and can only be used once per turn (of 5 turns). Egypt has a building that "steals" buildings from others for the round (again, once per turn). I'm not sure what the Barbarians' killer card is. They seem fairly well balanced, but here's the catch: it's one card out of a deck of 30, and you aren't going to draw a ton out of that deck. So if someone else gets their biggie and you never see yours, I suppose there's a chance for some balance issues.

I've only played 4p games twice now, but in each one the killer card didn't win as much as building synergy did. You want to get your faction buildings built, period. They're where the points are. In my most recent game, I was Japan and did really well and never used my killer building. Rome lagged behind and then got its faction buildings going and zoomed past everyone. But Egypt took it and only built their big building at the end and used it once. Egypt got a lot of its faction stuff built, allowing it to combo into tons of points. (When I won as Rome, Egypt was my big threat and I did use the Engineers to take out its point-generating cards.)

I do have a couple of complaints. The card text and icons are tiny, which is a problem considering you will want to know which of your opponent's cards across the table you hate the most. Thematically, some of the factions don't really add up for me. The Romans can store raze tokens while the Barbarians can store workers. That seems opposite to me, though I guess I can see the argument for how they are. Some of the card names are misleading: there's a "Wood Storage" building that does not, in fact, store wood.

On the other hand, it's nice to have a New Era-type game that is easy to teach and plays briskly. The design has some great elements, including a clever method for guiding you on how to arrange your tableau. The artwork is delightful, and the rulebook, unlike many of Portal's previous releases, is well done.

I'm only a few games in and already I'm a fan. Although I prefer the grit and depth of The New Era, I feel there's definitely a place for Imperial Settlers on my shelf. I'm looking forward to getting new factions to play with.

You're going to have to make some tough choices in this game, and you're going to have some of them made for you when your opponents decide to come wreck your stuff. That little guy on the cover isn't coming to give you a hand, he's coming to beat you with his shovel. Don't let the fluffy package fool you; this kitten has claws.
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Juan Crespo
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Legomancer wrote:
That little guy on the cover isn't coming to give you a hand, he's coming to beat you with his shovel.

Best line ever! laugh Thanks for your review.
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Daniel Honig
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Dark Chapel - Spend a Raze token and a card for 4VP plus other bonuses - is a pretty killer card. Also Rabble is very very good if you have raze bonuses.
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-=::) Dante (::=-
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I haven't even read the review yet but this deserved a thumb for the title alone! thumbsup
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Gary Weis
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Legomancer wrote:
"food" is represented by charming red apples

Ignacy says they are tomatoes.
But when he teaches the game he will often refer to them as apples.
If you call him on it, he will tell you it doesn't matter which one they are...
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Peter Zalizniak
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Thanks for the review. I enjoyed it. You have some clever wording throughout it. I have only played once but your experiences seem similar to mine. I look forward to trying it a couple more times before tackling a review of my own! cool
 
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Scott Burns
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Andarel wrote:
Dark Chapel - Spend a Raze token and a card for 4VP plus other bonuses - is a pretty killer card. Also Rabble is very very good if you have raze bonuses.


Also, Dark Chapel is really similar to Castle Grayskull.
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incinerator wrote:
Legomancer wrote:
"food" is represented by charming red apples

Ignacy says they are tomatoes.
But when he teaches the game he will often refer to them as apples.
If you call him on it, he will tell you it doesn't matter which one they are...


Great review, I appreciate the insight. Will purchase based on your comments.

Thread Derailment:
Is Playdek doing this game? I've noticed that Gary almost exclusively posts in forums for games that they have done. Now most of the posts in those forums are IOS related, but 3 posts in the Imperial Settlers forums have me wondering.
 
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Kevin Gordish
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Legomancer wrote:

The card text and icons are tiny, which is a problem considering you will want to know which of your opponent's cards across the table you hate the most.


I agree.

I struggle to see the icons across the table. The icons could be larger.

Additionally the wooden pieces need to be slightly thicker. They are too thin to easily pick up. They stick to the table.
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Daniel Honig
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Really? I have not had that issue.
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Derek H
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juanma99 wrote:
Legomancer wrote:
That little guy on the cover isn't coming to give you a hand, he's coming to beat you with his shovel.

Best line ever! laugh Thanks for your review.

Was I the only one who immediately clicked to see the large version of that picture... and, you're right! There's an unmistakeable air of menace in his steady tread over the hill towards you. And that smug smile on the snout of his canine sidekick?! devil
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Gary Weis
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matdav wrote:
Thread Derailment:
Is Playdek doing this game? I've noticed that Gary almost exclusively posts in forums for games that they have done. Now most of the posts in those forums are IOS related, but 3 posts in the Imperial Settlers forums have me wondering.

Nope, I'm just a fan of pretty much everything Portal has released in the last several years. And as much as I'd love to explore the possibility here, my dance card is full well into next year.
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Tomasz Jedruszek
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I'm gad you like the graphics
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Brian Current
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Are you gonna pull those pistols or whistle Dixie? - Outlaw Josey Wales
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incinerator wrote:
Legomancer wrote:
"food" is represented by charming red apples

Ignacy says they are tomatoes.
But when he teaches the game he will often refer to them as apples.
If you call him on it, he will tell you it doesn't matter which one they are...

I can attest to what Gary says.
We were in the same game that Ignacy was teaching (by the way Ignacy is a great teacher).
 
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Russ Williams
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Legomancer wrote:
The card text and icons are tiny, which is a problem

I wish Portal would stop putting tiny hard-to-read text on their cards. We had the same problem in Theseus: The Dark Orbit. :/

There's a lot of unused wasted white space under the tiny text on most of the cards; the text evidently could have been larger without even reducing the size of the pictures:
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