Type: War Game (Secret Euro!)

Time to play: 180 – 240 minutes (Teaching: 20-25 minutes)

Best played with: 6 Players (3 – 6 Players)

There are a lot of reviews out there for TI3 and TI4 and given the games are very similar, it would be difficult to truly add to this literature. However, there are not that many out there that bring this back to beginners with the game. This game, originally from 1997, has developed a cult following which brings with it an intense amount of strategy and reviews, including great breakdowns of the different asymmetric race powers in every version of the game. This, then, is a short review to catch up new players with whether or not they might enjoy the game or even buy the game.

At it’s heart then, this is a war game. Start in the corners and work your way out. Build steadily across a system of planets that give you both resource and political influence. Use the resource to build your army, and use your influence to get command tokens and advance a political agenda.

You start not only with a unique planet, a unique army, but also unique powers. You might have improved movement, warfare or trading. Each unique aspect of your starting position will influence the way you play and what opportunities will come your way.

Except this is not a war game. You aren’t here to wipe out the other side, you are here to score objectives and they will be revealed during the course of the game. Each game might be different – gaining resources, gaining technology, gaining specific planets. Of course, military dominance helps, but it’s the opportunist here that wins.

The game will escalate from one point objectives to two point objectives. From simple, achievable actions to a challenging strategic moves that would test even the strongest alliances. You will have to achieve a series of these to make it to 10 points to trigger game end. Oh, and you can only score one of these public objectives each turn (unless you have a specific strategic card!).

The silver lining is that you will get secret objectives – additional ways of scoring a small number of points (max 3) during the course of the game. These won’t get you far, but it’s enough to tip you over the line – especially if you can get one secret objective and a two point objective at the game end.

Okay, the other thing to know about this game is that every action requires either the use of a strategic card (selected from 8 available at the start of the turn), or the use of a command token. The command tokens are limited, and they trigger the movement on the board. Once utilised, a ship cannot then be moved again – through specific and clever rules with these tokens. Watching what you (and your opponents!) can do is core to understanding the board dynamic.

Washing over these those, the most interesting feature of the game is the 8 strategic tokens / cards that determine player order and a special action that the player can take. Some allow trading, some allow for quicker movement whilst others allow production or additional command tokens. The most important feature though is that this is a Puerto Rico style lead/follow mechanic – after the player takes the primary action, other players can spend tokens for a secondary (less powerful action).

The timing of these secondary actions can make all the difference – will you get the new technology before the battle? Will you grab the planet with resources before being allowed to refresh the planets? Will you produce at the key point in the turn? Timing becomes a huge factor in the game and it’s not always obvious what matters for you or your opponents – not least because of those secret objectives.

So – board positioning, a distribution of public and secret objectives, limited actions and some lead/follow turn actions. Lot’s then to dig in to especially on a randomly generated map with unique player powers. What a game…

Why then wouldn’t you like it? Well, the biggest factor is time. Regardless of player count this is a long game, it simply takes time to play through all the potential turns and due to potential analysis paralysis as plans go array or different objectives are revealed. If that’s not enough, then I would warn that this game works meaningfully better at higher player counts. Lower numbers (particularly 3!) can be challenging given the war like nature of the game and the fact that this benefits from the interplay between players and actions.

Lastly, there is backstabbing. If you are a player who is happy with a war game but hates betrayal, then this is not the war game for you. It really requires the formation and absolute destruction of alliances. You will agree to stop one player, only to storm in on your ally’s home planet. You might even have entered in to that alliance with truly good intentions, but when those objectives came up … you had to break the alliance.

Last notes,

  • If you want an epic to write home about, this can deliver
  • If you have a limited gaming time, this consumes it all and some
  • If you win, try another race and see how the objectives fall