Greatest secret agent in the world!!!
I'd played this one once before, Dan and Marty were newbies. After a quick and confusing rattling off of the rules, we were ready to play, well at least I was, and isn'tthat all that is important? Seriously the game was easy to pick up once we started and I don't think any serious errors were made due to hidden rules.
Basically this game is about scoring victory points by conquering territories on an area map of Europe. Each player selects an empire which is described by a combination of two chits. The chits show how many armies the empire will start with (and in fact how many armies this empire will ever have, an important point, an empire never gets more armies to replace its losses), and any other special attributes. Usually they award extra points for owning the different kinds of territories. With three players it's a race to 150pts. After one player reaches that mark everyone is allowed to finish the turn and whoever has the most points at that point wins.
Marty's first empire (traces of which would remain on the board throughout the game) was a Militia/Agriculture combination. The Militia made his empire tougher on defense, while the Agriculture gave him bonus points for owning farmland (yellow areas). He started off the game by earning 6 VPs. Next Dan chose a Field General/Shipbuilding civilization combo. The Field General gave him 7 extra armies to play with each turn, problem was they disappeared after his turn was done. He used the Shipbuilding (easier to attack coastal areas) attribute to good effect, gobbling up a chunk of territory on the coast. He gained about 10 VPs that turn. I chose a Barbarian/Coinage empire. But it was further up the chain of choosable empires, so it cost me 4 VPs to snare. It proved to be a good combo, too good in fact. The Barbarians have no special ability, they just give you a nice number (6) of troops. Coinage on the other hand doesn't give you any starting troops, but gives you an extra VP for every territory! I gained a good amount of points, but due to the 4 VPs I had sacrificed to get the empire I brought up the rear on the VP track.
With 3 players there's almost enough room to live peaceably with one empire in this game. Almost. Marty, jealous of Dan's double digit VP output headed straight up the coast into Dan's empire. Dan responded by conquering neutral territories, gobbling as many as he could, and heading away from Marty. Meanwhile my Barbaric Bankers started to reap some serious fruit. While Marty and Dan scored 10 or 11 VPs that turn, I had scored 15.
Dan realized his empire had peaked out, he had just enough armies to cover 11 territories, and Marty and I were starting to nibble away at that number. He put his Empire into decline, chose a Mining/Diplomacy empire, and sat out the rest of the turn. (When you choose to decline an empire you get to choose a new empire, basically miss a turns worth of attacking, and then the next turn your new empire comes onto the board). Meanwhile Marty scored his 10 VPs, while my empire hauled in an impressive 19 points.
It was obvious who would be the target of Dan's new empire. Dan's armies cut a swath right through the my territories. Now with two empires (his active empire and his old declining empire) on the board, Dan scored very nicely. Marty and I both put our empires into decline, but my power base was eaten away and I quickly fell to only a handful of VPs in output. Marty chose a Moutaineering/Livestock civ. Mountaineering gives you points for occupying Mountain territories (usually worth nothing) and Livestock gives you extra VPs for controlling green areas. I chose a Moutaineering/Agriculture civilization.
Dan now used his Diplomacy ability to cause a truce between he and Marty. So while Dan whacked at the remains of my empire, and gained good VPs all the while, Marty would be unable to attack him.
My new empire launched into the mountains, pretty much away from everyone else, taking nibbles at Dan's old empire but unable to crack a well fortified forest into Dan's burgeoning active empire.
Meanwhile Marty carefully traced around Dan's active empire's entire border.
The scoring was hot and heavy now, Dan pulled out to a slight lead over Marty, while I fell further behind by about 15 points (a full turn's worth of points) at mid game.
Dan continued to use Diplomacy on Marty, but his active empire had peaked out in VPs, and his old empire was being eaten up. Marty's Mountaineering/Livestock empire, plus his still VP producing old empire was starting to close the gap. Dandecided to decline his active empire and chose Revolutionaries/X2. The Revolutionaries yield a nice pot of troops (5), and the X2 counter basically multiplies the other counter by 2. So Dan started with a nice chunk of troops, and the special ability of Revolutionaries is that they start anywhere on the board, not just from the edge. He timed the decline perfectly as his VP production never waned in this period.
One other rule to note is that a given player's active empire and declining empire can never be adjacent. If they become adjacent, the area of the declining empire that is adjacent is pulled up and left unowned by anyone. Thus you tend to avoid going near your old empire with your active one since it costs you points (you lose territories from the old one as you draw adjacent).
This dictated a lot of the strategy down the stretch. Dan's new empire exploded right into the middle of the board, eating away at both Marty's old and active empires. Problem was he really couldn't hit on Marty that hard because Marty's active empire basically wrapped Dan's old empire (which was still producing points nicely). If Dan broke through Marty's empire, he'd decimate his old empire. Thus Dan nibbled away at the outskirts. Coupled with this is the fact that Marty had mountaineering allowing him to score Mountain areas. Dan wouldn't score anything for occupying those areas so he avoided them.
I chose to decline my Mountaineering/Agriculture empire since my old empire had been wiped off the board and thus I had only 1 set of VPs coming in to Marty and Dan's 2. I chose Livestock/Rebirth. The Rebirth civilization counter's ability is that you basically don't miss a turn when you decline this empire. Muy importante!
I drove into Marty's original empire (he basically effectively milked only 2 empires through the whole game, and his original empire was still producing points right up till the end) and gained slightly on the leaders.
Marty continued to optimize his Mountaineering/Livestock empire, and remained close to Dan on the VP track as the endgame approached. Dan continued to claim his stake in the middle of the board while trying to minimize Marty's active empire in an attempt to force Marty to decline his empire. If he could force Marty to do that Marty would lose his first declining empire (you can only have 1 declining empire and 1 active empire).
Dan was starting to pull away as Marty's empire petered out and both of Dan's empires were for the most part unmolested. The 150 pt finish line loomed closer.
I chose to Rebirth a new empire, a Mining/Diplomacy combo, and it smacked Dan's old empire (still producing around 6 VPs a turn!) down. This allowed Marty to attack a few more mountains unmolested (as my old declining Mountaineering/Agriculture was removed from the board). Marty lunged for the finish line, but could only get to 142 points. Dan shot for the finish line, but couldn't quite make it either, he reached 147 pts. And I made my comeback. My declining empire was unmolested (as Marty and Dan's empire's lost any offensive punch) and my new empire not only took points away from Dan, but scored very nicely in the meantime. I scored 20 pts that second to last turn of the game and caught up with Marty at 142.
On the last turn we all went over 150 pts, but while my VP output was waxing, theirs was waning. I pulled out an unlikely come from behind victory.
Despite some poorly written rules, I really like this game with 3 players. Not a lot of down time between turns, and still a lot of interaction on the board since there isn't enough room for everyone's active and declining empires.