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Twilight Imperium (Fourth Edition)» Forums » Strategy

Subject: Top Tier Factions Don't Exist rss

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Daniel Grant
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A lot of comments on the various forums kick around the concept of a "top tier" Faction. It's also commonly discussed on podcasts and among players. Which Factions are "top tier'? Who is in the "top 5"?

In this post, I'm going to argue there are no "top tier" Factions. Some Factions may be "top tier" based on the meta of an individual gaming group, but the game doesn't inherently have "top tier" Factions.

I expect this will be controversial to some, and I hope it spurs a lively discussion.

Instead of "top tier" versus "bottom tier", I think a more accurate approach from a strategy perspective is to consider "early" versus "late" Factions. Meaning, some Factions have buffs to the early part of the game while others are buffed for the late game.

Jol-Nar are routinely hailed as a "top tier" Faction, but they are terrible in the early part of the game. Their -1 to combat is mathematically more significant with lower cost, weaker ships. And cheap ships dominate the early game. This changes in the later portion of the game as the Jol-Nar acquire technology to offset their disadvantage. By contrast, the Sardakk N'orr have a +1 to combat. This has a greater cost/benefit advantage with cheaper ships. The Sardakk N'orr would be an "early" Faction.

The problem isn't that the Sardakk N'orr are not a "top tier" Faction and the Jol-Nar is a "top tier" Faction. The problem is that players do not know how to play "early" Factions. Players tend to "turtle" in the early rounds and focus on their section of the galactic "pie". As the game progresses, the advantages of "early" Factions like the Yin start to slip away while the "late" Factions beef up.

To illustrate, I'll offer a thought experiment. Instead of a standard six player game, we do a six player team game of 3 v 3. On one side are the "early" Factions - Yin, Sardakk, and Winnu. On the other side are the "late" Factions - Jol-Nar, Yssaril, and Hacan. Most consider the Jol-Nar, Yssaril, and Hacan to be "top tier" Factions while the others to be "bottom tier". But if the Yin, Sardakk, and Winnu go full aggressive from the start and focus on combat and playing to their Faction's individual strengths, their combined might would crush the Jol-Nar, Yssaril, and Hacan before they could ramp up to their full late game advantages.

What does this tell us from a strategy perspective? 1) Early Factions need to be aggressive out of the gate, and 2) Early Factions need to ally together against Late Factions. If a team up of Yin, Sardakk, and Winnu can crush the Jol-Nar, Yssaril, and Hacan, you can't argue that one group is "top tier" and the other is "bottom tier". Factions are situationally top or bottom tier based on how they are played. Jol-Nar players that can ward off early aggression and convince Early Factions to fight amongst themselves will do very well. Early Factions that can ally together and exploit their early advantages against the Late Factions will do well.

Please share your thoughts. Especially if you think I'm wrong! LOL.
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Michael Bomholt
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I agree that the power of abilities of different factions scale with the timeline of the game. For instance the Mentak pre-combat ability is far more powerful in the early game, than it is in the late game.

This fact does not change that in a game with asymmetric player powers some will be better at winning than others. Once we have a large enough sample size of games played and understand those numbers it is fairly simple to assign rankings to the factions.

Right now the game hasn't been out long enough to do anything but speculate about power rankings.

I also don't think it is helpful to introduce player skill into rankings. Of course a terrible player will lose if given the best faction and great player can win with the worst faction. If faction rankings have any meaning we must assume they are being played at least competently, which includes an understanding of game pace and tempo.
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Sander Stroom
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It really depends on a lot of factors. But if you take everything into consideration, there will be some things to consider:

1) Races with strong abilities will have a much better position in the game, making it easier for them to win.

2) If players know that, they will try to collectively destroy them.

3) If 2 happens, the race with not-so-obvious-strengths will win because the other players ran out of steam to battle with the second-to-the-throne.

This kind of thing happens in a lot of games where you have to "bash the leader". Still, someone has to win. Usually it is one of the top 3 races. Not the bottom 3. How to rank the races? It really depends on a lot of factors. Back to square 1.

Still, after a few hundred games, a pattern would emerge - some races are going to win more than others. Without playing any games yet (still on the way), all races seem to be more balanced than before... Except Winnu. They have only one viable strategy which can be easily blockaded by either placing a red system in front of MR or just running your stronger and faster fleet in the way. A carrier, cruiser and 2 fighters is not enough to take and defend MR. Mentak with 2 cruisers would probably kill you before you make it there for instance. Even if you build units at home, they will not make it into the middle of the map in time.
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Fedor Syagin
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Jatta Pake wrote:


What does this tell us from a strategy perspective? 1) Early Factions need to be aggressive out of the gate, and 2) Early Factions need to ally together against Late Factions. If a team up of Yin, Sardakk, and Winnu can crush the Jol-Nar, Yssaril, and Hacan, you can't argue that one group is "top tier" and the other is "bottom tier". Factions are situationally top or bottom tier based on how they are played. Jol-Nar players that can ward off early aggression and convince Early Factions to fight amongst themselves will do very well. Early Factions that can ally together and exploit their early advantages against the Late Factions will do well.

Please share your thoughts. Especially if you think I'm wrong! LOL.


I can see this , but there is a tiny problem in the game that make people prefer late faction to early one.

