Mr. Grace
Australia
Adelaide
SA
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I should preface this report with the observation that I am personally an intuitive player, not a good mathematician, so I tend to play by instinct – on a bad day, by impulse ! So, I rarely win at Eurogames, but I usually enjoy anything except abstracts. I am also interested in the historical period at which Imperial is set ( the early 20th century) and in general, games that combine political, economic & military factors.

This report describes a recent four handed game, using the “Experienced Variant” (EV) and without the Investor Card (IC). We were all experienced players.

I was particularly keen to try without the IC as in the several previous games I had played it seemed a peculiarly artificial mechanism , even to the extent of detracting from what is otherwise ( mostly) an ingenious and very interesting game.

It is not explained explicitly in the rule book, but it seems to me that both the IC and the “basic” setup ( ie distributing the countries randomly to start ) are intended to produce a very “balanced” game. It’s a characteristic of Eurogames that they seek to be “ inclusive” – even the lowest player is rarely very far behind the highest, so the game remains interesting to all, rather than to just the winners. There are also some further efforts towards “inclusiveness” which have the downside of being somewhat counter-intuitive, and I’ll discuss these at the end of this report. In the real world, I appreciate inclusiveness, and I do so in relation to Eurogames too, so I don’t mean to disparage this aspect entirely. However, when Inclusiveness militates against Intuitiveness, I begin to distress.

I have previously posted several observations about this game in the Geek Forums, where the general response from other users is, that I fail to understand the game at all ! While that may be the case, I nevertheless enjoy it each time, and have at least taken the trouble to write this article, so if I appear not to understand the game, well draw your own conclusions. In particular, I have read the posts describing Imperial as much more a “stock market” / corporate management game than a “war game”, and while I see the value of the first observation, I still believe it’s CAN BE an engaging political war game if that is what you are looking for.

As to our session :

To begin, we each had the standard amount of cash for the EV. I went first, and managed to secure Austria for very little outlay ( 1M from memory). I thought the others were way too cautious, even more so when I managed to pick up Italy immediately for very little was well. I was especially pleased to get adjacent countries and anticipated a strong allied result. Bidding became a little more spirited after that, and Leigh secured GB and Fr, while Paul took Ger and Jamie Rus. Most of us then spent several turns gearing up for any military efforts; I spent on “Factory” for both my Aus & Ital, fattening them nicely ( and apparently oblivious to how attractive I was making them for a take over !)

Playing w/o the IC was a first for all of us, but we seemed to get the hang of it quickly. As mentioned in the rule booklet, w/o the IC there are less frequent changes of ownership, yet we managed several dramatic changes in any case : at one early stage, after building Aus to a fat four factories, while gradually increasing my bond holding there as I was shadowed by Jamie building his, I managed to lapse my concentration just long enough to lose control of Aus just when I was on the point of leveraging that great alliance with Italy!

We noticed that it became progressively harder to invest, as the face price of available bonds rose, even if one could afford to “upgrade” an existing low level bond ( particularly the I’s and 2’s) because to do so allowed another player to get that same low level bond as a bargain as soon as we returned it to stock! However, this did not detract in any noticeable way from the interest of the game. We did notice that it made everybody especially hungry to get to Investor on the Rondel, so as to be cashed-op should an investment opportunity appear. Nevertheless, we managed to cross-invest in most cases, tho the Winner ( revealed below) seemed a little more specialised.

I have to confess that I find it rather difficult to make the calculations necessary to assess the balance of bond holding, as it involves, at the very least, being able to read the opponents’ cards upside down AND then having the mental arithmetic to do the sums. Ideally, I’d like a chart with counters showing the various holdings, but that would involve tracking ( in a four player game) 4 holdings in each of six countries – just about a full time job, and one prone to error too !

Meanwhile a bit of territorial expansion broke out : Leigh’s GB managed to acquire the entire Nordic zone uncontested while Jamie’s Rus followed a southwards route to Turkey and the Balkans, assisted by defacto alliance with Aus. Paul‘s Germany was preoccupied with internal matters, so Fr was largely free in the West and expanded quickly.

