Review – Inca Empire from White Goblin Games

Review – Inca Empire from White Goblin Games, designed by Alan D. Ernstein
Right up front, I have to state that this is an update of the designer’s earlier effort, Tahuantinsuyu which I was unfamiliar with so I have reviewed Inca Empire with fresh eyes, so to speak.
Inca Empire is White Goblin’s game for 3-4 players aged 12+ where your job as one of the Inca leaders is to build up the infrastructure (Roads, Cities, Temples, Garrisons and Terraces) to build the empire and earn victory points. At your disposal are workers which you gain as you conquer areas and then “spend” to build these items as you build your linked infrastructure. Kind of like a “train” route building game but with bells and whistles on it that make this game quite thematic.
The game board is double sided for 3 and 4-player versions with areas set out for you to conquer. Amongst the geographic areas is a network of lines where you can place roads, as well as clearly marked City and Garrison sites to build these. The artwork is very nice and works well for the most part although it is a little tough to distinguish a few different areas for placement of local culture markers. Thankfully, a local culture placement diagram in the rules sorts this out. The game also comes with relevant counters representing workers, cities, garrisons, terraces and player turn order as well as wooden cubes for Temples which are placed on the City counters. You track rounds and victory points with wooden pieces. The roads are represented by very thin wooden pieces which could have been a bit thicker and easier to handle in my view. Lastly, there are cards indicating building costs and Sun cards which provide a number of variable events and opportunities or dangers. The Sun cards are placed and recycled through the game on a placement board which allows you to choose who the card event effects.
Gameplay
The goal of Inca Empire is to have the most victory point at the moment Pizarro arrives at Cuzco. The game is divided into four historic eras leading up to the arrival of Pizarro. Each era has a number of phases including the Inca phase, Sun phase, People phase, and Sapa Inca Inca phase. The first era only includes the Inca and 2 People phases.The game board has a useful section to track the era and phase you are in.
The Inca phase is where you organize your production by receiving labour tokens, according to the current era and according to the number of areas you have conquered and terraces you have built. Also, there is a rule here where the leading player must aid the last place player by giving them a labour token. This is meant to help to keep the game closer and more competitive. The Sun phase has you determining turn order, which moves along well during the game and allows everyone to have the advantage of being the first player. You then play the Sun Event cards. This is a very interesting mechanic as the players will be playing cards from their hands onto a separate board. What’s more, the cards can only be placed in one section of this board per phase and will only effect 2 players at a time. As the cards have various effects, both positive and negative, this introduces a randomness and strategic element all in a very player interactive way. So you have to ask yourself who you want to allow the same benefit you receive or who you want to stick it to. There are also a lot of different choices to be made with the cards which means its hard to predict and also means a lot of variety.
The People phase is where you spend your labour tokens to build and expend your part of the empire by building roads, founding cities, building garrisons, build temples or conquer regions. As your building takes shape, you find yourself with a growing road network, taking territory and building infrastructure, each with victory points. It all works very well. I do wish that the road pieces were a little thicker for easier handling. The Sapa Inca phase ends each era as the players discard all Sun Event cards, score further victory points and return unused labour tokens to the bank.
The structure is easy to follow, is logical and after the first few rounds, and getting used to what the cards mean, it all picks up speed. The cards are easy to read, with nice thematic artwork. They are a pleasure to use in the game. The variety of choices is interesting and gives you a real feel that you are involved in building an ancient empire. The Pilgrimage cards are powerful and I think they may unbalance the game if the leading player pulls them. There is a variant for a shorter game which has you remove them and skip a couple of era columns which I think may be a good idea. Another variant rule has variable arrival of Pizarro and may end the game sooner and this I like as this isn’t a short game. I would say 2-3 hours without the variants unless you are familiar with the cards and also I would recommend that you agree with the other players to a time limit per turn so you can keep things moving. No a game to play with players who like to analyze every option which would personally drive me crazy!
Did it work for me?
I really like Inca Empire. It is a nice, crisp design with elements I really enjoy such as route building and empire building. The game is actually quite simple which again I like. No intricate depth of mechanics. Just the right level to play and enjoy, and visually it all looks a treat as your empire grows. The cards take a bit of time to remember but the rules clearly explain what you need to know. I really like the player interaction of the card play and having to choose where you want the impact of the cards to be. The variant rules are a must for my style of play to allow a faster game and I will recommend these as otherwise it can all take a bit too long. All in all, a very good design with high quality presentation and components.
Boardgames in Blighty rating – 8 out of 10
Family Friendly?
No, not really. There are enough things to do which will challenge the patience of the kids for sure. Definitely too long to play unless your family are really into this kind of thing.

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