E29 | Games | Twilight Imperium - Dominate Space Cats and Galactic Rome
Have you ever wanted to become the strongest faction and conquer space Rome? If so you came to the right place! In this episode Dalton talks us through the strategy of his favorite game of all time: Twilight Imperium! Before we get to all of that we talk a bit about what's on our flights and what we have been playing recently! So sit back and hit play because Dalton guarantees your next win after listening to this episode or your money back!
What's on our Flight (01:38)
Dalton’s drinking: Founder's CBS (Canadian Breakfast Stout). From Founder's Barrel Aged series, this stout is barreled in ex-maple syrup bourbon barrels, creating very complex flavors of syrup, coffee, and sweet chocolate. Excellent and delicious, even at 11.7% ABV. Absolutely a 4 cheers beer!
Nelson's drinking: Clayton Distilleries New York Straight Bourbon, a single barrel with strong barley notes which makes it feel like an Irish/bourbon blend. At 3 years, it comes across a bit young with an underdeveloped finish. Definitely and enjoyable sip, landing it as a 3 cheers for Nelson!
What's on our Table (10:19)
Nelson has been playing... well, that's not really a strong enough word. Nelson has reconfigured his life to the devotion of Marvel Champions, a living card game where players (or devotees, in Nelson's case) build a deck themed for a Marvel hero. The game is cooperative and features mechanisms for the players to support and protect each other which is very rewarding.
Dalton tried The Gallerist recently, a huge Euro from Vital Lacerda. I very highly recommend this game if heavy Euros are your bread and butter. For me, it was hard to wrap my head around, so for the mental investment there are other games I would choose first. However, the mechanics and components of the game are excellently executed and definitely worth experiencing, especially at the ~2 hour play point.
The main topic starts at 16:14 in the episode
Twilight Imperium!!! We are finally here, ready to talk about my favorite game! TI is a "4X" game, which stands for Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate. They are typically large, complex, competitive games and TI is no exception. The intricate sociopolitical games, fascinating races, and epic space battles all contribute to why we love it so. In this guide we are looking to take our listeners from a beginner with basic understanding of the rules to a competent, competitive player ready to conquer the galaxy!
Focus on Winning
The first decision to make in the game is what kind of experience do you want from the game? Do you want to have fun with the game by having epic space battles, dominating trade and politics, or exploring the tech tree and galaxy? Each of these things are integral to the game and entirely enjoyable and they may or may not directly contribute to victory. It is entirely ok to walk up to the table and say "You know, I'm just going to have fun today!" I've done that many times. If you are wanting to focus on winning, decide early and know that you may have to step on some toes on your climb to victory.
After focusing on winning, understanding where your victory will come from is critical to understanding your path to victory. Most 10 victory point games take (on average) 6 game rounds. If your table is playing to 10 victory points, start from the following basic assumption:
5 points from the 5 Stage 1 Public Objectives
3 points from your 3 Secret Objectives
2 points from scoring 1 of the 2 (in game round 6) Stage 2 Public Objectives
If you find yourself struggling to collect on the points listed above, the following areas can be used to supplement your basic strategy to find your best path to 10 points:
Mecatol points (using the Imperial strategy card)
Trading/receiving a Support for the Throne Promissory Note
Now that we know where a victory will come from, it's important to understand what to expect of the objective decks. The Stage 1 and Stage 2 Public Objectives follow a pretty straightforward pattern that is easy to remember and base your game on. Remember, you will likely see 5 of the 10 Stage 1 objectives and 2 of the 10 Stage 2 objectives.
4 "Spend" objectives. These objectives involve spending either Resources, Influence, Trade Goods, or Command Counters. There is one for each of these types in both the Stage 1 and Stage 2 decks, with the Stage 2 being simply twice as expensive as their Stage 1 counterparts. Spend objectives are great to claim as late as you can since you'd rather be converting your resources to plastic and actions earlier in the game and these objectives are difficult for other players to block.
