We had a five-player game following the official rules, straight out of the box. No optional rules were used.
The following are the races involved in the contest, going clockwise around the table:
* Sardakk N'orr in Position 1
* Sol in Position 2
* Mentak in Position 3
* Mindnet in Position 4
* Naalu in Position 5 (pinched position)
Board arrangement wise, majority of the planets were concentrated around Sol and Mentak. N'orr and Naalu have their fair shared of systems. The Mindnet, however, got mostly empty hexs around its home system. The hexes around Mecatol Rex were empty spaces as well, setting the stage of future conflicts around the rim of the board.
In the beginning phase of the game, the N'orr, Mentak, and Naalu expand at a comparable pace, taking systems around their homes. Sol took warfare as his first strategy. Adding this with the Imperial's Secondary Ability to build and move, Sol ended up owning the most number of systems at the end of turn 1. The Mindnet took the only planet around his own system.
Strategy phase wise, Sol focused mostly on Warfare, while Mentak focused on technology. Being relatively poor, the N'orr and Naalu picked initiative and imperial when available. The Mindnet picks trade to counter their resource disadvantage, while getting the political strategy card to gain action cards. At the end of the expansion phase, the N'orr and the Naalu were leading point wise , yet both Sol and Mentak have significant resource advantage compared to the other races.
The imbalance on the board helps form alliances as well. Seeing their advantages, Sol and Mentak allied to protect each other. To counter this, the Naalu brokered a triple alliance with the Mindnet and the N'orr. The N'orr built a fleet and a cascade of PDS to expand toward Sol. The Mindnet used their trade goods to build up a big, slow moving fleet (around 5 fleet supply with fighters) and move toward the Mentak. Mentak countered the Mindnet invasion with technology and ship building. Though the Mindnet managed to gain a short lived victory, they were repulsed by the superior Mentak defense fleet of a War Sun with fighters, cruisers, and Dreadnought supports. Thanks to a "skillful retreat", the Mindnet's main fleet managed to retreat from the Mentak's counter with minimal loss. If that wasn't the case, the Mindnet would been out of the game. Seeing this, Naalu also moved a carrier/fighter fleet toward the Mentak, with the intent of establishing a forward staging point at Mecatol Rex. This did not go well, as Sol used his resource advantage and ability to raise troops to build a fleet and retake Mecatcol. Things were not looking good for alliance of the have-not's, especially when Sol managed to convince N'orr to turn-coat and join the Sol and Mentak alliance.
This, however, proved to be a turning point for the game. Seeing the change of fortune, the Naalu negotiated with the
Mentak for a cease-fire truce between the Mindnet and the Mentak. This freed up the Mindnet's attention to fight else where. With token defenses, the Naalu and Mindnet threw caution to the winds and pre-emptively attacked the N'orr, under the manner of "punishing the traitor". In one key-victory, the Naalu managed to capture a N'orr system with tech specialty, destroying the only N'orr space dock (moved by massive transport), and weakening the N'orr PDS defenses. With the help of the Mindnet, this victory completed the Naalu's secret objective. Meanwhile, Sol saw the opportunity to expand even further. He took the N'orr's homeworld, and any fighting chance left of the N'orr. At the end, with the point lead due to the secret objective, Naalu pulled off a close victory. The score was:
* Sardakk N'orr: 7
* Sol: 5
* Mentak: 3
* Mindnet: 1
* Naalu: 10
A couple observations after the game:
* Early on, the Naalu allowed the Mindnet to expand into her space. This secured the friendship and alliance of the Mindnet, which ultimately contributed to the Naalu's victory. Alliance is very important. Every ally you gain effectively increase your asset by a percentage of your ally's asset.
* The Naalu is an excellent race if played correctly. First, they have a good fighter advantage and naturally encourage a fighter/carrier fleet. As well, their ability to move first is invaluable. It is antithesis to the Yssaril's ability to skip, which allows the race to react effective against other races. The Naalu's ability, however, forces others react to her. If played properly, this is extremely useful.
* The Sol is another excellent race in his own rights. The ability to raise troops without a spacedock, without activation, anywhere, and as an action is powerful. Essentially, it allows Sol to invade quickly (raise troops without activation and send them off in a carrier), allows them to "skip" a turn (raise troops as an action), and makes them impossible to root out.
* The N'orr should be played defensively early on. With a grid of PDS, they are painful to invade.
* Trade helps those who are at a disadvantage in resource allocation.
* Much has been said about the Political strategy card being useless. The political laws have arguably useful in the game. They are not worthless, but they are difficult to use effectively since laws come up pretty-much randomly. The law is just the cherry on the cake, so to speak. The main benefit of the political card is the 3 action cards and the 1 command counter, which come in handy, if not critically, when you need it.
* One major factor that contributed to the N'orr's demise was strategy card picking. The N'orr picked an imperial card even though there were superior hostle fleets at the door. Sure, most of the time a fifth way to victory should not be passed. Yet, there are exceptions.
* Mecatol Rex is an important system, and you should try to take it even if it is not your secret objective. Having it denies the secret objective of other players'.
* Finally, one notion should be mentioned here, and it's the concept of "Causus Bellium". First of all, there is a balance of power mechanism at play here. You tend to get attacked if the following is true: 1) You are in the lead, and/or 2) you get into an alliance, and/or 3) you attack and expand into another player. Unfortunately, all of these actions are required if you want to win consistently. How do you get around that? That's why you need a good excuse to launch a war. In other words, "causus bellium." Truth be told, in the game described above, the Naalu has been wanting to invade the N'orr for the tech-specialty planet since the first turn. She could not carry this out, since the Naalu could not survive against the Sol's and Mentak's inevitable counter-attack to help out an under-dog. The traitorious acts of the N'orr to break with the Naalu and the Mindnet was the exact excuse that the Naalu needed to attack the N'orr, This allows her to complete her secret objective and handing her the game.