Imperium: Third Millenium
Imperium ("Empires in Conflict--Worlds in the Balance") was a game produced by GDW (Game Designers' Workshop) in the 1970s, and was originally designed by Marc Miller (of Traveller fame). It has been revised and re-released as Imperium: Third Millenium by Avalanche Games (which has an eclectic game line consisting of traditional wargames, family games, and d20 supplements like The Last Days of Constantinople). The game is set in what in Traveller's future history was called the Nth Interstellar Wars, in which the small but vibrant Terran Confederation fought for its survival against the mammoth but lumbering Vilani (or First) Imperium, the Ziru Sirka. Knowledge of the Traveller timeline is not at all necessary to play and appreciate the game, however, in either version.
The new version of Imperium is prettier than the older one, but the additional complication makes the game harder to learn and longer to play.
This review is based on about a dozen hours of solitaire play-through of the tactical scenarios and the basic galactic war scenario, as well as a rosy-lensed recollection of the older game. Caveat lector.
The game consists of:
- three beautiful full-color poster-style maps, including
- a galactic map showing stars in the area around Sol and the jump routes connecting them, upon which players deploy their fleets. Also present on the galactic map are places to track resource points, the Imperial player's Glory, the turn number, and what reinforcements are due. The map consists of star systems connected by jump routes; each star system has one or more "planetary surface boxes" associated with it; these are used to hold ground troops, planetary defense batteries (PDBs), and world/outpost markers indicating the presence of a colony.
- a space battle map upon which starships manuever in tactical combat. This consists of three 5x5 grids representing a three-dimensional area surrounding a planet.
- a planetary surface mapsheet, containing small (1 to about a dozen hexes in size) planetary surface maps for each different planet in the game. Earth, for example, is a 7-hex circle.
- a rules booklet
- a scenario booklet, with scenarios of increasing complexity beginning with the invasion of a single planet, three or four tactical space combat scenarios, and three strategic scenarios charting different stages of the conflict between the Imperium and the Terran Confederation.
- an 8-1/2 x 5-1/2 card with tables for production costs, random events, and stuff.
- two 8-1/2 x 5-1/2 Fleet Cards to track which ships are assigned to which fleets.
- two full-color die-cut counter sheets, one each for the Terran and Imperial player. The counters represent starships from tiny scouts to colossal superdreadnoughts, ground troops, planetary defense batteries, and colonies. There are also markers for various game statistics.
Each game lasts no more than 10 turns, during which the Imperial player (as the governor of the troublesome Sol sector) attempts to increase his Glory point total in order to claim victory and the Terran player attempts to avoid defeat. In a campaign game, the object is to conquer the other player's homeworlds. Individual wars within the campaign still rely on the Glory point mechanism to determine how long the war lasts, and what happens during the interwar period.
Players each place their forces according to the details for the scenario, at which point they are ready to begin. In the basic scenario, the Imperial player starts with more powerful forces, but the Terran player has greater economic resources. Each turn consists of a number of phases. The following activities take place:
- The Imperial player rolls for Imperial Intervention, which is essentially a random events table. Events include being granted additional forces or being required to send away forces for a short time, receiving permission to build more powerful ships, and receiving or losing resource points. The Imperial player may also appeal to the Emperor for additional resource points or permission to build ships, but there is a Glory point cost.
- Both players calculate their available resources, based on the number of worlds and outposts they control. They construct new forces and place them on the Turn Record Chart to be received as reinforcements. Some ships take longer to build than others.
- Both players receive and place available reinforcements on the map or, more precisely in the case of ships, in fleet boxes on the Fleet Chart; fleet counters are placed on the map to represent groups of co-located ships.