4 "Board Control" objectives. These objectives involve owning space and planets and are generally more difficult to get. They are easier for other players to block, especially later in the game as the board gets crowded. Claim these objectives as early as possible to avoid having to step on toes later in the game.
2 "Tech" objectives. These are the best objectives to claim last as they are impossible for other players to block so long as you already own the tech. They also fit well on turns where you can not qualify for a Board Control objective and do not want to spend your resources on Spend objectives. Lastly, the Stage 1 Tech objectives build naturally in to their Stage 2 counterparts and even synergize well with each other.
Remembering the "4/4/2" pattern can help you know what to expect from the deck, especially in rounds 3 and 4 when several Stage 1 objectives are already revealed.
The Secret Objectives deck is much more contentious. 14 of the 20 Secrets are Board Control / Combat focused, so expect other players to be aggressive when completing them. 2 of these Secrets can also be completed during the Action phase which can provide a surprise victory if applied correctly. There are a couple of Tech and Deployment types, which are useful for rewarding you for growing in the game. Mostly, Secrets are good for helping define your strategy and give you direction in the game. Expect to try to complete 3 of them and don't be afraid to draw a 4th to give yourself some options!
With Objectives covered, let's talk about how to build your civilization to the point where you can claim those objectives. Resources in the game take the form of Resources (literally), Influence, and Trade Goods. Command Counters can also be considered a type of resource, but since they are primarily acquired through Influence (via the Leadership strategy card) we will leave them out of the discussion for now. Resources and Influence are acquired through owning planets. Trade Goods come primarily from the Trade strategy card, though there are lots of other mechanisms in the game for acquiring them, including through negotiations with other players.
Resources buy plastic (ships and units). That is the primary use of Resources in the game. Resources will give you the ships and forces to take additional planets and control more of the galaxy. As we saw above, many of the objectives are focused on board control and combat, so Resources play a huge role in being competitive for those objectives. Resources are most valuable at the beginning of the game when your goal is to expand and control more territory. Resources are difficult to convert to victory points at the end of the game since you typically will struggle to purchase and deploy ships fast enough for them to make a difference in the final rounds.
Influence (through the purchasing of Command Counters) lets you do things in the game. Your actions take place through Influence, so having more of it means you are doing more than other players. It also is more flexible than Resources as Influence can be converted back to Resources through the use of the Secondary Abilities of the strategy cards (e.g. Trade, Diplomacy, Politics). However, this flexibility is limited, so an all-influence strategy would run out of steam eventually. Influence gets more powerful later in the game as the Agenda Phase is unlocked and additional Board Control objectives force players to do more on their turns. Generally, a 50/50 split between Resources and Influence is desirable for most games.
Trade Goods are the ultimate flexibility. A stock pile of Trade Goods is an extreme threat to other players in the potential for Spend objectives and soft political power among the other players. You can really never have too many Trade Goods, but acquiring them can be difficult. It is generally harder to acquire one Trade Good per round than acquiring a planet worth 1 Resource and 1 Influence, though the planet must be defended and potentially contributes towards objectives. Grab every chance you get to cash in on additional Trade Goods, but again a strategy focused solely on acquiring Trade Goods can find itself low on the funds needed to be a player on the galactic scale.
We really would be ashamed of ourselves if we got through the episode without mentioning Technology. The Technology tree is extremely fun and rewarding to explore in the game. To maximize its effectiveness on your victory, there are a couple of key notes to remember:
Blue Tech is King. Of the Tech paths, Blue most directly contributes to scoring objectives, mostly because of how many objectives focus on Board Control. Gravity Drive, Fleet Logistics, and Light Wave Deflectors all have naturally powerful ways to generate opportunities for players to score these objectives.
Gravity Drive is Essential. Adding 1 to the movement of 1 ship sounds minor, but consider the impact it has on your potential. A single ship on Mecatol Rex with movement 1 can threaten 6 systems. A ship with movement 2 threatens 18. Movement 3, 36 systems. When applied to your entire fleet, the additional opportunity afforded to you by this relatively minor Tech is astounding.
