Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Ignacy Trzewiczek


No. of Players:
2 - 4



Can a game be re-invented? Well, there always have been occasions when publishers have decided that one of their products had been so successful that a new edition was needed, and others followed even simpler motives by just re-theming a game in order to sell the same idea twice. Knowing that Ignacy certainly is not someone who would copy his own game, I have been waiting for his newest game Imperial Settlers with a high degree of curiosity because it was said to be based on his successful cardgame 51st State. You might remember that post-apocalyptic 51st State has been my convention hit of the SPIEL in 2010, and the game had been further improved by The New Era and the Winter expansion which had been released in following years. Even this year the 51st State franchise has been further enriched with the new Ruins expansion, but with all these products and ideas taken together I first was a bit puzzled by the question why a new game could be needed.

To my mind the answer to this question in connected with the game's theme. Considering the fact that the mechanics of 51st State provide an excellent playing experience, I can see the sense behind a re-theming of the game, because a post-apocalyptic setting certainly is not suitable for everybody's taste. In fact, a game which such a martial theme hardly can be called a typical "family game". I'd guess that these thoughts come quite close to Ignacy's own evaluation of his game's development over the last few years, and considering the great value of the ideas which had been realized in 51st State it can be understood that he looked for a way to present his game to a bigger audience. Keeping this in mind, just looking at the box of Imperial Settlers reveals that he did not only succeed in reaching this aim, but already the amiable Farmer on the cover signalizes that Ignacy had taken the whole idea one step further. The game's graphics have been re-designed to imitate the cute graphics which can be found in some empire-building computer games, and the way it was realized was none less than a stroke of genius. The new graphic style has found its way into every part of the game, and players now take lead of the incredibly cuddlesome tribes of the Romans, the Egyptians, the Barbarians and the Japanese. Leaving the apocalypse behind, the game's graphics now will appeal to all kinds of gamers, and this should guarantee that Ignacy's mechanics finally get the audience they deserve!

But okay, enough praise for the graphics, let's go for some facts. Imperial Settlers indeed is strongly based on the mechanics of 51st State, and so the game sees the players building a small empire from cards which are partially drawn from each player's own Faction deck and partially chosen from an open display. Each player has a basic income of a few workers and resources, and these resources can be used to build some first buildings which in turn will provide new resources and other abilities. However, a card cannot only be built, but a player also may spend less resources to establish a deal with the new card, not using its major ability but getting a small additional income for the rest of the game. Finally, a card may also be destroyed ("razed"), and if a player does this the card will be discarded, granting the player some resources as a one-time benefit. So, it's up to the players to decide which cards they should raze, which cards they should use to establish deals, and which cards they should build to use their abilities to their full extend.

Cards which have been built are added to the player's Empire, and all buildings fall into one of three different categories. One type of buildings produces resources, the second type gives the player a permanent benefit which may be triggered if certain conditions are met, and the third type of buildings can be used for actions. Workers may be sent to these buildings to perform a broad range of actions, sometimes resulting in the production of resources and sometimes providing the player with special actions which may possibly be used to hamper the other players (stealing resources, destroying buildings etc.).

The game is played over a total of five rounds, and during a round the players take actions one after the other until all players finally have chosen to pass. The range of possible actions goes from building a card to making a deal or razing a card (a building owned by the player, or, if he possesses a Sword token, a building of an opponent), and it is also considered to be an action to send workers to an already existing building to perform an action there. Players who have chosen to pass may not perform an action anymore, but at the same time they also become immune against other players' hostile actions for the rest of the round.

It's the overall aim of the players to build as many of their cards as possible, preferable the cards from their own Faction decks because they will count for two victory points in the final evaluation. Cards which have been built from the Common deck open to all players only count for one victory point, and in addition these cards are often discarded since many of the cards from the players' Faction decks need another building as a foundation on which they can be built. In the end, the player with the most valuable buildings will win the game.

Imperial Settlers positions itself strongly in the broad category of empire-building games, and Ignacy can pride himself with the fact that he has created a game which finds the right balance for almost everything: not too complex but still with a nice range of choices for the players to make, not too long but long enough to allow everybody to catch up again, and not too much player interaction because the constant destruction of a player's empire would lead to frustration. Combined with the incredibly cute graphics, Imperial Settlers has become a strong contestant for the upcoming games awards, and it will be interesting to see how the game fares in the different elections.

Seasoned 51st State players will discover that Imperial Settlers brings together the best ideas from the whole 51st State franchise. Apart from the general card mechanics, the game takes the direct means of player interaction from The New Era and the limited duration from Winter and brings everything together in a streamlined form with slightly less playing depth but much quicker gameplay. Ignacy has done quite well in dropping some elements like distance tokens, the fourth type of resources or the more complex Lookout phase, because the removal of these elements gave him space for including new elements, most prominent the individual Faction decks which give each player access to a rather unique choice of cards and special abilities. This especially decreases the entry hurdle for new players, a nice feat considering the fact that newcomers in 51st State sometimes had a quite hard time with the complex iconography.

If Imperial Settlers is compared to the whole 51st State product line, it's hard for me to say which game is better. Imperial Settlers is less bulky and features a higher degree of player interaction because it contains considerably more cards which can be used for actions against opposing players, but 51st State on the other hand - if all new elements and expansions are included - stands for a higher degree of complexity and a tougher challenge since the players have even more ways to fine-tune their production engines. As for myself, I will keep certainly both games in my collection, since there are always some players who cannot be bothered with a post-apocalyptic scenario or as too complex game. Here Imperial Settlers will be the perfect alternative!

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Copyright & copy; 2015 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany