Saturday, September 1, 2012

Weeknight Game Session: Twilight Imperium III

Well, it finally happened. I've played That Game.

I have heard about TI3 so many times. And dodged playing it so many times.

Why? Was it the memories of our sixteen hour Throneworld session scarred into my brain? Was it my growing fear that 4X games have...well...too many X's? Was it my concern that it was more Trash than Ameritrash?

And that box is just so friggin' big!

Well, whatever worries I had, they were unfounded. I had a great time playing what I believe is probably a great game. I look forward to playing it again.

Let's start off with the circumstances with which I played it. I am a man who feels regrets, especially about the possibility of games unplayed. As some of you may know, years ago I was stranded in a sixteen hour Throneworld session that has scarred me for life. You may further know that one time, against my better judgment, I played Knizia's Lord of the Rings co-op fest and ended up spending one whole day of Pseudocon playing in what we still refer to as "co-opacon." It's so easy in a con situation for one regrettable gaming choice to fishtail into another then another and for you to spend the next few weeks bemoaning lost opportunities where you could have been playing 4 or 5 games that you enjoyed rather than the 1 or 2 that you merely endured.
Weekly Gaming Knight -
A Hero for Our Times?

Enter the Weekly Gaming Night (it's so awesome, maybe it should be a superhero - Weekly Gaming Knight - protector of your gaming interests).  What it allows me to do is to play a game with no real fear of missing out on something else. It's a great, low risk place to experiment with a game. I've had many games in mind for this, and my friends TJ and Kevin have given me great opportunities to play things and take gaming risks that I may not have taken outside of a WGN.

So when Kevin's son AJ, on his last multi-player gaming session before he returned to college, broke out his newly-purchased TI3, I was in. Not just in, but WAY in.

AJ had played a couple of times in the tournament at WBC and was able to effectively get Kevin and I up to speed quickly. So, this will be brief as I will not make any major judgments until I've played it more than once. But...

First off, I found that I like the selection of "offices" more than I had expected to. I remember Joe Steadman complaining about the change from TI2 to TI3, especially as it related to what he called the "Puerto Rico" element of the new version of the game. Needless to say, I was concerned.

But the offices had minimal similarities to Puerto Rico. Sure, there is a reward for choosing an office that has not been chosen in a while (a very nice reward, it seemed). There are also advantages to the primary ability of an office along with each office allowing all players to do something. The offices drive the action.

But, for whatever reason, they reminded me more of the action cards in Runewars. They really allowed the player who had chosen the office to perform the primary action, then everyone was able to perform the secondary action. I actually like the Runewars implementation better, where whether or not the secondary effect of the card takes place is more depending on a player's choices, rather than the choices of the other players.

I also appreciated the known nature of the planets. I am of the opinion that the 3X and 4X games have, well, too many X's. TI3 has eliminated one of these "X's", eXploration. And it works. You need to establish your economic and production bases early, and the unpredictability of the random encounters of a Stellar Conquest or, worse, a Space Empires, can leave a player crippled. In TI3, you have an idea of what you can do and what you can't and you can adjust your strategy accordingly.

I found the unique characteristics of the races well done. Each race had its unique ability but it also
the various branches of the "Tech Tree" allowed for each race to start off with a technology or two, further enhancing their unique advantages. (By the way, which "X" is the whole "Tech Tree" aspect of these games, maybe "eXacting research"? eXcellent education system"? hmm...)

One other unique aspect to the races was the inclusion of the flagship. Each flagship represented a kind of "super-ship," capable of the key abilities of any one other ship, but only counting one toward the stacking limit. This ship also had unique abilities. Through manipulation of each ship's statistics in addition to a unique "power," each ship became most effective in certain situations - maybe combat, maybe ferrying troops, maybe exploring and conquering worlds.

The game played fairly quickly as a three player. I can definitely see, with larger numbers, the game bogging down as you watch player after player eXplore and eXterminate. I do think that the offices effectively divide up each player's turn so that, at any one time, you're not waiting for a player to complete every aspect of his move.

All in all, I'm glad to cross this one off my "bucket list" and I look forward to playing it again. Will I play it at a con? Hmm... Remains to be seen. I still think the game could drag on. The end game is there for the taking in each game, but I've seen enough of these games bog down as each player "turtles" and avoids taking those VPs that will end the game. So, the verdict's out on that one. I'd probably play with players I know are fast and who already know the game. But I'll probably still confine this one to Weekly Gaming Night play sessions.

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