- Movement and combat now take place, in up to four action segments. During each action segment, players roll 1d6 each. This is the number of activations available to that player, unless the roll is a tie, in which case the action segment ends immediately without anything happening. The player with the higher total goes first, selecting one system and moving any or all of the fleets in that system to the same or to different destinations. Ships move along "jump routes" between the stars; some ships have higher jump numbers than others. When a fleet enters a system with an enemy fleet, it must cease movement. The opposing player may choose to react to the first player's movement and activate one of his systems. After a round of activations, if two opposing fleets occupy the same system, they fight a space battle. After space combat, ships may bombard planetary surfaces and land invading troops. Once combat has been completed, the player with initiative activates another system, and play proceeds until all activations have been used or both players pass.
- Once all four action segments have taken place, players check to see if any Glory has been lost or gained (for conquering an enemy planet or winning an important space battle), and see if conditions for ending the war are met; as time goes on, it takes less of a Glory Point gain or loss to end the war, until by Turn 10 the war ends in a Terran victory if no Glory has been gained or lost.
Space combat is carried out on a map representing the three-dimensional space around a planet. Each fight lasts for up to three turns, each consisting of three impulses, consisting of movement, beam fire, and torpedo fire, in that order. In the first impulse, fast ships move 1 space; in the second, fast and medium-speed ships move 1 space; in the third, fast, medium, and slow ships move 1 space (so fast ships move 3 times, medium move 2, and slow move 1). Beam fire is more deadly but has shorter range; torpedoes are longer range but less deadly, and many ships have countermeasures that let them avoid torpedo hits. Fire is simultaneous for each weapon type (so a ship destroyed by beam fire can still fire its own beams but can't fire its torpedoes). Roll 1d6 for each weapon factor firing and, depending on the range to target, score a hit if the roll is high enough. Ships take 1, 2, or 3 hits to damage; smaller ships are destroyed when damaged, while larger ones are step-reduced by flipping them over. Combat ends after three turns or after all ships of one side have left the map or been destroyed.
Planetary bombardment can be used to destroy enemy PDBs and ground-based fighters prior to invasion.
During an invasion, planetary defenses and fighters attempt to shoot down landing troops. Once this is resolved, invading troops are placed on a planetary map consisting of as little as one hex (in the case of small planets) to as many as around a dozen (for a world like earth). Ground troops and fighters manuever on the world surface, attacking each other when they enter the same hex.
The scenarios begin with tactical "mini-games" that showcase the tactical ground and space combat sub-systems. The first deals with a planetary invasion: Earth's last stand against Imperial troops. The others are space combat, and are intended to walk the players through battles with increasing numbers of forces. My favorite is the Terran carrier strike against a small Imperial squadron. Finally, there are "galactic war" scenarios, charting the rise of the Terrans as they push back the Imperials. These are full games; the first begins with a small Terran Confederation facing the ponderous might of the Imperium, and is the original scenario depicted in the older version.
Overall, this is a beautifully produced game with a neat system for "simulating" the ebb and flow of interstellar warfare, a lot of opportunities for interesting tactical problems to arise and be played out, and the potential to be a lot of fun for two players. The planetary surface map is worth the price of admission, in my estimation.
In summary, the main weaknesses of the game are (a) a high level of complexity (much higher than the original Imperium) and (b) a lack of play aids to aid bookkeeping. Specific comments follow:
The system of galactic movement, in which players roll 1d6 for "activations" (the number of times they may move the fleets located in a single star system) up to four times during a turn, strikes me as hard to manage, especially since there is no place to record the current "action segment." Two counters (a "Terran Impulse" and "Imperial Impulse" marker) are provided, and seem to be intended to be used on the Resource Points Track to keep count of the activations available to each player. A separate track for keeping count of each player's activations (1 through 6) that segment and the action segment number (1 through 4) would help in this regard.
More room could have been provided on the Turn Record Chart to place reinforcements. Each box is only large enough to hold a single stack of counters; it would be nice to have separate spaces for Imperial reinforcements, Terran reinforcements, and the turn record marker.
