Designed by Tom Lehman
Published by TimJim/Prism
Reviewed by Brian Bankler, July 15, 1997.
2-6 Players (probably better with 3-5)
THRONEWORLD is by TimJim/Prism, makers of (among other things) TIME AGENT, and is set in the same future. TW is a prequel to TIME AGENT. The setting is that the Roo Overlords, genetic manipulators extraordinaire, have suffered huge losses due to the great plague and the servants revolt has begun. 2-6 players vie to be the next conquering race.
Each player expands from his homeworld. You explore systems, which usually have some forces on them. Players start at the edges of a board and work inward. The systems get progressively tougher, in either number of units, technology, or both, as you work towards the center. At the very center of the 'universe' is the Throneworld, the home of the Roo empire, and they aren't going gentle into that good night. The game ends when any player controls some number of systems (around 14) for a full turn. And, did I mention the throneworld counts as 6 systems?
Players have 11 unit types (6 space units and 5 ground units) to organize into fleets and move around and conquer. In addition, there are four types of technology. Two of these are directly combat related: Space and Ground. The two other technologies are Jump and Communications. Jump controls how far a fleet may move in one 'jump,' and also determines if it's possible to do a 'drop invasion.' More on that later. Communications controls the distance you can control fleets (ie, order them to jump and order non-drop invasions) and scanning/jamming distance.
During your turn, you can perform up to three jumps or scans. Each jump or scan requires you to have a command bunker in range to order the jump or perform the scan. This 'Headquarters'-like functionality will become more important later in the game, when players interact. Scanning a system lets you mark it as explored, look at the neutral forces that are there (all the information is summarized on a chit for the system). On a later turn, you can 'jump' a fleet into that system. If there are neutral forces defending the system (and there usually are) combat occurs.
Combat, the mainstay of the game, involves throwing lots of dice. 6s hit, unless you have better tech than your opponent, in which case you get +1 for each difference. So if I'm attacking a neutral with Space Tech 3 and I have Space Tech 2, I hit on a 6 and the neutral hits on a 5-6. (I better know what I'm doing). Different units get from 0-3 dice on offense and defense (usually not the same number), some units take up cargo space (all ground units do, as you carry them to the invasion), some units provide cargo space, and about half the units have quirks. For example, heavy infantry take two hits to kill, drop troops can invade the planet before space combat is done (with certain restrictions). Namely, You can't drop invade if the defending planet has shields, unless your Jump Tech >= Defenders space tech. Shields prevent drop invasions and absorb damage, but can't move from the system they were built without massive restrictions, and so on.
After everyone moves and fights, you have an empire phase where random events happen, you research technology, and buy units (usually about every 2nd empire phase, but random events can annoy you to no end). Finally, players 'reset' their command bunkers, which can only do one thing a turn.
The last aspect of the game turn are the 'action chits'. During each player's turn, they can use one of their five chits (which replenish) to sabatoge other players, perform research, to build a few extra units or re-organize fleets. Additionally, once players get into contact with each other, they sees them start jamming and counterjamming orders (freezing fleets into place) as well as invasions and interceptions. And this is where those command bunkers come into play. Each jam, counterjam, and fleet interception, as well as fleet movements and scans, requires a command bunker. You may have the three bunkers you need for your turn, but do you have enough to jam another players action? Another factor is that, in order to jam, the bunker you are jamming needs to be within your communications range. Add to this the fact that command bunkers are expensive, and some of the decisions become harder.
In fact, players can take a special turn. Instead of scanning and jumping, they can perform a transfer. This involves moving as many units you want from one of your worlds to another. The reason to do this is that some units, namely command bunkers (but also shields) are static units. They only way they move is to transfer them. When you consider that command bunkers are so expensive they can only be built at the homeworld (except for one race), then the reason for transfers becomes much more apparent. Unless you have a very high communications technology, you'll need to move bunkers forward to start making inroads into other players space.
For the final rules twist, each player is a different race, and has a speciality. Some races are the same races from Time Agent, for those who are interested. The Buralti are back as ground forces specialists, the Veneb are masters of research, The Zytal are weasels (literally) and always manage to sneak those extra few credits from each planet they take. The new races are the Q'Teni (communications specialists), the Trill (drop invaders) and the Pasha (great fighter pilots). The long-suffering Roo return as the crumbling evil empire.
So, how does the game play? Well, for starters, this game has definite hints of multi-player solitaire. You probably won't have to deal with another player (except for random events that one player gets to pick the victim of) for the first 7-10 turns of the game or so. The rule book even hints that everyone should take their turn simultaneously, once the players are familiar with the rules. And because of the way scanning works (you have to explore a system, even owned by another player, before you can attack) it is difficult to invade another player (because they will try to block your exploration, then block the invasion, if their earlier block failed). However, the game does have 'rising tension' in that the game is often in doubt until the last moment. It is also fairly difficult to be eliminated, although having a world of command bunkers fall is usually the prelude to a quick decline as other players scan your now defenseless systems and move in like the vultures they undoutedly are.
The first few plays of this game ended suddenly. Players didn't always scan each other, which left them poorly placed when someone was at the victory threshold (usually a bit above). The other players couldn't invade since they haven't made the prepatory exploration. My first game ended when only two players had scanned the Throneworld, as the first player seized it (looting it at the same time) and only one other player could organize a counter strike. Nobody else could attack either player in the one turn leeway they had. However, once players were familiar with that, the mid-game saw a lot of scanning to prepare for crushing retaliation.
All in all, this game certainly has the feel of a game like AXIS & ALLIES, on the surface. You throw lots of dice. You fight. In reality, it might be closer to a race game that races armies instead of horses. This is because once someone grabs the Throneworld, then the game goes into sudden death overtime...the production phase is skipped. This is presumably supposed to represent that the time scale of the game has changed (from months to days or something), but whatever the reasoning, it works to provide a lot of tension. Players frantically try to crush the leader back below the victory threshold, which usually involves taking the throneworld, which usually means another player is now one turn away from victory. Because the production phase is getting skipped, units aren't coming into the game at more than a trickle (caused by economic action chits). After a few turns of fierce fighting, the game ends. This frenetic ending has a lot going for it. Intense battles with lots of dice, knowing that this is a 'do or die' battle. It also has the nice benefit of keeping the game to a reasonable length, although in this case reasonable probably tops out at somewhere near 6 hours. Our first few games were over in 3 hours, though, so it isn't always that long. Just don't be surprised if it is.
All in all, if you like A&A, TITAN, and RISK type games (with a fair chunk more complexity than Risk), you might consider giving Throneworld a try.
The Game Cabinet - firstname.lastname@example.org - Ken Tidwell