CASUAL FRIDAYS #112: Empire, The East: Roads To Newer And Stranger Empires

If your group plays Emperor even occasionally, it may have happened: you are all settling down for a nice little game of three-on-three, when suddenly the seventh guy in the group shows up. What to do?

If your group plays Emperor even occasionally, it may have happened: you are all settling down for a nice little game of three-on-three, when suddenly the seventh guy in the group shows up. Or perhaps in the middle of a typical game, you realize that the control decks have locked the Emperors into a struggle that’s likely to last at least two hours. Or maybe you’re just looking for something new to do.

In this last installment of the Emperor series, I want to give you all five workable variations on Emperor that should be fairly easy to implement. Our group has done most of these, either officially or unofficially. Your group may do other things as well. Do let me know about them, but recognize that I am unlikely to post them in Casual Fridays for at least some time… My readers have been very patient for these past few weeks, since I don’t often stick to the same topic for four weeks straight, and I’d like to move on to other material in December and January.

VARIATION #1: WORLD CONQUEST. Bipolar models of the world are rather tedious. If you have a non-prime number of players (nine or twelve would work best, but eight or ten are perfectly workable…see variation #2 below), why not have multiple teams of multiple players?

Multiple empire rules can be as flexible as you need them to be. I might recommend the following:

  • Keep a strict range for each player. This maintains the feeling of gradual conquest over multiple empires. With four or more teams, you will have entire empires who do not see each other until their neighbors fall.

  • Global effects could still be global… Or they might only affect all members of those teams with players you can target. Be creative here, but be ready to deal with questions such as,”Can I remove/counter a permanent/spell that’s outside of my range, but still affects me?” (In fact, you should have this figured out from normal Emperor games, but it’s even more likely to come up now.)

  • If you have four or more teams, you might allow for”capture” of players, instead of elimination. For every emperor you kill, you may choose one of that emperor’s team’s decks/players and add them to your army. After all, if you’re not expanding your empire and adding resources, what’s the point? This makes early, aggressive decks more viable… Which is what you want, since you don’t want these games to drag on forever.

  • You will probably need to restrict decks that can generate an infinite combo. They blow up any sense of realism for this empire-building variation.

VARIATION #2: ARTILLERY/INFANTRY. If you have some number like four, eight, or ten that doesn’t divide well by three, and you still want to maintain some flavor of lieutenant-emperor, you could try this variant on for size.

The idea here is that there is one emperor and one lieutenant. Emperors sit to the left of their lieutenants. Lieutenants may only target other lieutenants (but can target any of them, as in chaos). Emperors can target any lieutenant.

In effect, the emperors will be sending air strikes into the front lines, at the pleading of their lieutenants. Since I feel this format would work best if the lieutenants cannot counter or stop an opposing emperor’s spell (i.e., that one-person range really handcuffs them), once again, you’d be best off without silly combos. (This is a good rule of thumb for most limited-target formats, incidentally. If you’re going to try the flavor of a new format, don’t use decks that work the same way no matter what.)

Once a lieutenant dies, of course, her emperor is left open to assault by all parties – in effect, the troops flood in and assault the artillery face-to-face. That emperor, in turn, can target anyone.

VARIATION #3: UNEQUAL EMPIRES. When you’re facing a number like seven or eleven, it’s time to come up with some slightly freaky empires. Here’s the simpler of two ideas I can offer you.

Unequal teams sounds unfair – one flank of the emperor will be doubly protected (with two lieutenants). But there are ways to make the game more interesting.

All you have to do is find a way to balance unequal teams with unequal resources. While the most natural resource to give is time (life), so that the smaller team each has thirty life instead of twenty, I might also consider the following arrangements… One at a time, not all at once!

  • At the end of the last player’s turn on the smaller team, each player on that team draws another card, and then discards a card.

  • At the end of the last player’s turn on the smaller team, each player on that team puts a 1/1 white soldier token into play.

  • At the end of the last player’s turn on the larger team, each player on that team sacrifices a non-land permanent.

Some of these parameters might need to be smoothed out – our group hasn’t had the opportunity to test any of them. But they should get you started when you’re looking at that ugly prime number of players, and don’t just want to do another chaos.

VARIATION #4: ROGUE EMPIRE. Another way to deal with prime numbers is to establish one player as a”neutral territory,” starting at something on the order of a hundred life. (Two hundred would not be completely unreasonable in an eleven-player game: This guy’s gonna get blasted.) This player should also be given an auto-Howling Mine, and the option to drop two lands per turn. This empire goes first. Finally, he has a range of two, whereas every other player would have a range of one (to start).

Now, the price the rogue pays. This guy is the middle ground that all lieutenants must cross before attacking each other. Since the range of lieutenants is only one, that means at least four lieutenants will be having at him – and even if a lieutenant goes down, he or she will still be replaced by an emperor.

In the event that this rogue manages to kill an emperor, the entire team loses on the spot. It’s more likely that the rogue will die, however, and that’s just fine.

The team that does the lethal damage to the rogue… Gets him. That player becomes a lieutenant (placed as a buffer, in essence, to the lieutenant that kills the dealing blow), reshuffles his deck, sets life at twenty, draws a new hand of seven cards, and takes his”first” turn immediately after the current turn ends. At that point, all players switch to the (for our group) typical range of two each, and the game proceeds normally.

It’s possible the weaker team may concede right away, so that the de facto object of the game is to kill the rogue. If this happens often in your group, up the life to two hundred even in seven-player game, and give emperors a range of two to start.

VARIATION #5: SUDDEN CHAOS. Perhaps the easiest variant to grasp conceptually, this format simply sets a random time when all empires will suddenly dissolve into chaos, and a free-for-all will ensue on the spot.

The tricky part to this is knowing how to set the trigger. You do want every game to have a point where the chaos takes over, but you don’t want players to over-prepare for the event. I would recommend one of the following triggers:

  • If either emperor sinks below five life, the next spell or ability that deals damage to any player or causes any loss of life, triggers chaos. (This rewards emperor teams who manage overwhelming force, killing the emperor quickly rather than picking away.)

  • At the beginning of each round (before the turn of the emperor who went first), roll a ten-sided die. A roll of one instigates chaos.

  • As soon as there are thirty or more creatures in play…

  • When anyone goes over thirty life…

  • If any player controls more than twelve permanents…

The list could go on. The idea is to make the trigger something that could happen, but under many circumstances would not.

After the trigger goes off, the active player finishes her turn. (No chaos activity is allowed until that turn is finished.) The next player’s turn is the first turn of the chaos portion of the game.

If you seek more complexity in your life, you can also generate”reverse triggers” that put the game back into emperor mode. Imagine being at three life with two powerful enemies on either side of you, and two slightly weaker players who happen to be sitting across the table (a sixth player has died)… And you manage to pull off the trigger that puts those first two back in your service, and the other two on the losing end of the coming battle. Reverse triggers might be any of those listed above, or something else you think of. It’s perfectly possible to have a game where the format shifts over and over, depending on the triggers and the willingness/ability of players to trip them.

There’s something about that last format that satisfies the six-year-old in me. (“I’m on home base, I’m safe!””No, you’re not! Tag, you’re it!”) If any of you try that format, or any of the others listed above, do feel free to drop me a line and let me know how it went.

I hope that this series has satisfied those readers who have asked me in the past for a more thorough treatment of what could be, next to chaos, the most popular multiplayer format out there. Speaking of chaos, I’m ready to get back into fairly typical group play! So in the coming month, you can expect to read about that sort of thing, along with Casual Fridays decks through the ages, and that grand opening I keep alluding to….


Anthony Alongi

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