The Imperial Settlers board game checks several boxes for me before I even gave it a play:
- First, my wife and I both like games where you manage resources.
- Secondly, I was intrigued by the civilization-building theme, with the full understanding that it is a thin one at most.
- Plus, the cartoony art is accessible and gives it a whimsical tone.
But what would I think of the game after I gave it a few plays? Let’s find out!
Imperial Settlers: Bins Full of Stuff
Imperial Settlers certainly isn’t a ‘civilization game’ in the mold of the classic 4X model: explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate. You begin with a unique faction, as you do in heavier civ games, but Imperial Settlers has you gathering resources to grow an empire, which really means getting victory points.
You aren’t jockeying for position on a shared game board, nor is there an intense battle of shared resources. In fact, resources are abundant and the game is largely solitaire, outside of a few elements we’ll get to later.
The resources you collect (and then turn in) are the standard fare for board gaming: Wood, stone, meeples, food etc., it’s all there.
Imperial Settlers: Bring on the Barbarians!
Now, let’s talk with a little more specificity about how the game works. To start a game of Imperial Settlers, players receive a civilization tableau that lists their unique quality. For example, the Barbarians begin with more meeple tokens than the other factions.
But it’s really each faction’s unique deck of cards that provides most of the differentiation that allows each faction to play slightly differently. The faction deck is joined by a general deck of cards that are used for all. Cards serve as “buildings,” and turning in the required resources listed on the card allows you to put it into play, which represents adding a new building to your budding empire.
The text of cards varies. Some allow turning in resources as an action that give you victory points. Others give additional resources when gathered at the beginning of a new round. Some provide new abilities.
It’s the “Raze” action that upends this. A player can choose to raze a building (card), which gives a one-time collection of resources but means that card is out of play in the future.
Players can also raze another player’s played cards, which is the sole source of player versus player interaction that prevents Imperial Settlers from being a game where all players are essentially playing simultaneous solitaire. But even razed cards can can provide a resource to add new cards, so the game never feels aggressive.
Overall, Imperial Settlers plays great!
Making a C.L.A.I.M on Imperial Settlers
The components in Imperial Settlers are nice, but not spectacularly so. Amazon lists the game at under $40, so it’s meant to hit an affordable price point.
The meeples, food, etc. are nice wooden tokens. And the cardboard tableaus are good. The cards are a nice weight. Nothing struck me as cheapie.
I’m great with this. I don’t need a deluxified version of every game I own, although that is certainly my preference. I do however have a baseline and Imperial Settlers clears that by a mile.
I think about Terraforming Mars, an otherwise incredible game, and one that has a much higher price point, yet has components so cheaply made that the player boards are nothing more than cardstock and pretty much every plastic component is littered with mold residue.
Imperial Settlers has components that are much higher quality than that, although it comes in well below a typical Stonemaier game like Scythe.
My biggest knock on the components of Imperial Settlers is that there is no box insert. You pretty much just toss everything in the box in plastic baggies. So, I got a cheap foam insert from GameNerdz and absolutely LOVE IT.
The idea is that each faction in Imperial Settlers would play asymmetrically, although this is by no means wildly so. Although each faction has their own personality, they all play basically the same, which is a departure from a true assymetric game like Root.
I do like some factions over others though and the differences are noticeable. For example, I’m a big dummy, so the Barbarians are great for me, as I can just throw extra meeples at my problems. My wife is better at a faction like the Japanese that requires a little more fine tuning.
People are reporting certain factions as being over-powered or under-powered, and I’ve seen the same ones mentioned on both lists. This likely means that there is some situational bias being injected into the comments, and the game is more balanced than internet commentary suggests. The Internet, am I right?
Overall, the game play is so good, I suspect most folks would like playing with most factions. Every turn has a million choices to make regardless of faction.
My wife and I just got the Aztec expansion and while I see that it comes with some extra tokens for some reason, I haven’t actually played with it yet. But I share that to illustrate that it appears that the game may be trending a titch more asymmetrical with addons.
While I was first drawn in with the artwork, it hasn’t kept my interest. While the box art has a quaint, playful feel, the cards don’t necessarily match that whimsical tone.
But they don’t not match it either, as the art never veers into the territory of realism. As a result, it feels a bit mismatched in places, although I should add not jarringly so. It simply a quibble.
The graphic design, on the other hand, is a real problem. The text is absurdly tiny and the icons aren’t sharply differentiated. Although I’m not color blind, I do have deficiencies, and the lack of vibrancy in the colors gives me fits. The printing isn’t as sharp as it could be either, there is a smidge of blending on several elements.
I want to be clear, the overall aesthetics of the game are in no way bad, the entire presentation could use polish, from artwork through to graphic design.
Hooboy, this is where it’s good!
Imperial Settlers really does play great, so good that it’s the kind of game one keeps in their rotation to come back to again and again.
My wife and I have played the same factions several times, with no hint of boredom. The game stays fresh and interesting. And the slight variances in factions are just enough to keep that interest high.
Games are always fun, never feeling laborious. Actions never feel stuck, like in some games where a turn might feel like you don’t have options, like there is nothing you can do. There is always lots to do in Imperial Settlers!
And this is before I’ve even really explored all the expansion factions to the game!
Imperial Settlers is a middle-weight game. It’s certainly not of the ilk where you grab it off the shelf and immediately begin chucking dice. No, you have to ease in and get your “game engine” flowing by laying down very strategic cards that allow you to produce more resources on subsequent rounds.
But it is by no means a brain-buster either. My wife and I can chat as we play and even attend to our kids quickly, then sit right back down with out missing a beat.
It’s a thinking game, but not so much that it puts you into a serious mood. It’s not necessarily light-hearted but it is enough that it keeps the fun. The experience it creates is enjoyable and entertaining.
Imperial Settlers: An Evergreen Title!
Imperial Settlers gets the Nerds on Earth Seal of Awesomeness. It quickly became a favorite for my wife. After we first played, she immediately asked to play it again the next night. We kept on loving it, so we ordered the expansions factions not long after those first plays.
Released several years ago, the game has become an evergreen title that continues to find a place in gaming collections as a staple. I definitely recommend adding it to your collection!
You can get Imperial Settlers here, or, better yet, ask for it at your Friendly Local Game Shop (FLGS).