The following is a guest post from contributor Anthony Ball.
Game Title: Imperial Settlers: Roll & Write
Designer: Ignacy Trzewiczek
Play Time: ~30 minutes
Accommodates: 1-4 players
Author’s Plays: 8 at player counts of 1-2
The front of the box is amusing. It shows a person drawing a town and some animals using a pencil, giving players an excellent idea of what you will be doing during the game.
The back of the box gives an excellent summary of the game and shows what the players sheets used during the game look like.
The dice are light and well-produced, depicting the resource symbols.
The game comes with pencils. which are necessary to play the game.
The favor tokens are simple but effective, again with amusing artwork on the back.
The main player sheets are a little boring in comparison, as they are just show fields and some boxes to check off. There is no real connection to the theme on the player sheets in terms of art.
Compared to the bland player sheets, the buildings are very colorful and cartoony. Within the adventure deck, there are over 300 different of these buildings, all with different artwork for each.
As with the outside of the box, the inside has nice, unique artwork and a summary of the turn structure. It’s a nice touch.
The aim of Imperial Settlers: Roll & Write is to have the most victory points after 10 rounds. Points are scored in two different ways, either from your empire sheet or your village sheet. On a turn, the active player will roll the dice. Three of the dice will award various resources and one is the worker die. Then, in turn order, players will choose one favor tile for that round. These can give you an extra action, extra resources, or allow you to trade resources for victory points. After that, you can expand your empire using the allotted number actions dictated by the worker dice (and possibly more from to buildings and favors).
Players can harvest from fields that have been unlocked by crossing off a harvest space and gaining the resources listed, or they may build on either of their sheets. If a player crosses off a build space that has resources inside, then she must spend those resources in order to do so. A player may build constructions on the main sheet which just give you end game victory points, build bridges that gain you access to more fields to harvest from, or build buildings in her village.
The buildings in a player’s village will give her various effects each round once they are completed. These include such effects as giving you a resource or extra actions to perform. Some of these effects will also grant end game victory points. In the advanced version of the game, a player may also create one settlement after everyone has performed their actions. If you have a matching shape that’s listed next to a building on your village sheet crossed off on your empire sheet, you can draw it on your empire sheet. This means the building will become more efficient. For example, it may produce an extra resource.
One of the village buildings will just be worth victory points at the end of the game, but will yield no other benefit. The shape of the buildings has to match the exact orientation, so it is necessary to plan accordingly.
The round then ends. The person next to active player now becomes the active player and turns continue until 10 rounds have been played.
After 10 rounds have been completed, players will total up points on their sheets and the person with the highest score will win.
The turns in this game are quick, but as with most engine building games, they slow down over time as more options become available and players have greater resources to spend.
The game can be played with 1 to 4 players, with the solo mode having its own unique, dedicated adventure sheets. These solo adventure sheets are distinct from one another, offering different scoring opportunities each game.
Theme and Game Length
The theme here is a little mixed. The village sheets are very thematic, and in the images you can almost see how the resources you spend contribute to the construction of that particular building. The little people depicted on the sheets make players feel that they are populating their villages. It’s a nice thematic touch. The worker dice also make sense in this regard, as it means that the different people allow you to perform a corresponding number of actions, with building things taking multiple steps to do.
Where the theme falls flat however, is with the empire sheet, which doesn’t make a lot of sense and is a shame. The fields are nice and colorful. However, the bridges are a little bland and the constructions are simply boxes with resources in them. In the rules it mentions that these are walls and cottages, but it simply doesn’t come through without artwork on or around them. A few pieces of art in the background would have really made a thematic difference.
The average playtime of the game is about 20 to 30 minutes depending on player count. The game feels fast and runs smooth without dragging in any way.
The main way of scoring points in the game is to cross off the 3 rows that require the 3 main resources (food, stone and wood) on your empire sheet. However, engine building is required to accomplish this, making it the strategic point of differentiation between players, even if their final sheets look mostly the same. You can use buildings to get extra resources each turn or sometimes use them to improve the number of resources the dice give you.
Alternatively, players can look to harvest more to get resources. This is more viable if the yield favor tile is out as a player can get 5-7 resources for free without using an action.
One thing that has become apparent in my plays of Imperial Settler: Roll & Write is that players need to increase the number of actions available to them per turn, obtaining as many as possible. This can be done by drafting a favor tile or constructing a building. Players can have as many resources as they want, but since they usually only have three actions in a turn, many of them will go to waste. If a player has extra actions left in a turn, she can always use them to build bridges and harvest goods in order to get further up on the various tracks.
The only other significant way to score points is in the advanced game in which players can cross off shapes to earn certain amounts of points. A player should try to do this at least once a game, depending on the shape. In order to do so, you will have to make sure you get the correct boxes crossed off.
Even with the six buildings on the village sheet, there are not many paths to victory. Games can feel very similar and empire sheets look almost identical at the end of the game.
However, in the solo mode the village sheets are all unique and have a lot of different abilities, including multiple ways to re-roll and manipulate the dice. This completely changes the feel of the game as players aren’t stuck with what your dice rolls. This enables a player to focus on certain tracks more than others. Additionally, the Tetris shapes used to score points are all different shapes and sizes in the solo game. This means players need to plan the empire sheet out more in advance. Although, the focus is the same in the solo game, each play feels completely different from one another, exposing a few different paths to win unlike in the multiplayer game.
There isn’t a runaway leader problem with most of the games I have played. Scores have ended with players scoring about 5 to 10 points difference from one another. The game is very easy to pick up, with only a few terms needed to be learned, allowing new players to easily join-in and play with experienced players. After 2-3 plays of the multiplayer game, you will have exhausted the variations, making for a game with very low replayability.
Whereas in the solo game, all of the sheets are different and the abilities vary drastically from game to game. Unlike the multiplayer experience, the solo mode is rich in replayability. It’s worth noting that the publisher has since included rules on their website about how to use the solo sheets in a multiplayer game, but I find them to be a bit clunky. The best way I have found of doing it is to share a solo adventure sheet, have some kind of cube markers for each player, and use those to check off the boxes instead.
The game is light weight, especially if not using the advanced rules, with the various sheets being very easy to read and understand. The advanced rules adds a little bit of weight to the game, especially since the shapes cannot be rotated when you draw them.
The rulebook is good enough. The turn structure is clearly described, but some of the terminology is a little strange and the wording for yield is particularly bad. Although the player sheets can look a little daunting at first, they are easy to understand after explaining each of their purposes. The setup and teardown time is very quick as you would expect, taking only about 2 minutes.
Imperial Settlers: Roll & Write is a hard one to analyze. On one hand, the multiplayer game is very bland and has almost no replayability. On the other hand, the solo game has lots of replayability and new scoring avenues to explore. It feels more like a solo game with a multiplayer mode added on. I would never play the game without the advanced rules after having completed at single basic game. It is just too simple with no real decisions to be made.
I also wish there was a better way of tracking your resources. Players are supposed write them down in the round box, but this can become cumbersome towards the end of the game if you generate a large amount. In addition, some of the favor tiles are overpowered, and I think this could be a real problem in the multiplayer game.
That being said, the solo mode is good and interesting. I enjoy Imperial Settlers: Roll & Write when played solitaire. The only thing that might have improved the solo mode is a point goals to strive for on each player sheet.
Solo Game Rating
Anthony Ball is a contributing author of Board Game Squad. He enjoys games of all types from family to heavy euros particularly ones which involve dice used in novel and interesting ways.