APRIL 24th 2021 – Twilight Imperium: Prophecy of Kings
TI4 remains a top pick game for many of the PE’s, and with the expansive expansion Prophecy of Kings now converted to TTS format it seemed an opportune time to get it back to the table.
Four player game, with all of the expansion mechanics in play and each of us taking on an expansion faction; James took control of the high economy Nomad faction, Carston the PDS and mech spamming Titans of Ul, Chris the extra-dimensional dinosaurs of the Vuil’Raith Cabal and finally Paul taking over the old-emperors come again in the Mahact Gene-Sorcerers.
The expansion includes multiple new mechanics; faction specific heroes granting passive and active buffs, mech units (again faction specific), and more ways to interact with the game board. Exactly how quickly the opportunites and threats presented by these new rules could be exploited was no doubt going to be key to this game.
We skipped the map drafting and used the pre-generated 4 player, 3 ring map (a nice change from the old 4 player map which could be a bit cramped if played with only 2 rings).
Act 1: Establishing Empires (Early Game)
The first couple of turns of TI4 always pan out in a similar fashion, and this was no different. Nearby planets were quickly colonised, trading was limted to immediate neighbours and with Mecatol still neutral there was no agenda phase.
The 3 ring board also lessened the border disputes which can be common; with carriers and ground forces really the limiting factor. There was some chatter over border points that would go on to be key flashpoints later in the game (Hope’s End between Paul and James, the Abaddon Trinary between Paul and Chris, and the Kraag binary between Carston and Chris), but at this stage talk was really all it was.
The early objectives wre also relatively benign, focusing on construction, and colonising the local planets. The expansion mechanics were already kicking into play with all players starting to find relic ‘fragments’ as they explored, Carston netting some early defensiv PDS’s thanks to his Sleeper tokens, and Chris coming out of T1 with upgraded Dreadnoughts after using this agent to ‘capture’ a Nomad dreadnought during the Trade step and use it to upgrade his own capital ships.
The early game came to a close in game round 2 with the predictable land-grab on Mecatol for a guaranteed 1VP (and often more); Carston pulling the trigger.
Act 2: Fight for the Throneworld
With Carston sitting on Mecatol and threatening to build up a formidable defensive posture, it feel to James acting early in the turn order, and with the forces to hand, to mount the obligatory counter offensive (taking Mecatol for his first time in the process).
A commanding Nomad fleet anchored on James’ flagship (which started the game in play), easily pushed aside the token Titan’s fleet, and whilst the Titans put up some resistance on the ground it was a fairly one-sided fight and left James comfortably in control of Mecatol; could he make it pay off?
Whilst the fight for the centre had panned out, Paul and Chris had engaged in a very civilised border dispute over the Abaddon system, with Chris taking 2 of the 3 planets, Paul the 3rd, granting both what they needed for an objective. The slippery Vuil’Raith had also managed to a Skilled Retreat, denying the Mahact the opportunity to co-opt the space-dino’s into their reborn Imperium and denying Paul several powerful racial abilities. The Titan / Vuil’Raith border remained relatively calm, and whilst diplomatic tensions were rising, the Mahact and the Nomads had also managed, so far, to keep things peaceful.
With most of the planets now explored we’d also had 2 Relics come into play; powerful items obtained by collecting or trading for a ‘matching set’ of fragments. Paul drew The Obsidian; giving him access to a fourth secret objective, whilst Carston had acquired a planet-cracking super weapon; a one shot card capable of not just wiping out a player’s forces on a planet, but actually removing the planet itself from the game.
Act 3: Diplomacy by other means
With the situation on Mecatol broadly stabilished, and easy to claim neutral systems taken up, the border disputes hotted up in earnest. James managed to hang on to Mecatol (though struggled to bank both the bonus VP from Imperial + Mecatol control whilst still keeping up withe the Public scoring) and took the legendary world of Hope’s End; provding the Nomad forces access to free mech’s each round. Paul wasn’t thrilled about this powerful world being snapped up, but ultimately wasn’t in a position to usefully do much about it at the moment. The Mahact hadn’t been entirely idle however and began to absorb the planets in the Abaddon system, chasing the Vuil’Raith off Abaddon itself from their base on Loki. The Titans didn’t mount a meaningful challenge to Mecatol again, Carston instead focusing on his border with Chris, and pushing into the Kraag system – containing two matching ‘hazardous’ planets; useful in achieving an objective needing four of the same ‘trait’ of planet. In the meantime the agenda phase had also spawned a gamma wormhole atop Mecatol, giving James easy access to another legendary world – Malice (free trade goods and wormhole schenanigans for all).
With the exception of Paul everyone had also unlocked their ‘Commander’ passive abilities by this point, providing unique faction buffs (a free respawning flagship for James, trade goods with each production for Carston and additional production towards fighters and ground forces for Chris). These buffs aren’t game breaking but provide additional uniqueness to each faction, and provide further diplomatic options with the ‘Alliance’ promissory note providing an ally access to your commander abilities as well. Carston in addition had recruited his ‘Hero’ – one time use super abilities. In his case terraforming his homeworld into a truly ridiculous ” 7 / 4 ” planet with 3 built in PDS!
Act 4: The True Emperors
By turn 5 the end was clearly approaching; everyone bar Chris in the 5+ “danger zone” area where victory was potentially achievable in a single turn (Imperial: 1VP from controlling Mecatol, 3VP from claiming 2 public objectives over the turn and a secret at some point). Whilst the Vuil’Raith were trailing slightly, with the only Stage 2 objective requiring far more technology then anyone held at the moment, there was still time for a comeback..
