Review: Imperial

Board

From the rules:

Europe in the age of imperialism. International investors try to achieve the greatest influence in Europe. With their bonds, they control the politics of the six imperial nations: Austria-Hungary, Italy, France, Great Britain, the German Empire, and Russia. The nations erect factories, build fleets, and deploy armies. The investors watch as their nations expand, wage wars, levy taxes, and collect the proceeds. Since the European nations are under the shifting influence of different investors, new strategic alliances and conflicts arise between them again and again!

Each player represents an international investor. Only he who succeeds in increasing his capital and gaining influence in the most powerful European nations will win the imperial competition.

Imperial is a varied strategy game without the luck of dice or cards. Two to six players, from about twelve years and up, take on the role of imperial investors. The duration of the game is about two to three hours.

Imperial is one of those classic games. It was designed by one of my favorite designers, Mac Gerdts, back in 2006 but I just never had the opportunity to play it. It’s considered a medium-heavy game with a relatively long play time for my group (120-180 minutes) and it’s the type of game I’d usually have to twist some people’s arms to play and maybe only at Cabin Con when we’ve got plenty of time for some head’s down play-time.

I own many of Mac’s notable titles and greatly enjoy his signature mechanic: the rondel (a circular action selection mechanism).

  • 2005 Antike – Owned but traded
  • 2006 Imperial – Own
  • 2007 Hamburgum – Own
  • 2008 The Princes of Machu Picchu – Own but traded
  • 2009 Imperial 2030
  • 2010 Navegador – Own
  • 2012 Antike Duellum
  • 2013 Concordia – Own
  • 2014 Antike II

I didn’t have a copy of Imperial but I recently listed my copy of Far Space Foundry for trade on BGG and got a hit from someone who noticed I was looking for one. I jumped at the chance, given I could give my copy of FSF to a good home and to someone who would like it, and I’d get a copy of Imperial in return for just the cost of shipping to Colorado Springs.

As luck would have it, we only had three at a recent game night and it felt like the right time to offer to teach the game. I brought along my mini-poker chip set to replace the paper money and within about 30 minutes we got under way. There were a lot of questions about the mechanics but it’s really not a difficult game to grasp. I’d heard that it was a real brain burner but as I’d suspected and hoped from other Gerdt’s games, it’s not the rules that make it hard. Instead, it’s just the options with which you’re faced and the decisions you have to make.

Portrait

At first blush, non-gamers might say the game looks like Risk. I get that and I could even say there are vague similarities but to a gamer, it’s completely different. It’s like playing an inverted form of Risk where battles aren’t the core goal. More on that later.

In Imperial, players do not play a specific color. Instead, each of the six countries are represented as a color and players, instead, vie for control of the country by investing money in the country’s coffers and obtaining bonds. It feels a bit like buying stock in a company.

In each round, each country gets a chance to take a turn and the player with the largest amount of bonds (controlling shares) gets to move the country’s token on the rondel and to take that country’s turn. The more countries you control, the more turns you take during a round. If you don’t control any countries, well, that sucks. More on that later.

When a country takes a turn, the controlling player moves the marker on the rondel using Gerdt’s standard rondel mechanism. A few clockwise moves (3) are free and any more costs the player some money out of the their personal account. Money equates to victory points so this can be a tough decision.

The rondel contains action items that allow the player to use the country’s money (obtained when a bond was purchased by a player) to build armies, ships, factories, tax, invest, and maneuver.

A country needs to build armies and ships to expand during maneuver operations so that they can occupy more territory so that when the territory is taxed, players earn money and the ability to move the country’s marker up a track that will both eventually trigger the end game and acts as a multiplier for owned bonds (shares) in the country.  At the end of the game, players get money from their bonds and the higher the multiplier for the country the better.

It sounds a bit like there are clearly prescribed actions but that’s far from reality. There are some really tough decisions when selecting a rondel action for the country. Choosing to tax your citizens rather building more ships and armies, or maneuvering them to protect the country’s assets from other neighboring countries can be significant.  The game allows counties to invade other countries in a friendly or aggressive manner but the game is not a war game.  You shouldn’t really be focussing on battle but it does play a role. Invading a country did feel odd to us because doing so doesn’t provide a direct, net-positive impact to the invader. Instead, the act only negatively impacts the invaded country so the impact is only felt by the aggressor as an indirect benefit.

