Board games resonate on a lot of different frequencies, and your favorite games are the ones that resonate the strongest on the greatest number of frequencies. For me, one such game is Imperial Settlers.
The theme is a slightly fantastical, charming twist on the basic premise that is human history. Each player takes on the role of an ancient civilization, gathering and spending resources to construct buildings and grow an empire. At face value, the theme may sound dry, but with the cute illustrations, tiny people, and roadways connecting cards, the game is able to obfuscate its abstractions and present a setting in which I can imagine the people coming and going between the locations I’ve built up. The look and tone of a game play a huge part in how that game shapes a player’s experience, and while this element is more important for some players than others, it’s always the first place I start when considering a purchase.
Item Code: PLG0565
Item Code: PLG347
The second frequency on which Imperial Settlers resonates with me is in regard to the components. While the artwork and interconnectivity of the illustrated roads brings me into the theme, the beautifully shaped and colored wooden resource bits give me a satisfying tactile experience beyond handling endless cardboard chits or simple cubes. While these components add to the theme as well, especially given the game’s pleasant tone, it’s really the satisfaction of handling these pieces that makes me appreciate them. Physical components are one of the main distinctions between board games and video games. While video games have controllers to handle and engaging visual cues paired to swipes and taps on touch screens, they can’t compare to the snap of a card, the roll of a die, or the feel of wielding a handful of well-crafted components.
Of course, a game isn’t a game without the third and most important frequency: gameplay. Imperial Settlers is a card-driven game, with the cards representing buildings that generate resource, provide special abilities, and grant victory points. During the five rounds, you’ll gains cards in a mix of your unique faction decks and the shared common deck, you’ll gain resources based on your faction and the production cards you’ve built, and you’ll take turns with the other players as you perform actions, including activating building powers, playing new buildings, and using cards to “make deals” for additional production. The flow of the game ultimately comes down to spending and producing resources as efficiently as possible while playing more building cards, which are a primary source of victory points. This type of efficiency optimization means each round is a puzzle—since most cards and resources come in at the start of a round, figuring out how to best use them during the round can be a very tricky but engaging challenge.
The faction decks are fairly consistent in their strategies (and with expansions, players can even fine-tune their faction decks), while the common deck can be full of surprises. The combination of these two decks grants players agency over the amount of consistency or variety they desire, and they must use that control to further manipulate their puzzles each round. And even while players are primarily focusing on their own civilizations, players also have the ability to affect each other’s domains. In addition to the myriad special abilities that refer to, manipulate, or otherwise destroy opponents’ buildings, one of the basic game actions is to spend raze tokens to destroy an opponent’s building. This interactivity poses an important foil to one of the game’s other enjoyable features, which is the presence of synergies players can discover between the various cards.
At this point, it’s abundantly clear I enjoy the puzzle and continuous building that comprise the gameplay of Imperial Settlers. And yet, it’s the resonance of all three frequencies that really has gotten me tuned into the game. The theme, components, and actual play all come together to shape a player’s overall experience, and experiences are what we remember—what we hold on to and come back for more of. Though one element may strike a chord more for one player compared to the next, these are all things we must consider, both when we plan our own purchases and when we seek to identify games our friends, families, and customers will enjoy.
Aztecs (faction expansion)
Item Code: PLG347
The newest expansion brings religion to the world of Imperial Settlers. The new Aztec faction includes blessing tokens, which allow players to augment their prayer actions. Prayer actions are also new. Normally, they allow players to reveal some number of cards off the top of one of the decks in order to gain a benefit that scales to the number of a certain type of card that is revealed. For example, a player may gain a number of wood resources equal to the number of brown cards revealed. Blessing tokens let a player gain a set number of resources rather than relying on the top of the deck. Religion cards come for each of the existing factions, allowing them to pray to their gods.
Imperial Settlers (base game)
Item Code: PLG0565
The base game of Imperial Settlers included four factions in addition to a bulky common deck and the other components required to play, including the wooden resources and punch-board gold, sword, and shield tokens. The original factions are the Barbarians, Egyptians, Japanese, and Romans, each with its own faction deck and board. These boards indicate things to focus on, not only from the faction’s starting resources for each round, but in the storage feature that lets the faction keep one of the resources between rounds. The factions’ decks further emphasize certain strategies. For example, the Barbarians have more cards that create raze tokens, and the Romans have more cards that reward constructing buildings.
Why Can’t We Be Friends (small expansion)
Item Code: PLG0688
This small expansion included new cards for each of the original factions and introduced the new mechanism of open production. Buildings with open production not only produce the same way normal production buildings do, but they allow opposing players to send workers to produce the same thing (granting a benefit to the building’s owner as well).
Atlanteans (faction expansion)
Item Code: PLG817
The Atlanteans were the first new factions. While this technically allowed games to be played with up to five players, keeping to the original game’s recommended player count of four was strongly encouraged. This faction makes use of a new mechanism called technology, and the basic and advanced technology tokens do things like help protect the player’s buildings from attacks and increase the victory-point output of action buildings. Other factions can gain technology tokens from Atlantean open production, from some new common buildings, and from some new faction buildings. For non-Atlantean factions, though, technology can only be spent on card abilities that specifically require it.
3 Is a Magic Number (small expansion)
Item Code: PLG0002
Another small expansion like Why Can’t We Be Friends, this box included more cards for each faction and more common cards. The new mechanism here was the concept of completing sets of buildings based on their color. Building cards always had colors keyed to the types of resources they produced or abilities they had, and those colors were occasionally referenced. Here, however, the concept of the colors became the focus.