I normally don’t bust out dictionary definitions in a review because it’s really cliche, but it’s a little too apt in this case. The word “imbroglio” means “an extremely confused, complicated, or embarrassing situation,” and aside from the embarrassing bit, this fits Michael Brough’s Imbroglio perfectly. This game is definitely confusing at first, and even after you’re able to make sense of it all it’s still quite complicated. That’s all part of the fun, though.
I’m going to try and explain things as best I can, but if you’re still lost afterwards don’t worry; that’s totally normal. Imbroglio is a sort of roguelike puzzle game at its core. You traverse a dungeon/labyrinth via swiping the screen, move one turn at a time, fight monsters by swiping into them, and try to survive as long as possible. There are multiple playable characters, each with their own special abilities and quirks, with several more that can be unlocked as you attain higher scores. Performing well enough with a given character will also unlock the option to customize their weapon load-out a bit.
That’s all typical stuff. Where Imbroglio differs from the norm is with everything else. Each “tile” of the 4×4 board counts as a single weapon, so whatever tile you’re standing on will determine what you’re attacking with. There are also two types of weapons: those that deal physical damage, and those that deal magical damage. Similarly, there are enemies that deal either type of damage and have varying amounts of “health” in both categories. In other words sometimes you’ll be dealing with a monster that’s extremely physically weak but magically very strong, and other times you’ll be dealing with the inverse. Meanwhile, your chosen character also has two separate health bars, and it’s game over if either one hits zero.
In practice, this system of weapons being tied to specific locations encourages a lot of thinking ahead. Each enemy on the board will move as soon as you do, and they’re all out for blood. Or magic. Magic blood. Whatever. My point is, you need to be acutely aware of what monsters are coming after you, what weapons would be best at dispatching them, and how best to reach those weapons.
Weapons also “devour” the enemies they defeat, with every fourth meal upgrading the weapon to a higher level. Higher levels usually means more damage, as well as all sorts of special abilities such as draining health or splitting damage between enemies. This progress is tied to each separate weapon tile, however, so duplicates will have to be leveled-up individually. Every time a weapon gains a level you’ll also earn a rune, which is required to activate your character’s special ability. Of course this also means that the amount of runes you can gain is finite (each weapon can only level-up four times total), so you’ll want to scramble to improve everything but also ration your rune usage. It’s a clever system stacked on top of other clever systems and it creates yet another layer of strategy to an already fairly complex game. I dig it a lot, but this game seriously pulls your brain in all sorts of directions.
Oh but there’s still more. Your goal in all of this is to collect gems (the purple stars) one at a time, with each gem counting towards your final score – and higher scores means unlocking more characters or the option to customize your current character’s board. Every time you collect a gem you’ll regain a little health (of both types), which is the only way to heal aside from character-specific abilities, but the trade-off is that the labyrinth shifts each time as well. Oh yeah, the labyrinth will randomly rearrange itself. I forgot to mention that. So all that careful planning on where you’ll move in order to deal with the minotaur that just showed up might have to go out the window if your path is suddenly blocked.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m quite fond of Imbroglio. That said, I do think that the initial learning curve of simply making sense of it could be off-putting to some (maybe even most) players who aren’t familiar with Michael Brough’s work (or those who aren’t patient). The description text for the individual heroes and their abilities is also painfully tiny, though thankfully more important details like weapon info and the basic rules explanation are readable.
I know this review has pretty much just been a glorified rules explanation, and I apologize, but it’s only because I believe you really have to understand Imbroglio’s particulars in order to understand why I’m so smitten with it. This abstract little puzzle game is exceptionally well designed, with a lot of intricate and interconnected systems. It’s also a lot of fun once you start to get some of the strategies down.