IMAGINARIUM: The DREAM FACTORY
For 2-5 players aged 14+ with games taking from 90 minutes
My opening sentence for this review is "I cannot believe that on today's games market IMAGINARIUM: The DREAM FACTORY can be found online (new not second-hand) for under £30.00".
The player's marker pawns (aka Handymen) are unbelievably wonderful in detail, definitely in need of the care and attention of someone who is terrific at painting minis (so not me).
All illustrations and figures are themselves a super introduction into the World of Steam Punk. The game-play and rules plus the visually mechanised elephant and the conveyor-belt style board accentuate this. The character 'markers' are representative by colour of the player's own screens. Because they are only used as markers and all screens are identical as far as information is concerned players can select them by the colour of the screen, Pink, White, Black, Blue or Orange, or they can select by the design of the character pieces, beautiful busts of a variety of archetype Steam Punks.
Each character has a mystical, magical, mechanical type name: The White character is a representation of Philomena Zylphia, an Afro-American mystic with a 'third eye'. Pink is Zadock Zebulon, the perfection of a mad-scientist; Agrippine Pernille for Orange is the face of beauty; Felideus Bubastis is a mechanical winged Afro-American and enthusiastically Blue. Finally Black is represented by a typical Dwarven image, the large nosed, staring eyed, ZZTop white to grey beard and moustache and wayward hair over and aside a receeding forehead. The models are so specifically accurate to their portraits.
IMAGINARIUM: The DREAM FACTORY is one of those games where you are buying cards (known as Machines of various types) to collect Resourcess (from the card's abilities) to use to buy more cards or Victory Points. VPs are rewarded to the players as counters numbered 1, 3 and 5; the small wooden block Resourcess, Wood, Copper and Crystal, plus the plastic Charcoalium pieces (aka the monetary system) are kept in a specifically designed four-compartment box-tray which is another example of the immaculate production and yet another reason why I marvel at the under £30.00 retail price (I have seen it advertised between £29.00 - £36.00 online but you should always check your local games store before purchasing from the internet.)
The players each have a screen behind which they can hide their 'money' and Resourcess plus there are explanations of the Game Turn: Planning, Implementation, Checking and Resetting, Card Combinations and brief descriptions of the choices on the second player boards known as 'Workshops'. These 'Workshops' are the boards where players keep their Machine cards (there are four spaces under the board for single and combined Machine cards and three spaces above for Assistant's cards - each Assistant brings different skills to the table and the choice of Assistants can be fruitful towards a Victory. Once bought and positioned Assistants are there for the rest of the game thus players should deliberate carefully before rushing to spend hard earned Charcoalium. Deliberate yes, but carefully? most definitely as there are only 13 Assistants available and in a 5 player game each player is not going to get a full compliment.
The 'Workshops' are the crucial element of the game as they not only contain the possible Actions players can take (two Actions per turn) and give players their beginning Resourcess, they also have the unique 'clock-hand' Mechanic for selecting them. Let me expand on that. Many games use a wheel with a plastic pointer (usually a three-part assembled arrow) which players use to determine a choice be it by colour, number or whatever, it isn't a new idea, but in IMAGINARIUM: The DREAM FACTORY there are TWO arrows on the same stem set exactly one Action symbol apart (these six symbols are spaced equally around a circle with the twin-arrows centrally located in the circle). This means that if a player wishes to do a specific Action they must also choose one of the Actions to the side of it (although they do not have to perform them both). It is not permissable to do the same 2 Actions in a row but you can always do one of them simply by moving the arrows one space to the left or right for your next turn, then you could move them back the following turn meaning you have performed the same Action two, three (or more) times in a row.
The main board is known as the Bric-A-Brac and is a Steam Punk style factory complete with cogs, springs, pulleys and a conveyor belt action from which Machine cards can be obtained and a Charcoalium Extractor (hilariously illustrated as a set of chomping teeth) which will give you One, Two or Three (dependent on your Handyman's placement) Charcoalium pieces. On their Turn the players choose what they are going to do by placing their Handyman on a card on the conveyor belt or onto one of the spaces on the Charcoalium Extractor - generally selecting the 3 space as that gives the most game cash. I say generally because once all players have placed their Handymen on the board they take their Board Actions in order of closest to the Bric-A-Brac entry stairs (numbered 1 through 5) thus taking the 3 Charcoalium immediately means you will be going last next Turn.