There is a lot of dice rolling, and I mean a lot. To play the game, you will want to have at least a dozen d6s on hand, and preferably 20. You roll 1d6 for each weapon factor used in an attack, and you'll probably have a half a dozen ships firing both beams and torpedoes (with an average strength of 2 or 3) three times during each round of space combat. The varying hit numbers at different space combat ranges also mean that one may have to keep track of which dice represent which ship's weapons. Additionally, players roll 1d6 for "initiative" at the beginning of each action segment, space combat turn, and ground combat turn. This is not to mention the Imperial player's roll for "Imperial intervention" (random events) at the beginning of each turn.
The addition of tactical maps for both space and planetary combat means that the game takes longer to play than it used to. A medium sized space battle, with half a dozen ships on a side, will probably average 10-15 minutes to resolve. The additional tactical dimension is overall a strength of the game, however.
There are some omissions or production errors in the rules as well. On the production costs chart, data for monitors and repair ships are missing (and not located anywhere else in the rules). The old missile boat has been renamed the torpedo boat, but is still abbreviated MB in certain places. Also, there is no single place where all the game information relevant to each type of unit is recorded; one has to flip back and forth through the rules booklet to find its production cost, tactical space movement rate, "jump" rate, and so forth.
In the follow section, I discuss rules changes that I think address additional weaknesses in the rules themselves.
These are suggested rules changes that I think reduce or help manage the additional complexity in the game.
- Clarify the rules regarding fleets. I suggest that the rules be read as allowing players to freely combine or divide fleets in the same system at the beginning of an activation, and to "drop off" or "pick up" ships in fleets en route, so long as the fleet does not exceed the range of the slowest and/or furthest moving ship.
- Maintain a distinction between space hexes and the planetary surface boxes on the galactic map. Fleets move along jump points from space hex to space hex. They stop if an enemy fleet is present. After space combat, a victorious fleet can move into the planetary surface box to conduct planetary bombardment and invasion, or to deliver cargo to a world's surface. Ships in a friendly planetary surface box are considered "grounded," but may immediately move to space if an enemy fleet enters their system. At the beginning of an activation, grounded ships may be placed in a fleet and moved with that fleet (this allows transports to load and move in the same activation).
- Modify the initiative system so that each player, instead of rolling a die, receives 1 activation per action segment for every 10 RP (rounded down) he began the turn with. Certain Imperial events, like Mandated Offensive, increase the Imperial player's activations by one or more. Allow either player to buy additional activations at the beginning of an action segment at a cost of 1 activation per 3 RP, to a maximum of twice the number of activations started with. This removes some of the randomness that can lead to wildly lopsided games.
- Clarify the rules for planetary combat. Specifically, I suggest that:
- TRs and ATs (transports and attack transports) move to the planetary surface map during an invasion but are allowed to return to space if desired (for safety or to meet stacking limits) during the player's ground movement step, subject to attack by enemy fighters or PDBs as they ascend
- Combat takes place between opposing units in the same hex on the planetary map. The defender "pushes forward" one unit in the hex at a time to be matched by the attacker until one or the other player has no more combat units to push forward. If the defender pushes forward a non-combatant unit (a PDB or grounded ship), the attacker may ignore it. Similarly, the attacker may not match an enemy combat unit (fighter or ground troops) with a non-combat unit if he still has combat units undeployed. Excess units can be doubled up against enemy units. Combat then proceeds as described in the rules.
- Modify the rules for tactical space combat movement, specifically: Allow defending ships to "land" on a friendly world or outpost subject to stacking limits. Grounded ships may be targeted during the planetary bombardment phase.
- Allow pre-turn 1 production, so that both sides can potentially receive reinforcements on Turn 1.
- Allow monitors to be built in any system containing a friendly world or outpost. Set the production cost of a monitor at 8, and the building time at 2 turns. This replaces information missing from the rules, and may disagree with any official errata. Retain the rule prohibiting monitors from landing on planetary surfaces.
- Set the production cost of a repair ship at 6 points and its building time at 2 turns. This replaces information missing from the rules, and may disagree with any official errata.
- Give the Terran player an additional outpost on Mars in the basic scenario. This makes the at start resources available to him 32, versus the Imperial's 24, and removes a logical inconsistency from the game.