Imperium Horizons Board Game Review – Osprey Games

Imperium Horizons Box Front Cover
Imperium Horizons is almost like a director’s cut of a popular film. You are pleased that you are getting more of what you like, but are sometimes left wondering why certain bits that could have been tidied up were left as they were. For those not familiar, the Imperium games are a deck builder based around the development and evolution of your own civilisation as you move it from being a barbaric nation to being one who merely scream and shout at the television. The original Classics version was daunting in terms of its ambition and offered an experience that far extended over a normal expected deck-builder. Its small failings were mostly down to a rulebook that was as much of a puzzle as playing the game, and unfortunately left it having a short shelf life in many collections. For me, who has both Classics and Legends, it falls into that genre standard of being a set of games that I like enough to keep in my collection, but never play it enough to fully appreciate what it has to offer. I approached Horizons hopeful that it would give me reasons to bring Imperium back on a much more regular basis and move it to be on the main shelf.

For all the number of differing decks and civilisations at your fingertips, the main premise is generally the same. You are trying to use cards to build resources, garrison cards for future scoring opportunities and then burn through your deck in order to progress your civilisation to the point where it can develop fully and take you to end game scoring. Either you’ll reach enlightenment or you’ll play fiddle to the fires of Unrest as they engulf your mighty works as you despair. There’s opportunities to play cards that will remain a constant as you grow, and others that will allow you to throw spanners into the plans of other players. You can even throw aside your normal three actions to make a breakthrough and gain cards to your hand from a market that is normally sown with unrest. Or remove the current unrest completely from your hand, thus keeping you safe for now.

Set up of Imperium Horizons on the Table showing the basic layout of the cards

 

Imperium plays like a puzzle game of self discovery. It is more important to know how your own civilisation ticks as much as anyone you are playing against, and there can be some vast differences in strategy depending on who you play as. At times Imperium feels like a solo endeavour among friends, as the ability to attack your neighbours are few and far between. It makes sense that the new Trade mechanics were brought in to offer lighter cooperation instead of heavier swords. The trade mechanic offers more positive interactivity and therefore concentrates you back on solving your own individual puzzle. In fairness, for myself, I’m more inclined to spend evenings figuring out how to get the best out of what each of the civilisations offer and master their various mechanical differences. With the increased number available, you’re frankly spoiled for choice in who you want to play as, with certain factions offering completely different ways to win the game. The illustrations for each of the civilisations is wonderful, imaginative and absolutely fits the theme of the game overall.

My main bugbear with Horizons is more to do with the organisation of the box. Horizons is almost double the size of the original Classics and Legends boxes, and so when I first got the box, I was excited, as I thought I was being served a potential big box storage solution. I was greeted instead by plastic casing and an organiser that doesn’t really work because when the cards are placed in their section, you can’t see what section they’re in. I think it would have preferred boring thick cardboard dividers and enough space to decant the previous two games into one home. Though I’m sure by the time this review is out there, someone in folded space will already be working on something. It’s a first world problem that has a two minute solution to it, but I was surprised it wasn’t something that was thought of. On the flip side, you’re now looking at a revised rulebook that actually doesn’t feel like so much homework, and a set of replacement cards for those who own the previous games to balance some of the older unbalanced offerings. Effort has been made and I’m just being a picky sod for it not being placed where I wanted it to be.

Imperium Horizons walks the tightrope of being a card game that offers so much in terms of nuances and differences to the civilisations at your command, to being slightly overwhelming to new players. It almost feels like a Collectible Card Game where you’ve been given every single element from the beginning, instead of a smaller easier to digest starter set. While the rulebook is much improved over the slight stereo instructions of the previous iterations, it would probably still benefit from a get started guide. It would benefit from telling you what civilisations to start with and how to ramp up the game. I felt like I’ve been given a brilliant system but just needed a bit of guidance on how to tackle it. Being sent a elephant but not been told what bit to eat first.

This doesn’t make Horizons a difficult game, but it places it firmly in that genre of games where you can’t just rock up at the local games club and expect to teach people on the night. Firstly, due to the asymmetry involved, that is hardly likely to happen within a normal game night. Let’s be honest, it’s usually a task to learn a game where everyone’s powers are the same. Horizons is the kind of game that you plan ahead, make sure everyone has a chance to learn before, and then run a dummy game beforehand. It still remains a game of thinkage and ambition, a civilisation puzzle game that isn’t afraid to make you work for your fun. When you do grasp its concepts, it easily sits in its own place within the card game genre. It’s a game that is not afraid to claim the title of being crunchy, and as they say, a little bit of cardboard ruffage is always good to keep going. Imperium Horizons isn’t going anywhere from my collection, any time soon. It’s a cracking example of where deck building can go and what it can achieve.

 

This review is based on the retail version of the game provided to us by the designer and publisher. We were not paid monetary compensation for this review. We give a general overview of the gameplay and so not all of the mechanical aspects of the game may be mentioned.

 
The majority of the games that we are play are going to take a reasonable number of sessions and playthroughs to fully understand every possibility that they offer. We hope this write up gives you an idea of whether or not this game is something that you will consider playing or even add to your collection. 
 
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