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Review by: Jim Brumbaugh
Published: September 22, 1997
Do you have what it takes to mold a tiny country into a Great Power? Think you could handle not only the military aspects of your burgeoning kingdom, but also the economic, industrial and diplomatic ones? Interested in engineering the infrastructure of your fatherland, in order that food be collected for your people, and natural resources be developed to be used in industry? If these sorts of challenges appeal to your more “civilized” of senses, then Imperialism from SSI will satisfy your “kingmaking” desires.
As noted above, the player of Imperialism has many tasks which he must be able to manage. Although I will discuss these tasks individually, it helps to remember that in Imperialism, as in life, virtually every action that is taken is done so for one reason only: money. Each act will inflict some sort of change in the economic position either of the player or of one of his competitors, and the whole purpose of the game is for the player to build a nation that is stronger and more economically viable than those of his opponents, as quickly as he can. By keeping this one principle in mind, the logic behind the actions that can be taken in Imperialism will flow smoothly.
Although scenarios are included in the game, let’s begin our game discussion with a randomly-generated map. On such a map, the player will find seven Great Powers, each of which can be ruled by a human player or can be assigned to be governed by the game’s AI. There are also sixteen Minor Nations on the map which are ripe for conquest. Although Minor Nations do take actions which have an effect on gameplay, they can not develop into Great Nations nor can they win the game. Therefore, the player’s primary opponents are the six rival Great Powers.
In order that all players begin with equal territories, every Great Power is composed of eight provinces. Minor Nations consist of four provinces, and every province contains either a capital city or a town. Conquest on the battlefield is conducted on a province-by-province basis, and there can be only one owner of any particular province at the end of every turn.
At the start of the game, the player is supplied with a small amount of money. In order to generate a stable cash flow, the player must concentrate his efforts on developing the three different economic aspects of his country. The first is the expansion of trade with other countries, which includes not only the manufacture of goods and products in the player’s own country, but also the diplomatic relationships and economic “bonuses” that are developed between the player’s country and other Great Powers and/or Minor Nations. The second is the discovery and mining of gold and gems, items which are not tradeable, but which do provide a bonus in the form of money whenever they are transported to industry. The third is the profit received from the actions taken by any of the player’s units that are located within the borders of Minor Nations, as they can perform activities such as purchasing plots of land which can return monetary profits to the player’s Great Power.
After the basics of money are understood, it is time to move on to a discussion of commodities. There are three different types of commodities that the player of Imperialism will encounter. Resources are one type, which are commodities that are mined or grown. Gold and gems were mentioned earlier, and other examples of Resources are grain, cotton, wool, trees, coal, iron ore, and horses. Materials are another type of commodity, which can be thought of as the basics needed for production. Resources are converted to produce Materials; for example, trees are processed to make paper or lumber, iron ore and coal are processed to make steel, oil is processed to make fuel, and wool or cotton can be processed to yield silk. Finally, Materials are further processed in order to produce Goods, the highest level of commodity. The player can produce furniture from lumber, clothing from silk, and either hardware or armaments from steel.
To develop his country’s economy, the player must first concentrate on growing his industrial capacity. This is done from the Industry screen, with different buildings representing the various industries present in the player’s country. For example, the Lumber Mill is used to process trees into lumber, the Steel Mill converts coal and iron ore into steel, and so forth. Each industry is represented on the screen, and each has an initial production capacity: Mills (Textile, Lumber and Steel) all begin with a capacity of two, and Factories (like Clothing and Furniture) begin with a capacity of one. By clicking on a selected building on the Industry screen, a window opens which reveals the production of that commodity that can be made on that turn. The player clicks on a slider bar which shows the number of units of commodity that are being processed, and the type of commodity that will be produced that turn. The output of every Mill and Factory can eventually be increased, provided that the player has enough lumber and steel stocked in his warehouse to build the expanded plant. By regularly increasing plant capacity, the player can gradually increase his ability to process greater numbers of commodities.
One commodity not yet mentioned is Labor, which is required as “fuel” for all Industrial production, among other things. The player’s labor force consists of workers of various levels of training. Untrained workers are attracted to the player’s country via the Capitol Building on the Industry screen. By spending one unit each of food, clothing and furniture, an untrained worker migrates to the player’s industry and supplies one unit of labor per turn. A worker can be trained at the Trade School by supplying him with cash and paper. Untrained workers become trained workers which supply two units of labor per turn, and trained workers can be further instructed to become expert workers which supply four units of labor per turn. An adequate labor supply is necessary to produce the goods needed for trade, because even though sufficient materials may be available, goods can not be created without labor to convert them into other products.
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