Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Tropes and Tribulations of Playing Twilight Imperium

(Image from:  Clever Move Games)
As I was trolling the internet conducting research for our next Twilight Imperium (TI3) game, I stumbled across one of my own pictures on Matthew Gravelyn's article on learning a new game (painful vs painless).
I still chuckle when I look at the photo of Jason and Ken, wondering if they're contemplating their next cunning plan--or hoping to get mercifully wiped out so they can leave. 
TI3 is a good example of Painful/Painless Learning Curve.  Despite game's size, there's not a lot of rules, at least in terms of page-length.  The complexity becomes apparent when players try to employ a game-winning strategy.
Which can make the game fun, or frustrating, depending on how you view TI3.
One of the methods Fantasy Flight Games employed to make the game so appealing was the overdose of tropes; which in this case are metaphors and clich├ęs borrowed from sci-fi movies, TV shows, or literature. 
However, sometimes it takes more than an amusing association for players to sit through a grueling galactic game-a-thon.
TI3 has been known to cause fractures in friendships, couples to split and tables to be overturned.
Don't believe me?
Check out the comments in this Reddit article:  Boardgames? Hey, how about Twilight Imperium, 7-12 hours of trusting no one
My suggestion:  Even though the fate of the table-top galaxy is at stake, don't take TI3 too seriously.
Now I just have to remember my own advice when my forces are wiped out and my planets fall under new management.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Game Report: Twilight Imperium--6 Player Session

(Image: Cover art for Twilight Imperium 2nd Edition)

Earlier this month, several of us managed to assemble for a game of Twilight Imperium (3rd Edition--"TI3").

The Plan:

We had a window of opportunity to start a seven-player campaign on the one Saturday everyone had off. 

However--as you might already anticipating--our best-laid plans went awry just before game day.  Jason & Ken, who would be hosting, just returned from a military field exercise, so they couldn't get the game room cleaned in time.  The intention was to set up and play a few rounds, then leave the game out for subsequent game sessions.  Instead we ended up playing on the dining room table.

Meanwhile, Joe was on a business trip on the east coast.  Boston, MA, wasn't the only city affected by this winter's severe weather.  Joe's travel plans were delayed due to snow in Virginia, so Dallas, who was due to move within a couple of weeks, ran Joe's faction, then became co-conspirator when Joe arrived later, with his infant son to give his wife a break.

Making Theragan-aide from Theragan:

(Yes, I know I'm mixing sci-fi metaphors)

Despite these scheduling set-backs, we managed to pull off an enjoyable and interesting game session.  We got to the point where most of the planets were claimed, or in the process of being taken, but before any major conflict erupted between the major races.

Since the game couldn't remain on the dining room table, and this was newcomers Terry & Tom's first exposure to the TI3's intrigue and intricacies, we decided to consider this bout to be another playtest.

We hope to start the "real" 6-Player Larger Galaxy (with nearly a dozen more map tiles) campaign sometime next month.

In the meantime, here's the game report of our third playtest of TI3, along with a concocted plot device to explain the incomplete narrative...

(Note: Click on the following pictures for an enlarged "slide show" view, but go back to normal viewing to read the Concluding Commentary on Galactic Conquests at the end ).

Concluding Commentary on Galactic Conquests

I think our group may be finally getting the hang of this game.  Or at least we keep narrowing down our errors each time we play. 

The one thing most of us noticed is there seemed to be less Trade Goods being accumulated and circulated than in previous games.  I'm not sure what we did differently than in our past playtests.  Hopefully, we'll find during our next session.  On the credit side of the ledger, the reduced cash flow kept our forces down to more manageable levels.

Since we're still learning the nuances of galactic conquest, we used most of the expansion rules, with the exception of the following:  Artifacts, Mercenaries, and Representatives, along with sticking to the basic Strategy & Objective Cards.

The following rules were available, but didn't come into play:  Shock Troops and Space Mines, while no one had the technology and/or resources to build Flagships and War Suns.

