In 2014, Portal Games released Imperial Settlers. This card-driven civilization game focused on players constructing buildings to provide resources and earn victory points. But the gaming world demands more roll and writes and who are we to tell them no?
So today we are looking at the dice and paper implementation of Imperial Settlers. You’ll still be gathering resources and making buildings, all in the hopes of achieving that glory of a massive pile of victory points. But no cards to shuffle this time—so just grab your pencils and let’s get down to it.
Imperial Settlers Roll & Write is played over ten rounds that follow the same four steps. First, the starting player will roll their four dice—one worker die and three resource dice. The worker die will indicate how many actions you can take that round (between 3 and 5) and the other dice will give you resources to spend during those actions. All players will use the same results simultaneously.
Before you start taking your actions though, there will be a draft for bonus tiles for the round, starting with the player who rolled the dice. These “favor tokens” will offer you a benefit for that round, normally giving you additional actions or resources. There is always one more favor token than the number of players, hopefully giving you some useful benefit.
Once all the favor tokens have been drafted players can take their actions. You’ll have two different sheets—a village sheet with buildings you can complete and an empire sheet where you can turn your resources into points. There are also fields of resources on your empire sheet that can be harvested if you need more resources than what the dice provided. Every box you check off requires the use of a worker and potentially some resources (although some are free).
When you complete buildings on your village sheet you’ll unlock a new ability. For instance, the farm will give you one additional food every round. Each building also has a polyomino shape next to it. If you complete this shape on the tracks on your empire sheet you can create a new “settlement” and power up that action. In the case of the farm, you’ll get another additional food for each farm-shaped settlement you create.
After ten rounds players will score points based on how far they’ve advanced on their empire tracks and any buildings that award victory points. The player with the most points is the winner.
As a roll and write, Imperial Settlers offers up an experience that is reasonably different than what you may be used to in similar games. Painted in the best light, it adds a light civ-building element. You can certainly feel your engine power up throughout the game as you complete farms, settlers, and tool shops. On your first turn, you may only have four actions and three resources. By the final turn, you might get seven or eight actions and more resources than you know what to do with.
Getting there can be a struggle though. I can only describe the tracking of resources and actions in this game as clumsy. Everyone is using the same set of dice so it isn’t as if you can set them next to you and move them around as you spend them. Not that it would do much good since your buildings will likely give you things that aren’t reflected by the die results. And then there is keeping track of how many actions you’ve taken. I try to use my left hand to keep count of how many actions I have left, but it’s less than ideal. I’m not sure I’ve played a whole game without accidentally cheating at some point or another and there is no way to know for sure.
The “other” civ building roll-and-write, Roll Through the Ages, gets around this by giving players a board to track their resources. While it’s a bit different since RTtA resources persist over several turns, something similar to this method would have gone a long way in improving playability. There are some resource trackers in the BGG file-section that may offer some options if you are willing to do some digging.
Even if you get to the point that you feel that you are likely following the rules, the payoff from playing multiple times isn’t there. At least for multiplayer games, the village sheets are identical for all players every single game. I’m not even close to an expert at this point, but some of the buildings seem more powerful than others. The “Settlers” building which grants you additional actions seems like a requirement to unlock as early as possible.
While the idea of being able to build your unique empire throughout a game is enticing, it doesn’t work when everyone’s empire looks the same. And it’s pretty much the same as the empire you made last game.
There is a solution to this. There are 48 sheets for Adventure Mode that each presents a unique mix of buildings. These, however, are only in the rules for the solo game. This makes some sense as balancing the game in a way that those 48 sheets are of approximately the same power level would be extremely difficult.
Portal Games have provided some options for using the adventure mode sheets outside of solo mode. It amounts to using a blank village board and putting one adventure sheet in the middle of the table for everyone to reference or playing multiple games to balance out the randomness. While this extra variant requires a bit more work, it’s probably necessary to give the multiplayer game enough legs to get off your shelf more than a few times.
There is a lot to like about Imperial Settlers Roll & Write. It is one of the only roll and write games I can remember that legitimately feels like you build an engine by the end of the game. It’s unfortunate that, without going through a bit of extra effort, you’ll likely have the same type of engine every game. Even then, the complexity of tracking what is going on makes it difficult to recommend for most folks.
That said, the solo mode in the Imperial Settlers Roll & Write is engaging and you’ll be able to use the adventure mode as intended. And no one else will be around to make sure you are counting your actions correctly. So, if you do a fair amount of solo gaming it’s worth checking out.
Final Score: 2.5 Stars – Neat engine building but dragged down by the accounting and repetition.
• Tracking resources and actions is a nightmare.
• Included villages for multiplayer are all the same.
• Some buildings seem pretty weak and are routinely ignored.