Being aggressive is possible. Doing it while scoring VP early in the game - that require very lucky combination of objectives.
Generally building expansion machine that later on used to score both economical and military objectives is easier and safer choice than trying to be aggressive early.
If you only doing it for the sake of slowing down later faction and not able to score VP and end up behind in overall power development - well you and whoever you attack will be in bad spot in late game - but what about 4 other players?

So yes if we have balance of late vs early and each early sort of attack one specific late it all balances itself out, but in my experience going to war early rarely translate into good position in later game.
It is possible, but it's challenging.
So playing late factions is easier and safer and in many people's mind that translate into ==> Best, Stronger, Top Tier faction.

This is all just My Own Humble Opinion.
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André Silveira
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I fully agree with you.

Once I played with a player that was "learning" the game. He had a aggro Civ, but refused to attack other players to "see how the game evolved". Needles to say he was an easy target and VP source late game and didn't like the game saying he'd rather play Eclipse.

The game NEEDS players that wants to roleplay their race, and not just play a game.

That said, I tend to play late game races for that same reason! =D
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Jean-Philippe Thériault
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What this tells me is that current tier lists might be skewed by groupthink about how the game should be played. But make no mistake, in any asymmetric game there's faction tiers. The best you can hope for is for the tiers to be so close to each other that they are statistically indistinguishable given a reasonable game sampling rate.
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Christopher Halbower
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I found your article interesting. I do agree that some races are better early while others are late. I disagree about the Sardakk N'orr.

Their +1 is definitely a late game buff, not an early game buff. Late game is when they will have enough ships for the +1 to matter. They get +1 per Die which normally means per ship. Early game this would be minimal. But late game this would give a slightly smaller N'orr fleet the statistical edge against a larger fleet.

Also, the Jol Nar are just too powerful in TI4. Not militarily--but in scoring points. There are so many tech objectives in TI4, it's reminiscent of TI3 before the expansions. Review the threads about races in TI3; you'll see that pre-Shattered Empire, Jol Nar was considered the most likely race to win. Not until SE did the Yssaril Tribes replace them.

There is just not enough reasons for the "early" races to attack the Jol Nar. Yes, they COULD attack. And yes this would slow the Jol Nar down. But this would not give the aggressing race a victory. Rather it would give a 3rd party the win.
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Scott Lewis
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halbower wrote:
There is just not enough reasons for the "early" races to attack the Jol Nar. Yes, they COULD attack. And yes this would slow the Jol Nar down. But this would not give the aggressing race a victory. Rather it would give a 3rd party the win.

Except the Nekro virus They are an aggressive race that would benefit quite a bit from attacking the Jol Nar early and often
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Christopher Halbower
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Yes. But the conversation is about early vs late not aggressive vs passive.

The Nekro would do quite well against the Jol Nar. But I would have a hard time lumping them in the early group since they will be so powerful late.
 
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Lou Lessing
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This comes up in every game. There's always people saying tiers don't exist. In general I think this stems from a misunderstanding of what tiers are. Tiers definitely exist in almost every game with variable player powers, they almost have to, but they're not necessarily as rigid as they're made out to be. With 17 races in this game, some of them very different from the others, there really isn't any way they'll all be equally good at winning -- but that doesn't mean that any race will always win, or that any race is incapable of winning.

There are games where only the top tier characters/races/whatever are worth playing, but in general it just means that not every race has an equally easy time winning. Every race is okay at the stuff they're good at, games can go a bunch of different ways with different groups, a good player can get some mileage out of a bad race. That doesn't mean there aren't bad races -- it comes down to how much the stuff they're good at comes up in a game of TI. In particular, it tends to come down to how many objectives their abilities directly help them score.

Jol Nar isn't unbeatable, but they start with more progress towards public objectives than any other race, they have a good home system, a good commodity number, perhaps the best racial ability, and without a doubt the best promissory note. They have a pretty serious drawback, which does help balance them out, but they're still definitely very good. The other tier 1 races don't really have drawbacks, either -- Hacan for instance are just really really good.

Yin aren't impossible to win with, but they don't really have any of this going for them. They're cool, they have a pretty good racial ability and a decent home system, but they're middle of the pack and the races people talk about as top tier are better than them.





There's definitely a strong correlation between high tier races and races with a focus on making money and scoring points instead of fighting. Being aggressive in twilight imperium isn't impossible, but it isn't as good as not being aggressive. It doesn't earn you points very efficiently. There are pretty much no objectives in TI4 that reward combat directly. You can earn some points from "hold planets" type ones, but you aren't really that much better at that than more defensive strategies, and there aren't really enough of those to add up to 10 points on their own even if you get pretty lucky with them.

It's tough to go all in attacking somebody. If you're attacking someone, they can build new ships and get them to the front lines faster than you can, because you're fighting closer to their space docks than yours. If you can destroy their ability to produce new units very quickly, it can pay off, but if you can't, well...

It's also very risky. If you roll badly on the first round of an important fight, you can lose it even if the odds are well in your favor. Even if you roll pretty well, it's expensive in terms of ships. You can probably manage to make a turtle player lose by attacking them quickly, but in general you'll have spent so much on the fight that it's very hard for you to win yourself. Turtle strategies are more consistent, more efficient, safer, easier to execute, and, at least in my experience of TI3, win much more often.





