“…I’m convinced that anybody who tries to play a game at the same time that they’re reading the rules is inevitably going to screw it up. In Eurostyle games that doesn’t always matter, but it tends to be more important in wargames.” — Lewis Pulsipher
There was a wall dead ahead of my purple robot, but I completely didn’t see it.
Heading back downstairs, I saw that the folks playing RoboRally were still at it. I walked up just as they were starting another game. In this one, I had a shield that would protect me from laser fire from just one direction. The cards were good to me and I got to the other side of the board fairly quickly and without taking more than a hit or two. There was a big mass of robots vying to get to the flag. The board was just so congested there, I knew we would get in each other’s way. I lined myself up with the flag, and then plotted to go straight several phases in a row. When we resolved the turn, there was a big shoving match right by the flag. Somehow, I managed to end up on the flag without getting knocked into a pit! I managed to get out of there way ahead of everyone else. I was lined up with the perfect shot at winning the game from these hard core players. I set my next turn to go straight down the board towards the final flag… and then… I was utterly disappointed when I found out that a wall was blocking my path. I completely wasted my lead by spending four of the five phases running in place. I was crushed. I couldn’t make up for the blunder, and RoboRally’s biggest fan ever swooped in ahead of me to win the game.
After the game, the other players kept eyeing my new game, Space Empires 4x. The asked me if it would be okay if they played it with me. Needless to say, the shrink warp was off in about thirty seconds. I left them to punch out the counters and dig through the rules while I went off to get some candy bars and a soda. We set up the board and started muddling our way through. Lewis Pulsipher dropped by to jokingly rebuke my opponents for keeping me away from his game design talk. As we worked through our first few turns, people would walk by and whisper to each other about this game. Others would stop for a while and mention the rules that they messed up the first time that they played. One dude interrupted us just to complain about the amount of book keeping in the game. But we played on into the night. We played for hours. We played until the room cleared out an there was only one other table of gamers. Then they left… and we still played on for hours. The game was completely engrossing… and… we totally butchered it!
Blue spent every ship he had to gradually grind away at Yellow’s base in the neutral zone.
Now I say this, but I do have to praise the rule book anyway. For any question that we had about how the game worked, someone could grab the rules, flip around a bit… and then quickly find the answer. This happened several times… and any dispute we had was quickly resolved. By the end of the night, the formerly pristine rule book was a gnarly, bent, and twisted shadow of its former self. (Egads! did we abuse the poor thing.) Several times people remarked at just how good these rules were, though. But the problem in learning a game is not so much in the quality of the rules. Even when the rules are pitch perfect you still have the problem that you just don’t always know when you don’t know something!
So let me tell you what we botched just in case you ever get a hold of this treasure of a game. Here’s the biggest one: I’d looked in the scenario book and saw the victory conditions for the multi-player game… and that’s what we rolled with. If I had read just a little further, I would have seen the victory conditions for the short game. Those are probably what you want if you want the playing time of your first game to be cut in half. Note that the long game requires you take out a home world in order to win, and I’m sorry, but you’re just not going to able to execute that until you know what tactically doesn’t work in this game.
Here’s another big thing that didn’t make sense to me when we played. The rule book said that the game really rewards you for having a nice, diverse fleets. But I found my destroyers to be almost entirely useless– they just seemed to melt away like butter in every combat! Well, let me tell you… if you play with all ships having a maintenance cost of one regardless of hull size and if you completely forget to apply the +1 attack bonus for fleet size, then destroyers will end up being pretty useless in your game, too!!! So don’t do that unless you want the game to be completely stupid….
One last thing that would have been particularly useful for us to know in playing our first game is that the early exploration and colonization phases can be played simultaneously up until the empires come in contact with each other. There were several times through the night that I would play my turn… and then… given our sleep deprived state, we’d all sit there wondering why everyone else was taking so long…. It really didn’t have to be that way.
Ah well, it was an epic contest. It’s the sort of game I’ve always wanted… and our session at PrezCon was exactly the sort of thing I was keen on when I drove down and paid for my admission. Half-dazed, we put all the counters into zip lock bags, and I trudged upstairs to try to find my way home. I took one last pass though the convention areas, and didn’t see any other games going. We’d shut it down, man! I found my way to my car and drove through the mountain fog until I got home. I collapsed, and then slept most of Sunday. I think I’ll have to pace myself a little better next year….