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Subject: Final Thoughts on Imperial Settlers from the Bottom Shelf rss

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Alex Singh
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My first dabble into tabletop gaming was in 6th grade when I stumbled upon a deck of cards laying on the front counter of a KB Toy store while my mom was Christmas shopping for my brothers. It was an oddity. What was a deck of cards doing in a toy store? Magic: The Gathering? Was a deck of card tricks? I'd never heard of it. I didn't have any friends that played it so I don't know what compelled me to spend my $10 twelve year old fortune on that deck, but I did. Aside from the actual cards, the box contained a small pamphlet explaining how to play. And thus began my rocky relationship with games that have simple rules but cards that complicate them.


Design: Ignacy Trzewiczek Art: Tomasz Jedruszek Publishing: Portal Games

This is a follow up article to a game covered earlier in the month. As such, it assumes that you are familiar with the game and how it works. If this game is new to you, check out the Initial Thoughts video to see if it's a game you would be interested in.

Magic: The Gathering might seem an odd place to start a discussion of Imperial Settlers. They are incredibly different games, but they share a common principle. A basic explanation of the rules, while enough to play, is just the beginning to understanding either game. Sure, the rulebooks will explain how to play these games, but these games come alive though the cards. Individual cards have the potential to introduce new rules or break fundamental ones. They may fit archetypes defined by the rulebook, but it's the text and icons on the cards that truly dictate how the game is played.



DEATH BY 1000 PAPER CUTS

I don't know whether or not Magic: The Gathering was the first game to introduce the concept of game altering cards, but it was the first one I played. I still enjoy playing Magic, though I rarely do any more. What it showed me more than anything else, is that a game like this can be done well. At it's best, games of this ilk are exciting and engrossing. Every card play is anticipated and can shape the landscape of the game state. Players are always on their toes as their grasp on the lead is challenged with every drop of a card. Your hand is becomes a varied arsenal and choosing the wrong weapon for the occasion can mean very bad things. Choose wisely, however, and they satisfaction of reading not only your opponent by the landscape of cards correctly leads to a satisfaction like no other.

Done poorly and games like these can become exercises in book keeping and cross referencing. Every card play becomes a scavenger hunt for other cards already in the field for conditional triggers. Valuable mental space is dedicated to simply making sure that the rules of the cards are being followed rather than planning your winning strategy. All momentum is sucked away by a vortex of tedium as every card played introduces yet another rule to remember and sets of a cascading series of events that further compound the problem. In other words, you get something like Sentinels of the Multiverse. I kid, I kid. Sort of.

It's a fine line to tread and one that Imperial Settlers narrowly manages to walk. Imperial Settlers smartly decides to start small in scope. So small, in fact, that after the first round first time players will often question how much they will be able to accomplish over the course of the game. Imperial Settlers slowly unfolds over the course of its five rounds. The meager first round tableau of cards that make up your village slowly evolves into a table space-destroying mega civilization. Not only does this feed directly into my love of games that allow you to appreciate your growth over the course of its play time, it serves to minimize the constant referencing that game like this can often fall victim to. Since the amount of cards in play never gets too large until late in the game, the potential for such folly is avoided though it does veer close to the line at game end. It's blunt instrument to solving the "fiddly problem," but it works.

A FACTION FOR ALL SEASONS

So if games get so often bogged down in the minutiae that game altering cards introduce, why do they so often try to employ them? Empowerment. Plain and simple. Being able to literally mold the rules to your liking with a simple play of a card is empowering. Games, since childhood, were always about learning and following the rules. Imperial Settlers is about finding the rules buried in your hand that will lead you to victory.

Additionally, Imperial Settlers utilizes its rules busting cards to differentiate each player faction from one another. The Romans's goals and turn to turn plays will look radically different from the Japanese player's, assuming both players are competent. The beauty of the design, it that factions' playstyles is never defined explicitly. The cards themselves inform the player that the Romans should be building as many Roman buildings as possible, that making deals is a good idea of you're the Japanese and that the Barbarians are a walking mass of pestilence.


THE ROLL OF A DIE, THE FLIP OF A CARD

Randomness in a card game is inevitable. It's to be expected, but it can be done poorly. Having victory or defeat defined by sheer luck of the draw is neither satisfying nor exciting. But just the right amount of luck and satisfaction is achieved by using the odds and excitement is formed by overcoming them. My first few plays of Imperial Settlers was leading me to believe that it fell in the former camp. Games in which I won by 40 points were followed by games in which I lost by 40 points. Victory was seemingly defined by the player who just happened to draw the best cards. And the something strange happened. I got better.

