Monday, September 9, 2013

Conspiracy Theory: "Imperial"

So on Friday the 23'rd of August I received the following email from Andrew:

"I'm giving you guys notice regarding next game night. I'm playing Imperial with Kris running it.  The game is optimal with four so I'll be looking for two more players to join. Who is interested in playing Imperial? First two to ask are in!"

As soon as I read this my thoughts were immediately filled with visions of stormtroopers, Death Stars, biker scouts, AT-AT's and Sith Lords. Suspecting that I might be a tad off-base I decided to investigate further and stumbled across this box cover:

I'd be lying to you if I said my enthusiasm wasn't dampened a little bit. That is until I saw the game board:

Now I may not be the strongest Eurogamer on the planet but show me a map of Europe and all of a sudden my brain turns into a friggin' computer. I hastily responded to Andrew's email:

"The theme intrigues me so I'd like to try it."

To put the following session report into context here's an overview of Imperial

"Europe in the age of imperialism. Internationally operating investors aim for the highest political influence in Europe. By giving credits they gain influence over the six imperial nations Great Britain, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy and France. 

"These nations desperately need money to build up their economy and to buy troops and fleets. With their growing power in Europe, they collect more taxes and pay their rising interests to their investors. Because the six imperial nations are under changing influence of different investors, strategic alliances and conflicts arise between them. Sometimes this leads even to war!

"The players represent internationally operating investors who stay in the background. The turns in the game are executed by the six imperial nations, not by the investors themselves, who only impose their financial influence onto various nations. Only the investor who gets the best return on his investments, who gains influence over the most powerful imperial nations, and who can influence the European diplomacy to his benefit, may win the game.

"Imperial is a challenging strategy game without any luck of cards or dice."

In order to properly appreciate all of the brilliant subtleties documented in my infallibly-captured play-through (*Snort!*), feel free to read the full Imperial rules.  You can find 'em right here under "Download Game Assets" on the right hand side of the page.

After Mike signed on as the fourth player we were locked in. We gathered down in Dean's underground bunker back on Wednesday the 28'th to play this one out. Kris did a great job explaining all the rules without reading verbatim from the rule book, which, as we all know, is equivalent to a living death.


Andrew received 4 million dollars worth of bonds in France and 9 million in Russia giving him a controlling interest in both countries.

I got 9 million dollars worth of bonds in Germany and 4 million in Italy, giving me sway over Germany.

Kris got a 9 million dollar investment in Austria-Hungary and 4 million in Germany, giving him full powah over the former.

Mike received a 9 million dollar stake in Italy and 4 million in the United Kingdom, granting him control over both nations.

Here's how the board looked at the start of the game:

Oh, by the way, I apologize in advance to anyone out there with a weak stomach 'cuz yer gonna be seeing a lot of that ugly-assed table cloth.

Since everyone (except for Kris, apparently) thought that we were playing some sort of balls-deep wargame, things quickly degenerated into the board game equivalent of a knife fight. Feeling penned up in France, Andrew quickly built a new Armament facility in Dijon and then cranked out a handful of Armies which he promptly used to invade Belgium and neutral Switzerland.

Flushed with this early victory, Andrew became the first player to try a Taxation Action, which gave him +6 on the Tax Chart and +1 to his Power. France's blue chip value was already taking off!

Andrew was even more aggressive with Russia, hastily assembling an Armaments factory in Warsaw before amassing a Fleet and two Armies in St. Petersburg. He made Kris twitchy by pushing a few vessels off their slips into the Black Sea and then conducting a surprise invasion of Romania. On the economic front he began chipping away at Mike's holdings, sinking a 2 million dollar investment into the United Kingdom.       

For me, old wargaming habits die hard so I spent the first thirty minutes of the game building up Germany's military.  This involved the construction of a new Factory in Munich and the subsequent conscription of two Fleets and four Armies. Naturally if you build up your military, you gotta use it right?  In short order I occupied the Baltic Sea with a Fleet, stood toe-to-toe with Andrew over the Low Countries and invaded Prague for particular. Secretly plotting to steal control of Italy away from Mike I also purchased 2 million dollars worth of pomodoro-flavored Bonds on the down-low.