I don't think it's true that a team up of Yin, Sardakk, and Winnu can crush the Jol-Nar, Yssaril, and Hacan. They could crush an individual member of that group, but as a 3 v 3 fight I don't think it would be close. The underdog alliance has 4, 4, and 3 resource homeworlds and 2, 3, and 3 commodity numbers. The top tier alliance has 3, 3, and 3 resource homeworlds and 3, 4, 6 commodity numbers. They also have access to Jol Nar's racial ability, which generates 4 resources in value for Jol Nar every round, and Jol Nar's promissory note, which generates 4 resources in value for whoever it's given to. Between these three sources, they're generating 11 more resources a round than the underdog alliance from their baseline starting abilities.

They can get Stasis Capsules on 2 alliance members on turn 1 which lets them expand much faster than the underdogs, and they can get War Sun on 2 alliance members turn 2. They don't have to maintain adjacency to trade, which is a hassle for the underdogs on the first few turns and probably increases their resource deficit further.

The upshot of all this is that I'm pretty sure by the time the plucky early-game rebel fleet reaches the home territory of the late-game turtle empires, they'll find that territory defended by a larger, better-equipped fleet, and they'll die in a hail of bullets. Depending on the map layout they might be able to wipe out one of their enemies before that happens, but I think one of the top tier alliance players will still end up winning. It'd be interesting to see it in practice -- TI4 might have different dynamics than I'm used to from TI3, I haven't played it yet so I'm speculating.
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Tristian Martinez
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An interesting proposition! I like the theory, and am willing to try it out. A logical progression of your suggestion would be that every race has different factors that incline them to early game dominance, midgame stability, or late game threat. Thus, there would be no purely early or late game race, but races that tend to peak at different points. Here are some suggestions for evaluation race-by-race. If a particular combination of factors tend to increase win rates, you can see if the early-late game theory matches up with the tiers that the community comes up with.

Early Game Factors: Can you deal with or deliver early aggression?
If the OP is correct, races with strong early games should be able to
shut out races with strong late games. To do this you need the
ability to hit quick or to expand aggressively.

Movement 2 Ships
Space Combat Focused Racial Abilities
Home System ≥ 4 resources
Protected Starting Carriers
Ability to get past fighter screens
No handicaps


Mid Game Factors: Economic Expansion, Alliance Building
Early aggression cannot translate into VP unless you can back it
up with an economy and a fleet. Starting with these makes the
transition much easier, and allows recovery from turn 1 aggression.

2 Starting Carriers/Can colonize 2 systems per phase
Starting Tech into movement upgrades or good racial techs
Commodities ≥ 3
Desirable Racial Promissory Note you would be willing to give
CC efficiency/stall
Alternative Production
Alternative Trade Good sources
Alternative Movement


Late Game Factors: Prevent others from winning or ways to get consistent VP
Victory means Victory Points, and securing the last 3-4 Victory
Points in TI4 means Mecatol or taking sets of planets. These help
take those planets. I’ve seen a game end by turn 6, so “late” is
relative.

Racial Techs
Ability to skip tech taxes (Racial Tech colors, ignore pre-reqs)
Flagships
Ground Combat Abilities
Non-Combat Racial Abilities
Consistent and Strong Early and Midgame Factors (lead to strong late game position)
Unpredictibility


Already, I can see that the N’orr are not an early game race (unprotected carriers, weak force of 2 movement ships), but have 2 carriers and have good combat chances when they get their economy running. The Winnu might have a thing going with the alternative movement to Mecatol and a protected carrier, but they have no economy to back it up. The Yssaril are strong nearly throughout (2 carriers, 1 of which can be reliably protected, unpredictability, a tempting but not lethal promissory note, and an interesting flagship). The Yin, however, perfectly match your description of an early game race.
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Matthew Lofgren
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brisingre wrote:
You can probably manage to make a turtle player lose by attacking them quickly, but in general you'll have spent so much on the fight that it's very hard for you to win yourself. Turtle strategies are more consistent, more efficient, safer, easier to execute, and, at least in my experience of TI3, win much more often.


I strongly agree. I played a game where the Mentak, an "early faction" did the exact strategy of committing to attack the Naalu, a "late faction", early in the game. This strategy didn't really do anything other than prevent both the Mentak and the Naalu from winning, since both factions were not able to focus on scoring.

This dynamic also had the effect of making the game inherently less fun. Even though I stood to benefit the most from this (since I was playing Xxcha, a "late faction" that wasn't attacked early), I still really missed the type of power dynamic that makes Twilight Imperium so interesting. And even if the Mentak had been able to successfully make Naalu not a threat while keeping up with scoring, this also would have made the game less fun, since there would be one player who simply is playing with almost no chance of winning.

People play the turtle strategy because it works, and also because it makes the game more enjoyable. Players want a big payoff during the game's climax - they don't want to attack early and risk losing their chance at winning or cause someone else to simply go through the motions of playing TI. That's at least what I found in my experience (again, this is my experience of TI3, but I haven't seen anything in TI4 that would significantly change this).
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Daniel Grant
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blarknob wrote:

I also don't think it is helpful to introduce player skill into rankings.

I'm not introducing player skill into rankings, but I am introducing optimal approach based on Faction. One can't say a screwdriver is a terrible tool because it hammers nails poorly. I'm arguing that those who see some Factions as "bottom tier" is because those Factions are being measured with Late Faction strategies, i.e. using Early Faction screwdrivers to hammer nails. The correct approach is to use Early Factions to screw your opponents. LOL.

