We played Imperial Struggle a few weeks ago and the game is even better than it’s predecessor Twilight Struggle. Very different, but better. I didn’t think that was possible but it is. I still like TS a lot but this game fills a whole new niche and I have really enjoyed exploring it. Imperial Struggle deals with what historians refer to as the Second Hundred Year’s War and covers the period of 1697 through 1789 stretching over four different wars. The game uses cards and Investment Tiles to allow the player to take various actions that change their fortunes across the globe with diplomacy, economic growth, and if all else fails war. Players will score Victory Points from the domination of Regions, controlling various Markets and from victory on the field of battle. There are so many options and strategies available in this game that it makes for a very deep and lasting experience that only gets better with time and more plays.
In Action Point 1, we covered the map focusing on the different Regions and Sub-Regions and the various spaces, boxes and lines located in each. In Action Point 2, we examined the very interesting limited action selection mechanic using the Investment Tiles and the Advantage Tiles that enhance them and what that means for the player and their efforts. In Action Point 3, we looked at the various Event Cards and Ministry Cards to get an idea for how these fit into the design. In Action Point 4, we looked closer into the Game Sequence, including the differences between Peace and War Turns, Action Rounds and the different actions available including Diplomatic, Military and Economic Actions. In this Action Point, which is the conclusion to the series, we will delve into how a Turn is scored including the three major scoring categories of Regional Scoring, Prestige Scoring and Global Demand Scoring and how the game can be automatically won if things get a bit out of hand.
The first point that we need to discuss about scoring is the Award Phase. One of the things that I really like about the design is that players know what the different Victory Point values will be for each of the different scoring elements, from the Demand Market and what goods will score this round to the various Award Tiles that are randomly drawn and then placed for all players to see. This is very different from the way things scored in Twilight Struggle as only the player who held the Region scoring card knew that it would score this round. I do like how in TS the players can sense what the other player is doing though as if all of a sudden your opponent is putting all of their efforts into South America this Turn when they had ignored it up until this point, you might be tipped off that they hold the South America Region scoring card and can then try to battle back a bit before the round is complete.
On the first Turn of every new Era, the players will draw four Award Tiles randomly and then place them in the Award Spaces on the board, one for each Region. The key here is that the Tiles are then turned face up. The players will also have to draw four more Award Tiles for the second Turn of the Era and place them but these will remain face down until the second Turn of the Era begins.
Once the Scoring Phase has commenced, the first thing that is tackled is performing Regional Scoring. Remember, that players will have known beforehand what each Region would score based on the faceup Award Tiles so there will have been hot competition for those higher Award Tiles.
For each Region, the player controlling the most Markets, Forts, Political Spaces, Territories and Naval Spaces receives that Region’s Award. This is the whole purpose of the players fighting over control of the various spaces during the Action Rounds and you simply count up the number of the above listed spaces that each side has their flag in. After the totals are calculated, the players will adjust the VP accordingly on the Victory Point Track. Remember that this is one of those back and forth tracks where France will be moved up on the track while Britain will be moved down. Sometimes the Award Tiles will also award a number of Treaty Points to that player’s total if the tile has TRP written on it. These Treaty Points do not count toward your Victory Points but can be used to supplement your Action Points. In case of a tie in a Region, no award is given.
Also, sometimes the Award Tiles will have an extra requirement that a player will have to meet other than a simple majority. This additional requirement, which is noted on the Award Tile as a smaller red number, indicates that in order to win the award, a player must have an even greater edge in total Markets, Forts, Political Spaces, Territories, and Naval Spaces in that Region. Here is a look at these type of Award Tiles that are included in the game. There are only 2 of them, so it will only come up occasionally. When there is such an additional requirement on an Award Tile, that number of additional spaces are required to gain the Award.
You might be asking the question why players would fight over control of a Region that is not going to score Victory Points that Turn? Well, this is an excellent question and the answer is that you shouldn’t fight too hard for that Region. Notice I didn’t say not to fight for the Region though. Sometimes it might be wise not to invest so heavily into a Region that is not going to score Victory Points and place your flags and Squadrons into other higher scoring Regions. But, don’t let this be the only reason that you place your influence into specific Regions. You never want to get so far behind in a Region that you cannot possibly catch up. I like to spread my influence around the globe among the four different Regions and take a measured approach, only stacking up flags in a certain Region when it makes sense.
After the Regions are all scored, the players will next move to scoring the Prestige Spaces.
Some Political Spaces that are located in Europe have green borders and a crown icon in the space. These are called Prestige Spaces and are scored separately from the Region Scoring although control of these spaces still count towards a player’s total influence in Europe. During the Scoring Phase, the player who controls the most Prestige Spaces will collect bonus Victory Points in the amount of 2 VP. Also, after the American War of Independence is resolved in Turn 6, if there is at least one USA flag found on the map, then the USA spaces count for this calculation even though they are not located in the Europe Region.
You might look at 2 VP and not think that it is significant enough to matter but generally each of the types of scoring will give 1-3 points so a bonus 2 VP is significant and should be something that the player doesn’t ignore or you just might be giving away a total of 12 VP to your opponent over the course of a game.
