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Subject: Review after one play rss

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Chris Gledhill
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GENERAL COMMENTS
Soldier Emperor : Indian Empires is a Civilisation/Wargame based in pre-coloinial and Imperial India during the period 1767-1849. I have played a previous version of this game (Soldier Raj, 2004) as well as the new version solo. I quite enjoyed the experience, but would not envisage playing this game with friends: there are more interesting, innovative games out there. See below for detailed comments.

POSITIVE COMMENTS
- There is an interesting diplomacy game in here, with room for political manoeuvring between the five main powers.

- The movement and battle mechanics are simple, and the game flow is comparable to light Civilisation/Wargames such as Britannia, Civilisation etc.

- The Event cards are self-explanatory and can involve entertaining twists of fate. Unlike many card-driven games, they don't bog the player down in too much decision-making, and they can add to the tactical choices that a player can make (especially if they are used covertly, for the purposes of bribery and intimidation).

- The scenarios are well-written on the whole, with good historical detail.

- The 5 main powers are very unequal, but this is historical and the game mechanics make allowances for this.

NEGATIVE COMMENTS
Overall, the game mechanics and material are not well implemented:

- The rules are poorly written, with redundancy (re-explanation of already-stated rules), spelling mistakes, and – in conjunction with the scenarios – confusing victory conditions (what does "8 VP" mean for the British? 8 more gold than already earned after the first Manpower & Money phase?). There are also oblique and annoying references to another game (presumably a supplement which is not included: the rulebook mentions an expansion book called "Dreams of Empire").

- The mechanics are simple, but they could have been presented in less than 20 pages. I would refer here to the efficiency and ergonomics of Columbia block games, or even some of the more complex GMT games. Of course, these companies can probably afford proper design and development, with more thorough play-testing.

- It is a shame that the rulebook does not implement some of the optional rules directly. I am thinking here of the variable draw for Event cards (one Optional rule allows the different powers to receive different numbers of Event cards, for example Hyderabad would get 5 Event cards in comparison with Britain's 3 in order to make up for Hyderabad's small size early in the game). But the very inclusion of this optional rule suggests that there are other potential changes, which certainly would have been more interesting than the traditional discard and re-draw.

- The graphics on the board, pieces and supporting material are loud, with thematic images that are ambitious, but often too large in relation to more important game-based information. Although the strong colours fit into the theme, they sometimes become obtrusive (grey on purple on a shiny map, etc.)

- The map is over-simple, with gameplay often being reduced to tiny corner of India. India is a huge, beautiful sub-continent,; and the map could have emphasised the great distances, changes in topography etc.

- The scenario booklet leads to confusion if you lose your page. Each scenario should have been separated graphically, and each diplomacy chart should have been given a title and even printed separately.

- The five A4 cards included for record-keeping (Manpower and Money) are oversized and unnecessary. They make the map look underwhelming. The mismatch in the counters provided (only one small counter for Manpower and Money, although each of these is a double-track) suggests a general lack of coordination in the material design of this game.

As stated above, the game mechanics are traditional, with few innovations but also few surprises (most gamers will probably be able to skim the rules, and in many cases their intuitions will be just as good as consulting the rulebook). So the mood of this game to me is rather ruined by its material aspects, but as stated above there is still an interesting little diplomacy game in here.

Edits: one typo, inclusion of Soldier Raj and Dreams of Empire.
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