Sande24 wrote:

This kind of thing happens in a lot of games where you have to "bash the leader". Still, someone has to win. Usually it is one of the top 3 races. Not the bottom 3. How to rank the races? It really depends on a lot of factors. Back to square 1. :D

Actually, this illustrates perfectly why "Early" Factions need to play different to win. They need to break the cycle with a different strategy. A "Bash the Leader" strategy guarantees "Late" Factions have an advantage. If you are playing an "Early" Faction, you need to be aware of this and not fall into that trap. From the start of the game, "Early" Factions need to unite and press their advantage against "Late" Factions with high aggression.

The crux of my argument is that to win with a "bottom tier" Early Faction, you can't play with a Late strategy. You need a different approach.

Sande24 wrote:

Still, after a few hundred games, a pattern would emerge - some races are going to win more than others. Without playing any games yet (still on the way), all races seem to be more balanced than before... Except Winnu. They have only one viable strategy which can be easily blockaded by either placing a red system in front of MR or just running your stronger and faster fleet in the way. A carrier, cruiser and 2 fighters is not enough to take and defend MR. Mentak with 2 cruisers would probably kill you before you make it there for instance. Even if you build units at home, they will not make it into the middle of the map in time.


I disagree but like you said, a pattern needs to emerge. I won't go into detail here but I think the Winnu are fine with a non-traditional strategy.

garfielder wrote:

I can see this , but there is a tiny problem in the game that make people prefer late faction to early one.
Being aggressive is possible. Doing it while scoring VP early in the game - that require very lucky combination of objectives.
Generally building expansion machine that later on used to score both economical and military objectives is easier and safer choice than trying to be aggressive early.


I think this is conventional wisdom that needs to be challenged. It will be very hard for Late Factions to sit back and build their expansion machines to score economically and military objectives as Early Factions are trying to knock them out of the game. Survival will take precedence over objectives, which inherently gives the advantage to the aggressor.

XDarkAngelX wrote:
What this tells me is that current tier lists might be skewed by groupthink about how the game should be played.


Yes.

halbower wrote:
I found your article interesting. I do agree that some races are better early while others are late. I disagree about the Sardakk N'orr.
Their +1 is definitely a late game buff, not an early game buff. Late game is when they will have enough ships for the +1 to matter. They get +1 per Die which normally means per ship. Early game this would be minimal. But late game this would give a slightly smaller N'orr fleet the statistical edge against a larger fleet.


While I agree that the Sardakk continue to get buffed into the later part of the game, my classification of them as an "Early" Faction is due in part to the relative power they have in the beginning. They are very strong in the beginning comparatively. This post breaks down the math: https://boardgamegeek.com/article/26963705#26963705

halbower wrote:

Also, the Jol Nar are just too powerful in TI4. Not militarily--but in scoring points. There are so many tech objectives in TI4, it's reminiscent of TI3 before the expansions. Review the threads about races in TI3; you'll see that pre-Shattered Empire, Jol Nar was considered the most likely race to win. Not until SE did the Yssaril Tribes replace them.


I see the opposite. Any neighbor that goes all in to knock them out of the game should be able to end them early.

halbower wrote:
There is just not enough reasons for the "early" races to attack the Jol Nar.


Actually there is. They stink like old fish, and they are the galaxy weaklings.

halbower wrote:
Yes, they COULD attack. And yes this would slow the Jol Nar down. But this would not give the aggressing race a victory. Rather it would give a 3rd party the win.


I think the answer is shifting away from the "every man/bug/clone/pirate for themselves" strategy. If divided the Early Factions will fall. And the strategy shouldn't be to attack the Jol-Nar. The strategy is the ELIMINATE the Jol-Nar from the game. Take everything they have and turn their home planet into the new Emporer's personal fishing spot.

brisingre wrote:
This comes up in every game. There's always people saying tiers don't exist. In general I think this stems from a misunderstanding of what tiers are. Tiers definitely exist in almost every game with variable player powers, they almost have to, but they're not necessarily as rigid as they're made out to be. With 17 races in this game, some of them very different from the others, there really isn't any way they'll all be equally good at winning -- but that doesn't mean that any race will always win, or that any race is incapable of winning.


To use my earlier tool analogy, you can't assign Factions to "tiers" without considering the strategic context. You are still trying to argue that a hammer is a better tool even though a screwdriver "could" hammer in a nail if used properly. I'm challenging the ranking paradigm by arguing that if you have a screwdriver, you need to focus on screws, not nails.

brisingre wrote:
There are games where only the top tier characters/races/whatever are worth playing, but in general it just means that not every race has an equally easy time winning. Every race is okay at the stuff they're good at, games can go a bunch of different ways with different groups, a good player can get some mileage out of a bad race. That doesn't mean there aren't bad races -- it comes down to how much the stuff they're good at comes up in a game of TI. In particular, it tends to come down to how many objectives their abilities directly help them score.


Why do their abilities need to "directly" help them score? Abilities that indirectly help them score are just as viable. A score is a score, a VP is a VP.

brisingre wrote:
Jol Nar isn't unbeatable, but they start with more progress towards public objectives than any other race, they have a good home system, a good commodity number, perhaps the best racial ability, and without a doubt the best promissory note. They have a pretty serious drawback, which does help balance them out, but they're still definitely very good. The other tier 1 races don't really have drawbacks, either -- Hacan for instance are just really really good.


Agreed! The problem is players are not exploiting the drawback nor are they playing optimally to their Faction's strength.

brisingre wrote:
Yin aren't impossible to win with, but they don't really have any of this going for them. They're cool, they have a pretty good racial ability and a decent home system, but they're middle of the pack and the races people talk about as top tier are better than them.


