While we are still finalizing Round 2 in our 2020 Imperial Struggle VASSAL Tournament – you may count on full report once we are done with all games – I would like to use the opportunity and to share with Dear Readers some strategy considerations our sessions brought.

By no means below list is a full and complete set of defined strategies. Imperial Struggle is too good game to have one path to victory – it is deep, immerse, multi-layer with some small element of luck – mainly in awards and commodities drawing (see example here). However, there are some things and ideas you should be aware of and which become obvious with more games and experience.

Also, there is no common agreement on some of the topics in our group – thus I decided to create two sections for observations / guidelines depending on how controversial / acclaimed they are 🙂 And to be clear – not every idea below is mine. This is combined effort of players like JasonSample, shoak1, Artenol, david752, rudiaz, GungHoCannonCalle, WoWoW and many, many more. Thanks to whom we are buildign great community and together discuss the ideas regarding the game.

So let u start!

Non-controversial

Advantages are your friends!
  • [General-Advantages] Advantages are key – I think this is statement under which ever experienced IS player can sign. They are saving tons of Action Points, be it as a specific discount or general debt decrease. They provide invaluable source of Conflict Markers. And they can be played alongside your normal investment tiles actions withe no alternative cost (i.e. you do not have to chose this or the other). They are often key to victory in highly competitive games. So make sure you get them!
Do not ever let this slip to your opponent.
  • [General-Advantages] Another point regarding advantages, this time a specific one. Baltic Trade – this is probably pretty obvious. Still I would like to double-stress that – be aware of this and fight for it. A 2 Debt decrease is a great boost, especially if you control initiative and in next turn – choosing to be first – you can play it again! Also, the countries at the edges of this advantage provides points to Wars so this is even more important. Seems like Denmark is one of the most important countries in the game 🙂
  • [General-Advantages] The last point about advantages. While diplomatic one’s provides great discounts in in Europe, the Local Alliances are fantastic for the fight in the New World. Dominating North America, Caribbeans or India without those crucial points on map is not possible. I personally won many games just because I was able to spam the Conflicts in droves. Make sure that you are at least on par with opponent as far Alliances are concerned.
  • [General-Wars] Rather then looking at pure Victory Points, check which theaters provide Conquest Points. There are such where you get CP only winning with 3+ or 5+ advantage. And there are those – watch for them! – where minimal victory is worth CP. That is usually true in North America and India.
Inter-dependencies between war theaters are crucial – you should know them.
  • [General-Wars] Look at the theaters sequence. Take back whatever you lost initially later on. Great example is War of Spanish Succession. You lost Minorca in Central Europe? (assuming shift in Spain using Spanish empire). Make sure you have tons of War tiles and squadrons in second theater to take it back. In essence, you get a shift in Spain, and either Minorca Territory or 3 VPs!
  • [General-Wars] Channel your Bonus war tiles through one war theater. Choose one which you are sure is most important and get 2 war tiles there. Then, always draw your bonus war tiles into this theater – you would be able to choose which one of 3 you would like to move to another theater. Simple but very useful approach!
  • [General-Ministry] A general comment regarding Ministry Cards. Instead of short-term gains and choosing them according to your current Events bonus conditions, think long-term about your strategy and which one’s will be most useful to achieve it. In essence, this is to make conscious, focused decisions rather then quick, one-time bonuses.
  • [General-Spanish Empire] Definitely use the Optional rule Spanish Empire. A reminder what that means: first, Spanish flags on three sugar markets in Caribbean; second, any time a player takes control of an uncontrolled Spanish Territory, their opponent may shift one Political space in Spain. That is a really interesting rule which allows for some balance in the game and opportunity cost for taking the holdings of Spain.
Spanish sugar empire
  • [General-Spanish Empire] When playing with Spanish Empire (a standard in our IS VASSAL Tournament) it is worth to remember that 3 Spanish sugar markets are isolated and it only costs 1 Economy Point to un-flag them!
  • [General] Initiative – so decision who goes first. When I was starting my journey with the game, I thought it is always better to be second. I do not believe in this anymore! A lot depends on the situation. The clear indications when you should go first are:
    • when there is only 1 type of particular Major Event – especially if this is Diplomacy or Military; only you can un-flag then or displace fleets and you can also utilize the events requiring the major action of that type.
    • when the number of events is odd and low (like 1 or 3). You might really want to get this as advantage over your opponent.
    • when you plan some specific usage of advantages (like Baltic Trade) or ministry cards (like Cardinals) and to avoid spoiling this by opponent, you have to be first
    • simply, when you want to put a pressure and set the pace for the turn – then be first!
Global demands and… Prestige!
  • [General] Throughout the game you will have six times when commodities will be drawn. They nicely supplement how much each New World region is worth – still, they are completely unpredictable. But you have one fixed commodity, always present with good pay-off: Prestige! Treat this exactly as a fourth commodity – the rules for control are exactly the same – but you may be sure it is always drawn!
Some debt related events
  • [General] The more you play the more you know the game. So this is only obvious that the next step in your learning curve should be strict control of which events were already played and which are still left. If not all, you should know by heart the debt-related events as you can easily prevent them when you control the budget situation – and once they are played, you know you can go on a spending spree!
  • [General] There is a diplomatic action to buy event for 3 points. Never seen anybody investing so much to get the uncertain outcome. Do not use this.
  • [British] Ministry cards– there was a lot said about British ministry cards. We observe some of them played more often then others. These are usually Bank of England, Merchant Banks, Pitt the Elder or James Watt. But the one which I see always is Johnathan Swift. That is usually key card for British strategy to contest Europe – provides discounts in Ireland / Scotland, allows for unflagging with Minor actions plus provides Style bonus to wars. Use it!
  • [British] another important suggestion – a crucial one – is that as a British you should not release the grip on Europe. Fight for it, contest it, make sure it is not a playground for French.
  • [British] Watch French player moves – your opponent Ministry cards or some events are strictly connected to areas. You see him taking Sardinia and Savoy – watch out for Cardinals and Alberoni’s Ambitions. Heavy investment into Ireland / Scotland – most probably Jacobites & John Law. And so it goes. Just make sure you know what French can do and what they require for it.
  • [French] Ministry cards – you have much more powerful ones but strictly connected to particular places. John Law is most commonly used by French players in our tournament – this is always a good choice. Cardinals is usually the second – although it would be hard to get their full potential playing against experienced British player. You really need to pressure your opponent somewhere else to get those played to the full potential.
  • [French] You are very strong in Europe – make use of it. Invest heavily, so you can capitalize later on the build-up capital. If opponent allows you – take over Scotland/Ireland and use Jacobites. If opportunity arises, get as many advantages as possible in preparation for Pompadour. Make the 4th commodity (prestige) as your own. Stay strong in Europe. Always.