We played with the “investor” card as the rules describe but there are a lot of forum entries on BGG that discuss its merits positively and negatively. We certainly could see how it injects money into the market which can be a bad thing and stifles the ability to invest. While playing I certainly used the card to my advantage to restrict the investment ability from other players who I knew wanted to invest but couldn’t if I didn’t let them. I’d really like to play again without the investor card to see how it impacts the game.

The game feels a bit like inverted Risk in that players don’t play a specific color and have to be aware that at any point, a player may take over the color that players have begun to feel a false sense of ownership. This is one of the biggest hurdles for my group. We started to feel very protective of a country as if it was “mine” and at times, it’s just time to let it go and move on to another country. In addition, on a couple of occasions, I watched a neighboring country build up a strong army and begin to attack and I took over control of the country to the dismay of the player who previously controlled the country. At times, it’s better to just take it over than to fight it.

By the end of the game, one of the players had only one country and felt the game lagged a lot from the inability to invest in more countries (he had plenty of money but had no opportunity to use it effectively) and the lack of turns he was taking each round. Without the investor card, I’m sure this would have played out much differently so that’s another reason I’m excited to play again.

I really liked the game, but it did take 3.5 hours for us to play. We’re not particularly slow but that’s still a long game for us. For me, though, the game is a keeper and I’ll not be putting it on my trade list any time soon.

Views: 187

Musings on CO₂

BoardTopDown

At a recent game night, I had a chance to play one of my favorite games, CO2. I don’t get a chance to play it very often but we have a core group that looks for opportunities to break it out and we don’t hold back at making the suggestion to play when the situation arises.

Unfortunately, it can be many months between plays so we usually have to have a quick rules refresher and need to remind ourselves about the tricky handling of CEPs (Carbon Emission Permits) in and out of the market, how the UN Cards work, what happens when scientists get kicked off projects, minimum requirements to build specific power plants, etc. But, over the years, we’re getting better at remembering the nuances and more quickly progressing to actual play.

From BBG:

In the 1970s, the governments of the world faced unprecedented demand for energy, and polluting power plants were built everywhere in order to meet that demand. Year after year, the pollution they generate increases, and nobody has done anything to reduce it. Now, the impact of this pollution has become too great, and humanity is starting to realize that we must meet our energy demands through clean sources of energy. Companies with expertise in clean, sustainable energy are called in to propose projects that will provide the required energy without polluting the environment. Regional governments are eager to fund these projects, and to invest in their implementation.

If the pollution isn’t stopped, it’s game over for all of us.

In the game CO₂, each player is the CEO of an energy company responding to government requests for new, green power plants. The goal is to stop the increase of pollution, while meeting the rising demand for sustainable energy — and of course profiting from doing so. You will need enough expertise, money, and resources to build these clean power plants. Energy summits will promote global awareness, and allow companies to share a little of their expertise, while learning still more from others.

In CO₂, each region starts with a certain number of Carbon Emissions Permits (CEPs) at its disposal. These CEPs are granted by the United Nations, and they must be spent whenever the region needs to install the energy infrastructure for a project, or to construct a fossil fuel power plant. CEPs can be bought and sold on a market, and their price fluctuates throughout the game. You will want to try to maintain control over the CEPs.

Money, CEPs, Green Power Plants that you’ve built, UN Goals you’ve completed, Company Goals you’ve met, and Expertise you’ve gained all give you Victory Points (VPs), which represent your Company’s reputation – and having the best reputation is the goal of the game … in addition to saving the planet, of course.

When the game came out in 2012, it was easy to locate forum entries on BGG with topics concerning the game’s theme and its focus on “fictitious” concepts like “global warming”. How ridiculous that games about elves, trolls, gods, etc. didn’t get subjected to the same treatment. Thankfully, those forum entries are now rare and hopefully we all can work together to address our real and increasingly negative impact on our environment.

ScientistsMacro

Like the Gallerist, Vital Lacerda’s CO₂ design features a “kick-out” mechanism where players can choose to place a worker (in this case a scientist) on a location to take an action but during another player’s action that worker can be kicked off the location so that the other player can take an action. The kicked-out player gets a benefit for being removed from the spot and, at times, you can take advantage of this timely special action.

I like CO₂ for its theme and how the rules strongly tie to real world activities companies and scientists might take that it seems to really click for me. I also really like the twist that if players focus solely on taking actions that only benefit the company they represent (in the short term) and ignore the impacts (or lack thereof) of those actions to the environment, the game can come to a crashing halt and everybody loses due to a crashed earth. The ability to capitalize on building a power plant that another player has worked so hard at designing and developing is simply ingenious.

