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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Tuesday 17 September 2019

Pillaging penguins!:- Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North

Game: Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North

Publisher: Portal Games

Designer: Joanna Kijanka, Ignacy Trzewiczek

Year: 2019

Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North is a 1-4 player engine building card game in which you will take a civilization from a handful of farms to a bustling empire conquering and pillaging islands to support their lavish lifestyle. The game includes 6 factions in it, 2 each of 3 races, which all have their own unique set of cards leading to extremely different strategies needed to win and engines able to be created. Even the two viking factions have completely different approaches in how they need to be played to do well giving the game a lot of replayability.

In Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North players will first choose which of the 6 factions to play as, taking the full deck of cards and laying out their 3 starter buildings. They will then draw a starting hand of cards before beginning the first full turn. The first thing done each turn will be to draw new cards from the top of the deck. You can keep any of the cards you draw, but for each card you keep you must (temporarily) spend a worker, meaning you'll have less workers to power card abilities later. After this players will take it in turns performing one action until all players have passed.

Actions are generally spending resources to build or activating a built building. Most buildings have an associated action that typically lets you spend resources to gain points, but may also help you with resource generation or sending your boats out to pillage or various other effects. You also have 2 tokens that can be sent out to perform one of the 5 actions on the central wheel, these vary from harvesting resources, increasing your population, and building a building for free. At the cost of some food you can then use these tokens a second time. Once players are all done with the main phase a pillaging phase will begin. In the order of placed boats players will get a chance to pillage an island for points and resources. Alternatively if they brought an axe with them they can conquer the land, adding it to their selection of built cards to use for the rest of the game. The end of the game will trigger when someone reaches 25 points, at which points players will score bonus points for coins and resources left over and every card that they have in their empire.

Empires of the North set up ready to go. Set up is easy thanks to the included game trays.

Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North is a fascinating game. While there is certainly a strong feeling of engine building as you build up your empire through the game, each race works differently. Since each deck has a unique focus (and in some cases some almost unique rules) you don't have as much control over your engine as you might feel. Sure you get to pick which cards to keep from your hand each turn, but there's no way the wealthy scots are going to have a radically different strategy than amassing huge amounts of resources and gold! While there is a lot of variation from game to game, that mainly comes from playing different factions to experience different play-styles. Where you do have more freedom to customise is in conquering islands, this way you can add an unexpected power to your deck, but even so there is a limited selection of islands each turn and if your opponent pillages an island before you can get to it then you can't conquer it.

Most of the player interaction in the game comes from the order of boats. You can also spend axes to shut down your opponents buildings, which can be extremely useful when you know their engine has a crucial card to run, but generally axes felt a little too precious to waste! Otherwise Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North has the feel of a "multiplayer solitare" game. But that's no bad thing, the puzzle of creating a more efficient empire than my opponents is more than enough to keep me occupied. The gameplay feels extremely smooth and thought out, with fast turns and meaningful choices every round.

As your empires grow turns will get longer as you have more actions and resources available to you.

There are a few downsides, the rulebook is not the easiest to digest, it's well worth looking for the official FAQ to clarify a few of the less obvious rules. There is also the question of player tokens, each player will choose a colour. But they also choose a race. The score markers and boats are not based on colour, but instead race, which can lead to the awkward position of the blue player having to move the green score marker because that's the colour associated with their race. It's a minor thing, but it makes it super easy to accidentally give your points to another player! But aside from a few minor gripes Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North is a fantastic game that's well worth picking up.


Empires of the North was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £47.99 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk

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