Mike played to the strengths of the United Kingdom by launching two new ships and then occupying the English Channel, the North Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea and the Bay of Biscay.  He also ramped up Italy's defense, building a new Shipyard in Genoa. This facilitated the appearance of one new Army and four new Fleets which proceeded to annex the Western Mediterranean Sea and the Ionian Sea. On the main continent, two of his Armies pushed the French out of Switzerland, leading to Andrew's first open declaration of war among many. Oblivious to the forces conspiring against him, Mike failed to shore up his economic hold on his two patron countries.

As Austria-Hungary, Kris spent the first segment of the game trying to put out a myriad of small fires. He started by assembling an Armament Factory in Lemberg, requisitioning a Fleet in Trieste and paying extra money to take the Import Action so he could drop three new garrisons on the board. To Kris's credit he seemed like the only person at the table who realized that Imperial didn't come with a d6 and a Combat Results Table. After letting my incursion into Prague slide, Kris tried to negotiate an accord with Mike for peaceful co-existence in the Ionian Sea but talks broke off seconds after they said "Hello" to one another. He finally let ship the dogs of war by skirmishing with Andrew and occupying the West Balkans.

Kris did what he could to eke out some space for Austria-Hungary in a very competitive part of the board. After their dispute over the Ionian Sea grew heated, his poor, beleaguered Fleet in Trieste got clobbered by Mike's Italian flotilla. Since it was the only place left on the board that hasn't already been overrun, Kris diverted troops by rail from Lemberg and Budapest, annexed Romania and Greece and then drove the Russians out of Bulgaria.

He then celebrated these with a Taxation Action which placed Austria Hungary on the 9 space of the Tax Chart and bumped his nation's Power level up to 4.

I then made the mistake of letting Andrew pressure me into a naval detente with Russia in the Baltic Sea. Just seconds after our captains started blowing kisses at one another, Andrew conducted a ballsy amphibious assault, conquering Sweden with a single Army. He then stepped up naval production down south, knocking new vessels out of the Odessa shipyards and into the Black Sea. The flotilla already stationed there immediately sailed into the East Mediterranean, bearing an invasion Army destined for Turkey. To facilitate these bold moves he also doubled the size of his standing Army, stationing one unit each in Moscow and Odessa and two in Warsaw to protect his front-line production.

After Andrew took a well-timed Taxation Action, Russia hit the 10 space on the Tax Chart, gaining +5 in Power and earning the first Multiplier of the game. Up to this point in time, Andrew was doing a fine job translating Russia's expansionism into genuine market value!

Meanwhile, despite France's precarious economic condition, Andrew kept her battling on. He got into a costly and protracted naval scrap with Britain which purged the North Atlantic of Mike's ships but also saw France's navy decimated several times over. Things went moderately better back on the continent. After making sure that Germany and Italy didn't get any funny ideas by stationing troops in both Belgium and Marseille, the French went on to recapture Switzerland. On the economic front, Andrew continued to hedge his bets by "being the first one on the block to collect 'em all"; purchasing 6-million dollars worth of assets in Austria-Hungary.    

Galled by Andrew's bold invasion of Sweden, I began to formulate a German scheme to strike back. A major component of this plan involved ramping up naval production, which I initiated by constructing a Shipyard in Danzig and prepping a new Fleet. Not only did this set me up for some big moves up north it helped to pacify Britain's expansive Navy. On land I continued to raise Germany's credit rating by over-running Denmark and also gave Andrew pause for thought by re-enforcing Munich with a second Army.

Naturally, a Taxation Action made a lot of sense at that time. This placed Germany at the 8 space on the Tax Chart and gave her 3 Power Points in the process.   

Just as Mike was bringing Italy to the height of global prominence, I decided that the country was ripe for a hostile takeover. After a few well-timed Investor Actions I used the resulting capitol to purchase 6 million dollars worth of Italian bonds, making me the nation's majority shareholder and, subsequently, the country's new puppet master.

I continued Italy's tradition of bold expansionism. To drive my future plans, I opened up an Armament Factory in Florence and garrisoned that province with two Armies. Intent on a series of amphibious invasions I produced two more Armies in Rome, shoved another Navy out into the West Mediterranean and then used the existing ships there to facilitate an invasion of Spain.    