And to top it all off, the artwork is simply beautiful. I hope my images showcase that beauty and help to encourage you to take a hard look at CO₂.

Views: 280

Review: Milestones

Setup

Two years ago, when I attended BGG.CON, one of the free games I picked up was Milestones. I didn’t think much about it at the time and in fact, it sat on my shelf for over a year, still in shrink. Last weekend I decided to pull it out and see if it was any good and I was pleasantly surprised.

It’s not an awesome game but it’s got enough little things going on that it’s really a pretty neat, engaging game, especially for two. When Lisa and I played, it felt like it was almost always my turn and featured a hint of that tension of wanting to try to capitalize on what moves your opponents were going to make.

Board

When you set up the game you randomly assign special bonus tokens to various points on the board (these can be earned throughout the game) and then players take turns trying to gain points by building roads, houses, markets, and other items throughout the board.

Meeple

Each player has a personal tableau and a worker meeple that walks in a clockwise circle around the tableau activating actions on what effectively acts like a rondel. However, unlike many rondel games with a fixed action set, your personal rondel features a top row of actions that change over the course of the game. Across the top row, actions allow player to gather goods and then when traversing the bottom of the rondel, actions allow players to spend those goods to build items on the board.

Tableau

You can travel as far as you want on the rondel with no penalty but you must stop on the lower left corner every time around and on that action space, things get interesting. The ruthless king requires you to donate one of your top row workers to the castle (you cover him up with a small rectangular tile just to the left of the meeple) effectively removing the worker from the game. If that wasn’t enough, the king taxes players restricting them from carrying no more than three goods into the next trip around the rondel. After a few rounds you’ll find yourself with a much decreased capacity to fund your building habit and you’ll need to work towards buying more worker tiles for your rondel.  Those worker tiles are chosen from a small supply of face-up tiles and can be placed on top of any of your workers (or “dead spaces”) on your rondel.

There are additional rules regarding the numeric order of the tiles from left to right as well as what goods they produce, how those good pay out when you stop on them, and how the special bonus tiles from the board pay out. All these rules keep your tile choices interesting.

When you build roads, houses, markets, etc., you’ll earn points for covering up numerically valued milestones as well as score points for adjacent uncovered milestones.

Lisa and I really enjoyed the game. It’s easy to teach and we both enjoyed the switch between trying to efficiently curate one’s rondel while also timing the placement of built goods to maximize points. What a great game for the amount of time it takes. Nicely done!

Views: 243

My First Crokinole Board

I’ve always been impressed with self-made Crokinole boards. BGG’s image gallery is overflowing with all styles, octagonal and circular gutters, plywood, hardwood, painted, natural, fancy, simple, impressive, crude, … the variety is endless.

Regardless of the variety, there’s one common theme: pride.  Every one of those boards has had the energy, drive, spirit, and motivation of the maker poured into it, lovingly hand-rubbed, and waxed into the surface. The pride of a job attempted, completed, and well done. It’s a lot of effort, regardless of the outcome, to see a project through to the end and for that, I commend everyone who’s taken on the task of making their own board.

I’ve always wanted to make my own but just never, well, just never had the motivation to try.  Nothing was stopping me other than just doing it. So, last weekend, I found the motivation somewhere inside, and embarked on the journey of making my own board.

After reading a lot of posts on BGG, consulting the web for other techniques, tricks, and tips, I decided to use maple plywood. I liked the looks of the round gutters so I also purchased an 8′ maple trim piece that I could rip into strips to make the gutter guard.  I also decided to leave it natural and make my own discs…more on that later.

Squares

I created a table extension and jig for my band-saw that would let me rotate rough sawn squares around a pivot to make the circular playing surface and the circular base.  It was crucial that these be exactly circular as I would be wrapping the base with thin strips of maple and I didn’t want any gaps due to an irregular cut.

RoughCutCircles

With the circles cut, I turned my attention to the 8′ maple trim. I ripped the face off both sides of the trim piece creating two 8′ strips I would eventually use to create the gutter wall.  8′ is just barely long enough to wrap the base.

Bands

I then got to work on wrapping the circular base with two layers of the bands. I nailed and glued the first layer keeping the clean face towards the inside of the playing surface, wrapped that with a band-clamp.

InstallingBand

When that was dry, I glued and wrapped the second layer (with the second clean surface facing out) with a band clamp and other ancillary clamps.

Banded

In parallel, I wrapped and sanded the edge of the playing surface with a thinly ripped piece of maple to cover the exposed plywood edge.

