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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Friday, 20 September 2019

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North

Game: Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North

Publisher: Portal Games

Designer: Joanna Kijanka, Ignacy Trzewiczek

Year: 2019


If, like me, you're a fan of engine building, then it would be surprising if you hadn't tried and enjoyed a game from Portal Games. Empires of the North is a sequel or re-implementation of Imperial Setters, which itself has connections to a couple of other games in the Portal Games catalog.

Imperial Settlers is a game we own, but like far too many of our games, it has only been played once, and so long ago that we'd need to completely re-learn it if we wanted to play again. Empires of the North seems to be regarded by early reviewers as an improvement upon Imperial Settlers though, so I was looking forward to a great little engine builder. With six factions in the box, there was the promise of six completely new engines to explore and enjoy, so let's take a look at whether Empires of the North lived up to some of the early positive reviews for me.


Empires of the North is an engine building and tableau building game for 1-4 players. Each player selects one of the 6 unique decks for the game, with each deck having a different gimmick and a different difficulty level (as described in the rulebook at least). You'll start the game with a hand of cards and each turn you'll be able to spend workers to draw new cards into your hand. Once you have your hand for the turn, players take turns to take one action. An action will be either to pay to place a new card into your tableau, to use an action on a card in your tableau, or to place one of your pawns at an action spot on the central action ring, potentially playing some extra bonus cards as a result of those central actions. You can keep going for as long as you can afford to until you eventually call the end of your round.


The aim of Empires of the North is to make points. The game will end when someone hits the 25 point trigger and then final scoring will determine the winner as the player with the most points. In game points come in a number of ways, including from resource conversion using cards in your tableau and pillaging the different locations on the central sailing board. When you send a boat to the sailing board, you'll get access to these locations at the end of the round, either choosing to pillage them for a windfall of goods, or to raid them to get a small number of goods but permanent add that card to your tableau. End game points are tallied based on the number of cards in your tableau and the number of gold and goods tokens you have hoarded.


Each faction in Empires of the North does a fantastic job of feeling very unique. There’s a joy, similar to opening a Keyforge deck, of pulling a new faction out of the box and figuring out exactly what makes it work. Some decks seem to encourage you to play cards and rush through your deck, whilst others let you store resources on cards for end game points, or spend lots of workers to activate big card abilities.

There's a few aspects going on in Empires of the North, but it still feels like quite an accessible engine building game. It's not a gateway game, but it would be manageable as a next step. It elevates itself above a standard card based engine builder with the use of the central action wheel, as well as the sailing board. I really enjoy the action wheel because it forces you to be really selective about your turns and might help dictate when you choose to play out your cards. Initially you're likely to get only two activations until you start to build a source of apples to give you up to 4. Meanwhile, the sailing board is really the only point of player interaction in the game. Going early gives you the most choice and couple of factions also allow you to skip the queue. nevertheless there's more often that not still a great option there, if not the perfect one you had in mind.


It’s a shame that I really enjoyed our first game of Empires of the North and have yet to find that spark since. In game one our two factions felt balanced and I think that freshness of a new game overshadowed the fact that Empires of the North feels to me now like an engine building game on rails.

After playing with all of the factions there’s two big drawbacks in Empires of the North for me. The first is the relative opportunity of each faction. I disagreed with the complexity ratings in the rulebook, I simply found that some of the factions didn’t work nearly as well if the deck was shuffled in a non-optimal way. The male Inuit faction relies on getting points every time you ship or pillage, but I didn’t find that out until I reached those cards in my deck on the final turns of the game – meanwhile Amy was raking tons of points in during every turn. The second drawback is that the decks are fixed and so I have a really tough time feeling that I have any autonomy as a player. Sure I can pick the order that cards are played, but my tableau at the end of the game is going to look almost identical after each game with the same faction. Give me a huge stack of cards, like Terraforming Mars, over this fixed engine any day!

Empires of the North is full of charm with its lovely artwork and unique character in every deck. It’s a really slick engine builder, but the freedom of playing until you’re out of resources each turn is really at odds with the fixed nature of your engine and I just don’t feel smart for anything I am able to do in the game. For the Yellow Meeple it’s a 5.5/10.


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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