Never underestimate the Yin Ball.

brisingre wrote:

There's definitely a strong correlation between high tier races and races with a focus on making money and scoring points instead of fighting.

I disagree. A Faction that makes a lot of money or can research a lot of tech will do you ZERO good if they get you eliminated from the game. Players seem to forget about an important "X" in 4X: Extermination.

brisingre wrote:
Being aggressive in twilight imperium isn't impossible, but it isn't as good as not being aggressive. It doesn't earn you points very efficiently. There are pretty much no objectives in TI4 that reward combat directly. You can earn some points from "hold planets" type ones, but you aren't really that much better at that than more defensive strategies, and there aren't really enough of those to add up to 10 points on their own even if you get pretty lucky with them.


I disagree but will defer to a later post to build my argument. This deserves a deeper dive.

brisingre wrote:
It's tough to go all in attacking somebody. If you're attacking someone, they can build new ships and get them to the front lines faster than you can, because you're fighting closer to their space docks than yours. If you can destroy their ability to produce new units very quickly, it can pay off, but if you can't, well...


Agreed, but in TI4 you can take one of their planets and then drop a Space Dock on it with Construction in the same round. I believe this wasn't possible in TI3 because the conquered system had been activated.

brisingre wrote:
It's also very risky. If you roll badly on the first round of an important fight, you can lose it even if the odds are well in your favor. Even if you roll pretty well, it's expensive in terms of ships. You can probably manage to make a turtle player lose by attacking them quickly, but in general you'll have spent so much on the fight that it's very hard for you to win yourself. Turtle strategies are more consistent, more efficient, safer, easier to execute, and, at least in my experience of TI3, win much more often.


You know what's not risky? Losing the game as an Early Faction because you turtled. Playing to your Faction's strength is the only viable path to victory. As far as the other players, you need to have other Early Factions as allies smashing everyone else. Early Factions must ally with each other. Late Factions don't have to. Screwdriver.

brisingre wrote:
I don't think it's true that a team up of Yin, Sardakk, and Winnu can crush the Jol-Nar, Yssaril, and Hacan. They could crush an individual member of that group, but as a 3 v 3 fight I don't think it would be close. The underdog alliance has 4, 4, and 3 resource homeworlds and 2, 3, and 3 commodity numbers. The top tier alliance has 3, 3, and 3 resource homeworlds and 3, 4, 6 commodity numbers. They also have access to Jol Nar's racial ability, which generates 4 resources in value for Jol Nar every round, and Jol Nar's promissory note, which generates 4 resources in value for whoever it's given to. Between these three sources, they're generating 11 more resources a round than the underdog alliance from their baseline starting abilities.
They can get Stasis Capsules on 2 alliance members on turn 1 which lets them expand much faster than the underdogs, and they can get War Sun on 2 alliance members turn 2. They don't have to maintain adjacency to trade, which is a hassle for the underdogs on the first few turns and probably increases their resource deficit further.
The upshot of all this is that I'm pretty sure by the time the plucky early-game rebel fleet reaches the home territory of the late-game turtle empires, they'll find that territory defended by a larger, better-equipped fleet, and they'll die in a hail of bullets. Depending on the map layout they might be able to wipe out one of their enemies before that happens, but I think one of the top tier alliance players will still end up winning. It'd be interesting to see it in practice -- TI4 might have different dynamics than I'm used to from TI3, I haven't played it yet so I'm speculating.


I'll have to study this a bit more before I respond. At first glance, I think you are greatly underestimating the disruption the Jol-Nar, Yssaril, and Hacan will be dealing with in the face of relentless aggression. Player placement would also impact - If the Jol-Nar are sandwiched between the Yinn and Sardakk, they are going to have a hard time picking up trade goods with their Faction tech. But you raise some good points so I will ponder more.
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Vanguars wrote:
An interesting proposition! I like the theory, and am willing to try it out. A logical progression of your suggestion would be that every race has different factors that incline them to early game dominance, midgame stability, or late game threat. Thus, there would be no purely early or late game race, but races that tend to peak at different points. Here are some suggestions for evaluation race-by-race. If a particular combination of factors tend to increase win rates, you can see if the early-late game theory matches up with the tiers that the community comes up with.

Early Game Factors: Can you deal with or deliver early aggression?
If the OP is correct, races with strong early games should be able to
shut out races with strong late games. To do this you need the
ability to hit quick or to expand aggressively.

Movement 2 Ships
Space Combat Focused Racial Abilities
Home System ≥ 4 resources
Protected Starting Carriers
Ability to get past fighter screens
No handicaps


Mid Game Factors: Economic Expansion, Alliance Building
Early aggression cannot translate into VP unless you can back it
up with an economy and a fleet. Starting with these makes the
transition much easier, and allows recovery from turn 1 aggression.

2 Starting Carriers/Can colonize 2 systems per phase
Starting Tech into movement upgrades or good racial techs
Commodities ≥ 3
Desirable Racial Promissory Note you would be willing to give
CC efficiency/stall
Alternative Production
Alternative Trade Good sources
Alternative Movement


Late Game Factors: Prevent others from winning or ways to get consistent VP
Victory means Victory Points, and securing the last 3-4 Victory
Points in TI4 means Mecatol or taking sets of planets. These help
take those planets. I’ve seen a game end by turn 6, so “late” is
relative.

