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× For those who like to push chits.

Imperial Struggle, follow-up to Twilight Struggle

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03 Jul 2020 19:32 - 03 Jul 2020 19:33 #311660 by Gary Sax
Yes, a lot more viable choices on first blush which makes it a more appealing game than TS if you've gotten decent at that game.

This could definitely be a better game and they've made some smart *big* breaks from TS. It feels like they played Labyrinth tbh but then moved that vibe to tiles for a more balanced game.
Last edit: 03 Jul 2020 19:33 by Gary Sax.

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03 Jul 2020 21:08 #311664 by Not Sure
Yeah, the mechanics aren't super difficult, but the decision wall you're confronted with is just horrendous.

The second turn Sax and I played went way faster, I think the game was like
  • 15 minutes of "how the hell does this TTS mod work?"
  • 60ish minutes of Turn 1
  • 10 minutes or so for "now scoring and a war..."
  • 30ish minutes of Turn 2

He thumped my British by scoring a lot of the map and some bonuses in turn 1, and doubled down by winning some theaters in the war, taking the VP to 20 or 21.
Then in T2 the Awards were right for the Caribbean and India where I was strong (3/2 and 2/2), and I swept the Global Demand track (plus a couple of points for East India Company) to end T2 at 14.

I'm excited to pick it back up, and I think there's a lot of game here after the sheer face of the initial learning curve.

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03 Jul 2020 21:13 #311665 by Gary Sax
The global products stuff is so many VPs. I was playing like the awards VPs are the alpha and omega.

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03 Jul 2020 21:21 #311666 by Msample

Gary Sax wrote: The global products stuff is so many VPs. I was playing like the awards VPs are the alpha and omega.


The Demand VP score more often, but the Wars allow you to gain Conquest points, which can have a big ripple effect in both Trade as well as other areas. Being able to Protect/deny the same to your opponent can make Markets easier to take and harder to lose.
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03 Jul 2020 21:22 #311667 by Msample
Pre game, for the first time ever I actually set up the game and followed along in the Playbook. And against my preconceptions about the method, it actually made absorbing the rules a lot easier. Overall, the mechanics of this game, while more complex than TS, are not dramatically more so. There are a few exceptions ( you can "daisy chain" conquests, but not Markets for instance ) but overall after the first play, I think we both had a firm grasp on the core mechanics. It looks more intimidating than it is. Once you grasp that the shape of the spaces corresponds to the tile iconography it starts to click.

That said, we did gack one important rule with regards to Territory control, which gave French a pretty big edge they shouldn't have had.

In short, despite the name and designers, this has almost nothing to do with TS. And that's a good thing IMO. Its as if the designers took all the common criticisms of TS and changed that factor. For example:

- there are no scoring cards that force you to essentially take a pass in an impulse ( or worse, get your hand fucked with multiple scoring cards ) Both players know at the start of each turn what will be scored , with the exception of some Event cards.

- Event cards are far less numerous - only 45 in total. And you no longer have to worry about triggering your opponents event. Once you play an event, that card is removed from the game. And since the number of events played varies depending on how the Investment Tiles come out, you'll likely not even see all events being played. So there isn't really any "deck pruning" per se. - NO dice. Wars are resolved by counting spaces and War Tiles ( which are drawn randomly ) .

So our game started off with me as Britain and Michael as the French. We both sort of groped our way thru the game, focusing more on nailing down core mechanics vs optimizing play. We got thru 5 turns in about four hours. I conceded at the end of the 3rd war, with Michael @29 VP, one away from Auto Victory . I think once you get the hang of it, IF the game goes the full distance its comparable in length to TS, so five hours.

The real departure from TS is how you take Actions. In IS, each round you choose an Investment Tile. This gives you a Major Action , a Minor Action, and possibly an Event and/or a War Tile upgrade. The Initiative Player ( VP leader ) decides who goes first. This can be a tough choice, as going first gives you access to possibly scarce Event tiles, but going last is powerful in being able to have the final say in a particular theater. You only get 3 cards per turn, and with four rounds, at least one round won't have an event. One turn we only got to play one event each.

