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Subject: Imperial - Review rss

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Michael Longdin
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Imperial looks like a wargame (anyone who has played Diplomacy will recognise the map board) and when you first start to play it, feels like a wargame - moving armies and fleets around to take control of areas and build up your empire. By the time you get to the end of the game, however, you'll realise that whilst there is an important conflict element to the game, it is much more of a business game than a wargame. In fact, it most resembles one of the 18xx style games where control of companies can move around and the object is essentially to obtain the most shares in the most successful companies. In this case, the government of a nation can change from player to player and the object is to purchase bonds in the most successful nations.

Regardless of the number of players (which can be 2-6 and although we've only played with 5 and 6, my initial thoughts suggest it will scale well, albeit play differently, for any number), all six nations are set up on the board initially with three factories in a combination of armouries or shipyards. Factories are used to produce armies or build fleets and also contribute to the economy of a country when they opt to tax the nation. Taxation is significant as it it also the factor that is used to determine the progress (success) of that nation. Each nation has 8 bonds available (cost ranging between £2m and £25m) for purchase and whoever invests the most in a country forms the government and is responsible for all actions performed by that country. It is therefore perfectly normal for control to change hands between players quite possibly resulting in a u-turn in strategy for that nation. If, for example, you are the Government of Germany with £9m in bonds and are waging war against France then one form of defence for the player controlling France is to purchase the £12m bond in Germany (assuming they can afford it which is often not the case) and re-direct it's forces in the direction of, say Russia.

At the start of the game an initial set of bonds is distributed to each player which gives them control of at least one nation. After one play like this, you'll want to set-up using the suggested variant for purchasing bonds at the start which gives players a bit more choice regarding their initial strategy. Another similarity to 18xx is the fact that money comes in two forms - individual player money and that placed in the treasury of each nation and you need to be very careful to keep the two apart. This is another game where my investment this year in poker chips has really proved worthwhile as they are much more practical to use than the paper money supplied with the game.

Wargames (and indeed some 18xx games) of this nature often suffer from long player turns and lots of downtime but Imperial avoids this by using the 'Rondel' mechanism from Antike (same designer). The Rondel is a circle of 8 spaces each allowing one of six different actions to be selected. Starting with Austria-Hungary, each nation in turn takes it's turn to move its marker up to three spaces on the Rondel and take the action landed on (you can move more if you are prepared to pay for it but this comes out of your own personal money which, apart from the fact that this is used to determine the winner at the end of the game, you never have enough of to buy all the bonds you want so this will be done sparingly). The options available are mostly straightforward and quick - you can build new factories, produce new units, import units from abroad (these cost money where as building them in your factories is free), move your units on the board, tax the nation, or pay-out to the investors in a nation. The Rondel is organised well so that the actions available occur in a logical order but make some potentially game-breaking combinations more costly (e.g two consecutive manoeuvres or investing immediately following taxation).

The options that involve building and moving units on the map are pretty standard for games like this. You can move units from one space to the next and fleets can also convoy armies across water (as in Diplomacy). If two opposing units end in the same space, either may initiate combat which is resolved on a very simple 1 for 1 basis. If the area is a neutral area (i.e. not an area belonging to one of the six nations) and you are the only one left standing in that area at the end of the turn then you put one of the nations taxation markers in it which will increase tax revenue when that option is selected. Apart from building factories, this is the only way a country can expand its economy and as there are a limited number of neutral areas, these become the main source of conflict in the game. (Note that sea spaces are also neutral areas and therefore count for taxation. This puts as much importance on fleets as armies which is unusual for this type of game).

The two actions that make the game an economic one rather than a pure wargame are Taxation and Investor. Mechanically the game is kept very simple though as both are straightforward to enact. Moving onto taxation, puts revenue from factories and taxation markers into the treasury from which maintenance of fleets and armies has to be paid. (Unless you've built up a very large force that hasn't yet expanded successfully, this will usually be a positive figure). If the nation has increased it's tax revenue then the Government will also be given a bonus for managing its success payable into the Governments own personal treasury (there is not a penalty for being responsible for reducing tax levels however!). The amount of tax collected is marked on taxation scale which indicates how many "progress points" that nation collects. The number of progress points a nation gets determines the value of bonds in that nation at the end of the game. Furthermore, the game will end immediately when any one nation gets to 25 progress points and as it is possible to get as many as 10 points on one turn if a nation is securing lots of tax revenue, the game can end quite quickly once a country is well established.

When a country lands on the Investor space then everyone who owns bonds will receive interest (i.e personal money) from the treasury of that nation (assuming the nation has the funds - try to avoid landing on this space if the country doesn't have enough money to this because other players then have to be paid out of your own personal money). The one question you've probably all been asking to date is "how do I get new bonds" and this opportunity arises when a country lands on or passes over the Investor space. One player holds the Investor card which not only gives them a £2m bonus at this point but allows them to purchase one bond in any one nation. This can be an upgrade to an existing bond or a purchase of any other bond that is only available, but you can only do it once and only the player who has the investor card can do it. Actually, that last statement isn't totally true because after the card owner has purchased a bond, any player who doesn't control a nation can also purchase one bond. This allows players who do not have any involvement in running a country a bit more flexibility in what they purchase and when. This is less likely to happen in a three player game but is quite common when there are 6 players. The Investor card is then passed to the player on the left whose turn it will be to invest the next time a country lands or passes on the Investor space. This restriction on purchasing bonds can be a bit frustrating (and certainly illogical) but after a while you get used to it and understand that you have to make the most of your cash that has been building up when it gets round to your turn. The 'passing over' rule is important because it keeps the investment in bonds flowing and while it is possible to dictate the pace of investment to some extent (by controlling the number of spaces you move round the Rondel each turn) you know that you cannot prevent it from happening. There is a variant in the rulebook which removes the Investor card and allows any player to buy bonds in a nation immediately after that nation has taken its turn. We haven't played this yet but, after some initial reservations, I am quite happy with the basic rule.

