The digital version of the roll & write version of the popular engine builder!
Android & iOS
# of Players
Portal Games Digital
Imperial Settlers Roll & Write is a solo roll and write from Portal Games Digital which plays out over 48 scenarios, each providing a quick, interesting engine building problem to solve. Players are tasked with building up a kingdom by harvesting resources, clearing land, learning blueprints, and constructing buildings. A single game can typically be played in about five to ten minutes.
The physical version of the roll and write is primarily a multiplayer game with a single player, campaign-like game also included in the box. This is a port of that single player mode. To recap: this game is a digital version of a secondary play mode of a roll and write version of a popular engine builder. Don’t let that frame any expectations you might have of this, it certainly isn’t simply an afterthought play mode, I just want to be clear about what this app offers for those familiar with the history behind the physical titles.
The game is based around a player board, which is unique to the specific scenario, and four dice. The player board has three sections; buildings, construction area, and fields for harvesting. One of the dice is a worker die which tells you how many actions you get to take on the current round. The other three are resource dice which each give you one of four resources (three plus a wild). There are also three favor tokens randomly selected on a per-game basis, one of them is used in each round to provide you some sort of bonus.
A round begins by rolling the four dice to provide you workers and resources. You then get to select one of the favor tokens to use this round, you may use the same one for all ten rounds if you choose. The bulk of the round comes in by using your workers and resources to take actions. Generally, you can break down actions into three categories: discovering blueprints, uncovering construction boxes, and harvesting resources.
Blueprints exist for four of the six buildings you have in a given game. Once unlocked, which is achieved by satisfying three actions, the building gives you some benefit such as providing a free food resource at the start of each turn. Five of the six buildings have polyomino shapes associated with them, these show how they may be built into the construction area. Constructing a building which has had its blueprint unlock will amplify the benefits it provides.
The construction area has three uses and is typically the crux of the game. It is laid out into four rows and you must work from left to right within each row. The first use is simply removing a box (by using a worker and, most of the time, paying the described resource), this will grant you immediate points. As you uncover more boxes, your building blueprints can be placed into the construction area at a rate of one per turn, this does not cost a worker action. Finally, the bottom row of the construction area covers bridges to the harvest area. Without unlocking a full bridge section, you cannot harvest from that section.
The third and final portion of the play board is the harvest fields. These must be unlocked, as mentioned above, and come prepopulated with resources that can be harvested at the cost of one worker.
Spend all of your workers and resources as you please then the round ends. At the end of the round all of your leftover resources get removed and you start fresh in the next. This repeats ten times and then the game ends. Your point total is graded and you receive crowns and a rank based on how well you did. Rank is only good for your pride, but the crowns allow you to open more scenarios.
I like this game. It scratches a vastly different itch than roll and writes such as Clever. In those you have the same setup each game and must learn to best use the dice as they land. There is no “solution” to a roll and write like that, you simply learn the ins and outs of the board and gradually improve your awareness on how to best use the dice. Then sit back, hope for some great rolls, and see what score gets spit out when you’re done. Imperial Settlers presents 48 unique challenges. While you’re still at the mercy of those dice, you will need to plan from the start based on the buildings and favor tokens available for that game. This shifts the basic premise of most roll and writes which is doing the same thing every game with only the dice changing. It’s a fun twist on the genre.
My biggest gripe in the gameplay department is the worker die. Especially early in the game, you simply can’t do everything you want with a lower worker count. Granted, it only ranges from three to five, but the difference in an early game five versus a three can be huge. Luck is always at the heart of roll and writes, and this is no different, but an abnormally large amount of that luck seems tied to a single die in this game.
Imperial Settlers Roll & Write Solo Mode Digital has been a very nice surprise for me. It has more depth than I imagined and I have found myself enjoying these small puzzles a few minutes at a time.
