Everything comes to a head in a big argument: Now it’s time for my Amazons to give everything once again to drive the Halflings out of Treehome. If I succeed in this, the capital of the green region will finally be mine. So all dice are taken and thrown into the dice tower. The clicking and clacking of the dice in the dice tower announces the final result. I curse, because there must have been units from the last battles in the tower, which only came out now. The Halflings successfully push back my attack. Many such large and small battles are fought in Immortals, the new game from Queen Games.
Immortals needs space
One thing you can’t blame the game for: It’s no lightweight. That starts with the size of the material alone. A huge game plan and correspondingly large tableaus push some game tables to their limits. In addition, there is a pile of cards and a really ingenious dice tower. And Immortals doesn’t spill, it’s a real blast. The box also contains wooden blocks in different colors. These represent our armies.
But according to Mike Elliot and Dirk Henn, this is already the minimal equipment the game needs. They couldn’t have made the game materials even smaller, because you want to have a bit of overview.
What immediately stands out is the two-part game plan. There is the world in which you play twice. First there is the world of light where races like elves, humans, dwarves or even amazons live and then there is the dark world, populated by demons, orcs, trolls and night elves.
Switch between light and dark
During a game of Immortals you always play exactly two races. These are one race from the light side and one from the dark side. You draw them randomly at the beginning. The choice of the races is not particularly important, because they are always just variations of a “standard race”. What seems sobering at first glance is an advantage at second glance: There is no killer combo of two races that has an advantage at the start of the game.
But this is not the only reason why the world is divided into light and dark. If a unit dies on the battlefield, it moves into the limbo of the other side. Thus a light amazon army moves into the dark limbus and can be used again on the dark side as a demon army. It works the same way with armies that die in the dark world. This is what makes Immortals especially attractive. Armies that plunge into battle are not destroyed, they are available in the other world. This of course opens new tactical possibilities. For example, a battle can only take place because you urgently need troops in the other world.
Immortals as memory training
Playing with light and dark is one of the most confusing aspects of playing Immortals. If you want to produce resources or attack with bonus, you need the appropriate maps and armies in the real world. So it happens that a player declares that he wants to produce gold, but plays the other side’s card and goes blank because he has no army there. Curses and despair of the player are of high entertainment value. So you have to plan your move carefully in advance and pay attention to such little things. This makes Immortals a real expert game. As Mike Elliot and Dirk Henn confirmed to me in an interview, they themselves see their game on a level above that of an expert game.
Before you can even do your actions, you have to plan ten actions first and that makes Immortals really tough. After the cards have been laid, you will perform one action at a time. By this point, you may have forgotten what a great move you had planned. So you may have to resort to small tools. You might want to place your cards on your tableau in a barely perceptible difference so that you know which card you wanted to play and when.
Even if you have no problems remembering cards, there are still the nasty other players. There are at least two of them and a maximum of four others at the table. They will attack you sooner or later. When that happens and they succeed, you have to give the card of the country where the fight took place to the competitor. That’s only unfortunate if that card was scheduled for an action during your turn.
Low downtime – High setup time
Immortals itself is playing very fast and swiftly, except for the planning phases. You carry out one of your planned actions and the next player’s turn comes. If there are battles, you use the dice tower. It is the real highlight of Immortals. Instead of throwing a dice orgy as in Risk, you take all the wooden tokens that are in the land of conflict and throw them into the tower along with the rest of the tokens that are still in the storage bowl and evaluate the result. The winner is always the one who has the majority of tokens that are now in the bowl. Besides the low downtime, the haptic, acoustic and visual experience of the dice moving through the tower is a big advantage of the game.
Not so good, however, is the setup time you need for a game of Immortals. Each of your two races gives you a precisely defined number of armies. Before the game starts, the armies have to be placed on the game board, which is solved by a card drafting mechanism. Until all armies are distributed, it can take half an hour or more before the actual game starts. This can’t really be accelerated either. You will have to take your armies into the light or dark world over and over again. Deploying in later games, when players know the game, is crucial, because the first basic strategic preparations for the first round are made during the build-up.
Immortals is a good game but…
not for everyone. Just like Shogun and Wallenstein, which were also developed by Dirk Henn, Immortals is aimed at friends of strategic games. Do you like to move your armies across the battlefield as a commander? Then this game is for you. Casual players and players who prefer to choose from a manageable selection of actions during their turn will not get warmed up with Immortals. But the game doesn’t want to be simple either.
Personally, I like the simple game idea combined with simple rules, which offer an exciting and playful depth. For me, it is an advanced version of the classic game Risk. It eliminates one of the worst elements from the classic game for me: the elimination of players. You may lose a battle, but it makes your armies on the other side stronger. You play to the end and don’t have to throw in the towel early because of bad luck with the dice. For Mike Elliot, this was a point that led to the development of Immortals.
Immortals is where emotions are created: Players who get an outburst of anger when an important card is stolen, table neighbours who despair while planning a new round or the “oops” when you turn up the wrong country card. Often enough, you get revenge if you attack an opponent’s country and win. And when your opponent throws away his entire planning for the round just to get back at you. Then there are the little stories that happen during the game. The expeditionary corps that tries to take Shore Lake for three rounds in a row, but never gets there. In Immortals something always happens, not only on the game board but also often enough on the meta level.
Immortals needs time
The time I have experienced also goes by in a flash: Because I always have something to do, I never get bored. Sometimes it can take a while until the other players have decided what they want to do. But the down time that arises from this can be bridged by observing the other players. The bottom line is that the perceived playing time is relatively short. Whereby you should not trust the time indication on the game box. I still can’t imagine how you can make the game in two hours. Also the developers rather talked about three to four hours. Maybe Queen Games didn’t want to scare off potential buyers right away?
But not everything is good at Immortals. Besides the focus on a rather smaller target group, it is the graphic design that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. As beautiful as the cover and the nations tableaus are during the setup, the game board and your action tableau is just as sober during the game. The whole design looks a bit dusty and doesn’t do justice to the game. Additionally there are some minor problems during the game. If there are too many units in a region, you can’t read the name of the region anymore.
Also the minimum number of players is not exactly optimal. Here I personally would have been happy about a two-player variant. Also a revision of the rules would be recommended. Not everything is always explained to 100 percent. For example, how do you use joker cards in different situations in the game? How are country cards used when you attack a country in another world through a portal from one world? Unfortunately, this is hardly explained and you have to derive an explanation for yourself from the existing rules.
Immortals is a good and consistent development of epic strategy games inspired by risk. Enthusiastic risk players should definitely take a look.