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Twilight Imperium (Third Edition)» Forums » Strategy

Subject: 8-player game galaxy creation. Balance issues rss

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Sander Stroom
Estonia
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Hi

This is a balance discussion about creating an 8-player galaxy by the base game rules. I created it because we're going to have an 8-player game this weekend.

How creating the 8-player galaxy works:
Each player receives 6 systems. On average about 3-4 of them have planets.
The 1st player places 4 random systems around Mecatol Rex face down.
(The rule book in Shards of the Throne has a mistake, saying you should get 55 systems and remove 5, then deal 6 to each player and the remaining 2 go in the middle. Actually you should only remove 3 and place 4 in the middle.)
Then the players create the galaxy as usual from there. After the galaxy is created, reveal the 4 systems in the middle.


8-player galaxy setup

You can see that the home systems have different types of positions:
1) In the corner - 3 systems adjacent to it. 2 of this type on the board. Borders with type 3 systems.
2) On the side in the middle - 4 systems adjacent to it. 2 of this type on the board. Borders with type 3 systems.
3) On the side, slightly shifted towards one corner - 4 systems adjacent to it, one of which is in the corner. 4 of this type on the board. Borders with type 1 on one side and type 2 on the other.

Types 2 and 3 seem to be very close to each other, 2 is forced to create conflict with either of his neighbors because the systems are aligned that way. Also these systems would benefit a lot if the players would divide the galaxy in a "spiral" shape - Player 1 has better planets towards player 2, player 2 towards player 3 etc... There is empty space or a red system next to player 2s home system closer to player 1, red system near player 3s home system closer to player 2 etc.
Type 1 then has some freedom to either be peaceful in his corner or go and backstab one of his neighbors when he is fighting with his other neighbor. Or he has to fight with the neighbor whose spiraling towards him.

There are some pros and cons for all these system types:
1) Easier to defend the home system. Overall seems like you have a bigger slice of the galaxy but most of it is further from your home system. Seems like this system has the most freedom when it comes to expansion and intentional conflict with the neighbors. The negative part: You have only one system in ring 3. If it is blocked, you are practically out of the game. I think this is the main problem for 8 player games. Let's see if there is a way to make sure that the type 1 systems can prevent from being locked out in this manner.
2) Easier to expand since there are more systems adjacent to your home system. Especially good when playing with territorial distant suns. 2 systems are a step closer to MR so when someone places an empty system in one of these locations, you could still have another option. A bit harder to defend. Also seems a bit easier to be "sandwiched" by the neighbors. If both of your neighbors want blood, it is very easy for them to split your slice of the galaxy. You must be friends with one of your neighbors or place red systems between you two. No matter which way you go toward MR, you are threatening one of your neighbors. Expect conflict. This is not the case for type 1 who has a straight path to MR, never getting closer than 3 steps from neighbor home systems.
3) Similar to above. Seems like the most balanced case. One adjacent system is in the corner. If you can have a planet system there, it is naturally well protected. Also you can choose to expand more closer to type 2 neighbor, causing conflict, or closer to type 1 neighbor, being more peaceful with both neighbors (more room on the side with type 1 neighbor). Seems like you are dependent on the plans of the type 2 neighbor - how he has to expand. If possible, place an empty or red system in a position on the 3rd ring next to his home system and closer to you. If you don't do that, type 2 could be forced to expand toward you so you will have to defend that flank.

Now comes the balance issue.
When creating the galaxy, the order of placement based on the system types can be 1-3-2-3-1-3-2-3.
Or 3-2-3-1-3-2-3-1 or 2-3-1-3-2-3-1-3 or 3-1-3-2-3-1-3-2. 4 kinds of placement orders.

4 systems are already in the 1st ring. In turn order, players 1-2 place systems into the 1st ring, then 3-8 and 8-3 place 2 systems each into the 2nd ring. Players 2-1 will have the ability to place systems adjacent to their home systems first. Then all players 1-8 and 8-1 place 2 more systems into the 3rd ring. Finally the players place 2 systems into the 4th ring in orders of 1-8 and 8-1.

The placement really depends on what systems each player has. Still, I'd like to know what is the "safest way" to create the galaxy in order to keep everyone in the game.

