Twilight Imperium: Strategy Cards

From the strategy guide written by Stefan Sasse


Strategy Card Analysis

Twilight Imperium 3 comes with a set of eight strategy cards, with the expansion adding another nine. Eight form a single game, so you have to choose in the beginning which ones you want to take. My advice is for the complete set of new cards from the expansion “Shattered Empire”, which is much better balanced than the original set and doesn’t have such a blunt impact on the game as did the vanilla strategy cards. I also strongly advise not to mix the sets up, because the balancing will be blown to hell by it. But feel free to do so if you like; Warfare II is a very likely candidate that can be safely swapped. You might also consider adding a ninth strategy cards in 4- or 8-player-games so the first one to pick isn’t stuck with the utterly useless cards in the first rounds (see the House rules section for details). There are also two new strategy cards to be included with the “Shards of the Throne” expansion; I include them in the “new” ones from Shattered Empire.

After having chosen which mix of cards you want to play with, we will now take a closer look at them. First, I’ll do a quick overview of the original set of cards before going into more depth with the new ones.

Strategy Card I: Initiative   This card gives you the first pick in the next round, which is a must since you are then able to choose Imperial and get those two free victory points. You always want to pick this card when Imperial is not available and unless there is a really dire need to take another one. The Secondary is kind of nice, but not gamebreaking.

Strategy Card II: Diplomacy  If you are stressed by someone biting you real hard, this card will deter him for an entire round in which you can bolster your forces. This is the single most sucking card in the game, totally game breaking and can’t be avoided at all. Consider exchanging it even when playing the original set. The Secondary is very useful if you have potential planets like Bereg and/or Abyz.

Strategy Card III: Political  This card opens the way into the Senate of Mecatol Rex. You draw three Action Cards and the top most agenda and resolve it. Voting then goes clockwise, starting with the player to your left. Most important is the fact that you choose the next card to be resolved, so you should consider how many votes others will have in the following round. The Secondary allows you to draw an action card. That’s ok and should be done whenever you can spare the command counter.

Strategy Card III: Political II  This card is the substitute introduced with “Shards of the Throne” and brings the Representatives and Promissory Notes into games played with the old strategy cards.

Strategy Card IV: Logistics Your number one source to new command counters. You get four command counters for free allocation. But be advised: in the late game, the Secondary may be more useful than the Primary for players with much influence on their planets!

Strategy Card V: Trade   Also a card you may under any circumstance want to consider swapping with its Shattered Empire counterpart. The Secondary option is not used in many games, and the Primary is most important in the early game, when you can deny other players access to trade goods. Since you need a command counter to collect them, that’s not as powerful as in Shattered Empire.

Strategy Card VI: Warfare  A very powerful card; should never be neglected without really good reason. Your second attack with the same fleet or a second build in the same system. Secondary might come in handy with researched Stasis Capsules, but sucks most of the time.

Strategy Card VII: Technology  One of the most desired cards, gives you a tech for free or allows you to purchase one as Secondary for a hilarious price.

Strategy Card VIII: Imperial  Total no-brainer. If you can, get it. 2 victory points are 2 victory points. The card serves as a game clock. The Secondary is the most powerful of all, allowing building even in already activated systems.

Strategy Card VIII: Imperial II  Technically it belongs to Shattered Empire, but its crap, so I’ll explain it here. Instead of giving you immediate 2 victory points, this card gives you one if you hold Mecatol Rex and lets you fulfill as many objectives as you can this round, which is a sure way to an unsatisfying bubble victory (see more in the victory point section).

After taking this look at the old cards, we will have a more detailed one at the new.

Strategy Card I: Leadership  This card not only gives you access to new command counters– three for free and the opportunity to buy another three – but also possesses the lowest initiative number, so you act first if not facing Naalu. While all other guys also have access to command counters, you not only get the double amount, but you also decide when this card is played, and timing is crucial. If played before Assembly has been played, you put everyone in the bad choice of either foregoing the opportunity for more command counters or to lose votes. Unfortunately, you have to decide first.