After Prestige Scoring comes my favorite part of the scoring, aside from the Spoils of War from resolving each theater of war, the Global Demand Scoring.
Global Demand Scoring
The aspect that I had a lot of fun with was chasing after the various goods that can be had in the Market Spaces in each Region. There is an Economic Cost listed in each of these Market Spaces and this cost represents the expense and investment required to reach the good that is available in that area, collect the good and then transport it out to make use of the good in other markets or back in Europe. These Markets deal in various commodities that were demanded in the old world and include Fish, Furs, Spice, Sugar, Tobacco and Cotton. Remember that the value of these goods is not static and set as it will change based on what Era the current Turn is taking place in as the demand fluctuated over time. If a commodity is in Global Demand, then at the end of the Turn the player controlling more Markets of that commodity will earn a reward as indicated on the Global Demand Table. At the outset of each Turn, players will randomly drawn three Good Tiles that will represent the in demand goods for the Turn. This randomness adds a bit of tension to the game as the Markets are where a great deal of VP can be had for a shrewd player who has invested heavily in them. But, if that player’s goods are not drawn, then they are out of luck so you can never quite put all of your efforts into only one or two of these goods as their demand will change throughout the game.
When Global Demand is scored, the various Markets will be scored in the order that they appear on the Global Demand Table starting with Furs. For each of the Global Demand tiles that were drawn at the start of the Turn, the player controlling more Markets matching the marker’s commodity gains the reward listed at the marker’s location on the display. As you can see on the Global Demand Table some rewards will not only grant VP but will also reduce Debt or may give the player Treaty Points. Some of the goods, such as Fish in the Succession Era only and Tobacco in all three Eras may actually increase your Debt so you have to be aware of this as you chase after certain goods. In the rule book, this reason for Debt increase is explained as being tied to market volatility of those goods and the drain that Tobacco imposes on the soil in which it is grown.
As you study the Global Demand Table, you will notice that some goods decline in value over time, namely Furs and Tobacco, while others increase from Era to Era, such as Sugar, Cotton and Spice. This fluxuating value should determine how you approach each of the commodities based on what Era you are currently in. Some goods are best to invest in early as they will have the largest return but remember that they decline over time and you shouldn’t necessarily chase them as heavily in the late game as you did early on. Some goods, such as Spice, have Debt reduction benefits in addition to VP as they offer a -1 Debt as an Award to the winner in addition to VP. Furthermore, Furs, Cotton and Sugar also provide the winner a bonus Treaty Point Award which can be valuable as these can be used to increase the reach of your Action Points and get more bang for your buck during the Action Rounds. All of these elements must be kept in mind as you play the markets and invest in Markets. A foolish player will ignore these potential gold mines while a shrewd player will invest when it makes the most sense.
Over the course of the 6 Turns of the game, fortunes can rise and fall and a solid lead can be decimated if the cards don’t fall your way. With a lot of this uncertainty in how things will score, there are conditions for an automatic victory if things start to get out of hand.
There are three ways to win an automatic victory in Imperial Struggle:
• During the Victory Check Phase of any turn, France wins if the VP total is 30 or more, and Britain wins if the VP total is 0 or less.
• After any war’s last theater is resolved, if the same player won all of that war’s theaters by the maximum indicated strength margin, that player immediately wins the game.
• At the end of the Scoring Phase of any Peace Turn, if the same player won all four regional awards and all three Global Demand awards, that player immediately wins the game.
If no automatic victory is achieved during the game, then after the Final Scoring phase of Turn 6 the winner is determined by VP score.
In my limited experience, I would find it very difficult to achieve any of the listed Automatic Victory conditions but the one that could be the most likely is the Theater of War Victory. If one player simply sinks all of their Actions into Military Actions by building up their various armies in the different theaters, adding Bonus War Tiles on nearly every Turn, and considering that the initial War Tiles are randomly drawn, this could happen. I know that I have won three of the four theaters a few times in my games against Alexander but that was hard enough. It is simply too hard to invest everything into a single aspect as you would be eroding your chances of winning any of the other aspects if you focus too much on one scoring element. But this is a testament to the balance of the design and the thought that went into how to create a titanic nearly 100 year struggle between the two preeminent super powers of the time.
Imperial Struggle is simply a masterpiece. The game play is phenomenal and keeps players engaged over the full course of the game. You are never really out of it and can always get back into the lead if it has slipped away through the shrewd use of your Actions and the skillful choice of Investment Tiles. There are so many really interesting and meaningful decisions in this one, from what Ministry Cards you choose to use and how you plan to use them, to the choice of your Investment Tiles each Turn. You can focus on Markets and the fickle demands for those goods, or on establishing Political control of Europe, or even on dominating the War Turns through the addition of Bonus War Tiles to each theater of war. Players simply have many ways they can go about leading their nation to victory.
If you are interested, check out our unboxing video to get a better look at the various components.
And you can check out our initial review video that we put up after our first play. We are hoping to play a few more times, to better aquaint ourselves with the different strategies, and hope to shoot a followup review at that time.
Imperial Struggle is a game that I will play at anytime. Hands down. I cannot wait until our next battle for control of the globe and the tension and angst that I am sure to feel over my choices.