After rising to prominence so quickly, Mike found himself on the receiving end of a pretty serious backlash. As if losing control of Italy wasn't bad enough, the United Kingdom's massive navy got systematically curb-stomped into oblivion by a joint French/German effort. Although he still technically had control of all the sea-zones around the British Isles he didn't have a single ship left to defend them with! Mike tried to shore up this house of cards by building a new Armaments facility and then conscripting two Navies and one Army. This put a pretty brutal strain on Britain's already-shaky economy. Even more inexplicably, Mike dumped 6 million dollars into this sinking ship when he probably should have looked at investments elsewhere.

Despite his shaky war-footing, Mike kept up appearances by elevating Britain to the 8 spot on the Taxation Chart and scoring 3 Power Points in the effort.

At this stage in the game, Germany was flying high. After building another navy in Hamburg I launched the existing Fleet into the North Sea, taking it away from Britain and setting myself up for an invasion of Norway. I launched a second Fleet into the Baltic Sea, retaining my peace accord with Russia for the time being. I'm pretty sure that Andrew's Spidey Sense started to go off around then, especially after my troops landed in Norway and I began to prep more battleships in Danzig. Just to keep the barbarians at bay, I also added an additional battalion in Berlin.  

I decided to augment my slow-but-steady military momentum with a Taxation Action, putting Germany at 13 on the chart and adding 8 more Power Points for a total of 11 and a x 2 Multiplier. Germany was swiftly becoming a "Triple-A" investment!

That turn I also unleashed the full power of the Italian Navy. Although I lost two Fleets in action against Russia, it kept Andrew's aspirations for the region tamped down. I also performed two amphibious landings, diverting troops from Rome to Algeria and Tunis.

Seeing how well the Taxation Actions were working for Germany, I applied the same tactic to Italy, jumping her all the way up to 11 on the Tax Chart and recording a respectable 6-point Power increase!

Penned in by Germany's army to the north, Russia to the East and a Mediterranean Sea choked with hostile Fleets, Austria-Hungary's options continued to be very limited.  About all Kris could do was wade into highly-contested Switzerland with two Armies and then eliminate my standing forces in Prague. Frankly, I'm surprised they lasted that long!
Desperate for more options, Kris paid a cool 12 million dollars to wrestle control of the United Kingdom away from Mike, leaving him virtually homeless! He then went about restoring Britain to its former glory by industrializing Edinburgh with a Shipyard and patrolling the English Channel and the North Atlantic with two new Fleets.

Kris also continued to project an air of economic confidence, bumping Austria-Hungary up to 11 on the Taxation Chart, which added 6 more Power for a total of 10 and hit the x 2 Multiplier. He also tried to improve Britain's curb appeal by moving her up one space on the Tax Chart to 9 and gaining 4 Power for a total of 7.

After losing yet another Army to the Swiss meat grinder, Andrew decided to buy his way out of the conflict, purchasing 6 million dollars worth of shares in Austria-Hungary, swiping it away from Kris and instantly pacifying his continental rival. Given this incongruous climate of peace, France experienced something of a renaissance, allowing her to go on a more defensive footing and turn her attention back towards the sea. After assigning all of his Armies to Factory guard duty in Paris, Bordeaux and Dijon, Andrew launched two Fleets into the Bay of Biscay in an effort to shore up his coastline.

He also tried to prop France up as a reasonably-attractive investment, using a Tax Action to nudge her two spaces up the chart and bringing her total Power to 4. It wasn't much but at least it was a step in the right direction.        

Clearly unnerved by my shifty moves, Russia diverted troops from Moscow to Norway and one army from Warsaw to Turkey.  There was also a nasty clash at sea in the Mediterranean which saw the Russian Fleet outmatched by the Italians.    

Even though the game was winding down, the drama certainly wasn't.  Italy continued to expand virtually unchecked. After launching the Genoa Fleet into the West Mediterranean, I used sea transportation to subjugate Portugal and Morocco with Armies from Florence and Rome.

