The game Imperial is the port of a physical game of the same name. It represents a challenging strategy games, and despite my reluctance at these type of war-based strategy games I found myself intrigued, first, then genuinely enjoying myself shortly after.
What stands out for Imperial, as a game, is the in-depth strategy behind it. The main idea is that each player represents a conspiracy, house, or faction that is manipulating the Empires fighting the imperial war. So on the surface there is a fairly straightforward game of Risk happening between the empires (Austro-Hungary, Italy, France, Britain, Germany, and Russia).
The game turns cycle through the empires (in the order listed above), and the controlling investor chooses the actions they will take. The actions are listed on a wheel, meaning that there is some predetermination of what sort of actions and what order they can occur in.
At this level, the mechanics of the war are reasonably simple.
- Each empire roughly has six provinces, of which each can hold either a naval factory or a land factory (which produce either navies or armies respectively).
- Both armies and navies typically have only one point of movement. Though armies can traverse one region within their empire for free (rail movement), and can move to any land region connected by a chain of navies (moving an army from Russia across the Black Sea to Turkey counts as one movement).
- Any unit moving into a region (sea or land) claim it for their empire, which is relevant to raising taxes and gaining money.
- Each conflict is done on a one-for-one basis. That is each unit will fight and destroy one unit occupying a given region that it invades (armies can fight docked navies).
There are a few other little bits, but as you can see the rules of engagement are pared down because realisitcally it is all just an abstraction for the real game.
The real game occurs at the level of the investors, because investments provide returns, and the winning conditions (and end conditions) are entirely related to those returns. Since players have an opportunity to invest a lot of back and forth happens between ownership of empires. It is possible that another player will invest more heavily than you and then they are in control of that empire. Since investment really only happens around once every 6-8 actions, that’s a lot of control, especially if you’ve significantly built up an empire only to have it stolen from under your feet.
Imperial is an opportunity for an sole indy programmer to really shine. It’s very clear that a lot of effort has gone into programming the AI, which was why it was a shame that it wasn’t released as part of that initial debut. However, I am glad I waited long enough to see the fully realised version. The AI is definitely challenging, and I think my main critique of it was that there should be easier AI options to help me get past that learning curve!
Graphically, the game perfectly replicates the game of the same name and in some cases improves. Because the entire visual surface can be dedicated to the board space (with the extraneous information available as pop up menus and the like) it allows you to focus on the action of the board itself. However, this is something of a two-edged sword. Initially it seems to assist you to focus on the action of the war, as that is what fills your field of vision, however you’ll soon easily find it becomes hard to keep tabs on all the extra bits (such as who owns what), which is much more pertinent to winning.
Beyond that, there aren’t a lot of bells and whistles. It’s a single-man indy job and it does show around the edges. The title screen is pretty minimalistic (some might argue there isn’t a title screen). Likewise, there is no tutorial to speak of (incredibly necessary on steep learning curve games like this). I have added a few videos to the end of this that should help break you into the game much better than the web-text explanation.
8/10: Despite being a bit ragged around the edges, this is definitely a solid game worth your time and attention. For those who know my history of reviews, they’ll know that I’m a bit antithetical to war-strategy games like this. However, this game won me over (despite not having the bells and whistles) – and that’s saying something. I find myself wanting to engage with this game for a number of reasons. First it’s not a straight up war strategy game – there is the level of investing that I find really intriguing. Second, the war gaming itself is reduced down to basics so I don’t get lost in it. Lastly, I am fairly impressed with the programming of the AI, despite there only being a single difficultly level.Imperial,