IMPERIALISM: ROAD TO DOMINATION
For 2-4 Players Aged 12+ Games Take @2 Hours
Designed by: Konrad Perzyna Artist: Katarzyna Fic
Game board. Game rules. 50 providence cards (4 special cards, 12 plot cards, 22 event cards, 12 authority cards - positive and negative). 38 territory cards (22 land cards, 16 colony cards). 10 superpower cards. 24 achievement cards. 6 religion cards. 4 sets of wooden markers. 50 ducat tokens.
The Official Notes:
Imperialism: Road to Domination approximately covers the period from the 15th to the 19th century. The players control superpowers and attempt to transform them into mighty empires. To accomplish this, they will not only have to look after the economic growth and try to gain social and civilization achievements, but also modernize and expand their fleet and land army. Because being at war is expensive, it is often wiser to resort to plots and lies. Sometimes, making empty promises by negotiating tables is better than getting involved into a risky and exhausting war, which may empty the treasury and expose you to losing the precious prestige. The players have to pay extra attention to the dissenters who, especially in the beginning of the game, have greater military power and will not hesitate to draw others into a religious war. Will you manage to create an enormous colonial empire, military European Dominium, or a small territorially but strong economically country? The player’s choices, luck, and reactions of others will affect the struggle. Creating an empire requires good strategic sense and flexible approach to the current military and economic situation. The players have to forge thoughtful alliances and avoid wars which they may not win.
The aim of the game is to create the most powerful empire. To achieve this, the players will change the reigning rulers, brew plots, conspire, conquer minor countries and overseas lands which will increase the level of goods production in their empire. The players will have to expand their armies and fleet to confront other superpowers. The player with most glory points wins.
Visuality - the way a game is perceived when first viewed, is highly important. I know some games that are actually very good, but once some players see the box, colour and art, they have an immediate perception of it. If the box is poorly designed, badly coloured and/or has sloppy artwork then the prospective player is already feeling badly towards it. The colouring of the box for this game is imperialistic browns and beiges, which gives it an immediate air of importance. From the cover art to the fonts used on the title and box text this game screams out to the serious strategy games player. There is nothing light and fluffy about IMPERIALISM: ROAD TO DOMINATION this is most certainly a gamers’ game from start to finish, in looks, quality and game play. The artwork throughout is splendid and the text on each card is minimal so they are picture rather than language dependent.
The board is very busy in its design and at first looks a little daunting but it is actually a very good working board that is informative and helpful in a visual way. Players collect and play cards to control territories, build their armies, enlarge their fleets and keep up production. Territories that may be explored and conquered are found face up along the bottom of the board and these appear randomly, drawn from the shuffled deck. There are 2 permanent countries, China and India, which are also territories to conquer, but they are special as they are printed on the board. It is on the board that you can see how yourself and the other players are progressing towards their goal of creating the most powerful and thus winning, Empire. There are columns, colour coded for all important powers, plus there are rows for Product, Army strength and Fleet strength, on which every player has a marker. Cards and decisions, you use and make, move these markers on the charts keeping every player's progress open to every player.
IMPERIALISM: ROAD TO DOMINATION is a game of decision making and this is what pushes the game to the length it takes to play. The cards are always changing and options flow like the rapids in a river. While the other players are taking their turns you can be formulating ideas in your head and this can be helpful to your strategy. However the cards you are depending on may not be there when your turn comes around. Therefore even though you may have a plan and the cards you want for that plan are still available on your turn, there will have been changes in the other cards so you really need to read and take in the new information and not just blunder blindly on with your first plan. Many a plan has gone awry because the new cards were not studied prior to implementation.
Despite the necessity and the usefulness of its board IMPERIALISM: ROAD TO DOMINATION is basically a card game. There are 128 cards with many different types and uses. How and when you use cards and which and when you select cards is the crux of the game. Some cards have immediate effect, some are constant (permanent), some affect only you while others affect the other players. This all sounds contrite but that's the way this game is. It all comes down to the players and how they act - using the actions available to them each turn - and react - to the cards on the board and what the other players do. There are no dice so if there is any luck in the game it comes only from the randomness of the card draws; including the Superpower deal at the start of the game and the Territory cards that are drawn and placed face up under the board. What we do have is a rules book that has been laid out with headers and examples, very descriptive and straight to the point, important points are repeated as examples.
Religion plays a part in your decisions. There are three main religious factions:- Lutheran, Calvinism and Reformation. By choosing and declaring a Religion you gain the abilities that come with it, though you may close some doors as far as the other factions are concerned. Players are dealt 2 of the Superpower Empire cards from which they select one. Their choice is made by the strategy the player has chosen or their strategy can be determined from the effects on the cards dealt - Army, Fleet, Prestige and Production of Goods. Two of these starter Superpowers, the Ottoman Empire and Russia, gain 2 extra Glory points at the beginning, but this is balanced against the rule that they can never change their religion. For the other Superpowers there is a one only chance to change religion which players can choose to do if they think that the change will be advantageous. Each of these starter Superpowers has something slightly different to the others.
Gaining 2 Glory points may not seem a lot for giving up your Empire's chance of changing Religion but you have to consider the value of those points. The game ends when one player's score-marker reaches or crosses a specific number on the Glory point track. The Glory points required to win the game depends on the number of players - the more players the lower the number. In a 2-player game you need 40pts, 29pts in a 3 players game but just 20pts for 4 players - this should give you an idea of how difficult it is to gain Glory points and thus reiterate the value of the 2 extra from Russia or the Ottoman Empire.
Each game we have played has been slightly different, in the way each Chess game is slightly different. You have the same pieces that can do the exact same things each turn, but the manner of their use creates a different challenge. Also playing with just 2 players gives the game a new perspective whereas with 3 or 4 players there is little variation. As I say, this is basically a card game with a functional board. It is unlike the majority of recent or current card games as it is not a collectible game, it isn't mission based, and nor is it a deck or hand building game.
A Player's turn has two phases. The first allows the player to discard unwanted cards from their hand (players begin with a hand of 5 providence cards each) and then supplement their hand by drawing cards. The second is taking one of the five possible actions available. These are Development, Intrigue, Conquest, War and Taxation. Each of these is fully described in the rules booklet and should be thoroughly read and understood by each player. I would have liked to have seen Player Reference sheets included with the game, particularly as this has such good production values otherwise. I understand that including 5 extra sheets would push the cost a little higher. IMPERIALISM: ROAD TO DOMINATION can be located online for around £25.00 + postage or bought straight from the shop at just under £29.00 from Leisure Games in London, which is around £10.00 less than I would have expected, so a few extra sheets of glossy paper or card wouldn't push the retail price up by a lot.
The question often asked about a game like this, especially one that can take a good two hours to play, is "does it have replay value?" and the answer is yes. Maybe not a game for regular play, as in weekly for example, but then most 2 hour plus games aren't. It is definitely one that is worth keeping on standby. It isn't unique but it is unusual, it isn't exceptional but it is excellent, it has class but isn't a classic but it is certainly good enough by far to be one of those games that is on or should be on every player's Top Twenty of strategy board games.