With the Mediterranean now mare nostrum, I did everything in my power to make Italy an attractive investment companion piece to Germany. After hitting the 15-point ceiling on the Tax Chart, Italy claimed 10 Power Points, becoming the very first nation to win the coveted x 4 Multiplier!  

After considerable planning I finally launched a series of incredibly dickish moves, Pearl Harboring Andrew's Russian Fleet in the Baltic Sea with my German ships. Via sea transportation I then diverted several Armies from Berlin and Munich to Sweden and drove Andrew's forces into the sea. As expected, Andrew was less then pleased by this turn of events and vowed to go after me to the exclusion of all else. Inside I was laughing at this epic-level role-reversal. Whenever Andrew jacks up an opponent he expects them to say "Thank you, sir, may I have another?" but when it happens to him he suddenly turns into The Bride from Kill Bill.  

Even though I knew that a brutal reckoning was inevitable I bought 2 million dollars worth of German stock because I knew that Kris was sniffing around and I didn't want to lose control of the country quite yet. And although I knew that Germany's market value had probably peaked, I still hit up the Tax Track to score +7 Power and a x 3 Multiplier for the embattled nation.

After requisitioning a battleship in Trieste that would never be christened, Austria-Hungary was twisted towards Andrew's Ahab-like thirst for revenge. Pretty soon my Factory in Munich was besieged by his Army in Switzerland. Russia was no less brutal.  Andrew took the Import Action to produce three Armies, just for the express purpose of destroying my Factory in Danzig. Wow, talk about your sour grapes!

In any other game, Andrew's preoccupation with murdering me would probably have worked out, but not in Imperial. So intent was he on my blood that he failed to take Taxation Actions for Russia and Austria- Hungary. As such, the economic growth of both countries began to stagnate. A few turns later, Andrew seemed to realize his oversight and took a Tax Action for Russia, moving his marker up to the 10 slot, gaining 5 Power for a total of 10 and a x 2 Multiplier.    
Tired of being a global hobo (a globo?), Mike poured 3 million dollars into a discounted France. But even before the ink on this new deed was dry, the entire French navy was sent to the bottom of the Bay of Biscay by the British Fleet!

Despite his myriad of problems, Mike still took a Taxation Action.  Unfortunately he couldn't raise France's rating any higher then 8, which still gave him a +3 Power increase for a total of 7 and a x 1 Multiplier.

In addition to the action taken against France, Britain stationed troops in Dublin and then reclaimed the North Sea from the German Fleet. Kris also made a couple of big economic moves, shoring up support for his reconstituted U.K. with another 9 million bucks.

Not every nation got a final turn in the mad rush to the top of the Power Point track. Austria-Hungary's position was largely unchanged at game's end, save the fact that Andrew moved her Tax Chart up to 12, adding 7 Power and limping into the x 3 Multiplier slot.

With very few avenues of expansion left, Italy reinforced the West Mediterranean from a possible British incursion by shifting a Fleet from the Ionian Sea. I then took Switzerland away from Austria-Hungary by using a combination of naval and rail transportation from Algeria and Tunis.    

Mike made a few "Hail Mary" plays with France, rallying troops from Paris, Dijon and Bordeaux to drive the Italians out of Switzerland. This gave Mike the ability to place his marker on the 10 point level of the Tax Chart and score +5 Power for a grand total of 12. Granted, France's economy was still in the bidet but at least she manged to crack the x 2 Multiplier.

As my final act as Germany's secret Chancellor I used the Baltic flotilla to eliminate the British Fleet in the North Sea and re-build my Factory in Danzig. Now that I was slowly and inexorably driving Germany into the dirt, I chose not to pursue any new economic initiatives.

Meanwhile, contrary to such frivolous things as strategy and common sense, Andrew continued to use Russia as his vengeance-inspired beat-stick of choice. After moving a Fleet from Odessa into the Black Sea and another from the Black Sea into the East Mediterranean, he diverted Armies from Moscow and Warsaw to Danzig for the express purpose of destroying my Factory. Again. His blood-lust temporarily sated, Andrew then took a step down on the Tax Chart to 9 but at least he scored +4 Power for a grand total of 14. I think even Andrew felt kinda embarrassed when he realized that Russia had only managed to achieve a x 2 Multiplier, which is pretty sad considering how much of an international busy-body the county had been. 
Under Kris's guidance, the United Kingdom hit dizzying new economic heights. Despite the fact that his North Sea Fleet got trounced by the Germans, he took a perfectly-coordinated 11-tier Tax Action, granting  him 6 new Power Points for a total of 20. Right at the last second, Kris managed to net a x 4 Multiplier for Britain!      