Racial Techs
Ability to skip tech taxes (Racial Tech colors, ignore pre-reqs)
Flagships
Ground Combat Abilities
Non-Combat Racial Abilities
Consistent and Strong Early and Midgame Factors (lead to strong late game position)
Unpredictibility


Already, I can see that the N’orr are not an early game race (unprotected carriers, weak force of 2 movement ships), but have 2 carriers and have good combat chances when they get their economy running. The Winnu might have a thing going with the alternative movement to Mecatol and a protected carrier, but they have no economy to back it up. The Yssaril are strong nearly throughout (2 carriers, 1 of which can be reliably protected, unpredictability, a tempting but not lethal promissory note, and an interesting flagship). The Yin, however, perfectly match your description of an early game race.


I really like this analysis. I was thinking along the same lines. Having 2 Carriers seemed to point towards an Early Faction because you can grab multiple systems on turn 1. I'm going to review and ponder.
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Tolkiennerd wrote:
I played a game where the Mentak, an "early faction" did the exact strategy of committing to attack the Naalu, a "late faction", early in the game. This strategy didn't really do anything other than prevent both the Mentak and the Naalu from winning, since both factions were not able to focus on scoring.


I'd challenge this anecdote and argue the Mentak player may have had the right strategy but executed it poorly. You don't point to a player that turtles but loses and say, "See, turtle strategy is doomed."

Tolkiennerd wrote:
This dynamic also had the effect of making the game inherently less fun. Even though I stood to benefit the most from this (since I was playing Xxcha, a "late faction" that wasn't attacked early), I still really missed the type of power dynamic that makes Twilight Imperium so interesting. And even if the Mentak had been able to successfully make Naalu not a threat while keeping up with scoring, this also would have made the game less fun, since there would be one player who simply is playing with almost no chance of winning.

People play the turtle strategy because it works, and also because it makes the game more enjoyable. Players want a big payoff during the game's climax - they don't want to attack early and risk losing their chance at winning or cause someone else to simply go through the motions of playing TI. That's at least what I found in my experience (again, this is my experience of TI3, but I haven't seen anything in TI4 that would significantly change this).


This is a fascinating concept (in part because I agree with it to a certain extent). On the other hand, one could argue how much fun is it to play an Early Faction that ignores optimal play to later watch a Late Faction run away with the game at the end? Because I decided to be nice the first two hours of the game, I am rewarded with a loss?

Let's flip the concept. If a player chooses a Late Faction is gets crushed early - it's on them if they didn't have fun. Pick a Faction that has a stronger Early game.

Losing isn't fun. My argument is that Early Factions need to change their strategy if they want to win. If they play the Late Faction strategy they WILL be "bottom tier". And they will lose.

Player's may want a big payoff in a climax but TI isn't that game. All 4X games allow for Extermination. There are plenty of Euros that don't eliminate players. TI isn't one of them.

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Races aren't the same. Therefore some are going to better than others. Take Terramystica for example. Very similar only you have no luck (since it's a euro) so statistically less variation in results. Given enough data: (https://terra.snellman.net/stats/)

Clearly darklings are better than all races on the standard map. Now Twilight Imperium once enough stats are drawn up will have similar scenarios. No asymmetrical player power game is ever perfectly balanced. Therefore some factions will always be slightly better than others allowing you to group them in tiers. Will a Tier 1 faction always win no, but having even a slight advantage is all it means. Look to LCG metas, there are top tier decks and this is what most good players will bring to tourneys. This forms the meta. Yes some races are faster or slower or peak at different times in the game. Problem is the game is a race to 10vp some races will be better at that. Different races might be top tier in 14vp games.
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Are we talking straight t14 here? because your analysts of these races in Ti3 is completely wrong.

I would argue also for ti4.

1st early game combat is a mistake, the cost of the combat (you will take losses) is not sustainable by early game economies, and economics is where you should be focuses.

The Jol Nar are strong because they get a huge boost to their economy because they need to spend money on Tech if they don't want to and when they do they get more bang for their buck.

The Norr on the other hand (at least in ti3) were slow to move and needed to focus on their mobility so they didn't get left behind in the economic expansion phase of the game. The reason I feel they were the weaker of the two races in the old game was the fact that by the time combat became important (mid to late game) the other races could match or at least out produce the economically anemic Norr.

You also disregard above board politics completely. Early aggression will piss people off, and in the end may make the difference in being able to negotiate deals or trades almost immediately.


More to your actual point of Tiers, there most certainly are more and less powerful races. Any racial advantage that can be conveyed into an early game economic advantage (so thing like early speed, rich home systems, cheap tech) these things tend to be more powerful than shenanigans like fancy wormholes or unique troop deployment methods.

As to how this plays out differently in Ti4 vs Ti3 I am not sure, I only have one game in so can't speak from actual game experience, but the flow of the game has not changed much and early economy is still a solid bet on the path to victory.

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malloc wrote:
Are we talking straight t14 here?


Yes.

malloc wrote:

You also disregard above board politics completely. Early aggression will piss people off, and in the end may make the difference in being able to negotiate deals or trades almost immediately.


Deals and trades are by definition mutually beneficial. If a player doesn't want to engage out of spite then they are harming themselves. Entities at war have continued to trade and deal throughout history.

Players have no right to be angry if a player is playing their Faction optimally. There is no rule that says you must turtle until the late game. If a player gets pissed off from early aggression then 4X games are not the games for them. They can go play Pandemic.

