Throneworld by Prism Games
Throneworld ($50, Prism Games) is a new game of galactic conquest. Players represent one of the 2-6 alien races attempting to capture the homeworld of the previous Imperium and set themselves up as the new rulers of the galaxy. The 6-player variant is played on a board of 71 hexes; smaller scenarios use a subset of the hexes.
Annotated sequence of playA. Expansion Phase (each player does separately)
- One TRANSFER or up to three JUMPS and/or SCANS
Each side has units called Command Bunkers. Command Bunkers allow you to give orders to your units (such as JUMP to a specific location within JUMP range, determined by your tech level in JUMP) or SCAN systems within your COMM range, determined by your tech level in COMM.
SCAN allows you to do a sensor scan of a system. At the beginning of the game, each system has placed in it, face down, a chit which describes the contents of that system -- development value, ground tech level, space tech level, ground forces present, and space forces present. Most systems start out with neutral powers, which must be defeated to claim the system.
Many space and ground units take cargo space, and must be transported by ships with cargo capacity. Command Bunkers and planetary Shields, on the other hand, are moved through the use of the TRANSFER command.
- Action chit play.
Each player starts the game with 5 Action chits. Some can be played at this time (such as Artifact, which allows two research attempts, or Economic Boom, which increases the economy of a world by the amount on the chit), while others can be played during another player's turn (such as JAM, which negates a SCAN).
- Draw chits to bring total to 5.
- Make one research attempt.
Each player has a Technology Track, consisting of a number of boxes attached linearly. There are four different technologies: Comm, Jump, Space and Ground. Each has a chit, with an upwards-pointing arrow (except as below). Comm and Jump tech levels define the range of the two functions; Space and ground tech levels are used in combat (more below).
At the top of each box is a number, which indicates the tech level of the specific chits in the box, with some of the numbers repeated in more than one box. Between each two boxes is a number with a plus sign; to advance to the next box, you must roll equal or greater than that number.
Some races also have a second number along the bottom of each box, which is used in the case of speciality technology. Basically, for a given spot on the track, the different races are one tech level advance in their speciality technology. This is represented by a different chit for each races speciality, tech, with a downward arrow pointing. The Pasha, for example, have advanced Space capbilities, so their Space chit has an arrow pointing down, to the bottom tech track.
So, using the above track, say my Space and Comm are in the second box. I elect to perform a research attempt on Comm, and the number I need to roll to go to the next box is a "2" or greater. I roll a "3", so I advance one box. My tech level is still a "2" (meaning that I can perform SCANs and give orders to units two hexes away), although I am now one step closer to a tech level of "3". If I was going from the last TL4 box to the first TL5 box, on the other hand, I would need to roll a "4+"; to go to the second TL5 box I would need to roll a "5+". Note that even though the Space and Comm chits are in the same (second) box as described above, if I was playing the Pasha, which have a natural advantage in Space (and hence a downward-poiting arrow on my Space chit), I would be at TL3.
- Draw and resolve one Event chit.
Event chits are random events which are usually similar to Actions. Sometimes they effect everyone, e.g., Scientific Advance, which allows everyone to make an unscheduled research attempt, whereas other times they specifically designate the first or last player for the turn.
- Perform Production on production turns.
Production usually happens every other turn, but some Event chits can advance or delay production.
- Advance production marker (on the handy on on-board chart which tracks which turn is a production turn).
CombatCombat takes place at any location where there are forces from two or more players, and at least one wants to fight. There are both Space and Ground units. In most cases, the space battle must be finished before the ground battle can begin. Combat takes place through a simple hit dice method; each ship/ground unit rolls a number of dice ranging from 1 to 3, with each "6" achieving a hit. If the firing unit has a higher tech level, the difference in tech level between the two is used as a DRM, in effect lowering the number need to hit. [If, for example, the firing unit has a TL of 4 and the target has a TL of 2, then the firing unit effectively hits on a 4+.] Combat takes place in rounds of simultaneous combat. Some units are better (i.e., roll more dice) on the offense than the defense, or vice versa. Most units are one-step, although Heavy Infantry is two-step and Command Bunkers are three-steps. In addition, some units have synergistic effects -- Assault troops roll 1 die per unit on defense unless there is a Command Bunker present, in which case they roll 2 dice per unit.
