“I played Imperial Miners during the meeting. Between the teach and playing a full game, it was all done in about 22 minutes.”
Not believing that this was possible—an Imperial Settlers-adjacent game in 20 minutes!!—I made my way to the Portal team to talk shop. Then we dove into the game. We stopped two rounds short of the normal end condition because I botched one of the rules…and that was around the 18-minute mark of our meeting.
Successive plays of Imperial Miners back home yielded similar timing. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t get a game to last longer than 30 minutes. As you’ve probably guessed, I’m obsessed with time. I’m a parent who gets limited chances to play a lot of games. As much fun as the act of playing games is, I want maximum fun per minute. One of my favorite gaming highlights from 2021 occurred when I got a group together to play six games in seven hours. All the games were full of rich choices and abundant laughter.
Imperial Miners is fun. It’s not legendary, but it manages both its aspirations and my expectations exceptionally well for a quick tableau builder.
Welcome Back to the Imperial SettlersVerse
Portal publishes the Imperial Settlers line of games. The team at Meeple Mountain has covered the base game, multiple expansions, the roll-and-write version, and Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North. Yeah, I think we know the Imperial Settlers line quite well.
And in the spirit of nearly every established gaming system I know, Imperial Settlers needed a version that was even lighter and faster than the original base game. Enter Imperial Miners, a 1-5 player, 10-round tableau builder that takes place in the Imperial SettlersVerse with some factions from other Imperial Settlers games.
Imperial Miners has zero player interaction, simultaneous turns, and simple scoring conditions. In fact, Imperial Miners is so light on interaction that I would argue it is a solo game with a multiplayer variant, and not the other way around.
Players must build a card from their hand into their “mine” (tableau) each turn, following an event that changes the rules for the current round. Each card has tags from one or two of the six factions in the game. Playing a card requires payment of 0-13 gold coins to play. Cards are placed by level, so level one cards are placed in the top row of a mine, level two cards in the second row, etc.
When a card is placed, it triggers and gives the owner a bonus of either gold or gems, the latter of which are used to calculate end-game scores. Then, moving up the chain of cards (as if you were a miner returning to the surface), players can trigger one card just above the most recently placed card. Doing so grants those bonuses before triggering the next card in the line. When players reach the top of the mine, they gain gold, more cards, or an “advance” of a few rows up a track of one of the three track boards in play for the current game.
Then players repeat this process nine more times. Whoever has the most gems is the winner. Because no player interacts with any other player, the game plays exactly the same whether five players are at the table or just one; with solo play, the game has a scoring chart that serves as a high-score challenge.
The Combos are Fun
Imperial Miners didn’t set my table on fire, but it’s a nice time thanks to a few fun combos. Each game featured moments where I felt pretty crafty building my mine to trigger all kinds of gem-producing effects.
I also appreciated how fast the game remained, even with multiple players joining me. I played Imperial Miners four times (solo twice, two players, four players) and games played fast. My second solo game took about 10 minutes. That’s perfect for what you get out of this box.
Personally, I like talking during games, so zero player interaction games are usually not my cup of tea. Still, I recognize that Imperial Miners will work for certain players. There is no way to mess with another player. This is a bug for me, but I have friends who believe this to be a feature.
Like games of Furnace where you watch as a player spits out a bunch of points that they supposedly scored by following the rules, Imperial Miners will likely feature moments where you’re not sure that the person sitting next to you is on the up-and-up. And I assume that person is thinking the same thing about me.
To use a term that others employ in this space—Imperial Miners is the purest definition of multiplayer solitaire. The shared experience comes from comparing scores at the end, or bumping into another player when you both try to grab cardboard gold coins from a dish on the table. Polite gem counting at the table is appropriate, but general talking is definitely not appropriate. You get the idea.
I liked Imperial Miners best as a solo game. I don’t think Imperial Miners was aspiring to be a classic; in that way, the design by Tim Armstrong does the job.