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Digital Subscriptions > Tabletop Gaming > September 2019 (#34) > Settling In

Settling In

As the world of Imperial Settlers expands to the Empires of the North, Ignacy Trzewiczek looks back – and forward – on five years of his civilisation-building card game

At Gen Con 2014, Ignacy Trzewiczek was terrified. “Really, really terrified.” His company, Polish publisher Portal Games, was exhibiting with a booth at the massive US convention for the first time. Making its debut was the designer’s latest game, Imperial Settlers, which allowed players to build up civilisations from throughout history by adding cards to their individual tableau. Each of the game’s factions had an individual deck of cards that combined with a central deck of common cards to recreate the constant expansion and technological progression of the civs. It was ambitious, inventive – and, even for an ‘obsessive’ playtester like Trzewiczek, a massive challenge to get right.

The designer had played day and night, carefully tweaking card combinations and abilities over hundreds of matches. But within a few days of Imperial Settlers’ launch at Gen Con, hundreds of players would play thousands of times. Within a few weeks, even more players would have experienced the game, drawing and playing almost every possible combination of cards between them. It was the ultimate stress test.

“This is a nightmare I guess for every designer”, Trzewiczek confides. “Even though the designer does their best trying to balance stuff and trying to find all these combos and synergies, then there’s the release of the game and we are all scared because there is always this one dude who will have this incredible luck – the synergy of the cards – and will come with this amazing combo, and then he will post on BoardGameGeek that he got 200 points and the game is broken, and you will be crying.”

Despite his worries, Trzewiczek’s efforts paid off; Imperial Settlers quickly garnered a positive reception from players and established a reputation as one of the designer’s best-loved games. Five years on, the game’s fantasy-historical world has been expanded further by several expansions, this a roll-and-write spin-off and, most recently, spiritual sequel Empires of the North. That foreboding Gen Con now holds a special place in Trzewiczek’s heart.

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