This game has a lot of dice-rolling. One large battle I played, for example, involved 35 dice on one side and 29 on the other for the first round, although the numbers got smaller as attrition increased. The game includes three dice; I added another 20 or so.
RulesThe rules are well written, complete and concise, and do as good a job of taking you through the system in a step-by-step manner as can be expected. There is an index which, while short, is fairly complete -- in every instance where we were looking for something, we were able to find it very quickly. The rulebook is only 12 pages long, including 1.5 pages of player and Design Notes (very useful!), the last two of which are a summary of the Action and Event Chits (both a manifest and a summary of effects), Sequence of Play, Jam/Intercept Sequence, Battle Sequence, Race Summary, Unit Summary, and a System Tile Manifest. I personally photocopied the last two pages onto a single piece of light cardstock and laminated it for use as a player aid.
Physical componentsThe physical components of the game are very well done, and up the the usual TimJim/Prism standards. The mounted map is of the quad-fold style Avalon Hill has made famous, and contains a Systems Owned track, the Production Turn track, and lots of useful information.. Each player receives an Empire Mat with the tech level track, a staging area for various fleets, a treasury and production track, and a chart detailing the various attributes (cost, offense dice, defensive dice, steps, cargo capacity) of the types of units in the game. There are two Battle Mats, double-sided (one ground, one space) mats for use in conducting combat. They summarize all the attributes of the units, even to the difference in capability of some units on Attack vs Defense. These are VERY well done. Beware, though -- this game takes up a lot more space than the size of the board indicates. The Empire Mats are always is use, and the Battle Mats are essentially so as well. This, plus a space to roll the dice, effectively requires a playing area at least triple the size of the board. The counters were well die-cut, and require but a brief swipt of the knife to loosen completely.
My only gripe (and it is an exceptionally minor one) is that some of the diecutting between the counter strips was a little uneven, making it difficult to separate the two strips with a knife without actually shaving the counters. More games should be able to boast that this is the only problem.
VariantsTurn order: The rule for determining turn order -- each player (except the last, who can't be the first player the following turn) is assigned a number on a die, and the die is rolled; repeat as needed (including the last player) until everyone has moved -- seemed cumbersome, so we quickly abandoned it. We then tried a simple roll-off to predetermine the order, with high roll going first (except the last player, who if high goes second). We were prepared to use this syetm from then on, but someone came up with something better: at the beginning of the turn, everyone except the last player rolls a die, with high roller moving. Once that player has finished his turn, everyone who hasn't yet moved (including the pervious last player) rolls a die, with the high roller moving. This is repeated until everyone moves. This is probably the way we'll do it from now on. (Someone has pointed out that we can get the same effect by drawing chits from a cup, but those who have expressed an opinion were unanimous in preferringthe cup dice method.
Quickstart: After our last game several of the players discussed ways to "quickstart" the game, as the game doesn't quite seem to fit in a three-hour window. (As our familiarity with the game increases, this may prove to be untrue.) It occurred to us that a quick way to do that would be to triple the starting treasury (from 10 to 30 [36 in the case of the Zytal]) and add a third Command Bunker to the starting setup.
Another measure might be to conduct production every turn (ignoring Production Advance chits).
Promoting player conflict: We also noticed that it seems to be possible to win the game by expanding to neutral systems and take the Throneworld without actually engaging in combat with another player. This seems slightly problematic, although we realize that we are new players and it may be that we aren't being proactive enough in challenging opponents. If one wanted to decrease the emphasis on taking the Throneworld, though, an easy way to do it would be to halve the point value of the Throneworld, from 6 to 3.