I caught onto the fact that there were many ways to draw cards in addition to the ones gained during the Lookout Phase and I pounced on it. Watchtowers were coveted above all else. An early deal that lead to more drawn cards was music to my ears. I looked for every way possible to draw cards and I started winning. I started winning big. I don't mean to brag. I only mean to highlight the fact there the luck of the draw can be overcome. By drawing more and more cards, you can take luck by the horns and wrestle it to the ground. So instead of hoping for a specific card for the entire game, you can focus on the fistful of cards you have in your hand. The game shifts from wishful thinking to tactical execution. The moment I realized this is the moment I fell in love with Imperial Settlers.

The playing field became my playground, my every growing hand of cards my toys. Every time my turn came around I could execute the plan I had been hatching on my opponents' turns. I was able to see the hooks hidden within the buildings that called out to be paired with just the right card in my hand. My stone churning empire became perfect fuel for my pair of Sculptor's Workshops. I was seeing into the matrix and it was glorious.


CONCLUSION
Imperial Settlers managed to crawl out from under the foul first impressions that I had of it and serves as a perfect example as to why I've taken a long term approach to reviewing games here on the Bottom Shelf. Ordinarily, I would have played a half dozen games or so and cast Imperial Settlers off as nothing more than a silly diversion. But forcing myself play more and get a deeper understanding of what's going on beneath the surface allowed me to experience one of the best games I have played in quite some time. It's not often when I can recall specific cards by their names or list various strategies and card combinations for specific factions, but that's exactly what's happened to me with Imperial Settlers. And the fact that the game has already received some impressive expansions ensures that I will continue to enjoy it for years to come.



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You can view this and other reviews at www.bottomshelfboardgames.com or follow my geeklist.
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Bijan Ajamlou
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I had the same experience, after some plays I started liking the game. I recommend playing with the passing bonus variant that is availible as a promo. If you dont want to buy it: just add a offer of 3 stacks with 2cards, 1 gold, 1 stone and one wood. That makes the game little more intresting.
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Michal Starek
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Is it really just me who liked it and saw the potential right from the start? :whistle:
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Winston Spencer
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myyysha wrote:
Is it really just me who liked it and saw the potential right from the start? whistle
No, I liked it too.
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Alex Singh
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bijanajamlou wrote:
I had the same experience, after some plays I started liking the game. I recommend playing with the passing bonus variant that is availible as a promo. If you dont want to buy it: just add a offer of 3 stacks with 2cards, 1 gold, 1 stone and one wood. That makes the game little more intresting.
Yes, I've seen those and I kind of wish they were included in the game. Your idea is interesting. I think I'll give it a try. Thanks!

myyysha wrote:
Is it really just me who liked it and saw the potential right from the start? whistle
Well, I'm not exactly the brightest bulb in the basket.
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Vlad Plusch
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Thanks for your informative review! The IS is a new game in our company. So far none of us has reached 40 points in a 4p game. I know that it,s a key moment to take many cards from the start. Is there any way to do it except 2 workers - 1 card exchange and research phase? Probable we have missed smth in the manual... Many thanks)
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Alex Singh
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vlad1 wrote:
Thanks for your informative review! The IS is a new game in our company. So far none of us has reached 40 points in a 4p game. I know that it,s a key moment to take many cards from the start. Is there any way to do it except 2 workers - 1 card exchange and research phase? Probable we have missed smth in the manual... Many thanks)
It took us a while to get our scores up near 100. Yes, you can send two workers for a card draw, but there are many cards that allow you to draw cards. These cards should be prioritized especially in the early game. Don't worry about scoring points in the first couple of rounds. Focus on drawing cards and setting yourself for large scoring opportunities in the later rounds. Hope that helps!
 
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Ron Fischer
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I guess I need more plays. In my initial play my group immediately caught on that cards were king. The initial draft of common cards only had a couple useful early-game options, leading to an unbalanced start. Lacking initial production, a couple players struggled to build anything useful in turn one. From there, one of the leading players was able to get a card drawing bonus (tower), rendering the last four rounds futile. We tried attacking (razing) the leading player, but that just diverted resources from our own development. In the last two rounds a couple of us did pull some powerful cards (and cards that would have been useful at game start). Too little too late. My suggestion would be to expand the initial draft so that it is far more likely that everyone can start with something useful...
 
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