For those of you who haven't played any of these games, the rondel is a mechanism for selection of actions that limits your choices each turn. Typically the actions you can perform are short and sweet, so all of these games have a nice flow to them, which is a big plus. The basic idea is that there are 8 spaces in a circular track, and you have a pawn that travels clockwise along the track. You can move your pawn one to three spaces, then do the action there. The games generally provide some mechanism for paying a cost to move further if you would like to, which generally happens in the end game. The big differences in the games are the themes (civilization, war profiteering, or navigating/market manipulation). It's also of note that there is zero luck in any of these games! Here are the three rondels to give you the idea.
I played this one last year at our now annual tradition of traveling down to D.C. to my college roommate's place for a long weekend of games. The rondel is applied to building civilizations in this game, and you build up fortifications, armies, technology and leaders through the actions on the rondel. This was the first game that I have won my first play of and then didn't want to play it again! Despite the elegance of the rondel, there was something lacking. I was able to build up a few temples, get a VP lead, and turtle my way to victory. Maybe there is more there, but I am not seeing it - so I'd rather play another rondel game instead.
I bought this game for a friend, and we've only had the chance to play it twice. The nature of winning in Imperial is very counter-intuitive, so it didn't blow me away at first, but I'm sure that is just me needing more plays. I'm really looking forward to giving it more of a chance. The main notion in Imperial is that you can buy stocks in countries during World War I - England, France, Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy; and the pawns on the rondel belong to the countries rather than the players! Whoever has the most stock in a country gets to manage that countries turn, which could including building factories, building units (armies or fleets), moving their units, or collecting taxes. The interesting and strange thing about this game is that despite its wargame trappings such as an area map with units who fight it out, you don't really care about conquering territory or winning wars all of the time. Sometimes you just want to have two countries you are investing in fight so that you can collect more profits. I definitely need to play this again soon, especially since it exists on BSW. It's also worth mentioning that they have released a sequel game called Imperial 2030, which features a map of the entire world.
I played this twice at TotalConfusion, an annual gaming convention that's not too far from here and whose gaming room is run by some friends of mine. I highly recommend the convention for anyone who lives in the New England region. I finally played this again yesterday, and really enjoyed it. Unlike Antike, I won this game and felt like it was a worthwhile victory. I was able to find a strategy niche that avoided what other players were doing, and made it pay off. In Navegador, the board is a map of sea zones that lead in a pretty linear fashion from Portugal to Nagasaki. The rondel options include building ships and hiring workers, buying buildings (two of which can let you buy ships or workers more efficiently), sailing your ships, and selling a worker for a victory point multiplier. The rules to this game are incredibly elegant, and I like how there are a variety of seemingly legitimate strategies. When you sail two ships into an unexplored zone, you reveal some colonies that can be later acquired through one of the other rondel spaces (Colony), and you receive an exploration token. There is also a market for the three types of goods that a colony may provide - sugar, gold, and coffee. One of the really interesting aspects is that the market can be pushed in either direction by the players. When you go to the Market space on the rondel, you can choose for each good whether to sell (based on how many colonies of that type you have) or to process (based on how many factories you have of that type - which are the other buildings you can buy in the Building action). The processing has a different payout that the selling. The victory point multipliers you can buy are based on number of: colonies, factories, exploration tokens, cathedrals (the worker building), and shipyards (the ship building). The game ends when all of the buildings are built, or someone gets to Nagasaki. This game feels like a 9 to me - at this point, I can't imagine saying no to it when someone proposed it to play, but I wouldn't choose it 100% of the time. The playtime also seems to be a bit shorter than Imperial, but you get a very satisfying experience for the time invested. I'm very impressed and would strongly consider buying it.
The rondel games are getting better and better, as Mac Gerdts is seeming to become a stronger game designer. Imperial currently sits at 33 on BoardGameGeek, and Navegador is at 77. Antike is at 198 and Hamburgum is at 248. Apparently the theme of Hamburgum is city building and sounds like a more typical euro than Imperial or Navegador, so I might like that as well. These games all seem to be worth at least trying out to see if you like them.