The Setup: At Salt Lake City's CONduit 11 on the weekend of May 18th through May 20th, the Salt Lake Disk Warriors, accompanied by a couple friends, played two and a half games of Fantasy Flight's "Twilight Imperium: second edition" (TI:2) lasting a total of 15 hours. This was the first time any of us had played the game and we all found it to be quite an enjoyable experience despite the remarkable amount of time needed for a full 6-player game.
Metagame: For those unfamiliar with TI:2, I shall try to succinctly summarize the premise and basics of the game. The game is set in FFG's ever-growing "Twilight Imperium" world backed up by a role playing game (Twilight Imperium), a card game (MagBlast), and a disk game (Armada). TI:2 is a multi-player sci-fi based war game. Each player represents one of six major races complete with a set of special powers, starting units, and starting technology. Some of the races are geared towards military aggression, others are must focus on trade, and one is a master of technology. In the three games we played, we found the six races to be quite balanced. There are two different victory conditions. The first is blatant conquest; if a player ever controls all the planets in three other home systems, that player wins. The second and most likely victory condition is by being the first player to reach Imperium Rex on the progression chart, which comes down to owning a specific number of technological advancements and planets, and having a certain amount of influence and resources. All of our games were won by the latter condition.
The TI:2 "game board" and perhaps the game in general seem to have been inspired by the recent wave of German-style board games. 32 2.5" independent hexes are dealt out to players and used to create the board following a set of specific rules. Planets, blank space, worm holes, asteroid fields, and supernovas are all types of "terrain" that are represented on these hexes. Although these hexes are supposed to be dealt out randomly, we altered the distribution to make sure each player got the same number of planet hexes.
TI:2 rules are relatively simple, again consistent with its German influence. There are 5 or so standard phases, there are only 3 units with movement ability, and combat is a breeze. In addition, all die rolls use 10-sided dice which makes keeping track of the odds much easier.
One of the most attractive features of TI:2 is the units. Cruisers, dreadnoughts, carriers, ground forces, space docks, and planetary defense systems (PDS) are all represented by plastic pieces. That's right No chits! And although these pieces are made of relatively fragile plastic (the flags on the ground forces keep breaking), they are nonetheless attractive and add a very appealing element to the game.
The Ups: There are two aspects of TI:2 that we find to be innovative and loads of fun. The first is the political phase. To start this phase, a political card is drawn. Generally, political cards are Laws that permanently change the game in some way. However, like most laws, it must be passed to take effect. Therefore, players vote whether to pass the law or reject the law. The innovative feature here is that each player may cast the number of votes equal to the total influence from planets he controls. So some players often have a huge say in which laws pass or fail. The problem with this phase is that although it is good fun to negotiate and campaign for players' votes, it is also very time consuming.
The second innovative feature of TI:2 is the amazing array of technological advancements that players may purchase throughout the game. These technologies come in four different flavors, general, biological, military and propulsion. Each tech gives the owner some kind of advantage in the game. For example, "Stasis Capsules" allow a race's dreadnoughts and cruisers to act as limited carriers allowing them to carry one ground force. The technologies exist in a web-like hierarchy so that the purchase of the "stronger" techs is dependent on the previous purchase of weaker techs or techs from a different field. All of us thoroughly enjoyed this part of the game as a way to customize our strategies.
The Downs: There are two downsides to the game, one major and one minor. The major problem with the game is that it takes too long to complete. Our six-player game went for 7 hours and our four-player game went for 3.5 hours. While 3.5 hours for a game is doable, it is more fun to have all six races in play. Unfortunately, school, kids, significant others, and sleep make seven hour games not possible. The minor problem with the game is the initial setup. Since players are responsible for setting up the board one tile at a time, the board is often not very "random". It generally becomes a donut with an outer ring of planet rich systems, followed by an inner ring of empty space and finally Mecatol Rex in the center, which is required. This setup leads to people only being able to capture planets of their right and left neighbors, which becomes a bit tedious and redundant after a few games. Dan Morath has suggested a variant setup that I term "The Settlers of the Imperium". For this variant Mecatol Rex and the six home systems are removed from the rest of the hexes. Mecatol Rex is placed in the center of the table. The non-home system hexes are shuffled and randomly placed facedown in the correct formation, then turned face up when done. Player's then bid gold for what open position they would like to place their home system. In this way, the "galaxy" is truly random, avoiding the clusters that tend to ring the outside of the galaxy under the normal rules.
Conclusions: Overall, we would recommend this game to anybody interested in beer and pretzel wargames. Of FFG's two such games, the other being Thunder's Edge, we believe that TI:2 is far superior. However, despite being "beer and pretzels", TI:2 is a long game. And regardless of what short-cuts one tries to take such limiting negotiation times during the political phase or the optional Manifest Destiny variant that allows players to purchase adjacent planets in the beginning of the game, TI:2 will rarely be played under 4 hours. However, when one can find the time, the game experience is enjoyable. Between maximizing the advantages of your race, while coping with its disadvantages and trying to come up with the perfect technology combination as well as the two types of victory conditions, TI:2 offers plenty of strategic options that keeps you coming back for more to test new strategies.
Grad School Gamers
"What you say may be boring and incomprehensible, but that doesn't make it true" -- Split (1989)