Updated: Jul 5, 2020
Designed by Mac Gerdts (best known for Concordia), Imperial 2030 was a 'grail' game for me for some time: it was hard to find in the UK and I came close to ordering from Amazon.de in Germany. Then suddenly UK supplies trickled through...
The box and the board may look a little dated but the game play and dynamics are fascinating. The map is divided into ‘nations’ (interestingly, these comprise the 4 'BRIC' emerging economy countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China, plus the United States and the European Union), sea areas and non-aligned countries. Each of the nations starts with two 'factories', one of which can equip (produce) armies and the other fleets. Armies/fleets can move into unoccupied areas to claim them and they can move into an occupied zone and fight (combat simply involves removing equal numbers from each competing bloc). This part of Imperial 2030 looks like a very conventional Risk-style area control game.
What makes Imperial 2030 rather different is that players do not directly represent the competing nations. Instead, the players are power brokers: international investors who loan money to the nations and so buy stakes in their success. Each player starts the game with a supply of cash with which they buy bonds in the various nations. Nations have their own money, raised through taxes and through players’ investments; and players have quite separate pools of money. In each turn, the nation markers are moved on a roundel to select an action, with the position on the roundel chosen by the player who has the largest investment in that nation. An Investor token rotates between players, giving an income bonus to its holder and entitling them to buy a stake in another nation or increase a stake they already hold.
Players earn interest on their stakes, but, if the nation has insufficient cash to pay, then it is the player with a controlling stake that has to make the pay out to the minority stakeholders.
Hopefully, this gives a flavour of how the game works. It means that a player can develop the military to expand a nation’s influence and taxation income only to find that another player seizes control by taking out a bigger bond. In turn, control can prove to be a liability if a country has insufficient cash to pay its bondholders...
Like the ersatz-Bond villain Dr Evil in the Austin Powers movie, this game’s finances are stuck in the same time warp as the board design. The bonds are delineated in millions when they should, more properly, be in billions. But this economic inaccuracy is quite literally a small price to pay for an otherwise fascinating game.