Since its release in 2014, Imperial Settlers has easily been one of my favorite engine building games. In fact, when I do an overall top 10 of my favorite games, it would easily makes the list. I’ve picked up almost every expansion for this title, and always greedily scoop up a new faction expansion.
This time, the minds over at Portal Games have tried something different. They are bringing campaign-style play to Imperial Settlers. Rise of the Empire lets you take your favorite civilization on a lengthy journey to see if you can build an empire to stand the test of time.
Overall, the expansion doesn’t change the core gameplay of Imperials Setters very much. What it does do is shorten the game down to four rounds, and add in a new series of cards in the form of provinces, inventions, and quests.
Provinces are awarded to you at the end of every game. These represent your expanding empire. The good news is that they provide you both with a nice bonus (usually production) and start the game in play for you. The downside is that they require upkeep. This is in the form of resources (usually 2 per game) and a 5 victory point penalty to maintain.
Inventions are purchased at the end of each game using the points you scored as currency. These also start the game in play and have a unique feature on them that lets you break the rules in various ways. If you don’t have enough points to buy a new invention at the end of the game, your empire crumbles.
Finally, there are quest cards. There will be three each game that will set out specific tasks for the players to accomplish. These range from having a specific number and color of buildings in play to having so many feature buildings in your empire. The first player to achieve each task earns 3 points on the matching track on their quest sheet, with later players earning 1 space on the track. Progressing along these tracks will also earn you bonuses for subsequent games. Once you reach the end of a track, it triggers a bit of a soft reset for your empire as you enter the next age.
The goal of the campaign is to reach the Modern era, which requires you to advance eras three times. Your civilization crumbles if your score decreases 3 games in a row or you can’t buy an invention after a game. In this case, you need to start over from scratch with a new empire.
Game Experience with the Expansion:
Rise of the Empire definitely adds some interesting new wrinkles to the Imperial Settlers system. It takes a huge engine-building game and throws a lot more fuel into the system. The first few games will be a pretty ordinary Imperial Settlers experience, albeit with some new goal cards. But once you start getting some provinces and inventions, your score will skyrocket. Getting scores over 100 wasn’t too uncommon as you build out your empire.
I also liked how the game was reduced to four rounds. Since you are starting with inventions and provinces in play, that basically creates a defacto first round for you. This helps shorten the overall experience, which is good, because you will be playing a lot of games of Imperial Settlers.
And that’s probably one of my misses for this campaign. It just feels too long. Depending on how much you focus on those progress tracks, it could take quite a few games before you switch to a new era. So the question you need to ask yourself is do I want to play 15-20 games of Imperial Setters with the same empire before I reach the end of the campaign? For all but the most die-hard of players, the answer is going to be “probably not”.
This is further compounded by the fact that the quests all feel really generic. There is no story told here. The quests are all “have X of this”. If one of them syncs up well with what your empire does, you’ll achieve it pretty easily. If not, you’ll have to focus on it through drafting common cards and trying for those over victory points. Even with the inventions and provinces, I never really felt like my empire was growing. It was just more numbers. This was a bit disappointing since Portal Games motto is “Board games that tell stories.” This is a campaign without a story.
On the plus side, the new inventions and provinces can be fun to play with. The extra boost they give to your empire at the start of the game is pretty cool. And I did like how you bought inventions with your victory points (and carry over excess). This lets you make decisions on if you want to save up for really good ones or just buy the cheap one for a smaller bonus.
Imperial Settlers: Rise of the Empire introduces some new concepts and can definitely help breathe some new life into Imperial Settlers if it’s gotten a bit stale for you. However, I also don’t think it will be for everyone. I’d only recommend this for the most die-hard of Imperial Settlers players. If your group eagerly reaches for this game on a regular basis, then Rise of the Empire worth playing for the added variety. Yet if you are an “every once in a while player”, then I doubt you’ll have the desire to stick around for the 15-20 games it takes to complete the campaign.
• No story here, feels bland
• Quests cards feel more like just checking boxes
• Way too long for what it is