Imperial Settlers: Roll and Write – Boxes Full of Apples

  • Designer: Ignacy Trzewiczek
  • Artists: Various
  • Publisher: Portal Games
  • Release Date: June 2019

Phil: I knew this was coming. It had been too long since I heard your pencil sharpener running.

Luke: The silence was deafening I’m sure.

Imperial Settlers is likely Portal Games’ most profitable franchise, built on the back of another one of their designs, 51st State. Beyond the base game and its numerous expansions, it’s stemmed a spin-off series, Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North, so of course it would get a roll-and-write one of these days.

Phil: And what better time than the renaissance of the genre?

Luke: This time around, folks are attempting to build the most profitable civilization by crawling up 4 resources tracks. At the end of the game, you’ll score points based on how high you got on each track, as well as the buildings you’ve cobbled together.

Phil: Seems kind of abstract for a series that usually oozes theme.

Luke: While some cards in the original feel more mechanical than others, Roll and Write feels like you’re filling out a spreadsheet composed entirely of checkboxes. It creates a disconnect that I don’t believe benefits the system much, nor the audience the game is aimed towards.

Phil: The aesthetics look great, likely because a lot of the images are ripped straight from the original game. And why not? The assets are fitting for what this game is and ensures the artistic direction is in line with the other titles.

Luke: Each round, after the 4 dice are rolled, players will draft from up to 5 power tiles, depending on the player count. Of those tiles, 3 of them are variants of the same action (getting resources), 1 provides an extra action (which is crazy good), and 1 provides extra points for unused resources (which is crazy situational).

It’s clear that some tiles are just better than others 100% of the time, and while you can build your civilization to lean towards a particular tile, 9 times out of 10, getting an extra action will just allow you to do what you’re looking to accomplish.

Phil: They do seem surprisingly lopsided, and it’s kind of baffling why they’re presented this way. It creates a system where the draft is stale out of the gate, more a preamble than a series of meaningful choices.

Luke: Once everyone has their powers, players will simultaneously take their turns, composed of a variable number of actions. The worker die determines whether everyone gets 3, 4, or 5 things to do that turn, barring any additional actions gained by other means.

The other 3 dice give everyone resources to be used to accomplish those actions, limiting what types of things you can do.

Phil: Those actions being… what exactly?

Luke: Primarily, checking boxes. You can, for an action, fill in a space on either of your sheets, assuming you can spend the resources depicted within it.

Phil: Wait, you get 2 sheets? What is this, Fleet: The Dice Game?

Luke: I wish. One sheet displays your village as it grows whereas the other allows you to unlock passive effects by completing buildings. Farms get you extra food each turn, the Collector gets you extra resources if the dice rolled show different results, and the Fortress lets you chuck wood and stone for extra VPs.

Phil: What are all the shapes shown next to the buildings?

Luke: At the end of the round, you can outline boxes on the primary tracks you’ve filled in with one of these shapes. In doing so, you’ll either earn bonus points or make the ability associated with it more powerful.

Phil: And then the fields below your civilization are presumably resources you can farm?

Luke: Assuming you’ve unlocked the bridges to reach them, you can use an action to fill in one of those spaces and get the resources from it for that turn. All resources are thrown away at the end of the given round.

Phil: Aaaaaaaaaand… that’s it, huh? Just kind of do stuff and get points for 10 rounds.

Luke: Yeah. The whole experience feels a bit stilted and slow.

Phil: And there’s no variable player boards?

Luke: For the multiplayer mode, no. But for the solo game, well… that’s where this game actually shines.

In the box, 48 different sheets are provided for solo play, each entirely different from each other. Playing a game on your own, you’re fighting for a good score, but the buildings offered to you can make a big difference in how you tackle the puzzle. And once you’ve played through that scenario, that’s it; no do-overs, no take-backsies. The score you get is what you get.

Phil: Fascinating. And this made that game, to you, better?

Luke: Significantly. No longer are you waiting on an arbitrary draft or on other player’s turns, with games lasting maybe 10 or 15 minutes. Plus, the variability makes a big difference and encourages you to try a diverse number of weird things.

Phil: So, is this a game we’re recommending?

Luke: Not exactly; while I enjoy the finite nature of the solo mode of the physical version, you’ll get far more for your money playing the digital implementation, with it being cheaper and allowing you to replay scenarios.

I personally, after 52 games, have gotten my fill of this title, but the digital version, no matter how you slice it, is the better deal, whether you play it 5 times or 50 times. Sure, you won’t be able to play multiplayer easily, but that’s not really a big loss in my eyes.

Verdict: Imperial Settlers: Roll and Write falls into a lot of the traps the genre offers, being more abstract and obtuse for the sake of sticking to the series’ formula. The multiplayer is not something we can recommend, but the solo play provides a nice, relaxing distraction that may be worth your while if you’re already a fan of the series.

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