Controversial

  • [General-War] There are two distinct approaches in our group to tackle wars. While most players usually falls somewhere in the middle, our two main strategy proponents are on the complete opposites here. We talk of course of bonus war tiles vs board position approaches.
Clear example of French heavy investment into bonus War Tiles at the expense of board position

The first approach strongly proposes that almost every Military Action Point should be invested into the Bonus War tiles. They give much more on average then forts and fleets, have immediate pay-back in the war outcomes and allow for a snowball effect.

The same war now seen from board position perspective – British heavily relaying on their forces on map

The other approach is very for a significant build-up of forces in the regions – be it forts or fleets. They can be subject to the opponent tiles like remove fleet / damage the fort but with large numbers this should not be the problem. And they add to the regional control.

Which way is better? There is no clear answer, the games will tell. But I think a middle way – with some bias this or that way – should be the answer.

  • [General-fleets] To invest or not – fleets.
Heavy investment of both players into the fleets

To some extent you might think about this discussion as a prolongation of the first controversial point – they are definitely inter-connected. One side underlines the fleets drawbacks to the extreme where no investment should be made into them. The other – quite opposite, praises the bonuses. Let us try to summarize both. Fleets disadvantages:

Fleets dis-advantages:

  1. They are expensive to built
  2. When you want to get discount for them (Ministry or Territory) there is an alternative cost to this – simply you are not using other ministry card / territory.
  3. They are expensive to move around.
  4. They are even more expensive when you want to displace opponent.
  5. They are susceptible to the war tiles.

Fleets advantages:

  1. They add to the regional awards control.
  2. They can occupy prestige spaces in Europe.
  3. When you invest in the board position, fleets allow you to get to the places you would have zero access otherwise.
  4. Removed fleets are cheaper and more efficient to redeploy than damaged forts. They are simply great to screen forts.
  5. The sooner you get them, the more impact they will have.

Again, as with controversial point number one, there is no common agreement. Although I observe trend where players invest much less in fleets then previously. We shall see.

Summary

Above is only a sub-set of the discussions and conclusions in our Imperial Struggle Tournament group. While some seems to be almost an axiom now, a lot is still discussed and refined (like the controversial ones). What I like is that those discussions builds community of like-minded fellas, unified by the passion for this title – a great creation by Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews. A game which provides fantastic enjoyment for the years to come!