Thursday, September 4, 2014

Initial Impressions - Imperial Settlers

Over the past weekend, I managed to get 2 Gen Con releases played - Imperial Settlers & Run, Fight, or Die. Both were rather hot releases I would say. Well, at least the hype for them were relatively high throughout the Con. I only managed to get 1 play in for each as we had other games we wanted to play as well. So this is really just a very brief look at the first of the two and me telling you my early thoughts from my playthrough.

The one I was more excited to get to the table was Imperial Settlers. It's the newest game by Ignacy Trzewiczek and Portal Games.
Imperial Settlers is a civilization and engine building game. There are 4 factions out of the box and each faction has its own unique deck of cards and play style. The game plays over 5 rounds, after which, the player with the most victory points is the winner of the game.
Each round is played as such,
1) Lookout Phase - Acquire 3 new cards
2) Production Phase - Produce your faction's fixed resources + resources from your buildings
3) Action Phase - Play cards / Activate Cards / Execute Actions
4) Cleanup Phase - Discard all unused resources

My early rounds game state. No production buildings still...

3 of those phases are pretty automatic. In the lookout phase you gain 1 of your faction cards and draft 2 more cards from a common deck of cards that is available to all players. The production phase, well, straightforward. The cleanup phase is just tidying up the stuff you used and couldn't use.
The main phase of the game is the action phase of each round. Here is where players play cards and activate cards in turn order till everyone has passed.

During the action phase, players may
1) Build a building
2) Raze (destroy) an opponent's building / Raze a card from your hand
3) Convert Resources
4) Activate an action card
5) Make a Deal

A player's engine is create from a mixture of buildings that he/she builds. These buildings come in 3 types - production, feature, and action. Production buildings help the player to obtain more resources each round, feature buildings give the player ongoing abilities, and action buildings enable the player to execute special actions that are unique to them. The winner is going to be the player who most successfully build a kick-ass engine that runs like a well oiled machine.

The other 2 actions that needs some description are razing and making a deal. Deals are similar to production buildings whereby it allows you to earn a new resource of that type each round. The main difference is that these deals come from your faction cards, so you have to decide if the card is worth sacrificing. Also, deals cannot be razed by your opponents. Lastly, razing is the main form of interaction between players. If you have a sword resource with you (which you always have 1 per round), you may use it to destroy an opponent's building. You do this for 2 reasons - gain resources from the destroyed card and to annoy the hell out of someone. You may raze a card from your hand for resources as well, but that is usually only done at the start of the game when resources are scarce and no one has built anything to raze yet.

So that's it, you do this for 5 rounds before you declare the game winner.

Utter defeat !!! :(

Well, to start off, I got hammered in my first play. It was an embarrassing showing on any level or standard. Haha. I dug deep but couldn't even manage to cross the 50 points mark. Boo. Hiss.
I'll just explain my failings and what I was doing throughout my game turns/sequences.

I controlled the Egyptian faction for this play.
Right out of the gate, I was looking to make deals and build production buildings to sustain my late game growth. But a problem from the start was that my starting hand of 4 cards (2 faction cards and 2 common cards) had no production buildings. That was one. Also, from the drafting process, and I was the first start player, I could not find any production buildings that suited my needs. The Egyptians need a lot of stone, but the buildings that came out were the forests that gave wood. Not for me. So I passed and made deals for gold (wild resource) and for workers.

With this being my first game, I wasn't sure what to expect from my faction deck (I really should have gone through some of the cards prior to starting the game). My initial faction draw of 2 cards were both the same cards. Not much I can do about that. But the thing that really turned my game for me was that my starting 2 common cards both were point generating cards (discard a worker and a resource for 2 points). So I thought I could rely on these 2 cards to fuel my point scoring engine. Throughout subsequent rounds, all my faction cards were none point generating cards except for one that gave me one point per round when activated. That was pretty devastating for me. And by the 3rd round, I had my 2 point scoring common buildings razed to the ground, and from that point on I knew it was over. I tried to draw more faction cards (because faction cards cannot be razed) but simply nothing that could give me points ever came out. I had cards that let me reactivate an already activated action of my choice but all my actions were pretty rubbish to be begin with. So I sat there and just tried to build as many buildings as possible for point grab.

