Strawberry Pluckin’

YOU SEE THIS HARP? YOU SEE THIS... BANJO... THING? WELL WATCH OUT BUB, I'M GONNA BOOST MY PALS WITH IT!

Everybody knows the Great Wall was built to prevent the barbarian hordes from plundering the imperial garden’s strawberries, and thank goodness Imperial Harvest isn’t too caught up in politically-motivated historical propaganda to deny the obvious. One side wants royal strawberries, the other side wants royal strawberries; there ain’t enough royal strawberries for the both of ’em.

Cue one of the weirdest gaming experiences I’ve had this year. And I’ve played Zimby Mojo.

"No they are not, Dana. Back to you at the studio, Jim."

Delicious Strawberries: Worth The Effort? More at 9.

Imperial Harvest’s oddness isn’t so much due to the game itself. In a lot of ways, it feels perfectly regular. You’ve got a modular map of the imperial gardens, complete with various layouts of hedges, bridges, and the placement of starting camps. There are monsters prowling the waterways, characters with different abilities — all sorts of boxes are getting marked on my personal checklist of gaming greatness, in short.

Then the game goes and focuses on having your characters race around plucking strawberries. These have got to be seriously great strawberries. Mind-blowingly good. Life-changingly good. To me, a strawberry is worth a point when plucked, another if I’m holding it at the end of the game, and two more if I manage to deposit it at my strawberry camp. After about ten minutes of this, the disconnect between the grim seriousness of my characters — the skin-changer who mauls his enemies, the sorceress who seizes control of their brains — and the fact that all this violence is being performed in the name of some hybrid accessory fruits starts to take its toll. What are we doing to ourselves, I think. You can have the damn strawberries. This isn’t worth fighting about.

But that’s just what I tell myself. In reality, I pass my turn so as to move one of the hydras into position to chow down on my opponent’s monk. He was hauling two strawberries in his satchel. Suck it, I think, the monk losing his grasp on his precious fruits. He probably also gargles uncomfortably while the hydra performs an amateur tracheotomy. I don’t care. It’s all about the strawberries.

These days, I feel like I can insert that caption into so many games.

Both sides offer their own heroes and advantages.

The thing about Imperial Harvest is that it might not be a good game, but it’s not a terrible one either. For one thing, it’s deathly serious about its strawberry picking, which is darkly amusing in its own right. To facilitate this grim harvest, moving around your three heroes is easy enough. Basically, two of them move each turn, while the one that didn’t get a shot must move next turn. Around the map they go, searching for berries accessory fruits like violent little Pac-Men. Gobble gobble, snatching up strawberries. Eventually the ones within easy reach run dry, and that’s when the claws come out.

For the most part, your guys have straightforward abilities. Stand near enough to hear the bard’s gentle plucking (of his mandolin’s strings, not the strawberries) and you’ll get an extra move. Push friendlies and enemies alike with the sorceress’s charm, or move diagonally with the monk. It’s basic stuff. But for every simple move, there’s something more enticing. The barbarian, for example, can chop through hedges permanently, creating easier avenues of approach for the rest of your crew, while the monk can do the reverse, planting new hedges right in front of an approaching would-be murderer. Not that death is ever more than a setback, as your guys pop back into existence right back at base camp.

The result is a game that’s nearly as surprisingly pleasant as it is brief. Twenty minutes isn’t so bad. At least Imperial Harvest knows it shouldn’t overstay its welcome. There’s talk of character classes and team drafting in the rulebook, though the odds that you’ll stick around long enough to delve into those options are even slimmer than the box’s offerings for either. Sure, there are a few neutral characters, and you might even get around to swapping in a puppeteer for that boring old bard, or seeing whether the minotaur’s “master of the labyrinth” ability is really as frustrating as it sounds. But this isn’t exactly the sort of game that will have you busting it out for yet another play, yet another chance at team optimization.

By the conclusion of the festival, the spent prophylactics are more numerous in the bushes than the strawberries themselves.

In the ancient strawberry kingdom, they refer to the season of harvest as “strawberrypalooza.”

All in all, Imperial Harvest is a slender oddity of a game: not bad enough to hate on, not good enough to bother with. Just a weird premise, a few okay ideas, and a whole lot of opportunities to raise a single eyebrow as you watch this thing unfold on your table for a few minutes before it disappears back into its box to rest.

Posted on October 21, 2016, in Board Game and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Always nice to see lesser-known titles highlighted here, even if that means I’ll never spend another glance on them ever again.

  2. Great review, Daniel! Happy to have you look at our (lesser known) game, and I’m glad you picked up on the irreverent juxtaposition of whimsical strawberries and death-dealing fantasy characters.

    Based on the review, it seems that you only played the game once (on the beginner side of the suggested character cards, which is for folks just learning the game). That’s perfectly fair, and I think it yielded a good review, but I suspect you may have more fun if you tried taking turns drafting characters (finding the right synergy with your team, especially on the advanced side, is probably the best aspect of the game), and creating a different board setup is almost as much fun.

    Personally (speaking as the designer/publisher who has played this thing hundreds of times), I think the game appeals to people who like the strategy of chess but feel the game is too dry (enter the whimsical strawberries and man-eating hydras), as well as people who like the chaotic card combos of Wiz-War but don’t enjoy the literal luck-of-the-draw that can lead to random upsets and unsatisfying defeats (when I lose, I like knowing it is because I was outplayed or outsmarted, not because I didn’t have the right hand of cards to combat my opponent). That doesn’t necessarily mean the game is for everyone (far from it), but I have found it is successful among most demographics (the strawberries seem to pull in non-gamers, and the tactics seem to satisfy hobby gamers), but that isn’t universally true either.

    Anyhow, I think a 6 out of 10 is a fair score, though I would encourage you to try playing the advanced version with a friend before trading it away. More than anything, though, I am grateful for the review. Keep it up!

    • Hi Justin,

      Thanks for your even-tempered response! It’s always great hearing feedback and input from designers.

      As is my usual policy, I played Imperial Harvest three times before writing my review, and all three times I used the advanced side of the character cards, though it’s true we never bothered with a character draft.

      In any case, I was pleasantly surprised by Imperial Harvest, and I look forward to whatever you guys come up with next!

      All the best,
      ~Dan

      • Haha! Very good, Dan. Well, I’d say to try the character drafting then, but my guess is that, if you didn’t feel curious enough to try the character drafting yourself, it may not change your experience dramatically. Glad you tried the game more than once (and on the advanced mode)!

        Cheers,
        Justin

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