Edge

After the gutter wall was dry, I scarfed the outer joint edges to create a clean joint.

Joint

I also knocked out the rough blanks that would eventually become the playing discs.

DiscBlanks

I was really nervous about the playing surface lines. Many hobbiest board-makers use a Sharpie marker but I was really hesitant. You have to be very careful to prepared the surface appropriately so that the marker won’t bleed into the wood and you need to create an environment to get an exact circle…no wavy lines or inconsistent thicknesses. Professional makers (or those with access to expensive pieces of equipment) route grooves into the surface but I just didn’t see how I could accomplish that without wrecking it. So, I improvised with the help of an old Erector Set Noah had as a kid.

Erector

With a center pivot hole that tightly fit an axle and pieces that tightly fit the axle extending outward with pre-drilled holes at 1/2″ intervals I was well-prepared to make the Sharpie lines at 4″, 8″, and 12″ intervals.

Sharpie

Next was creating the appropriate holes for the 8 pegs arranged around the center line. Those holes are rotated 22.5° from the 90° that define the 4 playing regions.

Compass

I was getting close now.  By this time I’d had three layers of poly on the playing surface, then the Sharpie lines, peg holes drilled along with the center hole, and then two more layers of poly.

TopWithLines

After gluing and screwing the playing surface to the base, waxing the surface with auto-wax to get a nice slippery surface, and installing the pegs (I used wooden ‘toy axles’ wrapped with clear vinyl tubing), I was declaring it done.

TopDown

Overall I’m very happy with the result. If I make another one I’ve got some ideas about what I can do to improve it but I shouldn’t let that detract from enjoying this one.  I had some trouble finishing off the playing discs and from the image above it might look like it’s hard to tell the difference between them.  However, in play, the sides of one set are black (they look a bit like seaweed-wrapped sushi unfortunately!) and it’s clear which discs are your opponent’s. I also painted the center hole and the interior sides of the hole black to match the pegs.

InPlay

If you ever think you’d like to try making a board, go for it. I found the project entirely enjoyable, nerve-wracking at times (I had heart-palpitations during the Sharpie marking), but completely rewarding.

Views: 763

 

Orléans: Deluxe Edition – Racks

Rack5

A month or so ago a made a set of three racks to hold the Place Tiles for Orléans: Deluxe Edition. They look really nice and hold the tiles firmly (you can tip the racks severely front-to-back and they won’t fall out) but they’re slightly too vertical and any bump to the rack or table causes some of tiles on the bottom of the rack to tip forward. The tiles stay in the rack, but after tipping forward you can’t see them and it was annoying to keep tipping them back.

Rack6

The rack’s stability relies on the small, half-moon, of wood on the back and I wanted to engineer a way to create a bit of a rear leaning angle without compromising the stability of the rack.

Rack4

So, this afternoon, while working on another project (more on that later), I ran the racks through the table saw and ripped a bit off the bottom at an angle and it fixed the problem like a charm.

Views: 259

Session Report: Orléans: Deluxe Edition

BoardInPlay

Orléans: Deluxe Edition has been hitting the table a lot with my group. That’s pretty rare, for us, granting the game a relatively vaulted position. Some of the best praise I’ve heard is, “Every time I play it, I do worse which just makes we want to play it again!”.

We’ve been playing with a couple of incorrect rules and after digging into the forums on BGG I think I’m prepared for the next play. Things to watch out for:

When there are no more character tiles available in a given color, nobody can choose an action that would normally grant them one of those tokens.

For example, if there are no more gray Scholars in the University, nobody can activate the “Scholar” action effectively locking out regular movement up the University track until a plague manages to restore a Scholar to the board.

Players can, however, still activate Place Tiles that grant additional “books” or “technology gears”. We’d been playing that it was still possible to choose the given action and take advantage of all the benefits but just not receive a character tile. Late in the game, this is many times a welcome relief since it doesn’t muddy your bag with unwanted tiles and doesn’t prohibit a catch-up mechanism for those that waited for a given benefit. No wonder it’s not allowed!

When you receive one or more technology gears in a turn (by choosing an available Craftsman and/or activating the Laboratory) you must wait until the end of the round (after you pass) to place the gear(s) on empty locations.

This rules miss didn’t impact anything in our games but simply clears up some questions we had. We’d played correctly that placing the gear when you immediately receive it would NOT activate the space and that the space must be empty but we weren’t waiting until the end of the turn.

