Played Struggle of Empires yesterday evening over at Keith's. My initial impressions of this game are very positive. It is reminiscent of Empires of the Ancient World, with its simple map, confusing rules, three turns each divided into several rounds, a generic rather than specific historical situation, and a blending of Euro influence game and multi-player wargame mechanics. I think Struggle of Empires is a significant step forward from the earlier game. In particular, the alliance auction is a very clever mechanic which prevents the game from being a typical multiplayer beat-up-the-leader negotiation game, and pushes it more in the direction of El Grande or Web of Power.
There was quite a steep learning curve - for the first turn (or "War" as the game calls them) we were groping around in the dark. The game felt a lot more complex initially than its 5 page rulebook would indicate. There are an awful lot of options to choose from every time your round comes along, and it's hard to make those choices at first when you have no idea how they will play out. But by turn 2 we were starting to speed through the rounds more confidently, nevertheless time ran out and we had to wrap it up at 11:30 at the end of turn 2.
I was playing Britain and came in first with a big lead over the rest. I think this was partly because I grasped early on that the best way to score well is to come second in many areas rather than first in a few. Ironically the guys in the Farnborough group, who profess not to like wargames, did a lot more aggressive military plays than I did.
The components also endear the game to me, the graphic design gives a nice 18th Century flavour, and I like the simple stylized map where complicated things happen. I hope we will play this one again soon while it is still fresh in our minds.