If the 1st player is of type 2 or 3, he can place both systems adjacent to his home system. Since there is potential conflict between type 2 and 3, the player should place one red or empty system next to the neighbor system to create a barrier - it should relieve some conflict during the game.
Maybe 1st player has to have a type 1 system - then he can place only one system adjacent to his home system. There can be a drawback that 2nd player could place an empty or red system right in front of your system before it is your turn, forcing you to place 2 systems further from your system. He might not do that because you can retaliate in a similar manner. Since there are two type 1 systems then one of them is always threatened by this move.

Which order of placement would theoretically be the most balanced one? Which one would be the most unbalanced one? Should you force the 1st player location based on the placement order so that the galaxy creation phase would create a more balanced map?
Alternatively, if everything is allowed and you want an upper hand: when you are the 1st player what location should you pick to get an advantage?

I tried to simulate some placements in paint. How players would place planet systems and try to block each other. Posting pictures of completed maps is not that informative and I don't have time to make gifs at the moment.
Anyway, this is what I found:

Order 1-3-2-3-1-3-2-3: Seems a bit risky for 1st player since player 2 can block his direct road to MR. Retaliation would not be very strong since you can not place 2 empty systems in a row. Player 2 definitely has a better situation. But if player 2 is not a dick and places near his own system first then player 1 is also OK. The other type 1 system could be "attacked" by player 1, though - he has 2 placements on the 3rd ring - first for himself, other one to the other type 1 system. I think this order is potentially quite dangerous for the type 1 systems.

Order 3-2-3-1-3-2-3-1: Players 2 and 1 can cooperate and mess up both type 1 systems and still have a good system next to their home systems. Alternatively, player 1 can have a very good advantage to place 2 good systems near his home system. If all types 2 and 3 cooperate, they can create a sort of spiral shaped galaxy to mitigate conflict.

Order 2-3-1-3-2-3-1-3: Players 2 and 1 can cooperate and mess up both type 1 systems and still have a good system next to their home systems. Since 1st player is type 3 then he has to defend one of his flanks. He could place a red system next to one neighbor and a rich system next to it, adjacent to his home system. It would allow him to claim more territory. Player 2 should be more aggressive and place a richer system towards player 1, forcing to create a spiral form - player 1 places a red system to wall off player 2 and places planet systems on the other side.

Order 3-1-3-2-3-1-3-2: Player 2 is type 1 and can secure that his system on ring 3 is a good one. Player 1 can still interfere with the other type 1 system. Alternatively he can have both good systems on ring 3, forcing the neighbor of type 2 into conflict or to move to the other side. Enough room for peaceful existence with type 1 neighbor. This could cause a "sandwich" situation for both type 2 systems or cause the spiral to go the other way. I think this is the best version for player 1.

Alternatively, players could agree that each player should be given the chance to place a system in the 3rd ring adjacent to his home system. This way players type 1 home system do not get pushed out of the game before it even begins.

Conclusion:
The order of placement is only dangerous to the players who only have 3 systems adjacent to their home system.
There do not seem to be any unbalanced placement orders, just inconvenient.
It seems that it would be best if the starting player is right before the 3-system player. I think it would be good to enforce that instead of 1st player picking his position anywhere else.
If you are the first player and you can choose, pick type 3 system as your home so that after you is the type 2 system player (order 3-2-3-1-3-2-3-1). Then you can potentially dictate how the galaxy is created.

So, any additional ideas, comments?
 
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Hector Flores
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It seems to be an unbalanced (but as you say mostly inconvenient) situation rules as written. For a game as long as this (and with 8 players) if your gaming group demands balance consider using a (1) fixed setup, (2) a randomized fixed setup, or (3) an alternate 8-player setup.

In (1) you know exactly which systems are where at the beginning - the only variable is home system placement and seating order. While hard to create a truly balanced map in this situation - if your group agrees to a board setup then it it's balanced enough for your group.

In (2) you know what kinds of systems are where at the beginning - with each system being randomly chosen amongst the types of systems (i.e. multi-planet, single planet, special system, etc.) I like these kinds of setups myself.

For (3) I have seen setups wherein 8 players are divided up into two 4-player maps that are linked (by wormholes).

Best of luck.
 
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Sander Stroom
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I've heard of and seen these setups. Our group likes creating the galaxy ourselves. Just trying to figure out how it would be fun and still balanced.
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Hector Flores
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I thought about this a bit more - maybe have the two players that have the 3 systems adjacent to their home system be first and last in placement. In this way, they get two plays in a row. This doesn't guarantee that others won't play undesirable things in front of these player's home systems - unless you house rule that as well.
 
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