A to Z Gaming: Imaginarium

We repaired, combined, and deconstructed crazy machines in a dream factory in Imaginarium, the next game in our A-Z game shelf play-through.

Basic Info: Imaginarium
Players: 2-5
Time: 90 Minutes
Designers: Bruno Cathala, Florian Sirieix
Artists: Felideus Bubastis
Publisher: Bombyx


In Imaginarium, players take on the role of tinkerers fixing, combining and dismantling fantastic machines. Whoever creates the best machines to fulfill the plans and produce victory points wins.

The game is set up with the board in the middle of the table and the box of resources placed on the appropriate spot on the board.

Players each take a workshop at random. The workshop they pick will tell them their starting machines and resources. They then pick a player shield with the matching figure and tokens.

The deck of assistants is shuffled and three placed face-up in the meeting room. The appropriate number of projects for the player count are chosen at random and placed in the design office. The machine deck is shuffled and seven dealt out and put on the conveyer belt (placed in ascending order and shuffling any attack machines back into the deck for the first round).

The game is played in rounds that each consist of a number of steps: planning, implementation, and checking and resetting. During the planning phase, players, in order, choose which machine they would like to buy from the conveyer belt, placing their miniature on the corresponding spot.

Players take their turn during the implementation phase, going in order starting with the closest to the machine deck. First they activate the working machines in their workshop, then they pay for the machine they’ve committed to buying. Next they take two actions – however, the actions are dictated by the clock-like mechanism at the center of the player boards. Players can only take two adjacent actions and they must take a different pair of actions each time (one of the two actions can be the same on the next turn, but not both). Those actions include repairing machines by paying the resources necessary, dismantling machines to get resources or victory points, rearranging machines in their workshop, trading resources for charcoalium (the game’s form of money) and vice versa, extracting charcoalium, and recruiting an assistant, After taking their actions, the player checks to see if they completed any projects and takes the appropriate number of victory points. Then play moves on to the next player.

The machines come in a few different forms – production, transformation, attack, defense and special. The production machines straight-up produce resources – charcoalium, wood, copper, or crystal. Transformation machines take an input and make some other resource from it. Attack machines steal resources from other players, destroy projects, or temporarily deactivate an opponent’s machine. Defense machines protect the player from attacks. And special machines do a variety of things including producing victory points and recycling a discarded machine.

Each player only has four slots where they can have active machines. However, throughout the game machines can be combined in certain ways to either increase their output or make automatic transformations. Though, players need to be careful because only stand-alone (not combined) machines can be destroyed to make room for .

The assistants break the rules in various ways, and each player can have up to three of them (as indicated on their player board). For example, the most expensive assistant allows the player to take any two actions on their turn instead of being beholden to the clock mechanism on their player board. Another lets you repair two machines when you take that action, instead of just one.

During the checking and resetting phase, players check to see if they have 20 (or more) victory point tokens. If they do, the game comes to an end. Players check for majorities in each type of resource, and the player with the most gets an additional two points. Then, the player with the most points wins.

I’m not sure where I first saw this game, but I was drawn in by the elephant on the cover. (Yeah, I’m admitting it). My interest was further peaked when I watched a review on The Dice Tower. So, I was excited when there was a Kickstarter for an English/American edition. However, that Kickstarter didn’t succeed, so I was back to nothing. A few months after that my spouse found it on a trip to visit his family in Quebec….it was a French version, but no worries – there were English rules online!

The clock-work action selection mechanism adds a frustrating puzzle on top of the engine building, but it works so that you can’t simply build and combine a machine each time. Because your resources are kept behind a screen, it’s a bit of a guess what everyone has for the game-end bonus and what you should be stockpiling as you get to the end.

There is a little bit of “take that” in the game with the attack machines, but it’s kept to a minimum, because those are one-time-use machines and they require resources and a slot in your workshop to construct. It hasn’t really bothered us – though we tend not to get into the “take that” strategies in games unless we have to.

This is one of those games that sticks with you after you’ve played. After our first play, both Andrew and I were thinking about the game the next day, wondering how we could have done better. Could we have built better combinations from the machines we had chosen, or did we need to make better decisions the next time? The fact that we were thinking about our strategy even a day later was a good sign.

How is it as a 2-player game? Imaginarium works well as a 2-player game. There is one accommodation – each player places one of their colored markers on the turn-order track which serves to block one of the machines from both players during the planning phase. The mechanism works well and is fairly seamless with the game.

How about the art and component quality? The components in this game are outstanding. The box for the resources is designed to go right on the game board, in reach of all the players. The resource cubes are nice – the wood is made of wood and the crystal is translucent. The player boards are solid and the point chits are a good quality chipboard. The art itself is weird but appropriate for the theme.

Will this stay in my collection? Absolutely yes. This is an engine builder with some psychedelic art and I love it.

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