Game Buzz: Imperial Struggle

In 2005, Jason Matthews and Ananda Gupta collaborated on a Cold War themed game called Twilight Struggle. It went on the be the #1 game at BoardGameGeek from 2010 to 2015. The game was a card-driven game in the style of other games like We the People, and was a pretty significant crossover hit – it’s been called a wargame for Eurogamers. Fifteen years later, we’re getting a “spiritual successor”:

image by BGG user Aeldaar

Imperial Struggle is a two-player game by Gupta and Matthews, published by GMT Games. Whereas Twilight Struggle encompassed the extent of the Cold War, Imperial Struggle traces the history of the second Hundred Years’ War, which was a series of conflicts between France and Britain. The game begins in 1697 and goes up until the French Revolution of 1789, though most references I’ve seen to the war itself has the conflict beginning in 1689 and lasting until 1815. It was a battle between two European powerhouses that stretched across the globe.

A game of Imperial Struggle has ten turns – six Peace turns with four War turns thrown in. These comprise three eras – the Succession Era (two Peace turns with the War of Spanish Succession between); the Empire Era (two Peace turns alternating with the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War); and the Revolution Era (two Peace turns with the War of American Independence between). During Peace turns, players alternate taking different actions, and during War turns, players take turns resolving different theaters of war. The game takes place on a big map:

image by BGG user ASGupta

Peace turns comprise 14 different steps:

  1. Deck Phase – This is only performed at the start of the Empire Era and the Revolution Era. This basically involves shuffling cards from the new era into the draw deck. During the Revolution Era, it also involves removing any Succession Era cards from your hand from the game.
  2. Debt Limit Increase Phase – At the start of the Empire and Revolution Eras, you increase your Debt Limit by four.
  3. Award Phase – Draw four Award tiles and place them on the Award spaces of the board. There are only eight, so you’ll reshuffle the stack after each Era ends.
  4. Global Demand Phase – Draw three of the six available commodities and place them face up near the Global Demand display. These are fully randomized each turn, unlike the Award tiles.
  5. Reset Phase – If there are Exhausted markers on any Advantage or Ministry tiles, remove them. All Investment tiles, even those that were unused, are moved to the Used Investment Tiles box.
  6. Deal Cards Phase – Place nine Investment tiles on the display. Used Investment Tiles are reshuffled if you run out of tiles in the draw pile. Each player draws three Event cards and discards down to three if they need to. If you ever draw an Succession Era cards during the Revolutionary Era, discard them as they are drawn and draw replacements.
  7. Ministry Phase – On the first Peace turn of a new Era, take two of your Ministry cards that match the current Era (including any in play) and play them facedown on your playmat. On the second Peace turn of an Era, you may replace any facedown Ministry cards with eligible ones that have not been used.
  8. Initiative Phase – You don’t do this on the first turn of the game. Look at the VP marker, which begins the game at 15. If it is below 15, the French player has initiative, and if above, Britain has initiative. If it is 15, initiative stays with the player who had it before (France begins the game with initiative). The player with initiative chooses who goes first.
  9. Action Phase – Here, players alternate completing Action rounds until each player has completed four. If you choose to pass an Action round, you can reduce your debt by two. This first thing you must do in your Action round is to take an Investment tile (or pass). Next, you may play an Event from your hand if the Investment tile allows it. You’ll perform the standard effect and the bonus effect (if you can). Some of these will give action points that can be spent with your Investment tile action, which you take next. These could be economic, military, or diplomatic.
  10. Reduce Treaty Points Phase – Reduce your treaty points down to four if applicable.
  11. Resolve Remaining Powers Phase – If you have powers that activate at the end of a turn, they are resolved now.
  12. Scoring Phase – Score the Award tiles.
  13. Victory Check Phase – If you won all four Regional Awards and all three Global Demand Awards in the previous phase, you win the game. Failing that, if you are Britain and the VP marker is at 0 or below, you win. If you are France and the VP marker is at 30 or above, you win. If no one has won, you’ll move on to the next round.
  14. Final Scoring Phase – This is only performed after the sixth Peace turn. After this, France wins if the VP marker is at 16 or above, and Britain wins if the VP marker is at 14 or below. If at 15, the player with more available debt wins. If still tied, Britain wins because they won historically.
image by BGG user ASGupta

Each of the four War turns takes place in several different theaters. Each player starts with one basic war tile in each theater. These theaters will be resolved in order, beginning with revealing these war tiles, plus any more that may have been added. These will give strength values, and may even give other bonus effects – increase your opponent’s Debt, add a damaged fort marker to the opponent’s fort, remove an opposing squadron, or unflag an opposing market or political space. Flagged elements can add bonus strength. The player with the highest strength in a theater has won the theater and gains the spoils as listed on the theater’s chart. After all theaters have been resolved, check victory conditions. A player will win the game if they won all theaters, or if their VPs have gotten to the proper point. If no one has won, take back all war tiles and randomly place new ones on the theaters for the next war.

If you make it to the end of the final peace phase, perform a final scoring, and the player who has their VP marker on their side of 15 wins.

image by BGG user srmansfield

I’ve played Twilight Struggle only once, and enjoyed it well enough, though I won fairly quickly and still wonder if it was taught correctly. Still, it’s good to see that this game looks very different than its predecessor. There’s still the global conflict and trying to gain control of different regions, but all the mechanisms in play point to a different game. This is not Twilight Struggle reskinned, this is Imperial Struggle. I think it looks like a pretty cool game, and I look forward to hopefully getting to play some day. This is despite the fact that it’s a tough rulebook to get through, but I credit that mostly to me not being used to the way wargame rulebooks are written. Once I finally got it, everything seemed clear enough, there was just a learning curve. I’m also a little confused by the VP track. I get it in principle – it’s a tug of war, and you want your marker on your side. But why have it be 0-31? Why not have 0 be the middle, and then have 1-15 on either side? I feel like that might be less confusing. Despite that, though, as I said, I think this game looks quite good and I’m eager to give it a try.

That’s it for today – thanks for reading!

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