I guarantee that some players will be happy to do deals and trades to support your early aggression against a neighbor. It might even open up deals that wouldn't be available with a turtle Strategy.

To address the meta before the game I'd bluntly tell my neighbor that picking the JN will put a target on them I cannot resist. They can either select a new Faction or roll the dice. But if they pick JN, then they have no right to be angry if I knock them out of the game early. It's on them.
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IMO, the one I would watch most closely for being the best race in TI4 is the Arborec. A couple of rules changes have made them a significantly stronger race than they were in TI3.
 
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Magesmiley wrote:
IMO, the one I would watch most closely for being the best race in TI4 is the Arborec. A couple of rules changes have made them a significantly stronger race than they were in TI3.


Them and Saar are pretty strong, just need to abuse the build after moving to the max. Less command counters makes Letnev top tier too (just for the +2 fleet size).

 
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At least we are not alone, thank you Daniel Grant for your analysis it's brilliant and needed to be said.

People on the internet seems to think that turtling is the superior strategy.

I don't just think it's boring, i think it's also weak.

The turtling strategy is too static and it's wasted ressources who doesn't do much.

A mobile fleet with great mobility and ready to strike is the best defense by far.

Being able to threat the home system or "production system of a player who could strike you is a great deterrent.

A player who turtles is almost always late to the VP party,in TI3 with age of an empire, it can be fixed with a buble victory but in TI4 it will be difficult.

In order to not be bash by all the players you need to surprise them with "a i make 6 vp this turn" special move, and a skilled neighnor player will not let that happen and you surely miss one or two objective.

The next game round you just became the game pinata (it's even worse than if you were elected in the Corrupt Empire law).

The only reason the turtling strategy of the late race can be powerful is because the other races let that happen and didn't strike when it was necessary.
 
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I clicked on this expecting to see the same argument I've seen for years when discussion TI3... that no race is better than the others because the players themselves can balance things by ganging up on the leaders, etc.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a different argument... even if it is also completely wrong.

Well, I'm exaggerating a little. You do absolutely have a point that early game races should be played to that strength, and late game races should play to their strengths as well. Less-experienced groups (and those with lots of "nice guys" who don't want to be mean to their buddies) will certainly notice that late-game races tend to win more, because the players aren't doing a good enough job beating them up in the early game. I love Twilight Imperium games with aggression that comes early and often. It's harder (and scarier) to pull off, but it makes for more dynamic, nail-biting games. You don't even have to finish off or completely cripple a player to get the most out of your early game aggression... just put them behind enough that they struggle to catch up, or squeeze somebody into giving you concessions. In my last game, I gave my neighbor the option of either eating my entire fleet in the face on round 2-3, or giving me some of his promissory notes (including a Cease Fire so he'd have a harder time stabbing me in the back). I call this sort of thing "negotiating from a position of power," and you should absolutely do this if you're playing an early game power house. Even if you don't ruin another player's game entirely, you can take more than your share of their stuff and make it incredibly hard for them to catch up in points by the time you're ready to go for the win.

HOWEVER!!!! It's not so cut and dried as that. Where your argument breaks down is this: Some of the late-game races also have amazing early games (Jol Nar, Yssaril). Some of the early-game focused races (L1z1x) have very good late games. Some races have such a bad early game that their late game advantages may not be enough to save them (N'orr). Some early game guys fall off too hard, or rely too much on early game success to have any chance at all (Mentak). And finally, some races just suck early AND late. This is why some races are simply better than others. So far I think they've done a better job of balancing the races in this edition, but I have yet to play some of the guys who I believe are in contention for the "most improved" superlative. Aborec in particular worries me a bit.

In short, some races are just plain better, because their power budget is simply better distributed (or just plain more) than the other races.

Before I finish, I do have to counter some of your examples, with which I could not disagree more. Sardakk N'orr is NOT an early game race. Jol Nar is not (strictly) a late-game race. Hacan is absolutely NOT a late game race in TI4... I would argue the opposite!

Sardakk N'orr is terrible in the early game. They are markedly better than they were in TI3 thanks to starting with a second carrier (btw I was the first in the online community to suggest and implement that as a house rule in TI3 back in the day). However, they start with no tech. They start with no Dreadnoughts or Fighters, which are critical for early game aggression (Mentak excepted) to minimize costly casualties. The N'orr +1 to combat doesn't come into its own until you are rolling lots of dice. Sardakk N'orr are quite literally the epitome of late-game races. This might even be more the case now in TI4 than it was in TI3. In TI3, aggressive N'orr players could gamble at the start of TI3 games with a push into enemy territory with their 5 GFs and their PDS. You'd use your Deep Space Cannons hyper-aggressively, shooting anything that moved. PDS are harder to get on the board, you're three tech purchases from getting Deep Space Cannon, and you no longer get bonuses to PDS combat. The only cannon fodder you start with is a cruiser (not cheap) and command tokens are so precious in the early game, you can't afford the fleet supply necessary for destroyer raids. Furthermore, the extra carrier you start with now is useless if you're taking all of your Ground Forces against one of your neighbors... and believe me, you'll need all of them if you want to successfully take and hold enough territory to justify your early aggression.


