Imperia 13: The Card Game (2010)

9 Jan

Well, it took longer than I expected, but I’m finally back.  Welcome everyone to 2014! I’m still waiting on flying cars…we were promised those! Anyway, it’s time to delve back into the basement, and find another unusual game in my collection. Originally, I was going to do a round-up of the Odyssey 2 hybrid board / video games, but I haven’t been able to get the Odyssey 2 up and running as of yet, so that post is pushed back for a while.

Instead, I am going to look at Imperia 13; which I would imagine is the rarest in my collection.  Why do I say this? From my recollection of a small sign at the store when I bought this game, it was designed by one local high school student, and the only places it was available was this one shop, and the game’s website.  For years I have toyed with the idea of trying to make my own game, and part of the reason I bought this was to serve both as some sort of inspiration, and a poster child of some of the do’s and don’ts of game design. And while I haven’t gotten much closer to that goal in the past few years, I still do see this game in that light.

IMG_1744The story behind Imperia 13 is your basic sci-fi fare about Evil Empires, war breaking out, and fighting against former allies. Actually, that is all there is to the story. Two sentences on the back of the box is all there is. There was a website for the game (promoted many times within the confines of the box), but it is no longer active and has been relegated to the Wayback Machine.

Inside the box, you get an impressive amount of stuff for the $19.95 original retail price. There are 200 item cards, 18 character cards, and 10 land cards. This is strictly a 2-player affair. I suspect there were expansions planned (by the fact that there are troops named in the rules that do not appear in the game), but obviously they never appeared. There are also two bags full of blue gems, and paperclips. We’ll get to those later. Each player’s cards are further protected inside nice, sturdy deck boxes. A lot of care went into the inside parts of this box.  The cards themselves are also of very nice stock. I do wish the outer box were as nicely made as the internal deck boxes. It’s a very flimsy paper box. Mine is warped and crushed in places…just from being stored and moved around over a couple years.

IMG_1753IMG_1754You’ll notice the boxes are exactly the same.  One may ask “Hey, how do I tell whose cards are whose?” Well, you don’t. Both players use exactly the same base set of cards in this game. We’ll get more into my feelings on that in a little bit.

Digging into the rules, you begin to see where the one-man show aspect of this production begins to show up. I will give some points for the rules being laid out reasonable well. To be honest, one of the ways I can tell this game was made by a high school student is that the rules are written EXACTLY like an outline for a paper. It’s functional, though. Where things go south is in the details. The rules are excessively wordy (yeah, I know…pot, kettle, black) but there’s no real need to take three bullet points to explain that characters can move up to 2 spaces, no diagonals, and they can’t stop on top of another character. There are also mistakes or changes that were made after the books were printed, as there are hand-written corrections.

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In many places, it feels like a decent copy editor would be able to tighten up the language, and make a much more usable document. Also, this rule book is supposed to set up your universe…put the story in there! Explain what’s going on here, because the cards don’t do that very well.

So. let’s get into the game. Each player is given two boxes: one small box containing 9 character cards and the 5 regions they are to protect.

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The other box holds 100 items cards, split into two identical decks of 50. Before the game starts, players are supposed to take those 100 cards, and whittle them down to a play deck of 70. Here’s another major place where the lack of previous game design experience shows. One of my favorite lines is a paraphrase of a quote attributed to Michelangelo ““How do you sculpt a statue of an elephant?” ”It’s easy. Just find a block of marble and chip away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.” Some of these item cards are so dense with text, that trying to read through them all in order to try and put together a functional deck could take longer than the actual game.

IMG_1751IMG_1752There is just so much minutiae on some of these cards, I’d throw them out of my deck just on principle. This is one time where good, clear iconography would be greatly appreciated. As you can also see in the pictures above, the art has gone from full-color drawings, to vacation photos, to pencil sketches hiding in the background. Again, I don’t want to belittle the skills of a high-schooler…since at times he draws better than I can, but I’d like to see more colorful item cards with more effective text and icons.

Once the decks are set, players now make the battle map. Each player takes four of the vacation photo region cards, and sets them into a row. The fifth card is your Capital, and is placed behind. You then set four of your troops on top of the regions. At this point, you have four cards left…they become you attack force. Those cards are placed directly in front of your opponent’s region wall.

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Placeholder photo because I forgot to take a picture of the game set up.

The basic flow of the game is incredibly simple. You can move up to two spaces, play one card (of course there are many cards that break this rule), and attack. Once the attack is over, players draw two cards, and collect two of their energy tokens. That’s really all there is mechanically to the game. For all of the text in the rules and on the cards, thankfully the game itself is extremely easy to play. There are two main victory conditions: control the Capital, or control at least one of the opponent’s front four regions while none of them are defended.

Imperia 13 was obviously a labor of love. There’s a lot of effort on display here. There are just several places where it’s obvious the designer didn’t have the experience or support team to make certain changes which could have made a big difference. For example, I mentioned early on that there were paperclips included in the box. Players are to attach these paperclips DIRECTLY ON THE CHARACTER CARDS to show how many more life points they have left. Of course, this means your cards are completely mangled halfway into your first game, no matter how well made they are. Obviously, if this were a game I’d want to play often, I’d grab some red tokens, or pennies to place on the cards instead.

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The single most confusing aspect to this game is why each player has to use the same basic stuff? There are only 9 characters, and each player uses the same ones. I guess when they say “Battle Across Space and Time” they mean “You fight yourself…in the future (or past) with mostly normal weapons!” Indeed, most of the weapons in this game are vanilla shotguns, rifles, grenades etc. There are some “Blasters” but the drawing is of a very regular pistol. While I’m at it…how well would a Sludge Soldier and a Voodoo Soldier work together anyway? I don’t know if expansions would have fixed these issues or not.

Building 70 card item decks out of 100 cards also doesn’t allow for a ton of flexibility in strategy. There are some cards that are obviously stronger than others, and some that need such specific conditions to be useful, that there’s no way you’d put one in your deck, let alone both copies you have available to you.

There’s a lot of imagination on display. There’s a lot of effort on display. There’s also a lot of inexperience on display in Imperia 13. Unfortunately, when looking at the game as a whole, it feels unfinished. Almost every aspect of the game lacks the polish that a more experienced game designer would have added. One wonders what this game might have looked like even today, a short 4 years later, after the designer perhaps would have had a chance to play games like Summoner Wars, Battleground: Fantasy Warfare, or even the Z-Man Games Pocket Battles series.

Feels good to be back. No guarantees, but I think next time I’m going to take a look at another one-man show game. Thanks for reading.

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