Titanium Wars is a recent game from Iello (best known for publishing King of Tokyo) and Euphoria Games. I had the chance to demo this game at Origins and was pleased enough to buy it on the spot.
The theme of the game is that a new, mysterious type of crystal has been discovered in the galaxy, which is called Titanium. This Titanium has no relationship with the metal found on the periodic table, it is a instead a crystal that generates energy. Now the various space empires have launched fleets, lead by the players, to acquire as much of this material as possible. One whole page of the 6 page rulebook is devoted to describing the leaders and empires in the game. That’s a lot of devotion to the theme.
I have had some player groan about calling the power crystals Titanium and others don’t mind. The designer thinks that calling it Titanium is important for where the story of the game is going, and has also pointed out that this confusion exists only in English and a few other languages.
Before getting too far into this review I think it is important to say that while the theme sounds like a 4X game, one in which players are building up their empire, harvesting resources, and expanding across the galaxy, it really is not that kind of game. Instead, it works more like a bidding game, only the ships are your currency and the tactic cards are your bids. That ruins the theme, but the game play has much more to do with playing to the hand your dealt and reading your opponents intentions than building a better empire.
- 8 leader/home planet cards
- 12 planet / event cards
- 50 tactics cards
- 235 Arsenal cards
- 65 unit cards
- 96 upgrade cards
- 74 building cards
- damage tokens in 1 and 4 denominations
- paper money
- first player token
- 4 rules summary cards
The card stock seems on the lighter end to me, but I’m not really a components connoisseur. There are over 300 cards in the game, but if you like sleeving the cards, it makes sense to sleeve only the tactics cards as these are the ones that get handled the most and the only cards to get shuffled multiple times in a game.
As I just listed, the game does come with paper money. It is quite small, though sturdy. I know paper money is a turn-off for many gamers as it wears out easily and is hard to handle. Hopefully, if it bothers you, you already have a supply of coins or chips you use instead.
I like the artwork, which has a slightly cartoony style, but still feels epic and appropriate for a theme which is partially serious and partially fantastic.
Brief Rules Overview
The goal of the game is to control a certain number of Titanium deposits. The target number depends on the number of players and desired length of game. These Titanium deposits are found on the planets which players battle for each round.
Set-up: players receive 3 tactics cards (the function of which I will explain in the conquest phase) and are dealt two leaders at random and pick one to use. Leaders are unique only in their special abilities. Base income, building slots, fleet size, and tactic card hand size are identical.
Each turn starts with “exploration”: revealing the next planet to be fought over. The planets provide additional income, additional building slots, special abilities, and Titanium deposits. The backs of the planets have an “event” effect, and so the top card of the planet draw deck determines the “event” effect. These effects tend to be substantial and most make the Conquest phase quite different from turn to turn.
The next phase is the production phase and players gather their income from their planets. Since the home planets produce 1000 credits, and the conquered planets typically add only 100 or 200 credits, differences in income between players are typically small.
Outfitting is the next phase and this is where players buy the things they want. This phase is actually a free-for-all and players grab what they want with no regard for turn order nor any real secrecy other than that other players are distracted by their own purchases. Once everyone had grabbed what they want, then players reveal what cards they grabbed and pay for them. There are three kinds of things that can be bought:
- Buildings take up a building slot on one of a player’s planets. Players start with four building slots and typically acquire only 2 or 3 more during the game. There are buildings to increase income, number of units which you can have, tech level, tactics card hand size, and upgrade slots on ships. There is also a building that does damage in combat.
- Units, which include various sizes of ships as well as minefields, missiles, and repair droids. Ships are necessary for combat.
- Upgrades allow you to add attack or defense to your ships, as well as some other unusual effects. Ships have a limited number of upgrades that they can hold.
After Outfitting comes the conquest phase. During the conquest phase, players who wish to compete for the planet choose one of their tactics cards to play. Tactics cards indicate on them what units they allow to fire and what targets they hit. For example “barrage” allows cruisers to attack fighter squadrons, while “assault” allows fighter squadrons to attack most kinds of units. There is no attack outside of the effect of the tactics cards. Tactics cards also have a priority on them to determines which attack happens first. Generally weaker attacks and smaller ships go first with the final tactic to be resolved allowing you to sum all of your remaining ships. It is the tactics cards you have that determine the ships that you buy in the outfitting phase. Destroyers are useless unless you have in your hand one or more tactics cards that allow destroyers to attack the kind of units that your opponents have. After all of the tactics card are resolved players discard the tactic card they used. They may also discard another tactic card for free but to discard any further cards they have to pay. Then they draw back up to their hand size.
