Empires of the North represents the latest game in a journey that started with the first iteration of 51st State. That journey has progressed to Imperial Settlers, and then back to 51st State with the release of the Master Set. This latest versions mixes the best of these games, with some new, improved, 100% amazing parts.
The engine building core remains and keeps the unique decks of Imperial Settlers as opposed to the shared deck of cards to build from. Having unique decks means that you need to bear in mind the particular leanings of your deck. In the box there are eight decks of nation cards split between four nations. The only slight annoyance in components is each deck comes with a couple of cardboard token ships that aren’t clearly linked to the deck you are using.
The ships are a new feature that work really well. Raze tokens that used to be for attacking opponents only allow you to take your ships to the seas and plunder or make friends with other islands. Also, attacking other players simply exhausts their card rather than destroying it as in the older games.
Also gone is automatic production, so all the goods you need will have to be gained by you taking actions. Speaking of which, there is a new action selection/worker placement circle. The circle changes each game in terms of order. To use these actions, you can send up to two tokens to take an action. Then, later on, you can pay a food to move that token to the action left or right and then take that action too.
Other than that, the game revolves around gaining what you need to activate the combos you have built in your tableau. It works at least as well as it did in 51st State and Imperial Settlers. In fact, some may prefer it too 51st State due to the player decks providing different styles of play.
If you haven’t entered the world of engine builder or Portal’s previous efforts, then this is definitely the game for you. Portal have a great history of supporting their games with expansions, and it already looks like this will be well supported! Even if you have played the previous games there is enough here to tempt you away and reward you for straying!
Player Count: 1-4
Time: 45-90 Minutes
Empires of the North is a one to four-player engine building game designed by Ignacy Trzewiczek and Joanna Kijanka. It's published by Portal Games. The game is set in the Imperial Settlers universe and will feel familiar to players of the original game. However, there are enough changes to gameplay mechanisms and new additions to ensure that this game stands apart from its predecessor.
In Empires of the North players will take on the role of one of the six unique clans gathering resources, building locations, performing actions and going on expeditions, all in an attempt to gain victory points. The first to 25 points triggers the end of the game. With new mechanisms, new factions and new ways to play, Empires of the North takes Imperial Settlers and builds on its success.
Set-up is relatively straight forward and pretty quick, thanks in part to the resource trays that are removed from the box and placed on the table. The expedition track is laid out with the near and distant island cards. The clan action wheel tiles are shuffled and laid out to form a circle. Each player takes their respect coloured scoring marker, clan tokens and clan tile along with their chosen clans deck and ships.
Each player lays out their three basic fields and gains the displayed resources and five workers. Players will also draw five cards from their deck and select three discarding the rest. This forms the players starting hand.
Empires of the North plays until someone reaches 25 points. Each round consists of a Lookout Phase, Action Phase, Expedition Phase and a Clean Up phase.
In the Lookout Phase players draw four cards from the top of the deck and select the number of cards they would like to keep, adding them to their hand. For every card kept a worker must be spent and placed on the players clan tile. These workers will not be available for the rest of the round but come back in to your personal supply in the clean up phase.
The Action Phase is where the meat of Empires of the North occurs. Players can do any number of actions until they decide to pass. Actions that can be performed are:
- Build a location - Players can build a location from their hand paying the displayed resources. Certain buildings will have a specific action requirement to be able to build. These actions are performed on the clan action wheel, see below. As well as location action cards, there are also feature cards that give you on going bonuses, new fields, field upgrades and instant effect cards.
- Use Clan Action Pawn - A player can place one of their clan action pawns to perform the displayed action. Actions include explore, harvest, populate, sail and construct. When performing this action any cards that a player has in their hand that has a "explore/harvest/populate/sail/construct to build" can play their location card first before performing the clan action. Players can also spend a vegetable to move their clan pawn one space around the wheel giving them the option to perform another action. This then exhausts that clan marker.
- Raid an Opponent - A player can discard a raze token to exhaust an opponents location card. This location is not available for the rest of the round, unless a player can refresh that card.
- Use an Action - A player can exhaust a location card in their tableau to perform the action on that card. Actions typically require players to spend resources to gain victory points, more resources or additional actions.
Starting with the first player and taking it in turns clockwise, each player will perform one action at a time until they decide to pass.
In the Expedition Phase, players will, in order, resolve their placed ships and either conquer (requires a raze token to be placed in the previous round) or pillage a near or distant island (distant islands require a fish to have been placed on the ship in the previous round). If an island is pillaged the player gains a one off resource bonus that is added to their supply. If an island is conquered this becomes part of their empire and is added to the tableau to be used as a location in future rounds. Some islands will also have a building bonus which is received at the time of conquering.
Clean up Phase
In the Clean Up Phase players will retrieve any spent clan action pawns, retrieve spent workers from their clan tile, unexhaust all their cards, discard any remaining island cards and replace with fresh ones and pass the first player token.
Players will continue with the four phases until someone reaches 25 points. If a players reaches 25 points in the action phase then the rest of the round is played out. If a player reaches 25 points in the Expedition Phase then one more full round is played. Players score one point for each card in their empire, one point for every two resources and one point for every gold. The player with the most points is the winner.
Final Thoughts on Empires of the North
Imperial Settlers was a great game. I really enjoyed it. Empires of the North takes it to another level. There is enough new additions and tweaks to the previous game that really makes this one shine. If you liked Imperial Settlers then I am pretty sure you will like this one even more.
Six different and unique clans straight out of the box. They all look, feel and play different and yet seem to be very well balanced. The detail on the artwork (Roman Kucharski) is great with some humorous images depicting your clan members and what they are up to.
The clan action wheel is a great addition giving players a lot of additional options without feeling overwhelming. The random order that they are arranged in mean that the actions you can perform and their adjacency are different each game. I like that you have to do a specific "Harvest" action to gain resources rather than just receiving them at the beginning of the round. In addition, your resources remain with you at the end of the round and are not discarded unless used.
Expeditions are another fun addition to the game and the choice between pillaging for one off resource bonus or conquering for the action is interesting. The distant islands are more powerful but require more resources to reach.
When you start the game you have three basic fields. By the end you have a sprawling tableau of cards that combo off each other and it feels good to have generated a successful engine.
Empires of the North is more than just Imperial Settlers revamped. It is a game that stands out from its predecessor. It takes some of its core concepts and builds on them and refines the gameplay. For me, I prefer Empires of the North and I am excited to see what Portal Games does with this in the future. There has already been one expansion announced and I am sure there will be more. Fans of Imperial Settlers, this is worth checking out. Never played Imperial Settlers? This is a game that you must check out also.