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It is the year 3017. A meteor strike has recently endangered the installations on Thunder's Edge, a world bordering the nebula that is soon to become humanity's gateway to the far reaches of the galaxy. The factions of Earth, using the disaster as an excuse, are sending "relief" forces to the critical outpost. The military and political situation is becoming increasingly tense. Civil War seems inevitable. Thunder's Edge is a game of tactical and strategic warfare and the struggle for political power. Players seek to win supremacy in the Earth Senate by either military, political or economic means. tactical control of Thunder's Edge is critical, but players must also wrestle for control of Earth, Mars and deep space shipping lanes.
The first time I saw this game I thought it was a 'Battletech' version of Fantasy Flight's Twilight Imperium. I couldn't have been more wrong. Both games have a similar 'feel' (the game is actually based on the Sol race from Twilight Imperium) but the rules and game mechanics are quite different. Thunder's Edge maintains the same balance of military tactics and political intrigue but with a much more simplified system.
To win a game of Thunder's Edge you try to get as much influence, power and strategic advantage as you can before the SolGov steps in, clamps down on the Thunder's Edge situation, and a new status quo is established.
Your success in fulfilling these objectives is measured in Victory Points. Throughout the game you gain VPs by completing Missions, controlling Locations, and establishing influence on Off World Locations.
As the game progresses, tensions on Earth will increase. When they finally reach the breaking point, the player with the most VPs wins. You can also win a military victory by capturing the Centor population center and 3 other population centers. The victory points and tension track is meant to speed up game play since there will be a limited number of turns. This is only effective if you are playing the game with 'friends' and everyone refuses to attack. Most games however, are won by controlling Centor and 3 other population centers. This leads to a bloodbath battle for Centor and (in my humble opinion) is how the game is meant to be played.
The game is played through several turns divided into 5 phases:
1. Status Phase
- Increase the Tension Level by 2 (the game gets a little shorter)
- Draw Mission Cards
- Transit (advance all units in the 'Transit' box to the 'Orbit' box)
2. Senate Phase
- Consul Segment (players trade and draw Senate Cards until one player declares Consul)
- Play Mission Cards
- Discard Segment (all players discard down to 3 Senate Cards)
3. Action Phase
- Players, one at a time 1)move, 2)declare battles, 3)execute combat
4. Reinforcements Phase
- players collect credits and purchase new units
5. Drop Phase
- players 'drop' units from the 'Orbit' box onto Thunder's Edge
The Senate Phase is one of the most enjoyable parts of the game. You must trade and draw Senate Cards until one player declares Consul. This happens when one player either has 10 total support from one Lobby Bloc or 5 Senator cards.
This also provides plenty of opportunity to backstab your opponents with a Scandal or Ill Reputation card. If someone becomes the new Counsel and you're stuck with one of these cards you can't play Mission Cards (scandal) or you must discard all of your Senate cards (ill reputation). But if you have BOTH cards you assassinate the Counsel and YOU become the new Counsel.
The Mission Cards are varied and interesting. Here are a few of the different types:
Initiative Cards describe objectives for your faction and have a requirement cost which are usually Senate cards of specific factions. Initiative Cards always award Victory Points but also always increase the Tension Track. So the more points you gain, the closer you come to ending the game. This speeds up the game nicely but also paints a big red bullseye on your chest.
Alliance Cards are played on other players and allow you to move through their hexes and use their Artillery units during combat. Allies must break the Alliance before they can attack each other. This prevents sneak attacks from at least that player and also buys you some time to build up fortifications.
Action Cards either help you (usually giving you a combat bonus) or screw your opponents.
The Combat system is simple and straightforward. Each unit has an Attack Value and Defense Value. Generally the better the attack, the weaker the defense. Some units also have a 'Breakthrough' ability. If your first attack succeeds in wiping out the opposition, a secondary Breakthrough combat is immediately launched. This helps you quickly secure Locations within a hex. This can be important since some Locations have a high defense value. If you're more of a methodical player, you could Siege them instead. If, at the end of the ENTIRE next turn's Action Phase, the besieging player still controls the area surrounding the besieged Location, they gain control of the location.
This actually adds more political intrigue than the Senate Phase! The besieged player desperately makes deals and alliances so the other players will attack the besieger and lift the siege. This usually ends up with besieged player's new 'ally' threatening to gain control of the Location next turn! As you can imagine, there is no shortage of backstabbing and tears of sorrow in this game.
The Drop Phase is also noteworthy since a newly purchased unit is has to move from the Orbit box onto the Drop box. Essentially, you can't use a new unit until two turns latter. This adds a lot to the politics and negotiations: 'If you attack me now, I have 6 Obliterator Squadrons waiting to drop down next turn. Then you will feel the full fury of my wrath!' (insert evil laugh)
It is also important to note that this is a 'hex-play' game so the board is made up of cardboard hexes. This adds a lot of replay value since no two games will ever be the same.
Overall, a well designed and balanced game. If you own a copy I recommend getting the Demon Canyon expansion.