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Three Moves Ahead Episode 61: Classic Game Analysis – Imperialism

April 20th, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 27 Comments · Design, Podcast, Retro, Three Moves Ahead


Troy, Tom and Bruce look at the classic Frog City/SSI games Imperialism and Imperialism 2.

What makes this series one of the greatest grand strategy experiences of all time? Can a game this difficult and time intensive be made again? Bruce has a theory, Tom keeps calling Colonization the wrong name, and Troy is focused on diplomacy.

Listen here.
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Bruce’s Revisionist History on Imperialism
Troy’s essay on Imperialism’s maps
Tom vs Bruce: Imperialism 2


27 Comments so far ↓

  • Tim James

    Classic game analysis… hey, wait a minute. Shouldn’t we be seeing some more Decades features? I loved those!

  • Nate

    I remember being seriously addicted to Imperialism back in the day but never played the sequel – anyone know where you can get them these days? (already checked on gog.com but didn’t see them there)

  • Troy

    Amazon has it, believe it or not.

    But, yes, this would be a perfect series for Good Old Games.

  • Punning Pundit

    I don’t recall if you guys did a whole podcast on IR and games, but I enjoyed your brief discourse on realism. One of the things games model, and real life rejects, is zero-sum multi-party relationships. At least, zero sum relationships rarely turn out to be winning strategies.

    I’d love to hear you guys talk more about this topic…

  • Nikolaj

    I was surprised that you guys waited so long before correcting Tom. That’s not nice. :)

    Great episode, best one in a while, in my opinion. The editing was a bit weird, though, with the show starting mid-sentence and ending with a shout.

  • Warren

    Really enjoyed the analysis of this old classic game. I’d love to see, erm, hear more episodes in this vein alongside ones on current games.

  • Sarkus

    I have both Imperialism I and II still, and listening to this makes me tempted to replay one of them (probably the 2nd.) But then I think back to the headaches they gave me back then and I really wonder if I’d enjoy them.

  • Tom Chick

    The funny thing about the Colonization thing is that I got the wrong name rammed into my head during the kerfluffle when Ben Fritz at Variety called it out for being in poor taste. I didn’t necessarily agree with him, but I appreciated his perspective and thought it was an interesting discussion that was worth having.

    However, somewhere along the way, I had a mental shift to calling it Colonialism — which has a negative connotation — instead of Colonization — which is a more value-judgment neutral term.

  • Steve

    Glad to hear that Scourge of War will be your next topic. I’ve only recently gotten back into gaming after many years away so I missed out on the Take Command series.

    Before I took my break from gaming, Sid Meier’s Gettysburg was one of my favorites, so much so that I made a whole Web site about it (The SMG Alternative). For me, the best part of that game was the AI. Even after a year of playing it it still made me work for my victories. In fact, I’d say it was equivalent to the average human opponent I found online. Granted, there were tricks I could pull to wipe it out, but as long as I avoided using skirmish formation it wasn’t Total War-like.

    It’s the only game I’ve ever played with challenging AI, but my experience is limited. You’ve talked about AI in previous podcasts (usually about it being bad), but I think an episode devoted to the topic would be great. I’d like to hear about games that have good AI and why you think they do.

    My suspicion about SMG is that the AI was good because it had simple objectives to fulfill: occupy a small number of victory points while maximizing morale blocks through taking cover, covering flanks, keeping generals nearby, falling back under stress etc.

    It was a satsifying opponent.

  • Dauntless_Dad

    So having never played either of these games, are they worth buying and playing today or are they 10-year-old period pieces that don’t really hold up any more? Has EU3 made them obsolete?

    Also, exploration and discovery in strategy games – I’m all for a podcast on that topic, going all the way back to Bruce’s Seven Cities of Gold.

  • Troy

    Absolutely worth playing still. No other game has really filled this game in such an interesting and original way.

    I’ve added an Amazon buy link for both games, but you can probably find the original Imperialism cheaper somewhere else.

  • Clay

    (Actually posted this on the podcast RSS page, but that’s clearly the wrong place to post comments.)

    Loved this podcast, since I’m a huge fan of Imperialism. Played it first when I was about 10 and was absolutely terrible at it. Got another copy a couple of years ago and have been playing at intervals since. I even started a new game last night, and played for about six hours, despite needing to sleep. =D

    The podcast in general is great; the content is excellent and so are the participants. Keep it up. =)

  • Troy

    Not the wrong place, Clay. Just less active. I replied to you there.

    And welcome to the fun.

  • Joseph Crook

    Ahhhhhh Imperialism……… I remember being a senior in high school when I bought this. Played it on my lightning-fast Pentium 133mhz system with a whopping 32mb of ram. Good times indeed. If any game series needs a revival, this is one of them. I wonder if I can get it to run on windows 7 x64? Dosbox maybe?

    Thanks guys for the trip down memory lane. Look forward to the next show. Cheers.