A Two or Three Player Game is easier to plan and play than a Four or Five player game. This is because going First, Second or Third is extremely important but the need for Charcoalium can be equally as important. If your Handyman is on a Charcoalium Extractor space you will gain that amount of Charcoalium no questions asked and nothing to pay. If however you opt to buy a card from the Conveyor Belt then you have to be able to pay for it, in Charcoalium, otherwise it is going to cost you dearly in whatever Charcoalium you have plus 2 Resourcess per Charcoalium required, right up to using/losing all the Resourcess and Charcoalium you have and the Machine being scrapped from the game - as I said it's painful. In a 4 or 5 player game you can be forced into choosing to buy a Machine even if you don't have the necessary cash, hence the reason of keeping your Resourcess and Charcoalium hidden behind your screen.
Machines arrive at your Workshop in a broken condition and you can keep them in your 'yard' in this condition until you can afford to choose the repair option and pay the Resourcess to repair it, then placing it into one of the spaces under your Workshop. Repaired Machines bring in an income of Charcoalium or Resourcess every Turn and if combined with matching Machine types (they each have code numbers) their productivity can expand or even change for the better. Combined Machines still only take up one slot under the Workshop but to be able to combine Machines both (or more) have to first be in a separate slot before being moved on top of the Machine they are combining with, having moved from your 'Building Yard' to the Workshop after being Repaired; they cannot move from the 'Building Yard' straight to being combined with another Machine already in position.
Machines are obtained off the conveyor belt by purchasing them for Charcoalium, the cost being the value on the Machine card plus the value on/just above the conveyor belt, values being 4, 3,3, 2, 2 and 1 which are suffixed by a '+' sign. Don't let your gaming instinct change the way the rules for the Conveyor Belt are written even if you have strong personal feelings about how it should work. At the end of the Round, when all players have had their Turn, the Machine furthest along the Conveyor Belt to the Right is discarded and all Machines are moved to the Right to fill up the empty spaces, as necessary the farthest to the Left being flipped from the top of the deck. It is natural to assume that if the last one or more (furthest Right) Machines have been bought the next one in line should be slid down to the end space, but this is not the case. After the Machines have been taken and the Turn brought to an end the card furthest to the Right, no matter which Conveyor Belt space it is on, is discarded.
Machines are the ways to win the game, being the player with the most points after one player declares they have reached 20 VPs at the end of a complete Round which brings the game to its conclusion. We always enjoy a game where everyone has an equal number of Turns even though if the last player in the Round is the one who triggers the game end and thus the others can only look on and reminisce about what they could have done if they had another turn. Although Turns can be quite quick there is still an amount of thinking and planning to do before plunging into action. Deciding to save your cash (Charcoalium) to purchase a high cost Assistant can be money worth spent. For example in our last game I bought the Assistant that looks like a Gorilla with grey hair and a ginger beard. He cost me a whacking 9 Charcoalium but he allowed me to select which two Actions I wanted to take every Turn without using the Arrow system, I could even choose the same pair of Actions the next Turn and so on. (If only I had been able to buy him earlier in the game...)
So far I have praised the production, I forgot to say how well the Rulesbook looks and explains everything, the miniatures, yes they are only Markers but they are eye-catchingly stunning, and spoken about gaining Resourcess by using and combining Machines.So it's time to mention two other types of Machine, the Attack Machines and the Defence Machines, marked A1-A4. A1 allows you to steal Charcoalium, A2 allows the theft of Wood, A3 is the purloining of Copper and A4 gets you Crystals. The nice/evil part of the stealing actions is that when you steal any of the above ALL players have to give up an equal number of the Resources in case; 3 pieces of Wood and Charcoalium and 2 pieces for Copper and Crystal. The Attack card player then takes either 3 or 2 Resourcess from the collection and puts the rest of the lot back into supply, keeping the 2 or 3 for themselves. This way no one person is picked on, everyone suffers except the card player unless players have Defence Machines working for them. Attack Machines can never be combined but Defence Machines can.