After this, players decide whether they want to stay in the fight or drop out. If they have no more ships, then they cannot stay in the fight. Players who are staying in choose another tactics card and another round of combat happens. Once only one player is left, either because he is is the only one with ships or because the other players have dropped out, then he gets that planet. All players remove all of the damage on their remaining ships and the first player token moves. Then the next round begins with the exploration phase.
Speaking of the first player token, almost all of the major activities of this game are simultaneous, but the first player token does help resolve some specific situations. The simultaneous play is great for keeping down time to a minimum.
Typically both winners and losers lose most of their ships in the conquest phase. This is okay, because you can typically buy back up to your unit limit with your base income. Losing ships is not as dreadful as it might be in another game. They are easily replaced.
At a glance this game seems like it would have low replayability. The cards that you can buy are fixed and the same from game to game. The reason this does not kill replayability is that there are two other major sources of variability and one minor one, that will cause you to adjust your game play throughout the game.
- The first is the tactics cards, which really dictate how useful your units will be. If you have tactics cards that allows you to use a interstellar missile, then it makes sense to build an interstellar missile. If you do not have the tactic cards for it, then you should not build it. It is useless. If your opponents do not have fighter squadrons, then a tactics card that targets them is useless.
- The second is the event card effects. Most of these effects are disruptive and require you to think differently in the outfitting and conquest phases.
- The smaller one is the special abilities of the leaders. These can open up some more options for a player, but I think they are a rather small effect.
Why You Might Like Titanium Wars
- I like the theme. It is well realized and fun.
- I think the variability is just right. Adapting to the events and the tactic cards in your hand makes for an enjoyable and challenging experience. It is not a game of pure luck, nor is it a requiring long periods of careful thought. It is right in the sweet spot for me.
- I enjoy how interactive the game is. So many games are mostly solitaire experiences, and this one really involves interacting with and responding to your opponents.
- This game has a medium weight to it. Some games are overwhelming your first time through, but this is a game you will grasp your first time through, even as you see how you could have played better. It is not really a family get-together game, but easy to get played with same people who will play Settlers of Catan with you.
- I do not like bash-on-the-leader games where players have to stop helping themselves and start hurting someone else. This game is not that because the conquest phase is only bashing on other people. It is not a tacked-on or alternative activity but is the primary activity of the game. The leader also has some control over whether he gets bashed on as he can drop out of the fighting at any time. The bashing also doesn’t ruin the leader’s game, but just holds him down.
- There is no turtling in this game. You must conquer to win, and staying out of early fights doesn’t give you a big advantage.
Why You Might Not Like Titanium Wars
- Some people are really unhappy with the name, go visit the BoardGameGeek forums to see. I do think it was a mistake, but it doesn’t ruin the game for me, and I will extend the designer some trust.
- If your players tend to gang up on someone for no reason, that will ruin this game. This game balances because players are choosing to do more damage to the person in the lead. The designer subtitled the game as being a game of diplomacy, I believe, to encourage alliances among players who are behind. In the last conquest phase of one of my recent games we were all evenly matched at the start and as players dealt damage we tended to whittle each other down evenly within the constraints of our tactics cards. This made the final round tense and interesting. If we had all decided to gang up on one player instead (“attack the game owner” or “attack dad”) it would have been a much less satisfying game.
- The opposite of that is true too. If destroying other people’s things is not enjoyable, even without malice and within the constraints of a game, then this game is not for you. Similarly, if you or another player gets your feelings hurt when someone else causes you to lose something, even when within the spirit of the game and without malice, then this is not a good game for you. There is no pacifist path to victory in this game.
- The math in the outfitting phase is kind of a drag. You are trying to add-up the cards you want before, during, or after grabbing them. It is mentally the most taxing aspect of the game, I think, but the game is still a mid-weight game, not a brain-burner or a spreadsheet.
Who can you play this with?
Children: Not Recommended
Non-gamer friends: Not recommended
Board game enthusiasts: Yes
Heavy board gamers: Maybe
How hard are the rules?
Read once and you’ve got it: No
Play once and you’ve got it: Yes
Keep the rulebook open the first few times: Maybe
All players should read the rules ahead of time: No
How much luck vs strategy is there in the game?
Luck and strategy are about equally balanced. The better player will usually prevail, but not by a large margin.
Titanium Wars is great game for mid-weight players who enjoy direct interaction. The theme is great and the game play is varied and challenging. It is unlike any other game I am aware of. It is definitely worth checking out for fans of games with simple rules but also a lot of theme who are looking for a good 60 – 90 minute game.