Now, let's look at the Jol Nar. They are indeed incredible in the late game, when they have lots of ships that are backed up by tons of tech upgrades. However, that is also when their combat penalty really racks up a lot of misses. Here's the rub, though: Their early game is ALSO pretty darn great. They're spoilt for choice when it comes to tech. They start with 2 PDS (which no longer suffer combat penalty) that can be easily upgraded. Their Dreadnought is even better than it was in TI3, because it can carry stuff now. A defensive war is always much easier to survive than an offensive one, because the battle lines are closer to your lines of reinforcement. If worse comes to worst, they can tech up their PDS and turn into a hedgehog until their antagonists give up and go home. All the while they are sitting there gleaning sympathy from the other players and teching up to War Sun (which, btw, is on the same tech path as all the PDS stuff).

More than once in TI3, I saw an aggressive N'orr player look at their +1, then look at their neighbor Jol Nar's -1, and go on an immediate offensive. It ALWAYS ended badly for the N'orr. In 100% of the games I played (and I played many), the N'orr were ALWAYS in worse shape than the Jol Nar when the dust had settled... partly because the Jol Nar could always bounce back much more quickly. The only time I ever saw early aggression work was when it was just saber-rattling. I did this often as N'orr. I'd make stink-eyes at Jol Nar and point out our combat differences and unilaterally decide that certain planets would be mine. Most of the time my fishy opponents would back down and give me concessions while pleading with me not to hurt them. I would always inwardly breathe a sigh of relief and think, "...Sucker!!!" laugh

Part of the problem with N'orr early aggression is that early game combat usually involves a smaller number of units. This means that the variance of the dice play a much more crucial role in determining the outcome of the fight. The +1/-1 difference between N'orr and Hylar doesn't actually matter nearly as much as you might think, when you are only rolling a few dice per side. Cannon fodder, sustain damage, Dreadnoughts, and PDS that happen to roll decently all have far more impact than a little +1 or -1 here or there in a skirmish. The Jol Nar have all of that. The N'orr have little or none of that.

I think I've made my point regarding Jol Nar vs N'orr. Let's look at some of the other races you bring up, the Yssaril and the Hacan.

The Yssaril were great in TI3 because they were the kings of the late game. They could happily skip their turn until the cows came home, and then finish out the round with impunity. That would be fine if they had a terrible early game. The problem is they ALSO had one of the best early games of ALL the mother@#$@ing races!!! They started with 2 carriers, a strong fleet, and XRD Transporters. That, right there, is why they were the best race in the game. They had one of the best late games AND one of the best early games. Their power budget was high across the board, and better than everyone else, even the Jol Nar and the L1z1x (#2 and 3 in my book).

The new Yssaril are still amazing because while they have to pay a bit more for their stalling ability, they still start with an amazing fleet. They've been nerfed enough that I don't think they'll reclaim their crown as "best race" anymore, but they've still got early AND late game power, which will see them firmly in the top 5, if I have to guess.

Finally, the Hacan: The Hacan are a FANTASTIC early game race in TI4. They can trade with everybody right out of the gate! They don't need to fly halfway across the galaxy to make friends... they can do it from the get-go. They can use their wealth to make friends and rake in far more early game cash (compared to other players) than they EVER could in TI3. If anything, I would say that the Hacan have one of the strongest starts in TI4, but suffer a dip in power by the mid-to-late game. When players start eschewing the Trade Strategy Card in favor of more critical end-game cards (Warfare, Diplomacy, Imperial), the income of the Hacan plummets. I played a game last weekend where Hacan came ripping out of the gate with a ton of cash, a huge fleet, and lots of friends, only to lose steam when pitted against the Letnev over Mecatol Rex. The Letnev had slowly amassed a superior fleet with tech better suited to drawn-out space battles. The Hacan didn't have a strong enough fleet to take them on, and their income dried up, and they were left in the dust.


TLDR: The OP is right that early-game races should play to their strengths in order to beat late-game guys, but their argument fails because some races have good early AND late games, while others are bad at everything in comparison. Also, their examples of what constitutes early- and late-game races were... poor.

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Michael Bomholt
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I think trying to categorize the factions based on their early vs late game power is an oversimplification that is worse than the tier system. Yes abilities scale with time, that doesn't change that the Jol-Nar are good at winning the game.
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Mike_Evans wrote:

TLDR: The OP is right that early-game races should play to their strengths in order to beat late-game guys, but their argument fails because some races have good early AND late games, while others are bad at everything in comparison. Also, their examples of what constitutes early- and late-game races were... poor.


Thanks for your input! I don't stand by my examples at all. But I do stand by my contention that "top tiers" don't exist as traditionally argued. Faction "tier level" fluctuates based on state of game - early, mid, late.

Another poster above had an excellent methodology for identifying Faction stage types.
 
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blarknob wrote:
I think trying to categorize the factions based on their early vs late game power is an oversimplification that is worse than the tier system. Yes abilities scale with time, that doesn't change that the Jol-Nar are good at winning the game.


I disagree. A standard tier system does not offer players any meaningful information regarding strategy. In fact, new players could read Jol-Nar being "top tier" and "good at winning the game" to mean they can run out and fight Necro Virus or the Sardakk N'Orr right away. After all, they are "good at winning".

In fact, the real optimal strategy of the Jol-Nar at the beginning of the game is to hide at the bottom of their oceans like cowardly starfish developing technology and avoiding conflict. They need to convince everyone at the table that player elimination in the early game is "meanie-pants" behavior. Ability to whine, sulk, and pout is a requirement. laugh

The standard tier system is actually greater oversimplification. It doesn't provide any context or nuance. Time sequence ranked power is more meaningful.
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