Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North is perfectly delightful. From the immersive artwork, to the praiseworthy insert, everything about this game is first-rate, fantastic.
Jeremiah & Kara
Publisher: Portal Games
Designer: Ignacy Trzewiczek
Designer: Joanna Kijanka
Artist: Roman Kucharski
Game Type: Resource Management
Game Type: Tableau Building
Initial Year of Release: 2019
Age Range: 10+
Expected Playtime: 40 – 90 min
Number of Players: 2 – 4
Theme and What is it?
You sit on the edge of an iceberg, overlooking the freezing sea below. The arctic cold seeps through your extremities and into your spine — it’s terribly painful. You didn’t mean for this to happen, but even stoic vikings like yourself must answer to mother nature’s call. One accident led to another, and now here you are — alone in the snow, your barbarian buttocks frozen to the ice. Nothing to do now but wait for some poor soul to find and rescue you. The wind whips at your face, throwing snowflakes and sea spray into your eyes. “What a miserable place,” you think morosely, “it’s about time we make some changes around here…”
Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North is a standalone game set in the Imperial Settlers universe (you don’t need Imperial Settlers to play this game). In it, players are working hard to transform their tiny towns into flourishing viking metropolises. Each player will try their hardest, but only one will be the most successful. Will it be you?
Players start the game with a quaint settlement — just a few fields, some resources, and a handful of little viking villagers. Over the course of the game, players can use their resources to discover new locations and add new buildings to their towns. Their vikings can sail across sea and do what vikings do best: pillage and plunder — in the name of progress, of course.
The game continues round by round until someone scores 25 victory points. The current round finishes out, and then players add up their final score. Players get points for every building they’ve built, location they’ve found, and each island they’ve conquered. The player with the most victory points is the winner!
The mechanics here are so simple! Build a building, pay it’s cost; activate a building, do what it says; sail your ship to a nearby island with more stuff than you, steal all the valuables and burn it to the ground. Simple viking sense! The decisions about not only which building or location to build, but when to build it, are what make this game sing. Beneath the plain mechanics and adorable artwork is an ocean of important decisions and brain-tickling strategy.
I had heard really good things about Empires of the North, so I was super happy when I found out we were going to review it. Also, sheeples (sheep meeples) are some of the most adorable components in the world, and this game has so many! I was elated, and couldn’t wait to get it to the table.
Luckily for me, I didn’t have to wait long.
The rulebook was easy to read and understand — I was able to read the entire thing in less than ten minutes. Setup was also really quick and easy. Because of these two things, we were able to get Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North to the table very soon after we received it.
Game Build Quality
The component quality for Empires of the North is fantastic! The cards are made of a high quality cardstock and the tokens are made of nice cardboard. The box is sturdy and comes with an insert that could make Odin weep into his beard. Everything has a place– each deck, token, meeple, and chip. The top piece of the insert also functions as a removable resource holder, which is so nice to have during gameplay. It keeps the resources neatly in the designated supply area, and it saves a lot on setup/takedown time.The insert also has enough extra space for at least one expansion.
The Art. THE ART!
The artwork in Empires of the North may be my favorite of any game I’ve seen so far (yes, that includes Everdell, Wingspan, and Scythe)! And I’ll tell you why in just a minute.
First though, we’ve got to talk about practicality. Most of the gameplay is centered around playing and activating cards. Each card has a unique title, a special ability, and a beautiful picture to match. The text on the cards is easy to read and understand. The symbols on each card are also easy to understand, and they tell you which clan deck the card belongs to, how many copies of the card are in the deck, what type of card it is, and what you have to do/spend to play the card. The cards have an incredible amount of information packed into 2.5″x3.5″ of space, but it’s organized so clearly that as soon as a player picks up a card, they think, “oh yeah, I know exactly what this does.” This is so great, especially for teaching new players.
Okay, now for why Empires of the North Sea might have my favorite board game art of all time: the world. The unique artwork on each of the cards brings the world that these little viking people live in to life.There are pictures of vikings training penguins to transport produce, throwing poor hogtied monks into their ship, or sitting atop ridiculous mountains of treasure they’ve piled into their boat. There’s just so much to discover — it’s like a Nordic page from a Viking “Where’s Waldo” book. At first glance, everything looks ordinary, but when you look closer you find all sorts of silly, bizarre, and interesting characters that will tickle and inspire you. It’s wonderful.
Okay, enough about the artwork. We’ve established that the art is great, the components are great — everything is great. But is it fun?
Personally, I think yes! We had a great time managing our resources, building up our villages, and sailing our ships across the sea. It reminded me a bit of Everdell, because players are gathering resources and then using them to play new cards into their area.
I was also able to test out the solo mode, and it’s super fun as well! The solo game is scenario based, so in addition to the normal rules players have to meet a certain endgame goal (ie. be able to feed all your villagers at the end of the game so they don’t starve during the winter). There are also events during a solo game that the player will have to deal with. It’s a superb solo variant.
Age Range & Weight
The manufacturer recommended age for Empires of the North is 10+, which I think is perfect for this game. As I mentioned before, all the information a player needs to know about playing a card is contained on the card itself, which makes it super easy to teach to new and young players.
This is a medium weight game, which is perfect for families. There’s also enough strategy and decision making to make Empires of the North entertaining for heavy gamers as well. Occasionally a player will encounter some analysis paralysis as they debate about which card they should build first, or which action they should take, etc. But usually the game moves along really smoothly, especially if players are paying attention and thinking ahead (as any good gamer should).
Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North is perfectly delightful. From the immersive artwork, to the praiseworthy insert, everything about this game is first-rate, fantastic. The simple mechanics pave the way to deep decisions and meaty gameplay. The asymmetrical clans and solo scenarios (which could possibly be incorporated into a multi-player game) ensure that this game will be able to be played over and over without losing its viking flavored appeal.
For anyone with a hankering for pillaging and plunder, don’t let this one pass you by.
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