Strategy Card II: Diplomacy II  Diplomacy allows you one of two actions: either you secure one system against attacks from all other players, or you annex an empty planet (one not occupied by any plastic piece). The first option is more often taken. (A strategic note: Later in the game, it can happen that someone has all 16 command counters on his race sheet or on the board, in which case he must take a command counter from his race sheet rather than his reinforcements!) Annexing a planet is especially useful if you want to change ownership without starting a war (so you don’t break a Trade Agreement or if you want to avoid the potential effect of a Distant Sun token. The Secondary allows everyone the annexation for a harsh fee.

Strategy Card III: Assembly  This is a complex card. First, you get 2 action cards and one political card.  Then you either take the Speaker token or give it to someone else. In the latter case you have to play a political card which is then voted upon, in the first case you have to name someone else to play a political card. Normally, this is a situation where quite a haggling is going round. It can be useful sometimes to give the Speaker token to another player or to elect one that hasn’t a political card in his hand so the first one is drawn from the deck, because this guarantees a surprise.

Strategy Card III: Assembly II  This strategy card is for use with the Representatives and the Promissory Notes. Since it doesn’t grant the 2 action cards  anymore, Assembly has become considerably weaker to take, granting no bonus at all besides the Speaker token. Oftentimes it is better if the player to your right takes it than if you do.

Strategy Card IV: Production  You may build in one system of your choice, even if it has already been activated. You also get two free resources for doing that. Note that you are not allowed to produce a new Space Dock. Don’t forget the normal building limit; this is a common mistake. The use of this card needs no further explanation, and all the other guys may only build three units.

Strategy Card V: Trade II  A much better card than the original, Trade II allows you to get three trade goods, collect income from your own trade agreements and broker new agreements. Alternatively you may cancel two agreements, which is more limited and focused than Trade I was. The big difference is in the Secondary, since there is none. Every player instantly collects Trade Goods from his trade agreement, but with a -1 penalty. This way, the trade is more important than before since you don’t need to spend a precious command counter for a dubious trade outcome.

Strategy Card V: Trade III  This new card allows you not only to hire the mighty mercenaries, but also changes drastically the dynamics of Trade. Income is now generated AFTER the trades are concluded, making breaking them a much more viable option now. The Secondary does exactly that, rewarding breaking agreements with an additional trade good. This can be important in order to create new trading opportunities. I recommend the use of this card for the increased dynamic it brings with it. Being Trademaster now continues to be interesting throughout the game.

Strategy Card VI: Warfare II  Warfare II is not as brutal a tool as Warfare I was. Instead, it gives you a neat little token (the High Alert token) adding +1 in combat to the fleet that is with it or carrying it and giving it an additional +1 movement range. This should not be misunderstand as only an offensive tool; it also works quite well as a deterrent, if you don’t plan to attack but want to defend a particular system. Of course, the range bonus you get with it can prove deadly. The Secondary, as with the old Warfare, is useless in most situations.

Strategy Card VII: Technology II  This card has undergone a major change, allowing techs to be purchased much more frequently. Not only is it now cheaper to do so as a Secondary, but you may also buy a second tech when using the Primary.

Strategy Card VIII: Bureaucracy  With this card, you determine the next objective and get a free command counter instantly, which allows you to a certain degree to control the direction in which the game is going. (You can greatly enhance fighting between players by bringing out the right objectives.) Also, you may fulfill one objective instantly, which is not only very useful for objectives you are certain not to fulfill any longer by the end of the round, but also allows you to score twice in the given round.


Tips for selecting Strategy Cards

Generally, you have a plan in mind for the following round when choosing your strategy card. It should always suit your purpose. Strategy cards that were a good choice in one round aren’t necessarily a good choice in any subsequent round. Technology is a good example for that: everyone wants to get ahold of the strategy cards in early rounds, but in the late game, bonus counters begin to stack on it because other strategy cards become much more important. Let’s examine a bit closer if there are any general things on strategy cards that might not be obvious.

Concerning Leadership you should only forego the option to get additional command counters if you really need the votes (or the resources that are tied to the influence) for anything else. The more command counters you have, the more flexible you are. This too does prevent the need from taking Leadership for the sake of the command counters alone (often times you take it anyway for the initiative number) and leaves you other options to exploit.