Capacity with Movement 2. Somehow, you must find the capacity to reliably move ground forces 2 systems before the bonus from Gravity Drive. Your best options for this are Carrier 2 and Dreadnought 2, which both make prerequisites of your previous investments in Blue Tech. Cruiser 2 and Warsun are also options but can require a lengthy Tech path. Once unlocked, you will find the flexibility of movement offered by these units alongside Gravity Drive will make an enormous difference in your ability to compete for objectives.
With the above considered, you will likely chose one additional color of the remaining 3 to invest in. Try to determine your Tech path early considering your starting Techs, racial advantages, and available Tech skip planets. Having a plan for your Tech path in the game will help you avoid unnecessary purchases and help you streamline to the powerful late-stage Techs.
We talk through several basic fleet compositions in the episode that are helpful to remember. Your specific fleet will always be influenced by your opponents and specific board setup, but remembering these blueprints can help set you on the right path:
Fighter Fleet. As it sounds, this fleet focuses on Carrier 2, Fighter 2, and lots of Fighters. The nice thing is slipping a couple Ground Forces in to your already massive capacity is fairly easy. The down side is finding the Production Capacity to build these fleets. This fleet does well in a slice with high resources (for the Production Capacity) and does not require a high amount of influence to support it (since Fleet Supply is so low).
Destroyer Fleet. Destroyers are the best firepower for their cost, especially if they have the ability to retreat from a fight and then immediately attack again. Anti-Fighter Barrage makes them an obvious counter to the above Fighter fleet. However, this fleet requires heavy Influence investments in Fleet Supply and movement (for attack+retreat strategies especially) and you will still need to figure out how to move ground forces around.
Balanced Fleet. Typically Dreadnought, Carrier, and Destroyer focused, nobody wants to mess with someone who has all 5 Dreadnoughts deployed. The added pressure from Carrier/Fighter screens and Destroyer Anti-Fighter Barrages makes this fleet a flexible, Jack-of-All-Trades deployment. The main downsides are a delicate composition that can be upset with a couple key losses and a fairly restricted Tech path. With the right balanced setup, this fleet design can be very rewarding.
Warsuns. As mentioned above, Warsun can be very difficult to get to, especially early enough to make it a viable fleet strategy. Plus with only max 2 Warsuns in your unit bag you may find you don't have enough on the board to feel as flexible as you want to. That said, they bolster enormous firepower packed in to a single unit which frees up a lot of Fleet Supply for other things. If you have the right Tech skip planets and starting racial bonuses to support a rush to Warsun it can be very rewarding but is definitely an all-in strategy.
An entire episode could be devoted just to the strategies, strengths, and weaknesses of the 17 races in the base game. We did not have time for that in this episode, but as the asymmetry of the races is such an integral part to your gameplay we want to touch briefly on it. Namely, you can think of the races in tiers:
Top Tier: Universities of Jol-Nar, Emirates of Hacan, Federation of Sol. These races offer insane flexibility of strategy and can do well in most setups.
Mid Tier: Naalu Collective, Mentak Coalition, Barony of Letnav, L1Z1X Mindnet. Especially for new players, these races offer straightforward, rewarding strategies that still lead to powerful positions when played well
Low Tier: Sardakk N'orr, Embers of Muatt, Xxcha Kingdom, Winnu. These races are generally at a disadvantage as their strengths are difficult to convert to victory points. They are generally not recommended for new players for that reason.
All other races involve strategies that are difficult for new players to understand and while they can be powerful in the right context their strategy is narrow enough to be limiting. Play them only if their specific quirks seem interesting and align well with your inherent play style. If you want to pour over specific data on the races, here is a resource to get you started.
Thanks for reading! If this episode got you excited to play TI like it did us, reach out to us on Discord (link in the top right of the header) and we will get something set up soon!