Imperial Setters came out in 2014 and I’d probably still rank it in my top 10 or so of favorite games. Fast forward five years and we have Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North. While that was a good title, I never really enjoyed it as much as the original Imperial Settlers.
This year though, the Imperial Settlers universe gets just a little bit bigger with the release of Imperial Miners. It’s a light engine-building card game for 1-5 players that takes about 20-30 minutes to play. Imperial Miners plays well at any player count.
Imperial Miners is played over the course of 10 rounds. Each round starts with an event phase (Note: all the events are beneficial). Then, each player chooses a card from their hand to add to their tableau. Any number of level 1 cards can be played, but level 2-4 cards must be supported by at least 1 card of a level higher. Cards are offset, so one card can support two cards below it.
Cards of levels 2-3 cost gold to play, while levels 1 and 4 are free. After playing the card (and activating it), you also trace a path back to the top of your board and activate every card along that path. After all players have played and activated their cards, the round ends and a new one begins.
One final thing to note is that each game has 3 progress boards (out of 6 total). Many cards will let you “advance”, and when you do so, you move your marker up a specified number of spaces on the progress board and gain the reward for the space you land on. Once you finish the board, you get a final reward before moving your marker to a different progress board.
After 10 rounds the game ends and players total up their victory points. These are earned from gems and also matching mine cart icons in their tableau.
The rules for Imperial Miners are super light. I think they clock in somewhere around 6 pages, so we were able to start playing pretty quickly. This was a bit of a change from the previous Imperial Settlers titles, which had a lot more going on. That being said, I really enjoyed Imperial Miners. I’m a fan of engine building games in general, and this is an excellent quick-playing one. Since all turns are simultaneous, there is zero downtime in the game. You play your card, activate your powers, and earn your bonuses.
Another clever thing about the game is that many of the cards are themed around Imperial Setters factions. However, the theme isn’t just skin deep, as each faction has its own spin on what it does. For example, the Atlanteans have gears they place on cards and as they accumulate, will provide stronger bonuses. Or there are the Egyptian cards that give you extra ways to advance your progress markers.
The biggest knock against Imperial Miners, at least for some, is that it’s 100% multi-player solitaire. There is literally nothing that affects other players. In fact, the rules for solo mode literally just say to play the game as normal and compare your score to a chart to see how well you did. For my group, that wasn’t a big deal (fellow BGQ reviewer Brian B. loves him some multiplayer solitaire) but for others, this could be a point of contention.
But despite the lack of player interaction, the core gameplay loop is really rewarding. Choosing a card to play and then being able to activate the cards above it can allow you to create some really strong turns. I also like that the cards I play aren’t forgotten in the future, so I can plan around trying to activate cards that work well together. This allows for some crunchy decisions, yet doesn’t rise to the level of analysis paralysis. That being said, you are still dependent on the luck of the draw, so if you pull cards that don’t work well together you’ll be behind compared to someone who is drawing cards with synergies.
The components for Imperial Miners, much as you’d expect from Portal Games, are great. The art has the same whimsical style as other games from this universe and the quality of the bits are top-notch. That being said, I was mildly frustrated with the gems tokens. While they looked cool, trying to remember which were the 1s, 5s, and 10s was a pain. It would have been nice if they were different sizes at least. But that’s a minor gripe in an otherwise excellently produced game.
I really liked Imperial Miners and it ended up being a bit hit with our group. In fact, the aforementioned Brian tried to swipe my review copy after playing it. The lack of player interaction wasn’t an issue for me, and I really enjoyed the core gameplay loop. In fact, being able to quickly throw it down for a solo play without having to learn any extra rules was just an added bonus for me.
Sometimes a game just hits you in the right way and that was Imperial Miners for me. Sure there is no interaction, and a lucky card draw can put you ahead. But you know what? I never cared. The gameplay was just so enjoyable that I found myself bring it to the table over and over. Building your engine is both easy to do and also incredibly satisfying. I would wager that Imperial Miners will be showing up on my list of my Top 10 Games for the year come December.
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – A great engine-building game that’s both easy to get to the table and enjoyable to play.
• No player interaction at all
• Gems require you to remember which is which