Armed with a bunch of capitol earned from flipping the U.K., Kris starting looking around the board for a good investment. In a surprising coup, he dropped 20 million dollars into Germany, ousting me from the helm!  He also managed to hit the 12-point space on the Tax Chart, racking up 7 more Power Points to cap out at 25 and end the game!  For Kris, reaching that x 5 Multiplier was like knocking the bell off the top of a High Striker machine!

And, with that, the game came to an end and we hastily calculated our final points!


Italy...$56 Million
Germany...$50 Million
Reserve Cash: $15 Million 
Net Worth: $121 Million Dollars


Germany...$60 Million
United Kingdom...$36 Million
Austria-Hungary...$12 Million
Reserve Cash: $1 Million
Net Worth: $109 Million Dollars


Austria Hungary...$33 Million 
Italy...$20 Million
Russia...$16 Million
United Kingdom...$4 Million
France...$4 Million
Reserve Cash...$10 Million
Net Worth: $79 Million Dollars


Italy...$44 Million
United Kingdom...$20 Million
France...$6 Million
Reserve Cash...$9 Million
Net Worth: $79 Million Dollars

Winner: Me!!!



  • The Tax and Power Point Charts combine to create a simple and elegant mechanic that nicely simulates the ebb and flow of a nation's wartime economy.    
  • The rondel system of available actions works brilliantly and the overall absence of luck in the game is extremely welcome. One-for-one military losses ensure that your strategies won't be totaled by a single errant die roll.  
  • The rules are short, sweet and deceptively brilliant.  
  • At first it's hard to wrap your head around the fact that you're not in direct control of one specific country for an entire game. Instead, think of yourself as an opportunistic puppet master, manipulating military victories into share values in order to validate your investments.
  • You can use Armies and Fleets to stomp a mud-hole in your opponent's collective asses all you want but if you don't give Taxation and Investment actions an appropriate amount of love, then it's gonna be all for nought.   
  • Wanna pursue a more pacifistic path to victory?  Beyond the traditional military and economic routes, you can eschew ownership of a country and play the entire game as the neutral Swiss Bank! Although I've been told that this is a perfectly valid strategy, it sounds about as boring as being alive. 
  • The game re-enforces my conspiracy theory that the entire world is run by a bunch of rich assholes.  In fact, winning a game of Imperial leaves you feeling decidedly unsettled.     

  • This ugly duckling needs a makeover, stat!  Although the components are durable, the colors are garish and the sketchy art screams "Yeah, I know a guy."  Imagine if the game board looked like this instead?  
This game falls right square in my wheelhouse.  As a kid I was weaned on a diet of light wargames such as RiskAxis & Allies and Diplomacy. And yes, while I know that Imperial bears only a passing resemblance to those titles, I still have this weird affinity for grand strategy games.

When we were kids we used to play a dumbed-down, borderline broken, Ameritrashy little number called Supremacy which combined a similarly-abstracted military conflict with a supply-and-demand stock market mechanic.  Unlike Supremacy, though, the economic heart of Imperial beats very strongly.  

Oh, and there's no "everybody loses because we've thrown around too many nukes" rule.  Stoopid nuclear winters.

Imperial scores a wealthy five pips outta six with a penthouse suite tilt upwards!  

Looking to make war profiteers like the Bushes, the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers and the DuPonts look like a bunch of penny-ante noobs?  Click on the link below to acquire a copy of Imperial and help support this impoverished little blog...


  1. Awesome rendition, as always.

    The theme of the new one looks a bit different, but the mechanic is the same:

    1. 2030 is the only one that I had played prior to this. I think it's supposed to have a slightly better designed map making some places more useful than in the regular imperial. There are some other ules added ad tweaked to improve on the original though it's pretty great as it is. Also it has a futuristic theme obviously so you have hovertanks instead of cannons. or whistles.