Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Twilight Imperium": The Saga Begins

Sooooo, last Wednesday night we finally got our collective shit together and kicked off a sure-to-be- epic run of Twilight Imperium.  Since we've failed miserably on several occasions to complete a full game of this in one sitting, we all collectively agreed to dedicate every weekly game session in the foreseeable future to completing this beautiful beast.

If you consider yourself to be a veteran of the Ameritrash wars but find yourself asking "What the fuck is Twilight Imperium?" then I'm afraid you're gonna hafta turn in your credibility badge, lower your head in shame, climb into your Wienermobile and just drive away.  Like Warhammer 40K, Blood Bowl, Dungeons & Dragons or Magic The Gathering, Twilight Imperium isn't so much a board game as it a way of life.

The game has appeared in three previous iterations since 1997.  Over the past fifteen years, designer Christian T. Petersen has keep a close eye on board game evolution, often incorporating mechanics from unlikely sources in order to streamline play in his own game (the Strategy Cards, for example, were cribbed directly from the Euro-classic Puerto Rico).  The third edition, published seven years ago by Fantasy Flight, represents a high water mark for this epic game of space exploration and galactic empire building.

Players chose from one of many distinct alien races.  Each race strikes out from their home world with a variable starting array of technology, ships, special abilities and resources.  Via an expanded fleet, players attempt to subjugate neutral and enemy-controlled planets in order to expand their influence and acquire more economic clout.  Negotiation, political wrangling, alliances, scientific research and fortuitous combat all serve to aid the wily player in their campaign for victory.

Players & Their Races

Me...Naalu Collective (Blue)
Andrew...Embers of Muaat (Orange)
Dean...Mentak Coalition (Purple)
Chad...L1Z1X Mindnet (Yellow)

In order to increase our odds of actually finishing the game this time out, we decided to implement the first round "speed up"rules.  Each of us placed an ownership token on two adjacent systems.  I revealed my intentions for neighboring Wellon, Bellatrix and the space station Tsion.  Andrew staked his claim on Lor, Arnor and Sem-Lore.  Dean stuck his flag-pole (?) in Mehar Xull, Usis and Velnor.  Chad set his ambitious sights on Capha, Lazar and Sakulag.

In an unrelated question, does anybody out there know if Chris Peterson has a speech impediment?


Strategy Card Selection

Dean...Technology & Bureaucracy
Andrew...Production & Warfare
Chad...Leadership & Diplomacy
Me...Trade & Assembly

Rarely can a player claim that they fucked something up even before they've had a chance to make a single move, but I earn this dubious honor by ignoring the Naalu's special ability which automatically gives me the initiative.  As such, Chad's Leadership Strategy Card rewards him with the first turn.  He cleverly adds three new Command Counters to his available pool during a time in which no-one can afford to follow suit.

Still oblivious to my special ability, I use my Political Strategy Card to claim the Speaker Token.  After  drawing a Political Card and two Action Cards, I force Chad to play one of his Political Cards.  He opts to tag Andrew with an "Official Sanction", preventing him from invading any planets on this pivotal first turn.  Andrew is understandably perturbed by this unexpected turn of events.

Prevented from crushing any star systems underneath his booted heel, Andrew is forced to settle for producing a shit-ton of new ships with the Production Strategy Card.  The primary action of the role coupled with his Sarween Tools gives him three additional resources with which to build.  Everyone jumps on board with the secondary action.  I build a few new Carriers and Chad uses his racial ability to crank out Dreadnoughts like Bob Ross landscapes.

Dean throws down the highly-prized Technology Strategy Card to earn himself some Automated Turrets.  The rest of us are too broke to pay the secondary action's steep activation cost.

Chad moves his ample fleet into a system ripe for invasion and makes the first planetary landing of the game.  Unfortunately, he apparently lands on the home world of the Reavers who proceed to murder and then sodomize his ground forces, in precisely that same order.

In stark contrast, the indigenous people of Wellon invite my ground forces down for tea and then politely give me the inside scoop on a neighboring planet which is inhabited by Lazax Survivors.  I fail to read the full write-up on these dudes, which proves to be my second consecutive cock-up in a game that's still only in its infancy.

Still muzzled, Andrew's uses the Warfare Strategy Card to go into High Alert and do a bit of strategic redeployment.

Dean lands on another planet and the locals greet him with sucker-covered open arms.

Still smarting from his "Bay of Pigs (In Space!)" invasion Chad goes after a different planet but once again his troops get massacred by pissed-off locals.  Feeling that he's been karma bitch-slapped enough for neutering Andrew, he gambles on a third landing and this time he's finally rewarded with a peaceful annexation.

I land on (Lestrange) Bellatrix and encounter the Lazax Survivors that I'd peeped out on my previous action.  Although this gives me three extra votes in a future election, I quickly realize that I hosed myself on the deal.  If I'd actually bothered to read the full description of these guys I would have taken an extra turn to probe the planet first with a scout ship.  If I'd done that, I would have earned a Victory Point and three free Action Cards instead.  I silently declare myself to be officially barefoot in the head.

With bugger all else to do, Andrew keeps shifting his fleet around with High Alert.  He moves into the Bereg and Urta IV system, which I instantly interpret as an act of aggression since since his fleet is now only two hexes away from my home world.  

Dean successfully navigates past the automated defenses of another neutral planet and re-programs the defense grid to serve as his very own PDS (Pickle Dijon Sandwich, BTW).  His second landing reveals native spies who spill the beans on another nearby system that's ripe for the plucking.

Chad tries to use the his Diplomacy Strategy Card to claim the planet that went all Red Dawn on his ass but he's forced to pick another target after we remind him that it isn't "empty".  Once again, no-one else can afford to take advantage of this Strategy's secondary action.  Translation: we are teh suck.