Machines can be dismantled to gain Resourcess. If you dismantle a repaired/working Machine you gain double its repair cost in Resourcess/Charcoalium or VPs equal to the Machine's level. If you dismantle a broken Machine from your 'Yard' you receive as many Resourcess from the main supply equal to the level of the Machine - the Resourcess must be the same as required to repair it. This is why it is a good idea to buy cheap broken Machines, repair them and then dismantle them. It also means you can later purchase and repair Machines of higher levels that require a heavier demand of Resourcess. Discarded Machines go to the Crusher (the Teeth).
With all this going on you would think the game was already quite complex (definitely not complicated) enough, but there is still more. We come now to the Projects of which there are 14, each with a different combination of Machines required to complete and gain VPs from. The Projects are shuffled and dealt onto the tables in the Works Office (on the board) face up so all can see them. If at the end of your Turn you have completed one Project (or more) you can reveal that you have the necessary requirements and place one of your personal markers onto the Project card. All of the Projects are not used each game so there will almost always be different things to aim for - think of the Projects as Quests with the difference being that once someone has completed one it is not taken or discarded, it remains there for others to complete. There is a VP value on each Project and the first person to complete it gets that amount of VPs; players claiming completion afterwards gain one VP less than the value (I must admit that we thought it would be a good idea to have players gain one VP less than the player before them so that for a Project valued at 4VPs the first to complete would get 4VPs, the second to complete gets 3VPs then "VPs and finally 1VP, that's what we thought but it isn't the Rules and so we only tried it once just for fun and decided it made little if any difference to the game. The winner is still the player who balances their Actions the best. We haven't found any particular route to winning or any character that is better or worse than the others even though they mostly do begin with different amounts and types of Resourcess.
I have said that buying the better Assistants is a good idea, but also you need a source of getting Crystals as they are quite rare to be available on the Machine cards. You could go the Charcoalium route, spending 5 Charcoalium to purchase each VP but that's a lot of Charcoalium to get to 20VPs and players using Assistants and Machines will most certainly go past you at a fair speed.
At the end of the Rules booklet but before the card explanations glossary there are a couple of pages that convert the multiplayer game to a two player game. It is quite similar in setup to the basic game but it introduces a new character into the mix, that of the Saboteur. Each player has a Character and a Saboteur which are used in tandem to screw with your opponent whilst benefitting your own aims. Two player games are interesting and to a point more interactive than 3, 4 or 5 player games in which there are no Saboteurs and no player interaction whatsoever - except that it's a game which is easy to chat over and around while playing.
Everyone, before their first game and at the first viewing of the game, were pleasantly astounded by the exemplorary production, right down to the special component/Resources box, the blown-plastic containers for the figures and the inner box (unfortunately not inner lid as well) design. With the production, the retail price, the strategic possibilities of play as well as the excellence of the character miniature busts, I am at a loss to see why there is nothing on the front of the box to show that it won 'this' or 'that' games award.
Personal notes to owners of this game.
a). Please keep your minis safe in their blown-plastic container.
b). Make sure you keep the Resourcess in the specially designed box.
c). Either obtain some zip-loc bags or do what I did and buy some of the mini kitchen boxes (plastic containers with lids) from 'Bargain' Stores costing £1.00 for either 8 or 10, and keep your small counters in them - there is plenty of room in the box and they ensure counters aren't lost.
The only 'con' we have found about this game is as previously noted the lack of player interaction unless you are playing the two-player game. Having two characters per player for multi-player games sounds like it would be fun and bring the missing interaction into the game but it would also lengthen the time of play quite seriously and we don't think that the game has enough variation or variables to support any further prolonged play.
The 'pros' far outweigh the 'cons' especially the low retail price. Has definite replayability, is fun and different each game and has scope for expanding strategies. My suggestion is to check it out when you can particularly if you are in a boardgame's club and have a universal library of games, at £30.00 this is a must for your club's library collection. It would also make a good present for a birthday/Christmas present for a games playing Cyber Punk/Steam Punk aficionado.