So two weeks ago, I had a chance to finally play Twilight Imperium, a game that has been on my “to play” list for about 5 years now. It was everything I thought it could be. It was however, a slightly different than normal playing experience, I think, since we only had three players – my dad, my brother, and myself. The game normally should be played with 5-6 players. Thought their are rules for only three, we found them to be lacking a bit.
First off, kudos again to Fantasy Flight Games. Because they host the rules to all their games online, for free, my family members and fellow gamers were able to read and digest them well in advance of our first game. That made the first time through a lot less awkward than it normally is for a new game. It also let me see what all I could look forward too if I bought the expansion for TI, which I now intend to do as well. Good business practice, as I understand it, requires some risk, and FFG hosting their rules online is paying off for them, at least where me and my family are concerned.
So we delve in pretty quickly – and really, TI is a smooth playing game anyway because of the division of rounds into actions, to keep people from wandering from the table for that second bag of Doritos and falling into watching that late football game in the next room…not that that has ever happened to me. The game involves the usual take over the universe, build armadas formula, but with a couple of nice wrinkles. First is that you pick a “strategic action” card at the beginning of each round, giving you a bonus that you can execute at some point in your turn. If your economy needs a shot in the arm, grab the Trade card. Trying to keep your undergunned systems safe for another turn while you stockpile weapons? Think about picking up Diplomacy. The catch: you pick in turns, and if someone picks the vaunted Initiative card to let them go first, they may not pick it again next round. So what you want is not always available. In the three player game though, you pick *two* cards instead of one, and this was the primary week point we found. More on this later.
The other nifty thing about TI is the way movement works. You activate systems (spaces on the board) rather than units. And when you activate a system, you can move things in and out of it, produce with it, war in it, etc. It takes a round or two to get the hang of, but it really seems to speed up the game and allow for some flexibility. Normally you might mass a big armada in one area and then blitz the map with it. But since here you activate the target system instead of the armada, you can invade said system from several places at once. On the flip side, remember to build last – since once you activate a system, you cannot move into or out of it anymore.
Theres a beautiful balancing act then that plays out each turn, as players try to clear objectives or KO players home worlds to win the game. One of the strategy cards is “Imperial” which gives you 2 victory points and allows you to unveil a new objective card to all the players, allowing everyone to possibly claim more points. Now this may seem powerful, and I thought so too. Which is why, in our game, I started picking it every turn.
Now that wouldnt work too well in a 6 player game, where it would mean that you got no other real bonuses to the turn, and you went last in the round. But I was playing an alien faction that always got to go first in actions (not in picking cards), and since there was only three of us, we all picked two cards. So I got victory points each turn, and got bonuses too. It took my brother and dad about 3 turns to realize what I was doing. But both of them figured they had fleets big enough at that point to crush me before I could eek out a VP win. They were wrong. They forgot that since I got to go first, and we got to pick two. Well…on the next turn, I picked Imperial again, with them laughing at me. And then Diplomacy. That stalled my brothers fleets a turn, and I managed to put together a stalling force of carriers loaded with fighters. I knew they wouldnt win, I just needed to hold him off a turn. My dad, a bit tired and still miffed at me over an earlier family fight (they just moved in down the street from us – and we are having boundary issues already lol), apparently didn’t quite get it, and made no move to advance on my with his own fleets, heavy with cruisers.
So now I’m at eight points. And they manage to grab up Diplomacy and Imperial from me. What they missed though, was when I grabbed the Initiative card. It was all over but the crying and they still didn’t see it. I blocked my brothers insanely overwhelming force with my hordes of fighters, a few other things happened. And then it came time to pick cards. I got to pick first since I had Initiative. And you know what I picked. And since my race always got the first action. And since the game is over as soon as a player hits 10 VP. Well, I won. (-:
Sneaky and underhanded, I know. But they should have seen it coming, right? My brother wondered aloud why he would bow to anyone as Emporer when he had him by the throat, with dominating fleets above his homeworld. We conjectured that VP indicated, at least in part, the popular support of a players claim to the throne. This would mean that he might have the fleets above my homeworld, but that enough of his admirals no supported me that the fleets were no longer really “his.” Anyway, it was over quick. 5 turns and one action into turn 6. But it was alot of fun, and I love the complexity of having to deal with politics, economics, and military channels/attacks/feints from players every turn. Excellent game. The trick will be finding more people to play with. Or at least, not doing the two card thing anymore. (-: