Today I embarked on an epic journey: I began playing my first game of Twilight Imperium: Third Edition. This is perhaps the most epic of all epic board games, a stunning maelstrom of components, cards, rules and objectives that requires an inordinate amount of processing power to wrap your head around. But as I learned today, if you invest the time it takes to learn the basics, you’ll find yourself immersed in the most engaging space opera conceived in the tabletop world. As I spend an hour or so each day this week working toward the conclusion of my first playthrough, I hope to log my experiences here in hopes that I might record where I succeeded, where I failed, and voice what I might do differently next time around.
I’m playing TI:3 with two co-workers, one of whom is the board game expert who gets us all into these things. He’s played this particular game only once — a marathon 10-hour session with 6 players at a local convention some months ago. Myself and the third player? We’re total greenhorns. Now, as space opera is a favorite genre of mine and TI:3 is legendary for its complexity, I spent a little time Sunday night watching video tutorials and reading walkthroughs online. Going in, I at least knew some basic mechanics. The rest, though, was all up to learning as I went.
In Twilight Imperium, each player controls an alien race at a time when a new empire is being born in the galaxy. You’ll colonize worlds, build fleets, capture territory, maybe even go to war with your opponents. You’ll strategize, set up trade pacts, bribe council members, elect players and vote on new galactic laws. And you’ll do it all while trying to be the first player to score 10 victory points, for that player (in the standard rule set, anyway) is the winner.
We each began by selecting which race to play as. This is typically chosen at random, but for our three-player game, we each drew three races randomly and then were allowed to choose which of the three to keep. I settled on the Universities of Jol-Nar, a sea-dwelling race of super genius fish-people whose specialty is advanced technology. Our other newbie player picked the Naalu Collective, a species of snake-like creatures with mind control tech and the ability to always go first in the player order. Our “veteran”, meanwhile, selected the Embers of Muuat, one of the races from the Shattered Empire expansion that actually starts the game with the mother of all ships: the War Sun (think: Death Star).
On our first day, we finished setup and played one round. Much of the time was spent analyzing the anatomy of tactical actions, studying the available strategy cards and discussing the finer points of the rules (mostly as we ran afoul of them). Remembering that you cannot move fleet units out of a system that has already been activated was probably the hardest thing for us; even our veteran player succumbed to the temptation. In effect, it is not allowed under typical circumstances to move any one ship twice in a single round. After we each selected our strategy cards, we spent the first few turns deploying ships to neighboring systems and colonizing new planets to use as resources. We also each spent some of those resources building new fleet units; I started off fairly light on units compared to other races so I began by building a carrier, two destroyers and a stack of ground troops.
We’re playing with the revised set of strategy cards, so choosing which ones to take became challenging. This was where I made my most crucial mistake thus far: I took the Technology strategy card. It seemed to make sense because the Jol-Nar are a tech-centric race, but I failed to thoroughly read my race sheet and notice their special racial ability. That ability basically lets me use the Technology strategy for free even when other players choose it! In essence there is very little reason to actually take the Tech strategy card myself. I could have been farther along in tech and used two other strategies if I’d paid closer attention. Chalk it up to a learning experience.
At one point I opened trade negotiations between players and we each established trade pacts with our two opponents. These pacts deliver trade goods (analogous to resources) each time the Trade strategy is played, but they become broken should either of the two sides ever go to war with the other. I definitely know which of my two opponents I do not want to go to war with, and he happens to be the one who not only gives me two trade goods each round, but who also has a War Sun ready to slap down anyone who tries to be a dick in one of his star systems.
Some political intrigue is also starting to arise. We newbies quickly learned about the importance of having influence points available when a vote was called and we had none to cast. Our veteran player was the sole deciding voice, so he naturally decided to vote himself into the Council Elder position — which, in a future election of his choosing, allows his votes to be the only ones that count!
Tomorrow we’ll dive into round two. My plan for the next couple of rounds involves getting the XRD Transporters tech (so I can move my carriers a distance of two systems per action instead of one) and the War Sun tech so I can start intimidating other players. I also need to branch out and take the two planets in a nearby star system in order to add their strategic value to my pool. And I need to build more units: fighters, I’m thinking, and then a new space dock near the galaxy center. My race’s secret objective drives me.
Despite all this, a nagging worry: in the round following, I have to do what I can to select the strategy card that gives me more command counters, as I am rapidly running short!
Stay tuned for the next installment in my Gamelog: Twilight Imperium series.