Struggle of Empires
(Upstate New York (USA))
Struggle of Empires
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SOE is a nicely complex game of influence domination, where coming in first may not mean winning.
The game and gameplay
Struggle of Empires requires you to balance expansion and power. Set in the eighteenth century, you control a European power and attempt to exert control over lesser European countries, Africa, India the East Indies or the Americas.
The goal is to achieve the most influence. You have from 15 to 18 turns in which to act, depending on the number of players. The turns are divided into three eras, and at the end of each era you score the influence you?ve achieved to that point.
Using your limited cash, you first establish alliances. During each era (three times total for the game), players bid on which countries have an allegiance that era, as well as determine the play order for the countries. Once set, players of the same allegiance may not attack each other.
After you establish alliances, you then take your turn, during which you take two actions. You may take a single game-modifying tile, build units, move units, attack, colonize or pass. Some of your actions may even require you to take an unrest token.
Your actions allow you to establish a presence in the available countries by fighting native units or other players. The countries each have two or three influence values. At the end of each era, the player with the majority of units in the country scores the highest influence value. The player with the second-highest number of units in the country scores the middle influence value (et cetera). As allegiances change, so may your ability to gain influence in a country.
After the third era ends, you total all influence, then subtract the total unrest tokens you’ve acquired from your score. If you’ve managed to accumulate 20 unrest tokens you’ve completely and utterly lost the game no matter how high your influence. The players with the highest and second-highest total of unrest tokens lose points from their scores. The player with the highest influence remaining wins Struggle of Empires.
Pros and cons
There’s a bit of record-keeping involved, and a lot of tile reading for first-time players as you get to know the ins and outs of the game. Once you overcome that hurdle, the game plays fast. My most recent 7-player game took just under three hours with five new players learning the ropes.
The allegiance and unrest mechanics can change your strategies dramatically, and make it anyone’s game. Often the winning player doesn’t have a majority share in a few countries, but settles for many second places — and the victory.
I love Struggle of Empires. It offers many strategies to win, has built-in balancing, and gives you the chance to fight your neighbor during one era, then force him to ally with you the next — thus stifling his revenge. It plays relatively quickly, handles a large number of players and encourages the players to interact with one another. Challenging and social, Struggle of Empires gives you a great night of gaming.