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Published on May 7th, 2015 | by Dapper Dan

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Imperialism: Road To Domination – Boardgame Review

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Imperialism – Road to Domination

It’s a weird moment when half of you looks at the front of the box and thinks “Why is Bill Murray, as Steve Zissou, dressed as a conquistador?” while the other half looks at the back of the box and thinks “The board looks like a spreadsheet of finances.” This actually isn’t a bad impression to get, as playing the game manages to be equal parts brow-furrowing serious business and evil cackling glee as you snatch a promising colony from under your opponents’ noses.

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Imperialism: Road To Domination is a rather good, and equally rather clever, game for 2-4 players, where you guide your nation through a period of expansion, development and colonialism. Played entirely without dice, the mechanic runs on you balancing your nation’s economic output and lofty imperial ambitions.

The aim of the game is reach a set points total before the other players. This target is reduced depending on the number of people playing. Rather than a “first past the post” victory condition, a player scoring enough points to reach the target means that everyone then gets one more turn to try and become the highest scoring player. I liked this idea as the game can be quite close and towards the end of the game scoring opportunities increase. It’s more than conceivable that the game can be won by someone who had been in 3rd or 4th place prior to the final round.

A player’s turn is split into two phases; Hand and Action. In the Hand phase you may discard cards from your hand and then draw enough cards to fill to your maximum hand size. These cards come from either the location deck, the game deck or face-up location cards. That’s the Hand Phase. Nice and simple, huh?

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The Action phase is where the real meat of the game lies. You have a choice of 5 different actions and you may not choose the same action on consecutive turns. It’s a good way to keep everyone balanced and stopping one of the big military nations, such as Russia or the Ottoman Empire, from relentlessly playing locations and scoring. Your actions cover everything; from earning Ducats from your economy to launching a military action against one of the other players.

Points are scored in several ways. In addition to actively scoring points, by playing locations for example, there are reward cards that mirror cultural developments of the period, like the Printing Press, Banking Systems etc. At any point in a player’s turn, if they meet the conditions for one of the face-up reward cards, they immediately score that reward card. We found that to begin with, you tend to get these by accident. Later in the game, once you’re more established, you can try and pursue them a bit more aggressively. This becoems a very good way to steal the lead as the finish approaches.

One flaw in Imperialism is that it would be possible for one player to suffer badly if the other three all attack them in the same round. You can defend yourself with cards from your hand, but if you’ve played one during your turn and then use some to defend, you’re going to be exposed to the other two. Maybe this is intentional, and we didn’t find we made that many War actions during our playthroughs.

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Where the game noticeably falls down, at least on the first playthrough, is that the rulebook appears to have been mis-translated from the original Polish. As a result there are sentences that make no sense and, even worse, explanations that explain little; sometimes making things murkier than before you looked anything up. The biggest error in the rules comes from the Intrigue phase being referred to as Conspiracy phase in several locations, including on some of the cards themselves. One really positive element of the rulebook is the glossary of all the cards in the game deck, explaining what they do often alongside contextual examples.

I’d say this is definitely a game that requires a relaxed playthrough to learn. Reading the book doesn’t really allow for the nuances and subtleties of the game, plus the aforementioned confusion where things may have been lost in translation, literally.

Once players are familiar with the rules and what the cards do, and also know what they’re doing, a game of Imperialism should take about an hour, to an hour and a half, to play through.

Imperialism: Road To Domination is published by G3. Review copy supplied by Esdevium Games

Dapper Dan

Dapper Dan

Dragons slain, villains vanquished, justice restored, comics read, games played, movies watched.
Writer/Editor for @NeedToConsume
1/3 of @3Bods1Pod
Dapper Dan
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