23 June 2019
A roll-and-write spin-off worth settling for?
The latest in Ignacy Trzewiczek’s civ-building Imperial Settlers series sees its empire expand into the much fought-over land of roll-and-writes but struggles to properly stake its claim.
Three dice provide resources (stone, wood, food and gold, which apparently can function as either of those), while another dictates the number of ‘workers’ available to the players – what this boils down to is how many boxes you can tick that round, spending your available resources to construct buildings, score points and gain ongoing effects across both your smaller ‘do stuff’ village sheet and bigger ‘score stuff’ empire sheet. Over ten rounds, you’ll tick a whole bunch of boxes, hoping to have the most points by the end. It’s pretty boilerplate roll-and-write stuff.
Or at least, it is in the basic game. Imperial Settlers: R&W picks up a little more steam with its advanced rules, which introduce a neat settlement building mini-game to your filled boxes. Complete boxes in a certain shape and you can ‘construct’ a building, improving your future resource generation (building farms makes more apples, and so on) and scoring bonus points. It’s a clever way to bring the civ- and engine building of the original game into play, and adds a much-needed extra twist to the otherwise familiar proceedings.
Even with that mechanical echo of its namesake in the mix, this roll and write tribute still feels a little underwhelming. Outside of ability granting ‘favour’ tiles drafted at the beginning of each round you choose three of five in the box for each game, so there’s not a massive variety there’s no player interaction to speak of and little sense of Imperial Settlers’ faction specific historical empire-building, begging the question why this deserved to be part of that family of games in the first place. At points, it may as well just be called ‘Roll-and-Write’.
That’s true of the multiplayer game, anyway. Many of Imperial Settlers: R&W’s biggest gripes are solved in its solo ‘adventure’ mode, easily the game’s highlight. A separate block of 48 sheets offers up a high-score mode designed specifically for one person, which feature different abilities and scoring conditions. Unlike the buildings of the multiplayer mode, which remain an identical offering of generic farms, tool shops and fortresses during every playthrough, the dozens of single-player sheets are all unique both in gameplay effect and their theming, passing through Imperial Settlers’ history spanning roster of ancient Egyptians, Greeks and more. With a little bit of house-ruling for re-rolls (which aren’t present in the multiplayer mode due to sharing a dice pool), you could hypothetically use some of the solo sheets for a more asymmetrical multiplayer experience; though it might throw off the balance, the added variety and visual punch stands head and shoulders over the comparatively featureless characterless option.
The solo mode isn’t free of hiccups, mind the favour tokens can feel a bit out of place depending on the three you randomly pull. Without the need to draft competitively, some of the effects overlap to the point where spamming the same ability is the obvious if boring best strategy. Again, it’s an easily solved problem but out of the box, it feels a bit of an overlooked weak spot.
All in all, Imperials Settlers: Roll & Write is a serviceable enough roll and write, especially if you prefer to play alone or are willing to houserule out the kinks. (The rulebook does include a dedicated section for ‘Our House Rules’ in some ways, it feels an acknowledgement of the problems.) With so many roll-and-write offerings out there, though many cheaper and more polished than this it’s hard to fully recommend, unless you’re utterly desperate to complete your Imperial Settlers collection.
PLAY IT? MAYBE
Designer: Ignacy Trzewiczek