I've played a bunch of games against the Automa, and a couple of 3-player games. This is my first time with a full board, and boy did it fill up quickly. I was Rusviet with the Engineering board. Crimea and Nordic had both played, while Polania and Saxony were both playing for the first time. Early on, I went for the fast factory play, surprising the other players with how quickly I reached it, while also playing my first star for completing Objective #22, "Technological Breakthrough," having 1 Factory card and 0 upgrades.
For my factory card, I chose #18, which allows you to trade 2 different resources for an enlist or upgrade. When I was looking at the board state and potential future plans, this seemed like the best option, but in retrospect it was almost certainly sub-optimal because I believe I only used it once all game. Whether that was because I didn't use it as well as I could have, or just made a poor choice will be up to the historians to debate.
Crimea placed an early star by getting all 8 workers and used them to heap up food for some early recruits. Nordic workers were swimming across frigid rivers and producing things. Polania had a slow start, but worked towards reaching as many encounters as possible without being too focused on it. Saxony was a bit baffling, and I think the inexperience showed, as it took a while to get those mechs out and moving around.
With my mobility, workers, and mechs, I made some aggressive moves to put myself next to enemy territories, hoping that the potential popularity loss would intimidate people into leaving me alone. Not one to be dissuaded, Saxony sent in a mech, only to be repelled, earning me another star. I worked on upgrading my Build action to reduce the cost to a single paltry wood and made sure to keep the endgame bonus of having structures next to tunnels in mind when placing them.
Meanwhile, Crimea was toting the giant worker blob around, but still sticking close to home. Nordic forces were also largely keeping within a safe distance of home, but spreading slowly and inexorably. Polania was making excellent use of encounters to deploy mechs and warp around the board via Submerge. Saxony, after being put down, struggled to rebuild a strong position.
My aggressive movement through tunnels and popping up next to neighbors was not to be tolerated. Crimea (I believe) was the first to express distaste militarily, sending a mech and a pack of workers packing, and also claiming my wood (for which I had plans, I assure you!). Polania was next, booting me from the Factory, claiming card #15 in the process, which allows a trade of 1 resource for a combat card and 2 power. I had built a mine next to my home base by that time, enabling me to send my forces back to the front lines quickly.
Combats by this point were taking place all across the board, some even after aggressors already had both stars for winning combat. Every faction was involved in at least 1 combat over the course of the game, though Crimea managed to avoid most of it by sticking close to home. Stars started entering the board en masse, many as a result of combat. I forget each, but I know Crimea enlisted all recruits, Polania had all mechs, Nordic completed an objective to control 3 forests.
I continued to be a punching bag as the game wore on, but managed to win another combat (Polania didn't like the cut of my jib or some such, and the cut of my jib prevailed). As I sensed the end of the game nearing, I tried to spread my workers out and gain some territory money for the end-game, hoping that the other players would still be focused on their own business and not worry about my lone, resource-less workers. With 5 stars on the board - 2x combat, objective, all buildings(?), all mechs(?) - I could end the game by placing my last worker.
I was a few popularity away from reaching the highest tier, but Nordic placed a 5th star, and I worried that the game wouldn't end on my terms. Polania seemed to have a very good chance of winning, with that sweet, sweet highest popularity tier, and Nordic looked strong as well. I announced that I was ending the game, only to realize that I didn't have the power to produce that last worker. Oops. I guess I'll bolster and hope for the best. Not much was changed on the board in the intervening turns, and I placed my 6th star to end the game.
Final scoring began, with Saxony and Nordic in the lowest popularity tier, Crimea and myself in the middle tier, and Polania in the highest. As Rusviet, I had largely failed to utilize my faction power. Polania had made excellent use of their faction power. Crimea passed on a number of opportunities to spend cards in place of resources. Nordic workers swam a fair amount. Saxony only managed to place one star all game. Saxony can be hard to abuse. When coins were tallied, the Rusviets had prevailed, with a final total of 58. Polania came in second with 50, and was followed by Crimea, Nordic, and Saxony, in that order. Saxony and Crimea both suffered from having few territories, and Nordic was hurt by being so darn unpopular. My late-game worker-pooping mech movements helped quite a bit, along with my attention to structure bonuses in the mid-game.
Game time clocked in at about 3 hours including rules explanation. One player had some mild analysis paralysis. As the game owner and rules expert, I tried to keep turns moving, encouraging new turns to start when bottom-row actions were being decided. This helped keep things moving. I often play sub-optimally when teaching/running a game, and I feel like that was the case with my choice of factory card, my (un-)use thereof, and my light use of Relentless. That said, it couldn't have been that bad if I ended up winning anyway. Crimea acknowledged some missed opportunities, and Nordic was hoping for the game to go on a few more turns to drop some resources. Everyone seemed to have fun, though I wonder how Saxony felt at the end. With my limited experience, I feel like I enjoyed the 3-player game best so far. 5-player was definitely a slug-fest, which is fun and entertaining in its own way.