The see-saw continued for a couple of hours, with several unexpected major twists, some of which I think surprised even the beneficiaries. But just like real life, we had to deal with the situation we found ourselves in, as opposed to some more planned course, and had to “make the most of now”. My Italy continued strong through all this, fat with factories and a good showing on the equipment front and a respectable presence in the W Med, if not with a lot of Power Points! In fact, we all continued fairly strong, there was little penetration of each others’ home countries, and what there was was largely ineffective, as there were few factories on the frontiers. I think Leigh did somewhat better than the average, due to his own sharp insight, but also assisted at least by his unchallenged alliance of GB and Fr, which allowed him to choose “Tax” for GB frequently – toward the end, he was fairly spinning between Investor and Tax, racking up Power Points strongly. In the last few rounds, for reasons I couldn’t follow, Fr collapsed ( from a commanding position , I thought!) or at least Leigh abandoned it, and I bought it ( I thought quite cheaply) to add to my Latin empire. Too late I realised that the end of the Game was almost on us and it was a costly lemon – there would be no Ital-Fr invasion of GB after all !

How did we end up ? Well first of the all the time flew by – no-one was interested in the clock, but I think it was several hours minimum of great fun for everyone – a sign of a good game, I think! We agreed that the turns were much less volatile than in the IC version, yet still interesting enough to keep us engaged all the time. Leigh came in tops with 124 ( due to a massive holding of GB stock), Paul had a solid Germany with about 99, I followed with the Latin empire all dressed up but with nowhere to go at about 94, with Jamie just behind.

I noticed, to my surprise, at all the Treasuries ended up quite full of cash, an outcome I was not expecting. We could all have spent a great deal more on Factories or even massive military forces !

I am not sure if the others were as enthusiastic about “no IC” as I was (and am still). My experience of this last game however, has confirmed my opinion that the IC is a contrived and artificial “deus ex machina” that requires some suspension of the Intuitive principle: the IC is there to randomise the situation
[ unusual in a Eurogame ?] and you either like that randomness, or you don’t. I don’t because it has no obvious connection to anything in the real world at the epoch of the game, the early 20th century. It’s also counter to the operation of the Rondel, which is [ almost] always fully controlled by the phasing player – the exception being when unable to pay on Investor !

I guess you CAN try to control or manipulate the operation of the IC when it’s used, but if so, the calculations necessary to do that are well over my head, if not over those of others likely to comment on this report. As far as I can see, the IC flies around the board like the waiter in a restaurant who seems to ignore you when you really want to order…. then arrives too late with your drink, anyway !

There are several other counter-intuitive features that I find less than satisfactory : the artificial rules that a country’s last factory cannot be occupied….that bonds cannot be SOLD… that players cannot lend money to each other … that Blue Factories can produce only ships… that armies occupying foreign territory can NOT change status from Hostile to Friendly except in a Manoeuvre phase …that allied units cannot use other allied countries’ rail systems, with the owner’s permission …

To be fair though, these “artificial” elements DO limit the game in time ( another important feature of the Eurogame ), so the game is probably over before someone gets bored, a good social outcome !

In conclusion, the “experienced” game seemed much more like a “real life” situation than the intricate but somewhat counter-intuitive previous games. It seemed like the difference between hiking and dancing ( which latter I can’t do!). On a walk, you see the sights and are refreshed by a change of scenery : to dance, you do something similar – moving your feet - but only in artificial and to some extent stressful ways …. It may take more skill to dance, but not everyone wants to dance every time they move !
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Teacher Fletcher
United States
Chicago
Illinois
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Nice report. I too found the Investor Card distasteful to play with, both in real life and on BSW, and have happily moved on to the more fluid and cashed-starved game without it.
 
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James Hemsley
Italy
Desio
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It sounds like to me, based on your suggestions toward the end, that you'd like Imperial to be more of a war game. It's easy to think that when the pieces appear to be armies and navies, but one thing I tell anybody I teach the game to is, "If you think this is a war game, you will lose. It is an investment game. Don't get attached to a country. If you do, you'll lose."

I personally like the Investor Card, because it forces you to make sub-optimal moves (moves which don't benefit your country, but might benefit you) in order to manipulate the speed at which it moves from player to player. I agree with you, regarding this style that there is a lot more "chaos," but to me, that's what makes the game interesting. Plus, it's not like you're rolling dice. You can time the investor card and make plans to buy, or snatch a country away from other players accordingly.

To each his own, I suppose.

--James
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Teacher Fletcher
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Iceberg1 wrote:

I personally like the Investor Card, because it forces you to make sub-optimal moves (moves which don't benefit your country, but might benefit you) ...

--James


Imperial has plenty of this without the Investor Card.
 
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