  • Clay

    Imperialism will run just fine but you should run it in 640×480 resolution, 256 colors and compatibility mode for Win95. Compatibility mode might not be necessary, but I don’t see the point in not doing it like that. I think in the podcast Tom says Imperialism II runs just fine on Windows 7, so I figure the first one should be similar.

  • Mauricio

    I assume this is true, but just making sure: if you only play one of these, make it Imperialism II (not I), right?

  • Tom Chick

    Holy cats, if we didn’t make it clear that Imperialism II holds up *fantastically*, that was an oversight on our part. It’s still an incredible game, and I wouldn’t hesitate to heartily recommend — nay, insist! — it to a strategy gamer. I’m not sure how Bruce or Troy would feel, but I think a new player should definitely go straight to Imperialism II.

  • Troy

    What Tom said, with the single caveat that Imperialism 2 is much more difficult than the original. The research (which we didn’t talk about) is more full of choices, the military upgrades are more distinct, the resource/production chain is more elaborate.

    I still like the first Imperialism very much. The second one is a more complex and, I would argue, meaningful game.

  • Mauricio

    Thanks much for the clarification. What wasn’t clear was when you were referring to I vs. II, at a few points in the podcast. Similar thing with Master of Orion 1+2 being released on GOG.com… People have been saying “MOO is great! Definitely play it!” but apparently they usually mean MOO2.

    One other note… the Imperialism I + II manuals are available at replacementdocs.com for anyone who wants to get a closer look at the game mechanics without committing to buy. They look pretty good.

  • Troy

    Except for some general mechanics (diplomacy, the resource collection, the naval and military stuff) we were talking Imp 2. If something was unique to Imp 1, I usually mentioned it specifically.

  • Chris Floyd

    Mauricio — Re: MOO — Don’t you believe it! It’s somewhat a matter of taste, but MOO1 is absolutely great. MOO2 adds more of almost everything, which occasionally is better, but mostly is just MORE.

    I took an evening this week to play my previously unplayed (!) copy of Imperialism II. Got through all 18 tutorials (that number scared me, but turned out some of them were really short). Definitely takes awhile to understand the teleporting units, but I have to say, if Civ introduced something like that, I’d be delighted because I hate fiddling with fifty separate units over fifty turns just to take a couple cities.

    Looking forward to digging into a real game this weekend. Thanks for this episode. I look forward to more.

  • McKnight

    Imperialism 2 is on sale for £2.99 on Amazon right now, if anyone still doesn’t own a copy or was interested in snagging one on the cheap.


  • R simmon

    Since I’ve never played Imperialism, my only thought was “This sounds like the perfect iPad game.”

  • Jon Shafer

    Good episode guys, really enjoyed it.

    At the risk of being labeled a blasphemer, I actually liked the first Imperialism better than the second. It seemed tighter, if less polished. I wasn’t a huge fan of the research system in II, even though it had a lot more depth than the first one. The resource system in I is also more forgiving (which means you’ll be starting over less). If you don’t have relatively easy access to the myriad of metals needed in II you’re pretty much screwed.

    I found that the game systems they built fit the theme of the first game better. Constructing RRs around the map to help collect various resources makes sense – rail was a huge technological innovation. Doing the same thing with Roads a few hundred years earlier caused me to scratch my head. What, were there no roads in Europe before 1500? Obviously an abstraction, but it was still clear they were adapting a system that worked well in one game to another, regardless of how well it fit. They couldn’t build Imperialism II without the connecting-stuff-to-your-central-trade-network mechanic, so they adapted it in the best way they could.

    I also think the exploration mechanic was a little underwhelming in II. I’m obviously biased, but the sense of roaming around the map and finding new things I find much more enjoyable and exciting in Civ games. In Imperialism II you have a pretty good idea of where everything is and what’s out there, so it’s more a matter of being first, than actually finding something (or not). For me, there was almost no excitement in it – simply seemed like busywork. This is only one facet of the game, but it’s a big one that separates I from II.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think both are good games. I just think I was better than II.


  • triggercut

    Halfway through the podcast and loving it.

    When the three of you were talking about gaming “abstractions” and games not being able to get away with it, the first counter-example that sprang to my mind was from Rise Of Nations. I still remember feeling that sinking “oh great, busy work to load troops on transports” in my stomach the first time I went to cross a channel of water….only to find my troops just turned into transports. How beautifully elegant and totally abstracted can you get, but it absolutely worked.

  • Rudolpht

    I have been playing I
    Imperialism II recently on Win 7. (Compatibility XP SP3)

    It brings back memories and I’m hooked again.

    Is there any game like it for iPad?

  • High Pockets

    I am very interested in trying out both Imperialism I and II after reading all of these statements of admiration. Troy, thanks for posting the link to amazon, but I’d really like to purchase a digital download copy of this. Unfortunately it does not appear to be available on Steam, Impulse, Direct2Drive, GamersGate, or GoG! It does look like Imperialism I is available on Abandonia but I can’t find Imperialism II. Does anyone know where that can be obtained as a digital download online? Hey GoG, if you guys read this blog (you should), please get the Imperialism series on your site.