The final turns saw plenty of conflict across the board; the Titans returned to Mecatol, chasing off the Nomad fleet (though the slippery Nomad flagship survived, at least for the time being), in reply the Nomads struck north; discovering another legendary world – Mirage (though finally losing their flagship in the process to a Titan raiding force, banking Carston a secret objective in the process). The Titans solidified their positions around Kraag and spread out along the galactic rim, netting another objective, but losing some units to the Vuil’Raith in the process. Paul’s Mahact Gene-Sorcerers had also finished subduing their corner of the galaxy and turned their attention outwards; fleets seized Malice (claiming a Nomad strategic token in the process, and unlocking Paul’s Commander, as well as increasing the usefulness of the powerful “Edict” ability allowing him to copy other player’s Commanders), completed the annexation of Abaddon and, crucially as it would turn out, broke the Nomad lines at Hope’s End with a sizeable fleet and accompanying ground army; capturing the system and it’s vital ‘hazardous’ planet and weapons facility attachment. (Another expansion mechanic; “expansions” modify existing planets by changing their resource or technology values).
Meanwhile we also saw possibly a first time for PE:TI4 games; a mutual Support of the Throne alliance; James and Chris trading cards to net themselves a mutual +1VP. A very smart move that noticeably closed the gap and put James firmly in contention to win as we entered turn 6.
The more we’ve played TI4 the more it’s become apparent Strategy card choices at the death are hugely impactful; initially someone generally won at “end turn” scoring. The meta then shifts to who can get over the line using Imperial to score their 10 points before the Status phase, triggering an instant end game. The meta grew another arm this time, with Paul and Carston both opting for the Politics Strategy card to pick up the Speaker token a turn before they thought the game was likely to end to get the crucial first pick of Strategy cards at the end. Carston timed it better, Paul peaking a turn early and being left with third choice. Unfortunately the Public Objective gods had not been kind to the Titans, delivering an objective Paul already met, and Carston had no realistic way of achieving. Carston took Technology – which would allow him to reach his 10VPs in end turn scoring, Chris took Leadership and Paul the crucial Imperial card.
With no one in a position to stop Imperial resulting in a win, the game was called.
(Paul: On reflection I don’t think there was a “non-Kingmaking” way out of this as soon as PO6 came out as ‘3 attached planets’. Carston or Chris has to take Imperial to stop me winning as soon as it’s my turn. If Carston doesn’t take Technology he probably can’t win himself. If they take Imperial / Tech, I take Leadership, score first and probably still win (since Imperial has gone, James can’t get out until end-turn scoring and I score first, and Carston can’t win with just Imperial (he needs Imperial and Technology). The only real way for it work is Carston takes Imperialism, Chris and I split Leadership / Diplo, James takes a ‘blank’ (say Trade), so Carston can then take Technology as his second strat card; fire Tech first, then wins on Imperial).
The Mahact Gene-Sorcerers – 10VP – PAUL WIN
The Titans of Ul – 8 VP – Carston
The Nomad – 7VP – James
The Vuil’Raith Cabal – 6VP – Chris
Post-Game Thoughts: Expansions. TI4. Agenda Phase.
Paul: For me, Prophecy of Kings is a great “Twilight Imperium” expansion; it adds new factions who are different enough to be distinct (the Mahact aren’t the L1z1x, the Vuil’Raith aren’t just a Nekro clone), the agents and mechs add more bespoke mechanics to each faction.
Exploration adds something new and a bit different to the early game scramble for planets. It’s not just an optimisation problem to get 1 infantry around as many drops as possible anymore. Maybe you find some new units or mechs. Maybe you get 2 blue fragments and need to trade for the third. Maybe you get some extra trade goods which lets you build that vital second carrier a bit quicker. Games will be different without any of the outcomes feeling overly “broken”.
Does this all make it a bit ‘unwieldly’ – tokens on tokens that spawn new planets, which might then get blown up by planet cracking relic weapons (sadly never deployed in this particular game). Probably. But that’s TI. That’s sort of the point. It’s not a streamlined knife fight in space between optimised fleets. It’s a bit messy and a bit sprawling. PoKings makes it more sprawling, and that’s a good thing.
Part of this is the Agenda (nee Politics) phase. You haggle and vote over things which sometimes feel like they don’t make a difference. Exactly how you fix this has always been a weakness in TI. If you just remove it the game loses some of the epic space opera-ness that is so intrinsic. Kings seems to have a better solution; secret objectives that trigger in the Agenda phase. James scored one this game (be the target of an ‘elect’ vote). I had another one (get 3 laws into play), which sadly I had to ditch after Carston used an action card to discard a law as a stalling action (rrraaaargh). A couple of more of these and the agenda phase really starts having some interesting layers to it; it’s not just about whether this particular law passes or not, it’s about why does someone want it to pass – what’s the angle? As an example, prior to Carston nuking my “3 laws” plan with his rogue action card (not bitter about that at all), I delibrately seeded a law on to the top of the agenda which was actually irrelevant (As in neither the For or Against had any impact on the current or likely future board state). Why? Because I was 99.9% confident no one would be so upset by it they’d fire an action card that would force a new agenda card to be drawn to replace this one, I didn’t care about this particular law I cared that a law would get passed.
We still need to see how the expansion buffs and balances the older factions (I’m glad Sol’s heroes on the face of it seem a bit lacklustre, which might help balance out an overall powerful faction), but for the time being – PoK is pretty much everything a TI expansion should be.