We assembled four die-hards prepared to commit the time, namely myself, Tom, Ben and Sebastian. We used some of the new rules from the Shattered Empires expansion, including the Distant Suns optional rule for exploring neutral planets, which I thought worked very well, and the variant Imperium strategy card, which ironed out some of the wrinkles the original game had. I'd agree with the other online commentators who have said the game is 'broken' without it. Makes Shattered Empires a must-buy for TI fans, really.
We played the following races: Embers of Muaat (me - a new race from Shattered Empires), Emirates of Hacan (Ben), Xxcha Kingdom (Tom) and the Naalu Collective (Sebastian). I was pretty chuffed to be playing Muaat, as I got War Sun technology and a War Sun from the off, plus my ships could fly through the supernovas. Yay! Sebastian got confused about his command chits in the early stages, but also ignored all his race's special abilities (e.g. Naalu always go first and can retreat from battle before the first round). Ben complained about the way the board was set up. We'll need to find a variant to this to satisfy him.
My secret objective was to occupy two systems next to two opposing players' home systems - this was going to be hard. I almost managed it, using my war suns to squash a Hacan fleet, and also kicking the Xxcha out of a system next to their home planets. I would have succeeded too, but the Xxcha had just developed Deep Space Cannon technology, and managed to destroy the only surviving cruiser I had in-system before the Status phase. Aaaaaarrrrggghhh! Too much. With the Xxcha's diplomatic abilities, I knew there was no way I was going to get a second crack at that, and the Naalu were off over the other side of the galaxy.
|Nice cold glass of cider in the foreground!|
Another view of the board shows just how much space you need to play TI: this is a six foot square play area we're using for a four player game. It's not the board itself that takes up all of the space - it is all the additional bits and bobs.
I spent the second half of the game a bit on the back foot. The Embers had few votes in the Galactic Council, so little real say in the political future of the galaxy. The Council ended up being a tug of war between the politically influential Naalu, who controlled Mecatol Rex for most of the middle part of the game, and an axis between Hacan and Xxcha, who seemed to be acting as parliamentary opposition.
In addition, attacking both Hacan and Xxcha had left the Embers with no trade agreements to speak of. I was considering taking the Trade card later in the game to cancel all existing trade agreements and force a re-negotiation, but always needed other strategies like Logistics, Imperium, or Diplomacy (to keep a vengeful Hacan off my back). I was also constantly short of strategy and command pool counters in the latter stages of the game, meaning I had to think carefully about which systems to activate, a situation which eventually allowed the Xxcha to colonise some peripheral planets (like the aptly-named Perimeter) which I'd simply not been able to move against.
I managed to take and hold Mecatol Rex for about two turns (scoring 2VPs) before losing a war sun there to an attack from the dastardly Naalu, tragically for me in the same turn as the Hacan swarmed all over and destroyed my other war sun. Note to self - war suns are vulnerable to attack by fleets with large numbers of fighters, especially if they have no fighters themselves.
You can also see the Xxcha are already on a counter-offensive, and a small Ember garrison has been isolated with no fleet protection: these guys were later nuked by an Xxcha dreadnought. Nasty.
We had to finish the game because we had a roast lunch awaiting us, plus Tom had to get back to London and Ben had some marking to do. I'm not sure I would have had the stamina to play another game in the afternoon, although it would have been nice to play TI through to its conclusion. Sebastian won with 8VPs, I came second with 4VP, and Tom and Ben had one apiece. With Sebastian back in control of Mecatol Rex, it looked unlikely that I'd have been able to catch up with him, especially as the Embers were now on the defensive, had lost both their war suns, and had to think about defending their home system against the Xcha.
This was a truly great game. Shattered Empires and the Distant Sun option have really enhanced it, and it doesn't feel broken anymore. I may need to revisit tile laying at the start of the game, especially if playing with Ben again, but otherwise feel it is really looking great. Oh, for the time to play it!