Board Game Review: Imperial Harvest – Tactical Strawberry Gathering | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

Board Game Review: Imperial Harvest – Tactical Strawberry Gathering

Everyone likes strawberries. But the warriors in Imperial Harvest, currently up on Kickstarter, like them just a little bit more. In this two player game, each controls a trio of warriors – one side guarding the imperial strawberry field and the other attempting to raid it.

The Basics. Each player chooses a side – either the Imperial Guardians or the Northern Raiders – and takes control of the that side’s three characters. The board is modular and players set it up with four squares in the middle, a moat surrounding them, bridges on the moat, and then paths on every side. Each tile has hedges pre-printed on it that will block movement and line of sight. Once placed, each player will select their camp, the hydras start in the moat, and the initial strawberries are placed on the board.

Beginning with the Imperial Guardian player, each takes turns moving and using their characters. Each turn, the player will move and activate up to two of their three characters. The character not utilized is marked and must be one of the two characters activated on the following turn.

We’re in your gardenz, raidin’ your berries!

Each character can move orthogonally and then has a number of special abilities. The player may activate any number of them. Importantly, only one character on each side has the ability to attack an opponent. Most of the powers manipulate the board, move characters, or impact line of sight. Players can also give up activating one of their characters in order to move the hydra one space in the moat. The hydra then attacks all adjacent characters.

The goal of the game is to gather or protect the Imperial Strawberries. Importantly, a character holding a strawberry is imbued with power and gains access to additional abilities. However, that strawberry can be stolen by his opponent unless and until it is deposited into his side’s camp. Once deposited, though, it no longer conveys its power and that character loses any enhanced abilities.

Play continues for fourteen turns (seven per side) and then ends. Players tally up their points – two for a deposited berry, one for each still held by a character – and the player with the most points is the victor.

Lolspeak? Really?

The Feel. I think the theme is going to be a great divider here. I really enjoyed the quirky nature and the fact that what might otherwise have been a standard hack-and-slash style game is really brightened by the theme. One of my opponents, though, hated it. He said it felt childish and really sucked the fun out of the game for him. I told him to grow up, but it’s worth noting that the theme may not appeal to everyone.

The interesting thing about the game is that, while direct attacks are possible, the game isn’t really about attacking. Only one character on each side even has the capability of attacking. Instead, the game is really about strategically moving your pieces, bumping your opponents’, and maneuvering your way to pluck the strawberries.

That said, attacks – or at least the threat of attacks – are a critical element of strategy. When a character is attacked, they die. They immediately respawn in their army camp, but they lose all of the strawberries they were holding. Those berries simply vanish. So hitting an opponent is a great way to set them back in their task of gathering strawberries. Nevertheless, Imperial Harvest is not for the faint of heart. Players that play timidly to avoid attacks will cede important ground to their opponent and, as a consequence, lose the game.

Imperial Harvest, ready for raids and defense

So, if only two characters can attack, what the heck do the other ones do? Well, the Bards (each team has one) enhance their teammates by giving additional action points. The Northern Raiders have a Sorceress who can move another character in line of sight. The monk, can throw an adjacent character two spaces away – an effective move for tossing them onto the other side of the moat.

The tactics come from smart movement, both of yourself and your opponents. What appears to be a safe spot might suddenly become dangerous when a monk throws you next to a hydra or a sorceress charms you within range of the barbarian’s throwing axe. To that end, line of sight also becomes important and careful navigation of the many hedges on the board is critical.

One of the main tensions in the game is the acquisition and deposit of strawberries. Holding a strawberry gives a character more action points and access to a better ability. But, while held, it can be lost to attack. If deposited, it can no longer be stolen – and is worth more points – but then the character loses that extra action point and ability, and those berry abilities can make a big difference.

Maneuvering around hedges is critical

Imperial Harvest is a two player game, but includes rules to play 2v2 with two copies of the base game. The four person version is fun, but downtime was a little more of a problem. The game is very playable with four, but is definitely best with two.

Negatives mostly reside in unclear rules and abilities. For example, the Imperial team’s Imperial Guardian has an ability that says imperial characters within two spaces cannot be attacked. That sounds straightforward, but does that apply to the Imperial Guardian himself? If so, it allows him to simply walk around picking up strawberries without a care in the world, because he is immune from attack. This is seemingly overpowered.

Similarly, the Bard ability says that teammates within two spaces get an extra action point. Seems straightforward, but when does that ability trigger? Does that trigger only when the Bard activates? Or when the team mate activates? Or, what if the teammate starts three spaces away, but moves toward the Bard? Does the Bard grant the extra action point at that time? I don’t know.

Another thing not really described is how moving a hydra impacts your team. In general, you have to move two characters and the third which is unmoved gets a marker that means they have to be moved next time. But, what if I move one and a hydra? Does that mean I have to move both of the unmoved ones next time? Or only one of them? The rules simply are silent on these points. This leads to an unnecessary amount of simply house ruling or winging it in the hopes of stumbling on the correct rule.

The hydras are always hungry

Components: NA. I received a pre-production copy for review and therefore the components are not representative of the final product. The artwork, however, is solid and I hope indicative of the final product.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 4.5 of 5. Imperial Harvest requires an overall strategy but is largely about tactical reactions to your opponent’s moves and figuring out clever ways to manipulate the board. There is no luck element at all and, in fact, Imperial Harvest is a perfect information game. I appreciate a thematic game that eschews needless die rolling.

Mechanics: 3 of 5. No doubt about it, Imperial Harvest has a solid foundation. But, it’s worth noting that the rules and cards are ambiguous in some areas. That ambiguity mars the otherwise smooth flow of the game. Also, because I wasn’t sure how to correctly interpret some of the abilities, I couldn’t get a precise feel for how well the two factions were balanced.

Replayability: 3 of 5. Imperial Harvest has solid replay value and enough open space for players to try various strategies. The randomized board (which places hedges in random places) also keeps the game from being scripted. However, the setup is a little annoying for a two player game that lasts twenty minutes. Setup involves randomizing tiles, placing berries, placing bridges, and placing camps. This would be a perfect game for a quick run while waiting for others or while standing in line, but the setup pushes it just outside of that range and, for me, at least, reduces replay value.

Spite: NA. Two player games generally are without spite. It’s impossible to “gang up” or otherwise attack someone purely to bring them down, without also helping your own situation. That said, direct attacks are infrequent (though they do occur). Only one character per team can attack. The game is much more about positioning.

The bard will deposit those berries and turn them into points. He’s not totally useless after all.

Overall: 3.5 of 5. I’ve enjoyed my plays of Imperial Harvest. It’s definitely a fun little game with lots of good, interesting decisions. It’s also highly player driven and the more tactically smart player will win. But, it has some rules ambiguities and a setup length that will keep it from being one of my favorites.

(A special thanks to Broomstick Monkey Games for providing a review copy of Imperial Harvest)

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