Imperial Settlers mixes luck with clever play as players string together combinations. Here’s our review.
Vitals: 1-4 players, about 60 minutes, ages 10+
Summary: In Imperial Settlers, each player takes the role of a major world empire settling a newfound land. Players draw cards from the common deck to represent the territory they can conquer, and they draw cards from their personal faction deck to represent their faction’s upgrades. Players generally build upgrades upon the lands they conquer, which players represent by discarding one of their common cards from play. The game lasts five years (turns). Players gain victory points by constructing buildings and using building effects.
Cleverness: Each faction comes with a starting tile that outlines their starting conditions and also helps players visually organize the game. Cards from the common deck go to the tile’s right. Cards from the faction deck go to the tile’s left. Each type of building — production, feature and action — also goes in a specific row. Players tuck cards used as “deals” under the top of the tile so that the deal’s resource pokes out. This arrangement has no rules impact on the game, but it greatly helps players understand what’s going on.
Ups: Each of the four factions in the starter box takes an entirely different approach to the game. The barbarians and Romans attack other players. The Japanese focus on defense. This makes choosing your faction feel more meaningful than choosing a color.
Downs: Luck plays a role in all card games, but it feels particularly potent in Imperial Settlers. Unlucky players who can’t draw what they need on the first two turns can be hamstrung for the rest of the game. The game may also suffer from some imbalance. Fully a quarter of Board Game Geek users who played the game said the Egyptian faction seemed more powerful than the others. Less than half said the factions were well-balanced. The other factions may grow more powerful as players get to know the game, but that doesn’t help new players.
Verdict: Imperial Settlers occupies a space somewhere between Magic: The Gathering and Settlers of Catan. It mixes isolation with a dash of inter-player conflict. Objectively, it may be luck-driven and unbalanced, but that doesn’t stop it from being fun — and those factors may even be an asset. When new and experienced players play together, new players can take the Egyptians.