By Kate Thompson
I hope you guys like Twilight Imperium as much as I do because here is another post ENTIRELY about playing it with only two players. I can’t promise there won’t be more Twilight Imperium posts, but I’ll try to make this the last one about 2 player variants… For a while, at least.
First of all, I found the rules for this variant on Board Game Geek, here. We played pretty much exactly by the rules presented, including the compensation rules, which appear to be under construction (more on that later).
The main differences compared to a normal game of Twilight Imperium 4th Edition are:
In this variant, there are two rings of systems surrounding Mecatol Rex, and home systems are in the second ring on opposite sides of the galaxy. This setup works really well for two players. There is enough room for each player to expand, but not so much room that there will never be conflict between the two factions.
We found that using a cooperative galaxy construction method was really important in this variant. There are issues that I will discuss later that are seriously compounded by having unbalanced starting areas. It’s much more fun if both players start out on an equal footing, with approximately equal opportunities for resources. In addition, we started always putting in one alpha and one beta wormhole (the ones that also contain a planet), and we treat them as though they are adjacent. This makes it so that the wormhole secret objective is always still possible to score, and also allows us to still use the wormholes.
The Speaker token is passed between the players once each turn. To go along with this, the Politics strategy card no longer changes who is the speaker. I think this is an important change, but the unfortunate side effect is that the Politics strategy card is much less desirable. Getting some action cards and getting to look at the agendas is nice, but when compared to the other strategy cards I find Politics is rarely chosen.
Trade is completely different. When the Trade Strategy card is taken, everyone’s commodities are replenished, and the player who chose the card receives three trade goods. The secondary allows a player to spend a strategy token to receive two trade goods. In addition, at the beginning of the strategy phase commodities are converted into trade goods at a 2:1 rate.
I love these modifications to trade for the two player game. This is one of the two aspects of the game that I think really don’t work well compared to a multiplayer game, but these changes make it so that commodities and trade goods are still fun and useful. It’s still very different than trade in a multiplayer game, but it works. Factions that have strong trade abilities, like the Emirates of Hacan and the Mentak Coalition are VERY strong, however. So definitely keep an eye out for those factions if you are playing against them. Or, try to stifle your maniacal cackling if you are playing one of those factions.
This is an optional rule that we have used. Basically, it’s a catch-up mechanic where the player who is not in the lead periodically receives a number of trade goods equal to the lead players score minus their own score. This happens after objectives are scored, anytime the lead player defeats them in combat, and/or whenever the trailing player uses the secondary ability of a strategy card.
This is another important mechanic. However, we decided after the first game we played that compensation should only occur after objectives are scored and after combat. We found that allowing compensation to occur after using secondaries was a bit much. It resulted in me winning our first game… but in my opinion that win did not reflect a better-played game on my part. Instead, it punished Neil for getting too far ahead of me. No one should win a game because their opponent did TOO well.
The Agenda Phase is completely different. Three agendas get resolved instead of just two. Each agenda is resolved in two phases. In each phase, players secretly decide which way they will vote, and how much influence they will spend. Votes are revealed simultaneously. In the first voting phase, no one is allowed to pass, and no discussion occurs between players. If one player more than doubles the votes of the other, voting ends immediately. Otherwise, a second round of voting occurs where passing and discussion are allowed.
The agenda phase is the other aspect of the game that I have found tends not to work with only two players. Unlike with trade, I did not find that the Princess rules variant solved this issue. The main problem is that one player will always have more influence than the other. In fact, there is usually quite a large disparity between the two players since one person has Mecatol Rex, which counts for six influence. Thus, one person will always have the power to choose how the agenda phase goes.
I wouldn’t say this creates a great amount of unbalance. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the player with the most influence will win. However, I do think that it makes the agenda phase un-fun, and sometimes quite frustrating. That’s important to me, especially since I consider the agenda phase to be one of the most interesting and unique aspects of the game. In addition, it makes the agenda phase much more random, which is something I tend to dislike in a game.
Since the Princess variant agenda phase didn’t seem to fix any of the issues of a two-player agenda phase, we decided to abandon it in our last game for something that more closely resembles the normal rules. The only thing we kept was the simultaneous voting. I still felt the agenda phase was not as fun as it should be… but at least the rules weren’t unnecessarily overcomplicated.
This variant plays in significantly less time than a normal game! However, it is still a several hour commitment. The decreased play-time is a benefit, in my mind. If you were looking for something similar in length to a normal game, though, you could always try playing to 14 points rather than 10.
We have played this variant four times. I have won twice, and Neil has won twice. In general, I really like this variant, and we will probably play it again many times (ignoring the agenda phase modifications). It’s not perfect, and the agenda phase in particular suffers… but it allows us to play a game that we love more often without dedicating an entire day, and without having to coordinate schedules with anyone. I would recommend this variant to anyone who loves TI4 but is looking for a scaled down version of it.
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