We’re taking the unusual step of reviewing Imperium Legends and Imperium Classics together because, tho’ different, they are alternative but interchangeable versions of the same game. Both even come with exactly the same rulebook.
Imperium is a deck building card game but it’s so much more because of the care that has gone into the design by Nigel Buckle and David Turczi. Each of the these two games comes with eight different civilisations, each with its own asymmetric decks and special rules; so that’s a total of 16 different civilisations – real (Classics) or imagined (Legends) – that can be played in any combination. And despite the asymmetry, the different civilisations are all pretty well balanced – tho’ some are considered easier to play than others (the rulebook ranks each of them for how straightforward they are to play). That means that even if you buy just Legends or Classics, there’s a huge number of permutations for play and that becomes mindboggling if you buy both boxes and have all 16 different civilisations to play with.
Whichever civilisation you play, you’ll be trying to build a victory points (VP) scoring engine. There are tokens that are worth VPs but you will be mainly scoring for the VP values of the cards you have in your tableau, hand and draw deck at the end of the game. And the big points are racked up by having cards that combine with and score off each other.
Set up involves separating out the relevant cards for your civilisation, differentiating those that start off in your draw deck and those that you can only access at later points in the game. A display shows common (ie: available to all) cards, sorted by type.
The basic game play is simple, in that on your turn you get to play three cards from your hand and take the actions indicated. If a card lets you ‘acquire’ a card from the common display, then you add that card to your discard pile along with any ‘unrest’ (negative) cards underneath it. If a card allows you to ‘break through’, that means you can take a card from the common display without picking up its ‘unrest’ card. You can also ‘break through’ to take a card free of ‘unrest’ if you forego any other action on your turn. Similarly, you can use all three of your actions to return any number of ‘unrest’ cards from your hand.
This isn’t a simple game, however. Because each of the various civilisations have their own distinct features, you’ll have to take on board quite a few exceptions to the rules specific to the civilisations involved in your game. And there are a lot of card icons to take account of and key words to look out for. These are all covered in the rulebook but expect your first play to involve a fairly steep learning curve and some thumbing through the rules. Be in no doubt tho’, this is a game that amply rewards the effort of learning; not least because of its almost infinitely varied replayability. It’s also a game where you can tailor play according to individual players’ preferences and predilections; some civs play more aggressively than others, for example, so if you’re playing with someone who dislikes ‘take that’ games, you can choose to use civilisations that rely less on attacking or stealing from opponents.
Osprey have done a great job with the production of Imperium in a very reasonably priced package. The artwork from Mihaulo ‘The Mico’ Dimitrievski is thematically evocative of each of the civs, and this is a game that calls upon a huge amount of art – there’s unique artwork on almost every card! Each of the boxes has labelled compartments for storing each civilisation’s deck, tho’ we’d have liked it more if the insert had accommodated sleeves.
Both Imperium Legends and Imperium Classics take up to four players tho’, from our Board’s Eye View plays, the game is at its best with two players. That’s because, with just two, the game state (ie: common display) doesn’t change so much between turns so a player can usually plan their actions while their opponent is taking their turn. Increasing the player count markedly slows the game down. But, as you might expect given David Turczi’s involvement in the design, Imperium's solo mode also shines.
Whether you go for Imperium Legends, Imperium Classics or both, this is a game that set to become a modern classic and a legend in its own right!
(Review by Selwyn Ward)