Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Imperial - when Germany went sub-prime

With four days off at Easter it was off to the ancestral estate in Berkshire. As ever, people are disappointed if I don't turn up with some interesting board games in tow, and this time around it was Settlers of Catan and Imperial. As a family we do like to play Settlers on a semi-regular basis, although aggressive dealing in commodities is now leading to fiery disputes, with abuse being hurled back and forth!

I WON Settlers this time around. This was thanks mainly to being well-placed to harvest both bricks and wood on a regular basis, and that allowed me to grab the Longest Road honours early and hold onto them despite a challenge from another player. I spotted that opportunity just from a review of the initial terrain dispositions. I also managed to ensure I had a port that could deal wool with foreign merchants, which helped me enormously in the middle game to start picking up some development cards. This strategy allowed me to acquire Largest Army for +2 VPs. A final settlement build, and the game was mine.

I love Catan because every game is slightly different. This board quickly produced a shortage of stone in the early part of the game, which was resolved later on. However, by that stage we were experiencing a wheat shortage. My port was a god send in helping me to maintain my roads and keep me in the lead.

Imperial I have blogged about before and it has been a long while since last I played it. But it is an awesome game, and once you get your head around it, has so many different avenues you need to consider. It does create the impression in the early stages that it is going to be a looooong strategy game, leading some newbies last weekend to ask whether we should set a time limit. But no, I said, you will quickly realise that this game is much faster in the second half, and can be ended sooner than you realise.

I got Germany initially and set about expanding in the Low Countries (natch). Britain seemed to be doing fairly well from the start, while Austria imploded and France struggled financially from the beginning. France changed hands and I think always lacked a serious direction, including failing to exploit the obvious opportunity in Spain until it was too, too late.

I failed to stop Russia and Britain ganging up on Germany and could see, with France allying itself - temporarily - with Britain, that Germany would soon be on a sticky wicket. I tried to quickly diversify my assets, buying British bonds and also dabbling in Russian debt, but I feel I lacked aggression here, not risking enough money to buy the big tranches.

Russia and Britain quickly became the premium paper in this game, with France securely in the sub-prime zone (I think the Russian and Italian players both managed France as something of an after thought). Everyone rightly stayed off Austria which was quickly carved up between Russia and Italy, who then started skirmishing in the Eastern Med towards the end of the game.

The British player did an awesome job. Despite having Britain bought out from under him for a couple of turns, he astutely invested in Russia, built up his cash supply through being a stateless investor, then resumed control of Britain. Finally, he ended the game by spending 12 million to travel around the order hub back to taxation in order to finish while he was still in the lead. His combined Russian and British holdings won him the game. George Soros would be proud.

I enjoyed Imperial so much, despite coming third, that I've now acquired the app, available on the iStore for £6.50. I've given it a run through and it seems like a very competently designed offering, worthy of the original board game.

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