There was a point mid game that I thought I might have the chance to come back into contention, that was when I found 2 production buildings - one for stone and one for workers. But well, they were razed in the same round and never made it to the next production phase. So that was my game in a nutshell - poor card draw, little action selection, and being constantly razed to the ground. For those wondering, I was constantly being attacked mostly because everyone was building faction buildings which were either not razeable or hard to raze. I had a lot of common buildings that gave the razers nice resources, so well, I guess it made their decision pretty obvious.

What have I learned from my first game of Imperial Settlers? Well, simple.
Read your faction cards to know what you could be able to draw. Draw more faction cards. Build more faction buildings. Find a way to get more production buildings. Build up a strong pool of swords to get even with the a** people you are playing with. Haha. :P

All these useless action cards that don't convert to points. 2 razed production buildings on top row

Anyway, my initial impressions of Imperial Settlers is merely ok.

I must admit that I personally felt like I didn't get the chance to fully experience the feeling of building a proper engine in the game. This was really messed up by my poor card selection and faction abilities. Had I the chance to evolve my faction, I can imagine that my play experience would have gone up a few notches.

Also, the constant need to stand up and read the horrendously small text on the cards kinda made me feel like the game is more work than I had signed up for. You don't need to know what each opponents' buildings do, but sometimes it is rather important especially if you want to make sure a person doesn't run away with the game.

I was also not at all impressed with the length of time taken to play the game. Our 4 player game took 2hrs 20mins. Way longer than the advertised 90mins on the box. Would it be faster if we were more experienced? Perhaps. But an issue is that you can't always plan ahead for your turn. Like, if you are going to spend your resources to draw cards, then you will only know after that action what you get and what you can build or take advantage of. Also, you will really never know if a building you wanted to use is still standing when it gets to your turn.

Card balance was another issue I saw in our game. Most cards say stuff like, score points for this this and this to a limit of this. But one of my friends managed to obtain a common card that gave her 1 point per grey building she has. And she had 11. 11! That was some major free points for her there. I don't think any card any of us used during the game gave us anything more than 5 points. And that building wasn't exactly that difficult to build. So the luck of the draw was really good for her. She was behind with me most of the game but that one really pushed her quickly into 2nd place.

Regardless of all of these issues I disliked, I am still excited to play this again because I want to explore more that the game can offer. I never write off a game after one play (well, sometimes I do, but those must have been absolutely horrible horrible games) and Imperial Settlers does look like a game that gets better the more you play it. Understanding your faction helps to enhance your play style and how you try to combine the faction's strengths or to find a way to mitigate against its weaknesses.

Building spam ! Just for points. None of the actions given really helped me much.

There are a few things that I really like about the game though, and these must indeed be mentioned. Haha.

I like how tight the game feels when it comes to resource management. Early on, resources are so scarce that you really make tough decisions on which building you want to invest in. Thereafter, the decision changes from what to build to how much resources should go to building and how much to action activating. The need to balance this is crucial and makes each decision important. The fact you can't keep anything to the next round (except for your feature ability) forces you to be highly efficient on all fronts.

The asymmetrical nature of the factions is also very appealing to me. I can already see the personalities of some of my friends being represented by each faction. I can imagine myself enjoying the Japanese and the Romans more than the Egyptians or Barbarians. But I'll give myself time before I decide if I have any favorites.

I also like how the buildings are broken down into production, features, and actions.
Each building plays a specific role to help push your faction forward and you can freely choose (as long as you get the card) whether you want to pimp yourself with multiple ongoing features, or give yourself flexibility with added unique actions. This is something that I like in games. Being able to be different and combo off stuff, or simply cover your bases to get a little bit of everything in some way shape or form.

Lastly, the art style is really my kind of thing. These cartoonish figures and buildings are right up my alley on the type of artwork and style I like in games. I must say the components are really nice too. I like the pink meeples that come with the game. Much better than regular meeples - I've never really liked them much.

So that's my first thoughts on Imperial Settlers.
I most likely should be able to get a game in again this coming Saturday. Hopefully things get better and I can be competent and competitive throughout the duration of the game. And if I'm not feeling lazy, I'll tell you again how it goes next week!


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