Review: Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North

Empires of the North - Cover

Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North is a stand alone game set in the Imperial Settlers universe. It’s not compatible with the original Imperial Settlers game. Created by Ignacy Trzewiczek it does share some mechanisms with its predecessor, and is still very much a tableau / engine building game. But what’s it like? And is it any good? You’ll soon find out.

What is Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North like?

Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North shares a lot of DNA from the original game, so if you’re already familiar with that game you’ll know about half the rules. But while it does share many similarities it is very much its own beast.

First thing you need to do is pick one of the 6 asynchronous clan decks that come in the box. There are 2 of each for the Scots, the Vikings and the Inuits. All completely different from each other and all containing only unique cards for that clan. Even the decks in the same lineage are all different and only share a similar art style.

With this 33 card deck in hand you are ready to start your quest for your clan to score the most points. When a player reaches 25 points, that signifies that that round is the last round of the game.

3 of the cards of your deck are basic “fields” that start in play. These “fields” also dictate your starting resources (along with 5 workers) and what resources you can produce at the beginning of the game. The remaining 30 cards gets shuffled to form your draw deck.

At the start of a round of the game you’ll draw 4 cards and you can keep as many of these as you like. But each card you keep will cost you 1 worker. So keeping all 4 in the first turn will leave you with just 1 worker to use that turn. Workers will however become a very precious commodity later in the game, since you will need them to activate many of your location cards.

Your deck of cards contain 2 different types of cards: locations and boosts. Locations are cards you get into play by paying their resource costs and boost cards are cards you get to play for free when you take certain actions on the action wheel. 

Empires of the North - Components

The actions

Starting with the first player and continuing clockwise, each player performs 1 action at a time. This continues until all players have passed, ending the current round (and the game if a player has more than 25 points). 

On your turn you can take any of the following actions:

  • Play a location from your hand (paying the resources cost on the card)
  • Raid other players, by spending axe tokens to tap one of your opponents cards (preventing them from using them that turn)
  • Use one of your locations (or conquered islands) action ability
  • Use 1 of your 2 action pawns on the action wheel to either:
    • Draw a card from your deck
    • Get an additional worker
    • Play a location from your hand (for free)
    • Send one of your ships away to pillage or conquer nearby or faraway islands
    • Get the resources on one of the fields you have in play

The trick with taking actions on the actions wheel is that you only have 2 actions pawn, so you can only take 2 of these actions during a round. But if you have apple resources in your inventory you can spend these to move your already placed action pawn left or right on the wheel to take additional actions (up to a maximum of 2 extra actions in total).

You start with no cards in play (except for the 3 basic fields), but you’ll quickly get several location cards into play that grant you additional actions, that supports the overall strategy of your clan. By the end of the game you’ll have an abundance of actions to choose from and managing the resources and workers needed becomes a great and challenging puzzle to solve.

Rating

I love the original Imperial Settlers game (in fact it’s in my all time Top 6 Games), so while I was excited to see this standalone game, I had my doubts if it could live up to its predecessor. But all those doubts where cast aside after my first play of the game. As I played it more it became more and more clear: This game is simply put amazing! It builds on Imperial Settlers and takes all the feel and parts I loved about that games and make it into an even better experience. For me this is Ignacy Trzewiczek’s masterpiece. 

It is such a great engine-building experience, dripping with theme and a wonderful setting created by the very talented artist Roman Kucharski

Scroll of Awesome

This game deserves so much praise and admiration that I have no choice but to give it the highest Tabletop Together honour: The Scroll of Awesome.

The flow of Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North is (like Imperial Settlers) sublime. You start with almost nothing and very quickly get more and more cards into play that feed into each other and give you new and great possibilities. Removing the common deck from the original games makes all the cards you play and the things you do feel special and unique to you and the support of the fantastic art just makes a great experience even better.

Ignacy has even gone the extra mile and added 4 great solo play scenarios to the game. They tweak and change a few rules and give you a different challenges and goals. I had a blast playing it and it’s among my best solo play experiences ever.

I love Imperial Settlers, but I have to admit I truly adore Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North. My only problem with it is that I “fear” it might completely replace Imperial Settlers for me, especially if more factions gets added to it in the future.

The Good

  • Fantastic engine building experience
  • Great evolution of the Imperial Settlers game
  • Lovely and whimsical artwork
  • 6 completely different clans to play
  • Very solid solo play experience
  • Great multi-part plastic insert that can be used as a tray for the resources when playing the game

The Bad

  • Can feel a little like multiplayer solitaire sometimes

Complexity Level

Complexity Level 3 / 6

The rules for the games are pretty straight forward and the rulebook is well written, but there is some complexity in understanding how the different cards work (and how they work together) in some of the more advanced clan decks work. Luckily the rulebook has a nice chart of how difficult each clan is to play.

Facts

  • Players: 1 – 4
  • Playing time: 45 – 90 minutes
  • Suggested age: 10+
Follow Peter H. Møller:

Tabletop Together and dachshund owner, sci-fi geek, trekkie and whovian. Lover of medium length, thematic, silly (in the good way), worker placement style games. A sucker for beautiful art. Generally just a big lovable teddy bear.

2 Responses

  1. Nicolai Broen Thorning

    Your fear seem to have been justified. You have just sold your Imperial Settlers collection. 🙂

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