Diplomacy II is usually not very well liked in early game stages. Many systems have double planets, so you would have to take Diplomacy twice in a row to take them over and wouldn’t have a single Ground Force unit on them then, and players usually start too distant from another for the primary option of the card. But as the game proceeds, the card becomes much more useful. Never forget, for example, that planets with no Ground Forces but Planetary Defense Systems on them are still empty and can be annexed or that annexation doesn’t break a trade agreement! Also keep in mind when deadlocking a system for the other players, there is this certain action card allowing you to take a single command counter from the board (“Unexpected Action”), which may foil your plans.

Assembly opens to you a variety of diplomatic options. Always be aware that if the card is not taken, the Speaker token remains with its owner. You can always bargain a deal with the neighbor to your right to give him the token if he leaves a certain strategy card to you – for him this is often favorable to being the last to choose, and you may be allowed to play a political card you like. Also, Assembly refreshes your hand of cards. Two action cards can be very potent, giving the devastating effects of some of the stronger cards, so the more you get, the more options you have.

The use of Production doesn’t need any further explanation. Just make sure not to forget that your opponents are allowed to build three units as well; this might in certain cases outweigh the benefit you get at a given moment.

Trade II gives you, again, a powerful diplomatic tool especially in the early stages of the game. You will be surprised how much people are ready to give if you allow them their precious trade contracts. You might even broker yourself some good contracts this way. Three trade goods might not seem much, additionally, but there are several nasty things that can be done with them – check out the section on the Universities of Jol-Nar, for example.

Warfare II also gives you some options normally overlooked. If you play a six-player game with a standard galaxy setup, the next Home System will be three spaces away – too far for any normal ship. But with Warfare II, it suddenly lies in range of your Cruisers or Carriers with the XRD Transporters technology, should you happen to start with them. If your hapless enemy has taken all ground forces with him to expand, you may very well attack his home system instantly. Even if you do not want to land, this move might cripple him since you block the space dock and prevent him from building new ships this round, seriously endangering his early expansion. The Secondary comes in handy if you have ground forces already on a ship that you can suddenly move in range of something with it.

Technology II does not offer any special powers that nobody knows, so I’m not going into great detail here; in the Techs section we will examine it in greater detail.

Bureaucracy, at last, is oftentimes neglected in the early stages of the game, leading to a bunch of objectives revealed as soon as someone takes it. Its most important function is to ensure victory. When the first people reach seven or eight victory points, you should see to it that they don’t get Bureaucracy, so they don’t suddenly end the game. More details to this you’ll find in the objectives and victory points section of this guide.

3 thoughts on “Twilight Imperium: Strategy Cards

  1. A comment on your strategic note on SCII – Diplomacy II: see page 8 of the errata/faq. “Q: If a player has all 16 Command Counters in use on the board or on his Race Sheet, can any effects or actions that require additional Command Counters for that player take place or be resolved? A: No.”

    My gaming group used to play this incorrectly too. 🙂 In fact, we probably have not yet played a game where we have played every single rule correctly! Though it is possible that we have now – 75 or so games since we acquired the base game.

    Overall, we really appreciate reading your thoughts on TI3 strategy! Thank you, Game Knight! 😀

  2. Embarrassingly, I retract my previous comment.

    The text directly below the Diplomacy II strategy card in the SE rulebook explicitly states what you wrote.


  3. After playing with the Shattered Empire and Shards cards pretty extensively, I’ve come back to enjoying the original cards the most.

    The only alterations I make are to replace Warfare I with Warfare II and Imperial I with Imperial II, in both cases because the original card was hugely unbalanced in power with the other options, and I feel like the reprint accomplishes the original goal, but better.

    House rules are also required if you want to include mercenaries into the original trade card, and representatives into the original political card, but these do not disrupt the game greatly.

    I personally don’t like the Technology II card, as it makes acquiring tech way too easy. I liked that it was a real slog to get to something like War Suns or Type IV drives, so that when you got there, you had a real edge.

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