When I was writing about Antike and fantastic, close games we had with that title, Clio inspired me to look at other positions by the same author – Mac Gerdts. Guess what? It occurred that I had a pleasure to play also other creations of that designer. Namely Imperial and Concordia. I will focus today on the first title today.

The Game

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
  • Russia

The nations construct 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!

Game map – Europe at the brink of World War I

What I like most is that 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. That does not mean you need to control same nation through the game – you can lead France but then dump its stock only to invest in the German Empire. Or you might not have a majority share in any of great powers and play as Swiss Bank!

Another interesting mechanism is Rondel, driving the possible actions of the investors – a simple mechanics, allowing you each turn set of free possibilities but if you really need to perform something urgent, you can pay to get it!

Close-up on components – factories, armies and fleets

What is more, 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.

First attempt

We played our initial session many years ago. Since the beginning we had huge problem with changing the usual wargaming mindset – my armies, my fleets, my planes, my territory. No, these are my means to enrichment, which once depreciate or stop to yield enough gain can be discarded.

In Imperial you should never be emotionally attached to one country. Example? In our game, I was initially in command of France. When that nation started to lose, I immediately put all my money into Austro-Hungary. Konrad was initially majority shareholder there but that was changing between two of us. Still, we both knew – regardless of who was in control at particular moment – that we need to play in a way which increases Austro-Hungarian shares value as we invested here heavily.

First, totally crazy game

Another very interesting game mechanic is when you do not control any country. You become the Swiss Bank, having ability to invest more and more often but with zero influence on the situation on map. Fine for me! I actually was bought-out at some point in time and started to play in that way. The more I played like this, the more I earned – but be careful, you need some initial shares and dividends to yield full potential from Swiss Bank.

After 5-hours session we finalized the game. The war was won by the Autro-Hungary; Italy was second. Our points looked like this (in yellow, who controlled the power):

As you can see, my balanced investment plan paid out and I won!

But the funniest thing happened after the game. The 5 hours of play was in stark contrast with what the box said. When we checked in details, it occurred that we misinterpreted 2 rules which would made game three times shorter! Lol, at least we had a great training play!

Second attempt

Our next game did not last so long, was not so crazy and the scores were much more lower! Well, this time we read ALL the rules with understanding! We again had four players: me, Konrad, Kuba and Lukasz.

Second, meticulously planned and executed session
  • Lukasz started in Italy and spread to Spain and North Africa, entrenching himself wherever he could.
  • Kuba was initially in control of France and Austria, but in the end he moved his investment to Russia as it was yielding better dividend.
  • I was in control of Great Britain since the start, with minority shares in many other countries.
  • Konrad heavily invested in Germans and tried to rule the world with their armies!

When we finished the game, an important question – which we had to solve with BGG help – was still open and was preventing final scoring. Yes, not each and every rule in Imperial is crystal clear. Still, when we tallied the points in the end we had following results:

  • Michal 69
  • Kuba 67
  • Konrad 65
  • Łukasz 57

The game was very, very close! First three places were withing 4 points! Great session!

Conclusions

I really like and appreciate Imperial. The game is cynical to the bone and shows the real war mechanics and what lays behind. Does it matter who occupies Paris? Shall we care about half of British fleet just sunk by German navy? Are we outraged by Austr-Hungary violating the Serbian neutrality?

None of this matters.

What is important is our return on investment, money we earn regardless of who is victory and who loses. Such a true story. And such a sad one.

PS. If you are interested in another game where loyalties change during the game, have a look here: Pax Pamir v2 – solo variant – first impressions.