Last year, I finally tried out Tempus Imperium. It is a Roll and Write that doesn’t actually use dice or even cards. Instead, it uses a date stamp.
You create a ten-digit number with the year-month-day-hour-minute. You use that number to set up the board and it then serves as the order of actions for the actual game play. Said gameplay is building up a generic medieval kingdom.
I like Tempus Imperium but there are some limitations baked into the core concept. After you generate the ten-digit number, the game is a perfect information solitaire. I don’t think that’s a flaw but that is a core element of the game.
I also became aware that the designer had refined the concept in Tempus Quest and Tempus Infinitum, which is a more streamlined and refined version of Tempus Imperium.
The biggest difference between Imperium and Infinitum is that, like Tempus Quest, you only create a six-digit number using the day, hour and minute. This doesn’t mean just fewer actions per turn. It also means a less static number.
In Tempus Imperium, the first two numbers were going to be the for an entire year and each month would be the same. Removing them means a lot more variety in a game whose only ‘random’ element is the setup.
And after the or six plays, I can see how this is both cool and bad. On the one hand, between multiple seed maps and the higher variance in the digits, there is a lot more variety compared to Tempus Imperium.
On the other hand, you can generate games that, as near as I can tell, aren’t viable. Players have to help balance the game but I am pretty sure some setups are too unbalanced to ‘work’.
There are four actions: build roads, expand lakes, build buildings and use buildings. You can spend two gold to do a different action than the one assigned by the number. There are also enemies that steal gold until you destroy them with a specific building action.
So this is what I ran into: almost all the buildings require gold and the only way to generate gold is through building actions. I’ve had number strings with no use actions and my economy completely dried up. Almost immediately. Once I was able to compensate by making a huge lake for points but when I haven’t had that action either, I was left drawing roads and skipping turns.
And, yes, the easy answer is to fudge the digit, either by waiting a few minutes or just fudging the number. Which feels like cheating but it might just be balancing the game.
I have notified that Tempus Infinitum seems to no longer being tested. Instead, there is now a game called Tempus Imperium Aeternum which looks more intricate. I’ll have to try it out.
(I’ve also been playing through Tempus Quest. A couple of design choices help deal with some of my issues. But that will be another blog)