In addition to Event cards, you have Minister cards. Each player has two they can choose from out of 4-5 available for a given era. They give you bonuses for certain things, sometimes Events, sometimes War. In short, they help determine what particular mechanic/area you are going to focus on. One might help reduce Debt, one might make ships cheaper, one might give you bonuses for certain Trade areas etc.

Major Actions are typically 3-4 Action points and can be spent on multiple actions. Minor Actions are always 2 points, and can only be spent on a single action. Furthermore, the tiles have basically suits for each Action type - Market ( trade spaces ) , Diplomatic , Military. The first two types have an extra 1 AP cost if you split them among multiple regions. All actions can be augmented by spending Debt. Each side has a Debt limit. Going over that limit ( only done as a result of Event cards or War results ) costs VP. Also , being deeper in debt than your opponent can trigger severa Event cards.

The biggest hurdle as you learn the game is there is a fair amount of scoring to be aware of . Each Peace Turn has EIGHT scoring opportunities. 3 Trade Goods, 4 Area Award ( similar to TS scoring ) and a European Prestige bonus ( think Battlegrounds ) . Then, there are 4 War phases between Peace Turns spread thru the game, each of which as 3-45 distinct Wars to resolve, based on spaces you control as well as bonuses in certain cases for Squadrons, Forst, etc. And each War has unique requirements. There are some map reminders for some spaces, but it is a lot to take in while managing other aspects of the game.

This is probably the biggest departure from TS and one that will def give some players pause - it will take longer to absorb how to approach prosecuting all the different wars. You can't fight them all, you'll usually need to prioritize and cede some areas to your opponent.

We came up with some tricks to make tracking stuff easier. For Trade, we put colored cubes next to each Trade Tile and updated them when spaces changed hands. For the War tiles, we used some leader stands from another game to easily see what tiles we had in play ( they are hidden from the other player ) . Next time I might try dice to track Awards for each theater.

So one play down and def worth playing again. There is one piece of map errata , easily fixed with a felt tip pen, one minor Minister card clarification so far, so no show stoppers.

So far what we learned as far as play hints:

- Advantages, gained for controlling certain spaces , are huge. Think of them as the Struggle of Empires tiles

- you can use them each turn as a bonus. Some are better than others, and some - those connected to Territory spaces like Gibraltar - can only be gained by winning wars. Pay attention to how to gain those spaces.

- Protecting Spaces, via Squadrons, Forts, and Territories - makes them harder to unflag . So when expanding Markets, go for spaces you can protect first.

- Use Advantages as soon as you can if there is chance the tile could be lost due to the space its connected to being lost. That said, there is something to be said to waiting til the end of the turn and optimizing the use of the Advantage.
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03 Jul 2020 21:56 #311668 by Gary Sax
What's the map fix?

I agree that the game is basically an elaborate response to the weaknesses of TS.

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03 Jul 2020 22:09 #311670 by Msample

Gary Sax wrote: What's the map fix?

I agree that the game is basically an elaborate response to the weaknesses of TS.


Two of the spaces are missing the 3 dots to show they count in the 7 Years War. Spain I think.

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03 Jul 2020 22:13 #311671 by Gary Sax
Oh yeah, saw that one, thanks.

Those dots are kind of bullshit anyway because who knows what fucking war they're in during that era which is crucial info.

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04 Jul 2020 09:38 #311678 by Erik Twice
The game looks so cool, which is a shame because I did not like Twilight Struggle at all and I don't even know why. Not "like" in a critical sense, either, just pure disliking it for whatever irrational reason.
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04 Jul 2020 09:45 #311679 by Gary Sax
The mechanics are pretty different but it's still evoking that tension and frustration of not knowing how to assail your opponent's position and being put in a metaphorical vise in regions at its core. If you didn't like that this one is still doing that. Just with no dice ?
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05 Jul 2020 10:18 #311690 by Gary Sax


Played some solo and finished 3 turns in 3 hours. Counting counting counting... I need to do MSample's cube strategy (thanks for the thoughts up thread btw).

Also played with an old friend who isn't a huge gamer but played tons of twilight struggle with me... he didn't think the game was anymore overwrought than TS and he felt that there weren't so many bullshit spaces that are just traps on the board.
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06 Jul 2020 12:24 - 06 Jul 2020 12:31 #311713 by Gary Sax


The counting in this game sucks, following MSample's advice Not Sure and I tracked region winner, prestige, and commodities with a bunch of colored D10s. I know that sounds trivial, but I think it's way worse than TS where you in most situations count battlegrounds (just a few countries) and, critically, you only have one action or event per round for the most part so adjustments aren't hard.

