This is the second in what may become a regular feature on the site. We write about a game we played, maybe the narrative of the meta-game after one session, or how the game tied together over several plays and the story that came out of it. We’ll also talk about what kind of beer we think would match the game, either overall, or on this particular day.
Rex is a game of game of negotiation, betrayal, and warfare set in the same universe as the legendary Twilight Imperium. Unlike Twilight Imperium, this game is based on a single planet, Mecatol Rex, the capital of the Empire. The humans of the Federation of Sol have led an attack directly on the capital, and this game is the story of the struggle for Mecatol Rex. The game has six unique races with unique powers and abilities. Like most games from Fantasy Flight Games, it’s oozes theme with high quality components and impressive art. It’s a long one though: this epic game will take at least 3 hours to play.
Playing a game for the first time is an interesting experience. We’ve talked about this on the podcast, about how the first playthrough is never perfect, and sometimes it feels like the first game is just a learning experience for the group as a whole, a warm up for the full game which will follow in the weeks or months after. This is especially true of larger, “heavier” games.
Our first play through of Rex: Final Days of an Empire felt like this. I had read the full rulebook three times, listened to a “How to Play” podcast and thought myself prepared. The core of the game seemed simple enough, especially considering my fellow players are pretty experienced gamers. They did not disappoint, grasping the core mechanics quite quickly. Clever boys.
The core mechanics are quite simple: your armies move around the table, up to two spaces at a time. Their strength is equal to the number of guys in the army. Five areas have special icons, and controlling a number of them will win the game. So far, so run of the mill. But the abilities of the six unique races and how they interact is where the spice of the game comes in. As alliances were formed and broken, we could see the potential synergies between races.
I’ve mentioned this before but knowing the mechanics isn’t the same as knowing how to play. I think I was the first one to attack with an army of 10, and it was wildly successful. After that, most people were going around with large armies. But we didn’t appreciate the impact a traitor would have. So when the first traitor card was revealed and destroyed an army of 10 it was a huge shock. 66% of your whole fighting force gone in one move. With limited resources, it was nearly impossible for those troops to get back into the fight. It felt a bit like we were all drunken brawlers, throwing haymakers, hoping to knock out the opponent before we knocked ourselves out through our own lack of coordination.
The traitor cards were controversial. As the Letnev (think space dark elves with receding hairlines) I had 4 traitor cards, and I let them influence how I would play: I had two traitors for Sol (those humans, always so ready to betray), and two for Lazax (kind of looks like Odin from Final Fantasy VIII), so I wasn’t going to ally with them. Also, it helped me pick my battles, and let my numerically inferior force defeat a superior force. However, some people thought it made the game a bit swingy, and reduced the tactical depth of the game. But I think this would be mitigated by using smaller armies, which would also make it easier to get troops back onto the board.
After a later than expected start, 3 hours and 5 out of 8 turns into the game, we decided to call it quits. The Hacan player, who gains money when someone deploys troops, had a huge cash advantage, and had lost no troops to combat, was clearly the winner, even though he was in an alliance. We left it there, but as there was plenty of discussion around the game that night and the next day, and I knew this game would need another play.
Let’s Go Again!
It took a few months, but Rex finally hit the table again.
Again, our start was delayed. We had 5 of the previous 6 players, which meant most of us knew what to expect, and the new player had heard the stories. How would the second game play through?
The random event cards were kinder. There was more money floating about. Combat was more frequent, but less bloody. It was tense, very tense. The first time an alliance card came up it was impossible to tell who was in a strong position: each player had one special spot, with the last player having bags of cash. The humans, they refused to ally with anyone. We ended up with 3 players in an alliance, 2 players in an alliance and the humans forging their own path.
But of course, this was not to last. The cards continued to be kind, and the alliances didn’t have a chance to change, but when they did, I was betrayed. My ally, whom I had supported financially, who had worked himself into a strong position with my help, betrayed me. He left, joined another team. My own brother.
Suddenly we had an alliance, the Alliance of 3, fighting with 3 lone wolves, all trying to vie for victory. It was tense. Could I win on my own?
But the humans, acting on their own, in their own interest, fought valiantly. He was so close that the Alliance actually had to sabotage an area, destroying the shield around it, allowing the indiscriminate bombardment of the orbiting human fleet to wipe out their troops, as well as the human troops. It was a slaughter, but the gamble paid off. They achieved victory after the last turn. No one had enough control on the board, which meant we had to defer to each races special win condition. The Alliance had won.
The second game was fantastic, an incredibly different experience to the first play through. There’s often a push in the world for the newest this or that, to leave behind the old, but there’s something to be said about lavishing attention on what you have, going deep and exploring the depths. This is what I want to do with Rex. Play it dozens of time, because standing here, two toes in the water, I can see the murky depths waiting to be explored.
For the second game, I thought to myself, “Yeah, long game, it’s time for me to indulge myself and get an imperial stout, a real sipping beer”. As I’ve been saying non-stop recently, I love them. I purchased a particular stand out for the night: a peanut biscuit imperial stout called Yellow Belly. But I’m not sure it was the right choice. About half way through the game I’d finished the Yellow Belly, and popped up a second imperial porter, whose name escapes me. Sip sip sip…and the choice to drink two beers of 10-12% alcohol, hit me hard and I got pretty tipsy. Which didn’t help with the game.
I think, perhaps, a regular stout, still something heavy and satisfying, with plenty of depth, is what’s needed, but not necessarily boozy. Stormy Port, a 4.8% porter, or Buried At Sea, a 4.5% milk chocolate stout, both by Galway Bay Brewery or the 4.8% Black Pearle Porter from Wicklow Wolf Brewery might do the trick.