Rah Capitalist Imperialists

My favorite board game is: Imperial. Not only is it fun, but it has a great theme and moral. From a review:

Imperial is a board game about being a shadow investor-slash-member of the Illuminati. It’s a game that is explicitly about financing imperialism. Each player is an “investor” that funnels money into different world powers, wages proxy wars and then slurps up all the profits. It’s one of the best board games about war ever made. And is it ever fun. …

Whereas traditional investment games put you in the position of rail baron or nameless-shady-investor-person, most do not represent the human suffering and exploitation that is required to amass large amounts of capital. Imperial doesn’t have a blurb devoted to how war is bad in its rulebook, but the fact that you can increase your revenue by sending your soldiers to die pointlessly makes the point without ever having to state it. Imperial might as well be called Let’s Wage War for Fun and Profit. …

It was the first board game that made me think about what I was actually doing while I was playing – maybe games were more than toys? Imperial isn’t didactic, screaming what it’s about as you play. “Come here,” it says, “make some money. Just don’t think about capitalism along the way.” *wink* *wink*

Other reviewers also see Imperial as a game designed to show the flaws of capitalism. (As was also the original intent of Monopoly.) But in fact, I see the game as showing a great virtue of capitalism: it cuts war. Let me explain.

Most board-gamers have played many war games, wherein each player controls a different nation, or alliance of nations, and sets their war strategies. And Imperial looks like that on the surface. The map shows a landscape of nations and their war units, and players get to control their war strategies. So players are tempted to slip into their old wargaming mode, and do everything they can to win their wars.

But that is a mistake, even if an ever-so-tempting one. Players are actually bankers loaning money to nations; they control a nation’s war and other choices only when they have loaned the most money to that nation. Bankers win the game by making the most on their investments, not by winning wars. So often the best strategy is to not start a war, and maybe even not to retaliate against direct attacks. You may do better to buy into the attacking nation, and making peace between neighbors. And don’t get too attached to any one nation, as another banker might soon grab control of it.

Although I haven’t actually done the experiment, I’m pretty sure that there would actually be more war, and more destruction due to war, in the variations on Imperial where we take out the whole banker layer, and just have players be generals who seek max territory, or rulers who seek max respect or national treasury. And my reason is simple: as a player, it is remembering that I’m a banker, and not a general or ruler, that usually pulls me back from a more aggressive war strategy.

Thus the board game Imperial offers you a vivid and visceral personal experience to show you how capitalism cuts war. Not to zero, but having capitalists in charge of war induces lower levels of war than having other parties in charge of war. Plus the game is just fun. Rah capitalist imperialists indeed.

GD Star Rating
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