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We played a 5-player game of TI:3 tonight, with the basic rules, no leaders/diplomatic legislature stuff, and giving each player a pick of 2 random races. I had to choose between the Federation of Sol (generic human jack-of-all-trades race) and the Mentak Coalition (space pirates!) -- I chose the latter.

The first major note here is that it took us a good solid hour of precious game time to review the rules. This was on top of general setup time (which our host put in before we arrived). This in spite of the fact that all of us had played the game at least once before (though perhaps a year or more ago.) It's a big fat complicated game. That's all. Just wanted to put that out there.

Our host was kind enough to print out some general stats and strategy on each of the races, which was immensely helpful. The dossier on the Federation of Sol said basically that it was a middle-of-the-road race that could go in just about any direction, and therefore the prospects for a win would depend quite heavily on how well the player played his hand. Given my general uncertainty and ignorance of the other races, I chose the Mentaks instead -- space pirates that thrived on trade and frequent combat. Something I could sink my teeth into.

This, perhaps inevitably, led to my first bit of conflict just as the game started. I had 2 direct neighbors, and I asked them both for lucrative trade deals. I didn't want just a one-for-one thing -- the Mentaks have only 2 "1" trade deal cards. I framed it like a negotiated bribe thing -- give me a good deal, and I will ensure a peaceful border.

To me, this is basic in-game negotiation, and was more-or-less recommended in that strategy dossier for the Mentaks. The player to my right (the Embers of Muaat) took it as such, and decided (wisely, as it turned out) to grant me a favorable deal. The player to my left was the Barony of Letnev, and they viewed my approach as an affront. This was perhaps bolstered by their strategic position as an aggressive military race, unlikely to be swayed by any possibility of my early incursions.

This set a bad tone that largely became my undoing.

I had the Speaker position first, and grabbed my favorite role first -- technology. I wanted to grab one or two of my racial techs fast, to maximize their bonuses. This led to two further missteps. First, I didn't know that racial techs required their resource cost IN ADDITION to the regular tech costs. I had thought that the technology role would give me one of my secret techs for free. But before that even came up, I told the Letnevs that I was going to attack a system they had just occupied with one lone cruiser, in order to get the trade good bonus I thought I had coming to me. Then I realized I needed my tech to do so, AND that my tech would cost me 4 resource points EVEN THOUGH I was playing the tech role.

So I accidentally tipped my militaristic neighbor off to my strategy of having small frequent attacks throughout the game. So, while I could (barely) afford to get my secret racial tech, I decided to build ships instead, and I was now facing a militarily aggressive neighbor who was offended by my trade deal bravado and was now watching our border VERY closely.

Luckily, my border with the Muaats remained peaceful throughout the game. Maybe too peaceful.

Having given up on an early embrace of my secret racial tech, I started working on War Sun techs. Again, this was suggested in the dossier.

Next round, I went from the Trade role, since my resources were rather low, and I was admiring how much of a bonus one of the other players got from playing trade -- 3 extra goods, AND the full allotment from trade deals (not the "-1" that all other players got.) I wanted to put these resources to use on tech.

But THEN a diplomatic vote came up which not only derailed my research, it lit my Letnevian border up into full-on war. The vote was to decide which player would be kept from gaining any tech during the next implementation of the tech role. One of the other players fingered me right away. (This was because of a jest I made upon arrival -- "you guys should stop letting me win all the time" -- after a series of wins or near-wins over the past weeks.)

So, staying once again with the suggestions made in the strategy dossier, I offered a deal to any players who would vote for anyone but me. I need any 2 of them to take the deal. The Muaats took it (gaining two trade goods from me), but nobody else did. I want to stress the Letnevs in particular, as they were right on my border. He refused any such deal, as did the others, so I was voted as the tech-loser.

I viewed this as something more than an affront. I had actually held back from attacking one of Letnev's systems during the first rounds in order to calm the border. I had a solid fleet of fast powerful cruisers and would probably have prevailed in early combat with him. But he refused my offer of 2 trade goods and voted against me (as did the other 2 non-neighboring players.)

This not only kicked our edgy border into a higher level of conflict -- it also meant I had a lot more resources to spend on fleets, since I was prevented on spending for tech that round. So given all this, and given that the Muaats had taken my deal and assured a peacful border, I did what I should have done a round earlier and attacked.