I’m not convinced I like the Beneficial Deeds board. It feels tacked on and nobody in our group tends to pay much attention to it until late in the game. It’s common for us to only complete 1 or 2 places. The “game of chicken” seems, to us, the inhibiting factor. If the Citizen was granted to the player with the majority of character tiles in a location, it might completely solve the issue for us. However, we don’t usually “house rule” games since doing so can dramatically change the game in ways that were never intended (I’m looking at you Monopoly).

The Deluxe version is very nicely produced but I do wish there was more of a need to use the metal coins as currency in the game. With metal tokens like that, there should be a need to fondle them more.

Thanks Reiner Stockhausen for a great game, I can’t wait for another play. Deck building by drawing tokens blindly from a bag! Nicely done!

Views: 277

Cabin Con 2016

Or should I say, Apple-Con!

My annual long weekend getaway with my game group is now over and, as usual, I’ve got the post-con blues and can’t wait until next year. Last year, and all previous years, I’ve always booked one of the big “forest” cabins at Lake Hope State Park but this year we moved to a different location. Lake Hope’s cabins are rustic, economical, and meet our needs but one member of the group had an inside scoop to a “cabin” in Apple Valley so we took a chance.

I usually book the Lake Hope cabin a year in advance but last year the way the convention fell over MLK day I couldn’t book the 2016 dates until we got back and the big cabins were all gone. So I quickly booked two side-by-side smaller cabins so that we weren’t completely out in the cold. As 2015 progressed I was getting more and more concerned that having two cabins would ruin the close-knit camaraderie that we enjoy when we’re all together. Luckily, the Apple Valley connection came through and in the end, the cabin was nicer (it even has wifi!), it cost less, and is about 30 minutes closer to Columbus. A win all around in my book. With no strong sentimental reasons to return to Lake Hope, we’re all hoping we can use the Apple Valley connection for years to come.

NameTag

This year I got a bit goofy and generated Machi Koro-based “name tags” for everybody and threw them out on the gaming table. Each person had to locate the one that had the center icon that the most identified with. I made it way too obvious but I had fun making them and enjoyed watching people pick them out.

PitchCar

The new cabin had plenty of room in the separate kitchen and after moving some furniture around in the living room we quickly made room for the long gaming table. After all seven of us arrived, we ran through two heats of PitchCar joining the best two from each heat into a final three-lap race. The ultimate goal, initially, was for the winners to get the two beds in the cabin and everyone else would sleep on inflatables but in the end, the snoring club got one room and our connection to the Apple Valley cabin got the other room. Seemed only fair regardless of the outcome of the flick-fest.

CinnamonRolls

We all pitch in and sign up for a meal (we have two a day) and attendees bring food to cook and share for everybody else. We all seem to try to outdo each other which isn’t a bad thing in my book. I always try to sign up for the Saturday breakfast/brunch time-slot and always bring a sausage and egg breakfast casserole, spiced fruit, and homemade cinnamon rolls which are always a big hit.

TableShot

Friday night we split into two groups with one end of the table playing Endeavor and the other playing Freedom: The Underground Railroad. It was my first true two-player playing of Freedom and all I can say is, wow, I don’t see how it’s winnable. We had a really rough time making progress.

Over the course of the weekend we would come together for lighter games and split apart for more thinky games but in general I think this year’s con proved to have a lighter mix of games overall.

FullTable

We did tend to talk more between games and simply chat more over snacks, drinks, etc. I used to stress a lot about trying to pack in as many games as possible during the weekend but I’m finding that just letting the gaming happen when it happens is a much more enjoyable experience. I have really found a great group of guys and very much enjoy spending time with them.

Antiquity

I did, however, have a die-hard compatriot that was willing to take a shot at playing Antiquity with me. We had a lot of fun working through the rules and playing the game right up until we both chose our winning conditions and could rearrange our cities. When that happened, the theme bubble burst, the game turned into a Tetris-puzzle and it was immediately obvious who was going to win and in how many turns. Maybe we got something wrong but it just burst the bubble for both of us.

WingsOfWar

On the lighter side we did play another round of PitchCar as well as two rounds of Wings of War: Famous Aces (one “game” kept us up until about 3am!). What a fun game. We had enough bits for all seven of us and although it was a completely different kind of game than what we’d usually play, we had a blast.

I can’t more strongly encourage you to try to find some time to get away with your game group. We’ve found it a great bonding experience for everybody in the group and so far, everyone commits every year and looks forward to it. It takes a bit of work to get it running smoothly initially but once you’ve done it a few years in a row, it almost runs itself.

Thanks guys for a great time again. I look forward to next year.

Views: 329