After what feels like years of gentle pressure (the game was released in 2014), I finally got around to playing some Imperial Settlers the other day. I regret not playing it sooner.
A simple card game built around the idea that you’re an ancient civilisation expanding into new lands, Imperial Settlers is nominally based on creator Ignacy Trzewiczek’s Fallout-ish predecessor, 51st State. But video game people might be more at home comparing it to Blue Byte’s classic series The Settlers, and for more reasons than just the name.
Players in Imperial Settlers choose from one of four factions—Rome, Barbarians, Egypt & Japan—and have to build settlements out of a range of cards at their disposal, some from a unique deck available only to that faction, others from a common deck.
Buildings are constructed using resources, which each faction gains at the start of each turn, but which over time are supplemented by more resources you gain from the buildings you construct. There’s a strong engine-building focus, then, as you juggle whether to construct cheaper buildings that will give you a quick resource boost, or invest in larger structures that are geared more towards late-game strategies and victory points.
What’s “Engine Building?”
It’s a common mechanic in board games, especially “euro” style ones. Settlers of Catan and Terraforming Mars are two examples: the aim is to build things that get you more stuff in order to build more things, and the idea is that players feel like they’re getting stronger with each passing turn.
The meat of the game comes from the fact that this isn’t some meandering city-builder where you can take all night to put together a few camps. Imperial Settlers only lasts for five turns, which means you have to really optimise your strategies, making sure that you’ve got enough resources and the right kind of buildings to get enough points together at the end of the game to win it
Complicating matters slightly is the fact that all players are in direct competition. Most turns are taken individually without much player interaction, but one of the core mechanics of the game—and one that Rome relies on—is the way you can raze buildings to instantly claim resources.
You’re able to do this to your own buildings, which is fine, but you can also do it your opponent’s, which is a lot more fun. Burning someone else’s stuff to the ground doesn’t just get you a resource boost, but can also completely derail their strategy, which might be reliant on a combo or certain card effect.
(I’ve lost a game as Rome, for example, when someone razed my special card that...gave me a bonus for razing, something I’d banked on getting me a ton of points).
Indeed maybe my only main gripe with the game is that there isn’t more interaction between players; outside of razing it’s pretty much a solitary affair, though with turns only taking a few seconds to administer it’s not that big a deal, since wait times are kept to an absolute minimum.
What I love most about Imperial Settlers is that it’s a very casual entry point to engine-building, normally a kind of game that I’m not that into. Yet because I found myself on top of the basics in only a matter of minutes here, I was more willing to lead myself into the more complex stuff than I usually am, and as a result enjoyed every minute with it.