One thing I overlooked, and I suspect most of my fellow players did too, were our race's special abilities.  As the Matriarch of the Naalu Collective, I overlooked having a strategic initiative of "0," meaning I could go first.  My only excuse was that I was busy setting up the game and being the rules referee throughout the session.

I don't remember anyone else utilizing their racial abilities, except for the Nekro Virus not participating in any Galactic Council get-togethers.  So it's important to remember:  Once you're assigned a race, read all the information there is on your Race Sheet.

Or better yet, do some homework before hand, by studying resource sites like Game Knight's Twilight Imperium Page.

May the Force be with you!

(Yes, I know I'm mixing sci-fi metaphors again).

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Organizing a Galactic Empire

Organization is the key to empire-building.
Or at least running an effective monster game.
I found that out a couple weeks ago, when several of us managed to get together for a session of Twilight Imperium
I'm still in the process of composing the game report.  In the meantime, I thought I'd discuss how I managed to organize such a large game--finally--and it's two supplements, Shattered Empire and Shards of the Throne.
I acquired the whole set used, which didn't come with a Shattered Empire box.  In my initial attempt at organizing Twilight Imperium (3rd Edition--"TI3"), I stuffed everything in Ziploc Bags, like this:

This worked fine, when there were only 3-4 players.  But our last session had seven players running six factions (one player was filling-in for a late arrival).
Not only was setting-up the game frustrating, but repacking it was done in a hasty, haphazard manner, which would have required a lot of re-repacking.
A week later, I bought three parts containers, made of sturdy plastic, which I found in the Tool Section of a local Walmart.
I kept the large map tiles, plastic playing pieces, and some of the playing cards in the plastic bags, as seen in the picture above.  The rest, primarily the cardboard playing pieces and small cards, went into the parts containers.
The cardboard playing pieces required two containers:

One to house the 18 races of TI3...

...and the other for the sundry of status markers (such as Space Domain Counters, Ground Force & Fighter Unit Supplement Counters, Trade Goods, etc.): 

What I like about these parts containers, other than being large enough to hold large game pieces, is the tops are removable.  This--I hope--will allow me to plop the box on the table as a ready-made Reserve Pool:
I sifted through the commonly-used cards and placed them in the third parts container:

These are sorted, from top-left to bottom right, in the following manner starting with the Representative Cards (diplomats/spies & bodyguards)...

...followed by the Objective Cards, like the public...

...and not-so public ones.
Next are the Facility Cards, such as Colonies (which add Influence Points)...

...and Refineries (which add Resource Points).

There's also some Unit Reference Cards containing the necessary information on the various plastic game pieces.

The Political Cards take up two sections:
Each planet has it's own status card.  The back side represents a planet when it's "exhausted" of Resources or Influence...

...or face up when the planet is still capable of producing for the ruling race, or influencing galactic politics. 
Here is the Galactic Capital, Mecatol Rex--a mere shadow of it's former self.  

And here's another version of Mecatol Rex in all it's glory, used during the Fall of the Empire Scenario, found in the Shards of the Throne Expansion:
Each race...
...has the potential to develop unique technology and build Flagships, "super dreadnoughts," with unique capabilities.

The Action Cards are another batch that take up two container spaces.

There are eight sets of Technology Cards, than can be developed by any race during the game.  Each space in the tray contains two sets of cards.

Another set of commonly-used cards are the Trade Cards, which reside in the status marker box. 

Since trade may involve the hiring of mercenaries (found in the Shards of the Throne Expansion), the Mercenary Cards are also stored here.

The face of each Mercenary Card reveals the image, stats and unique features of the mercenary leader and his/her.

Mercenaries also have corresponding playing pieces, which can move around the map and engage in combat.

Some pieces don't even fit into a plastic bag, like the TI3's Victory Point Track and extra-galactic Wormhole Nexuses...

...not to mention all the Race Sheets.

I got rid of the original cardboard fillers to make room in the main TI3 box. 
Despite the increased weight, everything fits and appear to be easily accessible.  (I'll make sure I don't store the game on any top shelf).
But the true test of my galactic reorganization will be determined in the next game session.