Otherwise, this is a game about efficiency in single round card and tile combos with a known scoring bigger picture. Which is another departure from TS.

Also, Not Sure absolutely kicked my ass, see map above for how he's beating me in the Caribbean at the end. Losing in this game is like being put in a savage 4 turn submission hold in a pro wrestling match, where the opponent sometimes gets a hand out, or almost slips away, only to be dragged back into the middle of the octagon until the submission finally sets in.
Last edit: 06 Jul 2020 12:31 by Gary Sax.
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06 Jul 2020 14:53 #311721 by Not Sure
The counting is made worse by the fact that an action might affect lots of things at once. There's the region count, plus Europe has a Prestige spaces count, and the commodity counts. Any flag changes can affect multiple counts, and using a big Major Action (I did one towards the end that replaced a French squadron with mine and removed 3 conflict markers, which affected like 4 counting dice across various parts of the map).

Debt management is crucial in this game, and based on what I saw of the events, the British are better at it. I also jealously guarded the advantage tile that gave me a debt reduction each turn, which translates into more action points.

I think the French diplomatic discounts and Treaty point stuff scattered in their events offset this to some extent, but it was definitely a factor in that game.

Sax beat me in North America just about as soundly as I beat him in Central (you can see on the map, at one point his flag counter hit 10.). But the goods are generally more VP in the Caribbean, and sugar was disproportionately in global demand. I think it was drawn 4 out of 5 turns, although I believe it only scored 3 due to an event that manipulated demand.

I'd ceded Europe for a while at the beginning and focused on India (because of VP bonuses from East India Company), but the points were too steady to ignore, so I snapped up some cheap Prestige spaces in Sweden/Russia/etc to compete. I also let India control lapse towards the end, because you just can't be everywhere.

My takeaway on this is that the randomness of the Award and Demand tiles each turn is huge. There's no real indication where the critical areas are going to be until the beginning of the turn, and there's only so much damage control you can do. That's not necessarily bad, it means the game is less scripted than TS is, but you're not necessarily rewarded for playing to control an area. You can see all your hard work one turn mean jack shit the next turn when a 0/TRP Award tile comes up for the region, and the commodity isn't in demand. (The exception is the Prestige race in Europe, which is 2VP every turn, and one of the only fixed VP sources).

If that wasn't enough to play around, the event draws and matching Ministers to events (or not, since Ministers are usually only selected half as often) give still more uncertainty to what's going on. This game sure didn't need dice, and I'm glad they're gone.

The learning curve is harsh, and the counting is tedious, but there's a lot of possibilities and just enough semblance of control (and lack of) to make it the right fit for me.

The setting is also top-notch to me. I've just been getting to the end of re-reading The Baroque Cycle, and this couldn't have come out at a better time for that.
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06 Jul 2020 15:07 #311722 by Not Sure

Erik Twice wrote: The game looks so cool, which is a shame because I did not like Twilight Struggle at all and I don't even know why. Not "like" in a critical sense, either, just pure disliking it for whatever irrational reason.


This is interesting to me. I'm not suggesting you'll like Imperial Struggle if you didn't like Twilight Struggle, but there's a lot of differences there. A lot of the polarizing things about TS have shifted dramatically, in some cases completely to the opposite.

One of the worst parts of TS to me was getting stuck doing shit that was only harmful to me, because that's what the cards said. That's completely gone in this game, replaced by a gradient of "stuff you can do, some of which is more helpful than other stuff". There are times where you'll be searching for where to use a minor action that helps at all, but at least it's not actively hurting your position. There's some race to get the Investment tiles you need before they're gone, but that stress is on both players (and not totally predictable since events are hidden).

If you can refine what bugged you about TS a bit, there might be some game here for you. But maybe not, depending on what that dislike was.
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06 Jul 2020 17:11 #311726 by Gary Sax
I would say Imperial Struggle doesn't have the brinkmanship or paranoia of TS but is a much better and deeper area control game.

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