I prevailed in space combat -- Mentak destroyers and cruisers get an extra attack before combat. But he had a couple of PDS units on the ground. Not only did they get to attack my fleets first, but I couldn't attack them (since I wasn't carrying troops.) In essence, my fast cruisers got in to punch him, but lacked the support of carriers (for ground control) or fighters (as a damage screen.) Letnev's next action was to light up those PDS units for ANOTHER round, and he basically ripped my space fleet to shreds.

Given his larger resource base, he was able to field a strong fleet AND reinforce his PDS wall while still expanding his tech lead over me. The Muaats were peaceful, which was good for me, but I was foundering. Not only was I blocked hard by the warlike Letnevs (who, if they had ever been open to negotiations before, were certainly not going to consider them NOW anymore), and so desperate for fleet-building resources that I couldn't buy and exploit my racial techs.

Letnev's other neighbor had advanced aggressively -- right up to within one hex of his homeworld! But they somehow negotiated peace. I suspect this was because of the focus Letnev wanted to put on my border. The other distant player began some aggressive expansion in the middle, followed closely (but peacefully) by the Muaats.

Letnev now had 4 PDS units (2 per planet) on a tile facing our border, along with some fleets. So he presented some power-projection AND had an all-but-invulnerable defensive perimeter. My nice cruisers were no match for this, given my relatively poor resource base. I kept advancing tech as far as I could toward War Sun, using what resources I had left to build fleets to jockey with Letnev.

Muaat presented a number of wide-open targets, but I couldn't devote even a small force to go there (and break our peace agreements), given Letnev's power. I used action cards and diplomacy power to keep Letnev from pressing his advantage too quickly. This delayed things long enough for him to become the target of the other players (FINALLY), which took much of the heat off me.

Our gameplay had been proceeding slowly, given numerous rule questions and uncertainty with strategy, so at one point we decided we'd play one more round beyond the current one and end it, taking score at that time. Muaat had attempted to conquer Mecatol Rex toward the end, failing to quell the last local ground force. So after he skipped over it to attack Letnev, I jumped in to grab Mecatol with a small force and some lucky die rolls. This was a cold comfort, given that Letnev had shattered my border system again, and was now sitting with a large fleet next to my home system, but still it was fun.

I also managed to build a War Sun. Its first mission was home-defense against Letnev, but in another turn I'd have at least another large capital ship (if not a second War Sun), which might have had a chance at turning the tide against Letnev. He had suffered some from the Muaat invasion, and was perhaps overextended against me.

That's about where we ended the game. Letnev and I (along with Letnev's other neghbor) were tied for 3 points, while Muaat and his other neighbor tied for 5 points and the win.

With regard to the game, I like it more every time I play it. This is hampered, however, by the large amounts of time and effort to get a game going. There are lots of deep strategy options available at all times throughout each turn, and the channels for conflict with the other players are numerous and tricky. Ship combat is simple and fast, leaving time to focus on strategic priorities.

With regard to this particular session, I have realized that (a) my group of gaming buddies has a strong reluctance to negotiate and cut deals, and (b) I need to keep my mouth shut before provoking people with pre-game bluster. It's all in good fun, but it can (evidently) lead to losses.

If you have read this far, and care to chime in, I'd love to hear some opinions on "who started it" between me and Letnev. I believe he started our conflict by joining with that vote against my tech advance, and refusing my offer to buy his vote. He believes that there was nothing wrong with that vote, and that my ensuing attack was what started our conflict. What do you think?

Overall, I really really want to play TI again.
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jumbit
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If I was Letnev, I would have attacked you, too. Demanding my trade agreements! Surely he knows Letnev's strength. Since he's probably going to use his pirate powers against me anyway, I might as well start pounding him since my race rewards that and I probably have a Secret Objective that rewards attacking him as well. Good to have a punching-bag, as well as let the other players see my fleet deployments and know I'm not a threat to them. "See? All my ships are on his border, there's no way I'll break our peace treaty."
 
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Joe Lassberg
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Plano
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Sounds like a fun game! Thanks for taking the time to write it up, it was enjoyable to read!

Any chance that the dossiers your friend had ready was something from the files section? Or if not, could he upload them? They sound really useful!

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Jonas Ellenfors
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By the sound of it, it was the race tactics from:

http://gameknight.com/?page_id=474
 
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Mark Deibert
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Well written. Makes me want to play TI again too
 
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