Imaginarium from Bombyx and legendary designer Bruno Cathala has a very unique look, but is also gaining some attention for being available at retail and having a Kickstarter campaign.
Bombyx have been quite upfront about this using the Kickstarter to get the game into distribution channels it currently isn't in. The controversial inclusion of a promo pack is also in the process of being addressed, so with that out of the way let's jump into the weird and wacky world of Imaginarium...
Though listed as a worker placement game on Boardgamegeek, Imaginarium is really about engine building and resource management. During the course of the game you will build and combine machines that allow you to gain and manipulate resources to hopefully complete projects in a race for 20 points.
The artwork is fantastic and weird. I'm sure that it will put some people off, but I've yet to meet any! While this could be seen as a cynical gimmick to draw people in, in reality the art of oddly combined items and animals is recreated in the machines you will bodge together.
The gameplay feels very satisfactory as each player works on their own puzzle while trying to anticipate and block other players doing the same. There are direct interaction machines which attack other players, but they only activate once so using them is a risk.
In the centre of your player board is a watch-like contraption that allows you to select two actions. The combination of these actions is limited by the fixed hands always pointing at two adjacent actions. You may want to dismantle one of your machines to immediately repair a better one in its place, but that will take you at least two turns because of the clever combining of actions.
The game has a good structure to turns, but the selecting of the right machines and optimal two actions can make turns drag, particularly with higher player counts. If you have played badly and are lagging behind, this can be frustrating, but more often than not there are ways to compensate and catch up.
The machine combining seems to be a stumbling block for new players so it's worth pointing out the examples on the back of the player screens and giving some examples with the cards. Once grasped though this becomes a fascinating question of what can I build, rather than something to grok.
Project tiles (the 'goal' cards of the game) offer the most lucrative way of scoring points, and give the first player to achieve them a bonus. This leads to a nice balance of strategy and tactics, changing your plans to react to other players.
My first game was admittedly a bit of a challenge, but as soon as it was over I started thinking about the game and how I would approach it differently next time. By the time that second game rolled round I was well in to the world and gameplay. My moves were more efficient, and I felt more in control. I knew when to choose machines that gave me an earlier turn and when to go for what I wanted most.
The most negative point, other than the analysis paralysis, is a potential imbalance in the helpers you can hire as one of your actions. Though all are fairly powerful, a couple in particular seem far to cheap for the power they provide. These guys give you a permanent upgrade for the rest of the game and when some can be acquired so cheaply, it feels a little off. That being said there is a large enough deck to mean this won't effect a lot of games.
I've not even mentioned the components which are excellent throughout. Yes the minis are probably a little unnecessary but when the gameplay is so good I can easily overlook that. The resources and charcoalium have their own storage box which becomes the centre piece of the board and everything has a great consistency with the theme.
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Imaginarium is certainly not without flaws, as mentioned, but it feels different to most other games. Maybe I'm blinded by the dazzling art, but the machine repairing and combining is compelling, and satisfying. Fans of engine building should definitely apply, and most other gamers should take a look too.