This is easily among the shortlist of my all time favorite games. Everything about it is enjoyable.
We had three players last night and here’s how we ran it:
- Standard 3-player starting positions with the home worlds at maximum distance from each other… but with every empty spot having a deep space terrain chit in them because we like having more stuff to explore even if the map isn’t 100% fair.
- We played with the “standard” Close Encounters expansion rules… but with Flagships and Nebula Mining from the optional/advanced section. (This gives a jolt to both the exploit and explore portions of the game by giving you an incentive to build a bigger economic engine while also making it easy to explore without having to build CA’s first.)
- We used the Replicators production sheets and monster sized terrain tiles. Advanced construction was available, but nobody ended up buying it. The new advantage and tech cards were in the deck… and the new terrain was all in the mix as well. (And I gotta say, the pirate ships and space folds are an AWESOMELY fun addition to the game.)
We dealt out two Empire Advantage cards and let everyone pick one. Person to my left chose Powerful Psychics which gave him free exploration-1 plus he could inspect counter stacks next to exploration ships. The guy to my right took House of speed– everything of his was move-7 with an across the board -2 penalty to defense. I took Immortals, which increased the cost of my colony ships by +2 but allowed me to ignore one hit per combat round.
I decided to build Attack-1, Defense-1, Move-3, Fighter-1 carrier groups and sent a couple to attack the House of Speed. I made several mistakes with this attack and it ended in disaster. One, I telegraphed the attack before I needed to by moving into his space just before a turn break. This allowed him to set his production up for defense– a big ol’ stack of defense-2 battle cruisers. Further, I had a chance to fight his fleet piecemeal, but instead moved to where he could concentrate his forces against me. Finally… I forgot to use my empire ability when it might actually have turned the tide.
Okay, so sometimes you have to live and learn in the middle of a six hour game…! Doh!
What to do…? I built more carriers and fighters… possibly for defense at first… but later in order to just have something to throw at someone. It turned into a monster fleet of 21 fighters and 3 destroyers with another carrier group serving as a flimsy backstop.
The terrain ended up placing a Fold in Space and a Warp Point in just the right place that I could attack the Powerful Psychics without exploring the space between us first. (I had no flagship anymore, so that was a great windfall.) I moved into the Warp Point and asked, “okay, who’s with me?” The Psychics waffled and The House of Speed nodded as if he understood. There we go! I move toward the Psychic’s space!
Finishing out the turn, I made yet another critical error in the context of an invasion: I could have moved to destroy his forward ship yards but instead burned down a defenseless colony planet. Stupid! The House of Speed was following me in with his fleets, though, and he chose to go around an irritating base and instead position himself to threaten the Psychics’ fleets. After the turn break, twelve hull units worth of ships appeared at the ship yard.
I’d bid 10 for the turn order and moved away from the defending fleets and toward the home world. My position meant that he could not concentrate both of his fleets on me at once. (Hey, sometimes I learn from my mistakes!) In response to this, the Psychics concentrated their efforts against the House of Speed, and an extremely large battle ensued. By the time the dust had settled, the Psychics were reduce to about 1/3rd of their former number of units… and he had an awesome Elite rated Attack-2 Defense-2 Move-3 Battlecruiser which he was very proud of.
It was of course all for naught because at that point I moved onto his home world and took him out of the game.
Now… was this the correct outcome…?
Well, I had to destroy the Psychics early on or get wiped out myself. The guy was putting everything into first economy and then tech. If he actually made it to Titans my units would be annihilated. I didn’t understand why he didn’t just build twelve point defense equipped scouts to take out my fighters… but thinking it through that would have only eliminated maybe six units on the first round of combat– not that much, really! He thought he had to build a fleet that could potentially stand up against either or both of us… so he went with non-specialist ships in order to have a fighting chance. (Plus, he’d bet on ship size anyway– it’s what he had.)
Now… he really should have turtled up on his home world. Building four mines there would have been enough to keep me from destroying him that turn. (I had no minesweepers.) The consequence of this would have been that our fleets would have simply burned down each of his colony worlds, possible getting into a fight with each other in the process.
I gotta say… fighting the way that he did was way more interesting. It was over quicker, anyway.
The other thing that really ought to have happened was that the House of Speed could have attacked both of us at once. Or he could have feinted against the Psychics and then betray me at the last moment. Would my fleet have been able to stand up to the Psychics’ more advanced units alone…? I think so, especially if I had thought to take out those shipyards when I had the chance!
Would I have been able to stand up against the House of Speed’s betrayal…? I don’t think so. If he had burned my colonies while I was burning down the Psychics’ worlds… he should have come out ahead. Even if I had thought to send minesweepers along with my invasion force, taken down the Psychic’s home world, and then got the 30 CP bonus for eliminating an empire, I don’t think even that should have made a difference. I ought to have been toast!
Yeah, the three player problem is still a significant game design issue.
However… with the Psychics pushing for advanced technology Titans, we had no choice but to join forces against him or die, especially with both of our fleets decimated due to our initial conflict. The gripping hand is… if I had played my initial attack correctly, I don’t think there would have been any conundrum at all. Maybe.
Nevertheless… if you play this one three player, I do suggest you run it under the sudden death short game rules: the first person to destroy an enemy home world automatically wins right there. This creates a dynamic racing game with scads of aggressive action in place of the staleness endemic to most three player direct conflict games. This is a well known problem in gaming and there’s really no need to waste an entire game session on it.
It is 2018, after all!