Barrier to Entry
Imperial Settlers features a text rulebook and a tutorial. The tutorial was turned off by default for me, I had to enable it in settings and then my first game played out as the tutorial. The tutorial is not great.. It steps you through how to do most of the actions, but does little in the way of providing context on the overall goal of the game or why you might open bridges, use certain blueprints, etc… It is over too quickly and I left having very little understanding of how the game worked. Thankfully, the text rules complement the tutorial quite well and provide the missing context. It is far from the best I’ve seen, but the combination of text and tutorial, along with a few early games, allowed me to learn the ins and outs.
Look and Feel
This game looks great. I’ve always admired from afar the art style of Imperial Settlers and that was carried over to the roll and write, and now into the digital form as well. The game features a hand drawn aesthetic much of the time. Many of the menus are shown to be on graph paper, all of the iconography is a charmingly sloppy to mimic hand drawn features. The buildings have a nice, clean look. The thing that looks best are the dice which are nice 3D models. The bizarre result of this is that they actually look out of place in the otherwise “color outside the lines” feel of the rest of the game. That’s the minorest of quibbles, however, as the app has a great, charming look from top to bottom.
Control-wise, things are as simple as you would hope. Click on an action to take it. For the pre-round bonus selection you will click-and-confirm. The game features an extensive undo button which will allow you to backup to the start of the current round. My only issue with the controls is that some of the hit boxes for taking actions are quite small. Specifically, the favor token in the corner and some construction boxes which have mixed resource costs. This hasn’t been a huge deal for me, especially due to the presence of the undo button, but it is worth noting for those that may have experienced issues like this in other games.
The only real issue I’ve had is a very specific bug. There is a building which grants you multiple favors. If one of the favors is Ally (which gives you an extra worker), after you choose it, a popup appears letting you know you are getting an extra worker. There is a slight delay between choosing you favors and this popup. In the case where I have a second favor and it requires me clicking in the upper right of the screen to make a selection, I can sometimes sneak in that click before the Ally popup shows. When I’m down with my second favor selection, the game is locked when I return, presumably because I never hit “Okay” on the Ally popup. This is a very specific situation I only encountered by trying the same scenario many, many times trying to earn more crowns.
The physical roll and write is primarily a multiplayer game, but to reiterate, the digital version does not have any multiplayer mode whatsoever.
The entire app is solo. The games span a campaign-like setup. Initially, you have access to the first game with its six buildings. Playing, and doing well, earns you crowns. These crowns are used to unlock subsequent scenarios with different buildings. The scenarios are grouped based on the Imperial Settlers factions; Japanese, Atlantis, Rome, Aztec, and so on. In total, there are 48 of these scenarios. I have not played through nearly all of them at this point so I can’t comment on how different these are as you get deep into things. I can say that I have enjoyed the first handful I’ve played. They present wildly different challenges through differing polyomino shapes and, more importantly, building abilities. Each one of them comes across as a new puzzle to solve, but it’s a bit more than that as you have to react to the dice and favor token randomness as well.
The game also grades you based on how many points you score. For the completionists, you can chase three crowns on every scenario and probably stay busy for a long, long time. There is an online leaderboard as well, if you want to see how you stack up to others.
The Wrap Up
For a game based on a rule variant of a roll and write offshoot of an engine building game, Imperial Settlers Roll and Write is really fun. I’ve found myself addicted to chasing higher scores not only to unlock new scenarios, but also just to see my high score improve. Speaking of those scenarios, this game is set up to be a grind. You earn one to three crowns per game and the new levels start costing over ten crowns really quickly. This grind will appeal or repel some, depending on taste. One upshot of this is that each of the scenarios essentially acts as its own mini game. If you can spend dozens of plays of a more traditional roll and write, you can do that exact same thing here over any of the scenarios and not care about unlocking more. There is a lot of depth here, if the basic concept is something you will buy into.
Quick. Fun. Depth. Point chasing. This checks a lot of boxes for me. I’ve dolled out high scores to other roll and writes before so the final score here is heavily biased for my love of the genre. I think it’s well deserved given the depth and unique twists this game brings to the genre.