Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Sunday, 3 June 2018

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Imaginarium

Game: Imaginarium

Publisher: Bombyx

Designer: Bruno Cathala, Florian Sirieix

Year: 2018

Imaginarium is a new game from well known designer Bruno Cathala, in collaboration with Florian Sirieix, for whom this appears to be only their third published design. Bruno Cathala is definitely a name which draws me to a game and the cover with its steampunk elephant is certainly eye-catching.

In an unusual move, the game was also launched on Kickstarter around the same time as it was released to retail in the UK. The publishers explained that this was to allow the game to reach markets where they did not secure distribution, such as the USA. This seemed like a legitimate reason to run the Kickstarter campaign, but I think it harmed the campaign and unfortunately it was cancelled before it reached its funding goal.

For our audience in Europe and other regions where the game is currently available, let's take a look at how Imaginarium plays.

Imaginarium is a game that is both engine building in terms of its mechanics and theme. You are building different machines to earn you resources in a quirky steampunk universe. In each round of Imaginarium, your machines will activate to give you resources and/or money. The first phase is to either buy a new card for your machine or take money. However, you buy a broken machine component, and you must fix it in the next phase to add it to your active machines. Fixing is just one action you can take on the central 'clock face' wheel. Other actions include taking money, buying agents or dismantling machines.

Over the course of the game, you a trying to meet a set of common objectives that will very from game to game, in order to ultimately have the highest number of victory points when the end of the game is triggered at a total of 20 victory points.

A personal player board, with clock face action selector and some combined machines
As a rule, I love engine building and tableau building games. I find them really satisfying as you figure out some great combinations to really make a strategy work. As a result, I was excited for Imaginarium. Unfortunately I found that I couldn't get excited about the engine building in this game, because I felt that ever part of the game held me back from doing something exciting or satisfying. There were just too many hurdles between seeing a card I wanted and ultimately getting the resources from it. The thought process is something like this; Can I afford to buy that card, once my engine gives me resources this turn? Will I have enough resources to fix the card? If I don't have enough resources, can trading help? Is there even a free slot for me to build in or do I need to reorganise or dismantle first? Damn, the two actions I need to take aren't next to me on the wheel. What if I bought the helper that let's me split the actions? And so on...three turns later I might finally have the card in position and generate one resource cube as a result. It's just too much for too little!

In addition to my main concern about the difficulty to have any flow in the game, I also feel like your game strategy is a bit arbitrary. I feel like its very unlikely I will start a game and think about a focus, such as money or a certain resource type for the game. Instead I'm completely beholden by the objectives and sometimes feel like I'm not building an efficient engine as a result as I'm just trying to fulfil objectives, like having four blue cards or two red. 

I don't want to be down on the game entirely. It was OK, in spite of its flaws. I found that the best bit was the game breaking agent cards. Each player has space for three of these cards, but they all feel super powerful. I always jump in too soon with my selections, especially when the 3 agent objective is in play, which I definitely regret in the later game, since it restricts the effective spots on the action wheel and means I miss out on event better agents drawn from the deck later. The ideal agents can really make the difference to your strategy. It does, however, have to be said that the cost of some of the cards and their relative strength can seem a little off.

The production quality in Imaginarium is undeniably great,, with large busts as player pawns and a great token box as part of the game. However, for me, the art is just a little bit too surreal and way beyond steampunk!
I had high hopes for Imaginarium and unfortunately it was a bit of a disappointment. It took me a couple of games to decide if it was for me, because I really wanted to love it, but I just felt caged whilst playing. It may not have helped that as a two-player game, Imaginarium may not have been at it's best, due to a two-player variant to the card draft that felt quite ineffective. Overall, neither the gameplay or the artwork and theme have made me want to go back to Imaginarium and for the Yellow Meeples it's a 5/10.

Imaginairum was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available for an RRP of £44.99 at your friendly local game store or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk/.

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