Imperial Settlers: Roll & Write Review

Imperial Settlers Roll and Write Board Game Review

Imperial Settlers Roll & Write has been fermenting on my game shelf and in my brain since I picked up a copy at the UK Games Expo 2019.  In fact, the review I started writing in the summer of 2019 is very different from the one you are about to read.  Most odd of all though is that aspects of the game that caused me some vexation and annoyance are some that I now see and appreciate the value in.

There should still be some tokens in the box though, that hasn’t changed.  

And a pencil sharpener (if you have a pencil in the box there should also be a means to sharpen it - and if it’s a plastic moulded insert there damn sure needs to be space for a pencil sharpener!).

Imperial Settlers Roll and Write Board Game Review In Play Mid Game

Adding to the Imperial Settlers universe this roll and write game, challenges players to build their little empire not through cleverly built engines but by doing the best with what you've been given.  Pacifist gamers rejoice as in this game you won’t win by crushing your opponents, instead, you’ll win by just being better.  

In this game all players have to deal with the same engine...and by engine, I mean machinations of the gaming gods...and by that I mean the roll of the dice.

Imperial Settlers Roll & Write, has to my mind at least more in common with bingo (after a fashion) than a "normal" roll and write game and this is primarily to do with the dice.  These are custom dice that display the game’s resources instead of numbers/pips Apples, Stone, Timber, and Gold with a separate, larger die for Workers. (The first frustration)

Roll these dice and now you know what you have to work within that round.

Imperial Settlers Roll and Write Board Game Review Rubbish Dice Roll

Simple.

One of the things I love about Roll and write games is that they illustrate how different people think, and Imperial Settlers Roll & Write is no exception to this rule, in fact, because of these custom dice it is, if anything, an even better example of showing this since all players work within the confines of the shared results; yet end game scores (and how those scores were achieved) differ massively.

Imperial Settlers Roll and Write Board Game Review Blueprints

Over my first few games this frustrated me, there was no dice mitigation, the type of which I had come to expect in roll and writes.  No add or minus one pip, no re-roll options: in Imperial Settlers, you are stuck with what you’ve been given, and this affects all the players equally.  Add to this that a resource is only a resource until a worker does something with it, or in other words, you can’t cross a single box off unless you have a worker to do the task.  Since workers are also dictated by the roll of a die, there are turns, especially in the early rounds where you are trapped and forced into a specific cause of actions that may not be what you want to do. (The second frustration)

Until you orchestrate you escape that is! Imperial Settlers Roll & Write doesn’t gift wrap your dice mitigation for you, it doesn’t give you an easy way out.  Instead, it asks that you figure out how to do it yourself.  Very early on in your game, you’ll start laying the foundations of your strategy/escape, sure, you’ll need points to win (scored in a very simple fashion by progressing along each of the four tracks), but you decide how you will achieve those points.  It really is up to you to decide how to best use your resources and workers.

Imperial Settlers Roll and Write Board Game Review Village Sheet

However, in a “Standard” game of Imperial Settlers, your choices and methods of escape are limited (the Third Frustration).  In truth, the game doesn’t take off until you play the “Advanced” version which adds the concept of Blueprints to your Empire.  Here, you’ll draw a border around crossed-off areas on your Empire sheet to construct a special building.  With these blueprints, you essentially increase the efficiency of these buildings (found on a separate pad, the ‘Adventure’ sheets, that is replaced in a solo game with the ‘Adventure Mode Village Sheets) which provide additional resources and workers.  It is with the Adventure sheet and the blueprints that you and your opponents will start diverging, you’ll soon realise your strategies and paths to optimisation differ and it is with this that Imperial Settlers: Roll & Write excels at what I think a Roll and write should do.

Imperial Settlers: Roll & Write is not without its troubles and lingering frustrations.  I strongly believe that there should be components in the box to allow players to track resources gained and spent - if you own a copy of Imperial Settlers, use the bits from that.  I also believe the game would benefit significantly from diversity in the Adventure sheets for multiplayer games as well as in solo.  It’s also my recommendation that you should jump straight into playing the advanced version of the game as, simply put, the “standard” is just not very engaging.  However, Imperial Setters: Roll & Write is a good puzzle game of optimisation, of turning the proverbial lemons into victory points and it’s different enough to other Roll and write games to give players a new experience.  On top of this Portal Games has a solid record of continually supporting their games after release with numerous expansions - which they’ve already started with convention promo sheets.

Imperial Settlers Roll and Write Board Game Review Promo Sheets Warwick Castle

The first expansion really should come with some sort of counters though.  And a pencil sharpener.

Imperial Settlers Roll and Write Board Game Review Pencil Sharpener

This review is based on a full retail copy of the game provided by the publisher. 
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