When the game ends each player calculates the value of their bonds and adds in any personal cash. The player with the most money wins. Bonds are valued at the amount of interest they generate multiplied by their value according to the progress track (between 0 and 5). It is worth pointing out that the low valued bonds are worth a higher percentage return on investment than the higher ones e.g. the smallest £2m bond generates £1m interest (50%) while the largest bond costs £25m but only generates £8m interest (32%) so while you may need to buy bigger bonds to maintain the control of a country, the smaller ones do provide better value for money - a factor which you shouldn't ignore.

Overall the game plays very well and is recommended if you like your Euros on the heavier side and with a bit more theme (e.g Age of Steam, Power Grid and Antike). It will inevitably get compared to Antike because of the 'Rondel' but I think it is a much better game than that one which, while good, has a number of issues with it. I have one reservation with Imperial and that is regarding the potential for analysis paralysis towards the end of the game, the timing of which can be in a players hands and is determined by whether or not they choose to move a country who can reach 25 progress points on to the taxation space. This can result in players spending a considerable period of time adding up all the points for each player to see whether they do actually want to end the game at this point. We have avoided this to date simply by going off 'gut feel' as to whether it is in your interest or not to do so but I do see that it can be a pain if there is someone who insists on doing all the calculations. Other than that, I like this game an awful lot. The investor card mechanism will not be satisfactory for some people and, to a certain extent, feels a bit artificial but I think this is something I can get used to rather than let it spoil a very enjoyable game which, with a bit more effort we can probably get down to a couple of hours (certainly no more than 2.5 which is how long our last 6 player game took). Rating 8.
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Alexander B.
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100%Blade wrote:
... I have one reservation with Imperial and that is regarding the potential for analysis paralysis towards the end of the game, the timing of which can be in a players hands and is determined by whether or not they choose to move a country who can reach 25 progress points on to the taxation space. This can result in players spending a considerable period of time adding up all the points for each player to see whether they do actually want to end the game at this point. We have avoided this to date simply by going off 'gut feel' as to whether it is in your interest or not to do so but I do see that it can be a pain if there is someone who insists on doing all the calculations. Other than that, I like this game an awful lot. The investor card mechanism will not be satisfactory for some people and, to a certain extent, feels a bit artificial but I think this is something I can get used to rather than let it spoil a very enjoyable game which, with a bit more effort we can probably get down to a couple of hours (certainly no more than 2.5 which is how long our last 6 player game took). Rating 8.


Exactly how I feel about this game, and I also gave it a coveted 8, which I consider quite high.

The exact same problem is what stops me from going upto a 9 or even a 10: the need to control the ending so perfect is too much of what the game comes down to as far as a winner. And, yes, the calculation is absolutely necessary unless the player's don't mind it coming down to a craps shoot.

The best strategy seems to be to hold-off on investing much until the one or two 4x/5x countries become apparent, then everyone make a mad dash for those few countries high bonds.

It seems that it CAN get more complicated than that, due to the pre-manuevering up to this key point, but the timing of this last dash seems to be "the game".

I agree with what some have said about using investor card (as compared to not using it) making this timing more difficult and adding a bit more luck in (although it is a different skill to try to "line up" that luck to fall favorably upon oneself.

I'm not sure what could change these dynamics, but they do have a frustrating sense of making a game that is simply amazing to not quite reach the heights of a real grail game: at least not for me

Still: highly recommended.
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nathan hayden
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Like yr Wedding Present badge. Thanks for the review.
 
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Michael Longdin
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diamondspider wrote:
The best strategy seems to be to hold-off on investing much until the one or two 4x/5x countries become apparent, then everyone make a mad dash for those few countries high bonds.

It seems that it CAN get more complicated than that, due to the pre-manuevering up to this key point, but the timing of this last dash seems to be "the game".


This is interesting because we haven't found this at all. Occassionally a player will hang on to some cash for one turn to acquire a preferred bond but usually money gets spent at the very first opportunity because a) the smaller bonds provide better returns and you need to get them quick and b) cash in hand is essentially a non-earner.
 
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Michael Longdin
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dragonblaster wrote:
Like yr Wedding Present badge.


Thanks. Give my love to Kevin
 
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Dominic Crapuchettes
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diamondspider wrote:

The best strategy seems to be to hold-off on investing much until the one or two 4x/5x countries become apparent, then everyone make a mad dash for those few countries high bonds.


I don't think you're right about that. Someone who used their money throughout the game will have gotten intestor payoffs - just two payouts means the bonds were free (or nearly free). If they are able to get a good position in one of the stronger countries then they should do better than the person who took a mad dash at the end. Plus, the mad dash at the end will have to start about half way into the game or else you'll only get to purchase 2 bonds.

I haven't played this game enough to be sure about these things, but I am VERY impressed with this design. It seems solid on every account (except perhaps the AP at the end of the game due to the lack of hidden information - which is very minor and slight due to the clean nature of all of the mechanics).
 
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Tom Hancock
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I agree with the people that say buying throughout the game is the best strategy.
 
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Marshall Miller
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I don't see the mad dash working at all. In many games I've seen most of the shares purchased by the end of the game and some fair strategy go into purchasing lots of cheap shares to outprice other players.
 
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