I activate my Trade Strategy Card, setting up a two-for-two trade agreement with Andrew and a one-for-one arrangement with Dean.  Chad and Andrew and Chad and Dean also do one for one trades.  After stockpiling three new trade goods I finally notice the initiative-winning ways of my patron race.

Andrew exploits a loophole and ventures out into deep space where he finds some free alien tech just kinda bobbing around out there.

Using the Bureaucracy Strategy Card, Dean scores a Command Counter, draws two cards from the Objective Deck, plays the optimal choice and immediately scores a Victory Point for conquering three planets in one turn.  Unable to afford the high secondary cost, his opponents immediately express Herculean levels of disgust and accuse him of overt dickery.

Taking a cue from Andrew, Chad explores deep space and also hits the jackpot, scoring a free derelict cruiser.

Not one to pass up a free lunch, I investigate an area of empty space and come across an abandoned transport loaded with two free trade goods.  Apparently in Twilight Imperium, the entire universe is like one big swap meet.  I'm waiting for Dean to turn up a full collection  of commemorative BK Empire Strikes Back drinking glasses.

Salivating at the thoughts of being let off his leash on the next turn, Andrew redeploys his entire fleet in order to set himself up for a slew of invasions.  He has the demeanor of a fat kid being held back from free sample day at the Eggo factory.

Everyone passes, ending the round.


Strategy Card Selection

Me...Technology & Trade
Dean...Leadership & Bureaucracy
Chad...Assembly & Production
Andrew...Warfare & Diplomacy

I double dip with the Technology Strategy Card, coming away with a Gravity Drive (allowing my ships to successfully navigate a Rift) and Cybernetics (which instantly transforms all of my fighter pilots into Kara Thrace).  Chad becomes the proud owner of some Automated Defense Turrets.

Dean uses his Leadership Strategy Card to replenish his Command Counters.  I take the table scraps offered by the secondary action and purchase two of them at rip-off rates.

Still exploiting the High Alert status provided by the Warfare Strategy Card, Andrew completes his fleet manoeuvres and prepares to let slip the pit bulls of war.

Chad triggers the Assembly Strategy option.  After nabbing one Political and two (potentially) sweet Action Cards, Chad has his revenge by forcing me to play one of my own Political Cards.  I consider the comedic value inherent in placing a Victory Point bounty on the head of one of my opponents but opt to give my own ground troops a much-deserved upgrade instead.

I test my new shock troops by landing on the planet Tempestra.  The natives proceed to thank me for this kind subjugation by giving me some free technology.  Dean ensures that I receive the totally useless Transfabrication:  Twilight Imperium's equivalent of a screen door on a submarine.

Dean lands two of his ground forces on another planetary prize but it turns out to be a deadly, radiation-soaked hell-hole.  Too bad he didn't dress his landing party in haz-mat suits before they beamed down, huh?  Man, if this was the Federation, someone's ass woulda been fired.

Andrew finally experiences the sweet, sweet endorphin rush that only comes with planetary invasion by conquering Urta.

Still content with being the galaxy's equivalent of Sanford and Son, Chad uses a Ghost Ship Action Card to retrieve an abandoned Destroyer.  He also reveals that he now needs one less Victory Point to win the game as long as he controls the nebula-cloaked planet of Evehra. 

Yeah, who wants to lay a bet that this is gonna prove to be a giant pain in our collective asses towards the end of the game?

 I open up the floodgates of commerce by playing the Trade Strategy Card, scoring three trade goods in the process.

By tabling the Bureaucracy Strategy Card, Dean effectively puts the plot of The Phantom Menace into play via the "Blockade a Space Dock" Objective.  He also scores a Command Counter and clocks another Veep for battling ground forces on a successful invasion.

Andrew successfully gambles on a planetary invasion.  The locals rat out the aliens living next door (whom we can only assume they despise with the fire a million War Suns).  He gets two resources worth of free ships for the landing which quickly follows.

Chad gets an awesome deal on dreadnoughts and cruisers and mechs ("Oh my!") after tabling the Production Strategy Card.  I jump in on this hot welding action and construct another Carrier while Dean smashes a bottle of champagne on the hull of his brand, spankin' new flagship.

I invade Vefut II and my gracious new hosts pay tribute to my awesomeness by giving me four free trade goods!  

Andrew tries to pull a fast one and cobble together his own flagship, until we point out that he only has enough money to build the landing gear.  He builds a slew of regular ships as a consolation prize, which seems to make him feel better.

Unable to seek vengeance against the Reavers just yet, Chad is forced to goes after a softer target.  Although he gets his nose bloodied a bit by the Andrew-controlled locals, he still manages to pull out the victory.  Only now does he realize that his orbiting Dreadnoughts could have given his ground forces a +1 attack bonus all this time!  Suddenly I'm happy not to be the only oblivious rube sitting at the table...

Realizing that I'm swiftly running out of low-hanging fruit, I upgrade two of my planets with production facilities.

After Dean, Chad and I pass, Andrew polishes off the second round with his Diplomacy Strategy Card.  He scores some bonus Command Counters and then performs a "Peaceful" Annexation on a nearby planet.  Everyone else is completely tapped out and can't take advantage of the secondary action, so we just make ourselves content with wishing Andrew ill-fortune in all of his future in-game endeavors.

At the end of the second round, Chad claims a Victory Point for his grand planetary battle and Andrew scores a point for taking over three planets in one round.

So, at the end of our first session the Victory Point totals are:

Chad & Dean...Two Victory Points apiece
    Andrew...One Victory Point, ziltch, nil, nada, bupkis, zero
Stay tuned for session two...coming soon! 

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