I've started playing solo games a bit more regularly lately. So, when I first heard people talking about Imperial Settlers, I heard that it had a solo mode - but also a solo campaign mode (note that the link is to Portal Games' dropbox where they uploaded the rules for the campaign). I was intrigued, so I went to check it out. This review will focus on that mode of play, and is going to completely ignore the multiplayer (normal) mode.
(If you've never played Imperial Settlers, read this paragraph, otherwise, you can skip to the next one.) In Imperial Settlers, you play over a series of rounds in order to get the most victory points. You gain these in a few different ways - but typically by building buildings. You start the game with a few cards - some specific to your faction, and some common. Each round, you gain more cards in the Lookout phase, you collect resources in the Production phase, you "do stuff" in the Action phase, and then you discard any excess resources and reset your buildings in the Cleanup Phase. Most of the "doing stuff" consists of playing or activating cards. With most cards, you can play them in a few different ways - as buildings, as "Deals," or you can "Raze" them. There are good and bad aspects, strategically, of each way to play a card, and you balance this as you play the game. That's really where the strategy lies. After a few rounds, if you have enough victory points, you win the game!
|Tracking the solo campaign|
The first thing that I like about the solo campaign is that it makes your victory points matter. In most solo games that I play, typically once I beat it, there's no real reason to play again. And, for that matter, if I just played the basic solo rules for Imperial Settlers, it would fall into this same category (well, you might play solo with each faction, but that's about it). However, with the campaign, it suddenly is different if I win with 10 VPs instead of winning with 95. With 95 VPs, I can buy some nice Achievements - whereas with 10 VPs, I might not even be able to pay the Control Cost of my Provinces. This has changed the game for me - instead of "phoning it in" late in the game, since I know I've already won, I am trying to maximize my VP output until the very last play.
The next pro that I have for the solo campaign can probably be said for Imperial Settlers as a whole - the factions play very differently. As an example, the first campaign I started was with the Barbarians. They are very straightforward - they get VPs primarily by building tons of buildings, but they can also activate some buildings to trade goods for points. The next campaign I played was with the Atlanteans. The Atlanteans don't get VPs from their faction specific buildings (other factions get 2 VP per faction specific building), but they get a lot of "technology" tokens, which improve common buildings. This meant that I had to build a ton of common buildings (they also only win if they have more common buildings than the virtual player - instead of buildings of any type). Building all of these buildings meant that I got buildings Razed by the virtual player almost every turn - but the technology tokens caused me to generate huge piles of resources to help offset those losses (and to feed into buildings to generate VPs).
|A growing Japanese empire|
The next con that I had for the solo campaign is that there is a lot of upkeep in different places, and so it is very easy to "cheat" without realizing it. It's one thing to inadvertently cheat in a multiplayer game - when you realize it, you point it out to your opponents, and you collectively decide how to handle it. But, when you inadvertently cheat in a solo game, it's much more frustrating (in my opinion), because you don't know if you "really" would have won the game. I know that there have been several games where I cheated by forgetting to pay the upkeep, not remembering what the upkeep cost was, or forgetting the event. At the same time, I've also forgotten things that would help me like abilities that a Province provided. When you have built a large empire in Imperial Settlers (like 10+ Production buildings, along with Features and Actions), it's hard enough to track what all you produce, without having to also reference other sheets. As you play, you get better at tracking all of this, but it's still quite a bit. (I know of some efforts within the player community to try to convert the various aspects of the campaign mode into cards that can be printed off - well designed cards should help with this, but as far as I know, there is nothing official yet in this regard.)
Before the wrap up, you may have noticed in the pictures that I played this with both expansions. Here's a quick rundown of what the expansions add to the solo campaign, so that you can decide if you want them.
|New Virtual Player cards (shown with their faction decks)|
This expansion focuses mostly on the multiplayer game (though you could shuffle in the new buildings if you'd like). However, for the solo mode, it adds 2 cards that represent the Virtual Player, and this causes your Virtual Player to play a bit differently. One Virtual Player attacks 3 times instead of 2, and the other gets more locations - so both make the game harder. These are nice, but I don't consider them critical.
The Atlanteans expansion adds... well... the Atlanteans. They are another playable faction that can be included in solo or multiplayer. It also adds a corresponding Virtual Player card that you can use for them in games where you're not playing as them. They play quite differently from the other factions, so if you enjoy going through the campaign with all of the different factions, then you might want to pick this one up so that you can play through with a 5th faction. However, you are probably safe holding off on this one until you've played the campaign a couple of times to make sure that you enjoy it first.
Overall, I give the solo campaign mode for Imperial Settlers an 8.5. I really enjoy it, and I think that I'll play through it more in the future. It hasn't dethroned my favorite solo game, but it is definitely in the upper echelon for me.
I would like to thank Portal Games for providing me with a review copy of Imperial Settlers along with its expansions.