Thursday, July 31, 2008

Man Factory (Imperial)

Stuart Mackenzie: Well, it's a well known fact, Sonny Jim, that there's a secret society of the five wealthiest people in the world, known as The Pentavirate, who run everything in the world, including the newspapers, and meet tri-annually at a secret country mansion in Colorado, known as The Meadows.
Tony Giardino: So who's in this Pentavirate?
Stuart Mackenzie: The Queen, The Vatican, The Gettys, The Rothschilds, and Colonel Sanders before he went tits up. Oh, I hated the Colonel with 'is wee beady eyes, and that smug look on his face. "Oh, you're gonna buy my chicken! Ohhhhh!"
Charlie Mackenzie: Dad, how can you hate "The Colonel"?
Stuart Mackenzie: Because he puts an addictive chemical in his chicken that makes ya crave it fortnightly, smartass!

"So I Married an Axe Murderer"
Imperial. Evil... eeeeevil. This game puts you in the position of everything I hate about modern capitalism; profiting from the misery of war and the machinations of power.

That said... I'm hooked. Obviously this game got a lot of press around its release and has steadily built up a fairly large and somewhat dedicated fanbase. I had actually been avoiding it, for two primary reasons: I hate the board colours (far too bright for a game from this period and of this tone) and I really dislike the underlying concept... basically playing the Krupps, Simon Camerons, Andrew J. Mays, Donald Rumsfelds, KBRs and Blackwaters of the world - war profiteers.

So, how on earth could one have fun playing someone who is essentially on the same moral level as orphanage foreclosers, ambulance-chasing lawyers and people who sell bread for $10 a loaf after a hurricane? Well, the easy answer is that you do exactly what these people do in real life - you disconnect yourself from the misery that your actions are causing. Essentially, you become evil personified... and as long as you're not actually hurting anyone, it's kinda fun to play the bad guy.

The mechanics have been described in more detail and with better effect elsewhere, but the gist of it is that you use Antike's roundel mechanic to control the timing of a number of actions including investing (which amounts to getting money), manoeuvring (moving military units around on the map), building factories, producing (factories create one unit apiece), importing (buying military units without having to produce them) and taxation (getting money and also changing the "credit" status of a nation). There is also a sort of "sub-round" when you have the investor card during the invest round, which allows the player with the card (and players without controlling interest in countries) to buy bonds.

As an overly simplified way of describing it, there is a very basic Antike/Diplomacy 1:1 combat wargame with a fairly interesting investing game overlay - you're basically investing in countries which are successful militarily or economically, with the goal of having the most "stock" (bonds in the game) in the most successful "brand" - er... country. The twist is the strategy is two-faced - you can actually intentionally sink a county you control by plundering its coffers in anticipation of it being taken over by others.

There is a deep, deep strategy in this game. I can see it taking a dozen or more plays to fully appreciate it, and the strategy would change for each number of players as well.

On the downside, there is a (well-documented) possibility of a player (or in the case of five or six players, more than one player) sitting several cycles around the roundel out. I experienced it first hand last night. I was almost actionless for about 30 minutes (not exactly bored, just not actively buying or controlling anything) and by the end I was not having as much fun as I would have liked. In addition, for optimum play, you ideally need a lot of time to make your move. Thus, Imperial is a good candidate for an egg-timer (when playing in the temporal confines of a three to four hour games night). Analysis paralysis is a near and present danger for this puppy.

Overall I quite like this one and may end up adding it to my collection if I can get a good deal.

In last night's game, France, Germany and Great Britain became the major powers, with Austria-Hungary, Russia and everyone's favourite whipping boy Italy bringing up the rear.

With Jaywozer heavily invested in Great Britain, Ouch doing his best impression of the Kaiser in Germany and Agent Easy taking a long term as the (accursed) French, it was left to Bharmer and I to pick up the scraps of Russia and Austria-Hungary. There was a fair amount of movement of ownership and not a few cases where Ouch owned two or even three different nations. I made the mistake of being ousted from Austria-Hungary in the mid-game, which left me largely without cash or options for a good part of the game. Despite this, I managed a close fourth place. Scores were, I believe, Agent Easy 118, Jaywowzer 115, Ouch 108, Kozure 93 and Bharmer 70-something.

"Evil will triumph, because good is dumb."

1 comment:

  1. I pretty much agree with your assessment of the game. Very intriguing concept and execution. Hard to wrap your head around the layers of strategy, but pretty much in a good way.

    I also found that the game could drag at certain points (which is the main reason I prefer Antike slightly). The other criticism I had was the very bizarre investor mechanic... that card can come to you at the wrong time and through no fault of your own you can't buy. I suppose some might argue that you can plan for it, and that this is part of the strategy but I'm not sure I buy it. You don't have any control over when that card comes to you (since it's dependent on when the other countries cross the investor line). Still, in our game it wasn't a big problem, it just felt odd. Anyway, I've since read that the game ships with a second set of rules which eliminates the investor card, and instead allows anyone to purchase bonds in a country just after it acts. To me, that sounds like a somewhat more satisfying rule.

    Very early thoughts on strategy: I decided it might be interesting early on to grab hold of a country and try not to let it go. Not because I was trying to make it a wargame, but because I figured most other countries would become rather diversified and I was curious to see the difference it would make. The upside was that purchasing a big bond up front made France less appealing for bond purchases since players seemed focussed on trying to gain control of countries through their purchases. I was able to invest (and not give any money to other players) as often as I wanted. I also fell into a cycle of building a factory or placing chips and then taxing to keep France (my principal investment) at the forefront of the scoring table. Of course, despite my efforts, Kozure went and scooped up France from under my nose... so I worked the first three quarters of the game to line his pockets, apparently. Shrewd, Kozure. Shrewd.

    What I find confusing at the moment is that, other than my deliberate efforts in France, my succesfull invesments in Britain and Germany were kind of lucky. When I made them, I had no way of knowing which would be in the lead at the end. Obviously, my late investment in Britain was a purposeful move to end the game, but most of everything before that was guess work.

    Although I won, I did it mostly through building up my country and a couple of specific investments. I don't have a clear idea of how the military and most of the board play can alter or control the fate of another player.