The past year has taught me a lot about gaming, about myself, and about myself as a gamer. At BGG.FAM in May, I came across a game about farming and immediately scoffed. I could not imagine that I would ever be interested in playing a game about growing and harvesting crops, raising pigs, and selling goods at market. And yet, after watching a teaching session of the game, I immediately desired to own it. Now, in the same spirit, I am here to tell you to check out a game about picking strawberries.
Imperial Harvest is literally about picking strawberries.
Play occurs on a board constructed from twenty or twenty-four tiles. The tiles depict cobblestone paths, garden hedges, campsites, and a moat. The constructed space is a square, with a square moat surrounding a central square island of cobbled stone. Additional space factors include a set of three character cards per player, three types of tokens, and the turn tracker. The entire game, including tokens and cards, can be set up on a tray table, so if you are limited on space Imperial Harvest offers a way to get some game time in without feeling cramped. That said, if you have the room, spread out and relax.
Each player controls a team of three characters from one of two factions. Both factions want to pick as many strawberries as possible while preventing the other faction from doing so. In order to do so, the characters must navigate the garden, avoid the wandering Hydras in the moat, avoid enemy characters, and collect and deliver strawberries to their respective camps. It sounds simple, and really is. The complexity of the game depends entirely on the players involved and how tactical they like to be.
On a player’s turn, he will activate two of his three characters. The number of actions a character may take is indicated on the character’s game card, though three seems to be the standard. Each action a character takes requires the expenditure of one action point. When a character is activated, available actions are:
- Move one space
- Pluck a strawberry
- Deposit one or more strawberries in the faction camp
- Pass one or more strawberries to another character
- Activate character abilities, as indicated on the character card.
A character may attack an adjacent enemy character. Combat is incredibly basic, to the point that a legal attack is simply considered successful. In such a case, the defeated character is returned to their faction’s camp. The defeated character loses all carried strawberries, which are removed from the game. Should a character be defeated, he is immune to all attacks until he has departed his faction’s camp.
The third character, which is not activated during the turn, is marked by placing a “blanket card” over the character card. On the following turn, this character must be used, and another character must be given a rest under the blanket.
A player may choose to sacrifice a character activation in favor of moving a hydra within the moat. Hydra are important, as they can interfere with a character’s movement in the garden. While the hydras cannot leave the water, they do attack anything that is adjacent to them. This does not require an action, and it happens automatically and immediately upon a character entering an adjacent space. As with attacks from enemy characters, any legal attack is considered successful, and the defeated character loses everything he is carrying and is sent back to his faction’s camp.
Beyond the basic mechanics of the game, each character has unique abilities. In an “easy” game, each character has a single unique talent and a Strawberry Ability, which is a special talent that may be used only when the character is carrying a strawberry. For example, the Sorceress of the Northern Raiders is able to charm a target and move that character one space, while the Imperial Court’s monk is able to throw an adjacent character up to 2 spaces away- even throwing them over obstacles!
The game lasts only seven rounds, or fourteen turns. The clearly defined end point prevents the game from dragging on, which should appeal to players who balk at games that have no clear finish line. It is also possible to end the game early, if the Northern Raiders turn ends with no strawberries on the board.
John Madden once observed that the team which scores the most points usually wins, and that holds true here. Nothing matters except for the victory points at the end of the game. Points are scored in three ways. Simply plucking a strawberry earns 1 victory point, even if the character later loses the strawberry. Holding a strawberry at the end of the game is worth 1 victory point. Finally, if a character is able to deliver and deposit a strawberry in his faction’s camp, he scores 2 victory points. Whichever faction has the most points scored is the winner.
- 14 character cards
- 24 board tiles
- 8 rectangular garden tiles
- 4 square garden tiles
- 4 faction camp tiles
- 4 bridge tiles
- 4 moat tiles
- 4 hedge tokens & 4 destroyed hedge tokens
- 18 victory point tokens
- 18 strawberry/item tokens
- 16 character tokens
- 8 Northern Raiders
- 8 Imperial Servants
- Hydra Card
- 2 Hydra tokens
- Turn Order card
- 2 faction “blanket” cards
- 2 player playmate
I enjoyed this game for what it is: a quick little jaunt around a very simple board. This is unlikely to be my first choice of a game to play, but if I am looking for something easy to set up and play to fill time before we start game night, or while waiting on others to finish something so we can all start a game together, Imperial Harvest could find its way to my table.
I am particularly impressed with the inclusion of the cloth player mat. When we set up our first game, I used all the tiles except the moat, because I liked the aesthetic of the walkways being raised while the moat was slightly lower. I like the feel of the tiles, as well, though the tokens in the base game did not strike me as anything special. That said, we were provided an add-on that upgraded the character tokens and provided some interesting item cards to add to the game. With the new tokens it all seemed to come together, though I was subsequently plagued by my own inability to efficiently pack the box.
Initially, I was inclined to suggest that the $25 price point was too high for my liking. After all, the game is little more than a light-hearted capture-the-flag or king-of-the-hill, but with strawberries. And it’s small. But after handling the game components again and looking at the overall quality of the game, I understand why Broomstick Monkey Games set the price as they did. The components leave little to be desired and are of excellent quality. The art, while nothing you would find in the Museum of Modern Art, fits the theme and is pleasant enough. It doesn’t turn the eye away as some game art has done. The only issue with the overall game production is that the really nice tokens require picking up the Merchants & Magic expansion.
Long story short: if you are looking for a quick filler game, or even a gateway game for new gamers, you could do much worse than Imperial Harvest. I can recommend this if you have room in the game budget and really want a micro-game.
It’s an easy game to learn. It’s quick. It’s fun. The components are nice and easy to read. It doesn’t take a lot of time to play the game, since there is a limit on how many rounds you can play and how many strawberries there are to collect.
I like that the character abilities are easy to understand and are pretty diverse. How and when you use the abilities can change the flow of the game, and I like that.
Overall, I would say this is a good game for people who aren’t looking for long, in-depth, take 20 minutes to make a decision type games. It’s light strategy, point collection. It’s good for casual gamers.