The overarching strategy game of Burning Empires is the Vaylen Infection system. It’s basically a generalized tactical game. There are eight maneuvers in a complicated Rock-Paper-Scissors system. It’s complicated enough that I can’t immediately detect degenerate strategies, and I’m concerned that it might be Rock-Paper-Wet Noodle-Scissors-Nuke. Let’s try to find out.
Each side starts with a Disposition, a number of points. You win when your opponent runs out of points. The more points you have when you win, the less you have to compromise.
Each turn, you and your privately opponent pick a maneuver. Attacks generally let you roll some dice and subtract the number of successes from the enemy’s Disposition. Defenses let you roll some dice and let you subtract successes from the enemy’s attack dice-pool. Each maneuver limits the RPG-character skills you can use, and the general action of the RPG. For example, during the Invasion phase, you can only Take Action with Strategy or Propaganda, but you can use Psychohistory, Logistics, Cryptography, or Strategy for a Gambit.
Four of the maneuvers are available at the start of the game:
Conserve. This is a general defense: it defends against all the attack maneuvers except Flak. That is, you each roll your dice-pools and subtract successes. Net successes boost your Disposition, or give you downtime before the next move. That downtime can be useful in the next layer down, the RPG.
Go to Ground. This is a general defense: it defends against all the attack maneuvers except Pin and Gambit. It also defends against Assess. Extra successes generate downtime, as with Conserve.
Flak. This is a split attack (Obstacle 1) and defense, but requires at least three dice in each pool. That means it can only be done by those with great skill, and even then it’s pretty weak. It’s opposed by Assess, Flak, and Go to Ground—all the opening moves but Conserve—so it looks like a strong opening technique.
Assess. If you succeed in an Obstacle 2 test, and beat any simultaneous Flak, Go to Ground, or Assess, you can now use the other four maneuvers. All the pure attacks are over there.
And four maneuvers can only be used after a successful Assess:
Gambit. You pay three points of your own Disposition to use this. It trumps Flak and Conserve, and ignores Go to Ground. It is also an Obstacle 1 attack.
Inundate. Make an Obstacle 1 attack with three extra dice. If this doesn’t win you the fight, you skip your next turn. This doesn’t pull you out of the RPG, but it does mean you’ll be defenseless in the Infection game.
Pin. Make an attack, counting the opponent’s skill as pure successes. Instead of subtracting from Disposition, you instead injure his skill for the next turn. If you reduce it to 0, he loses his turn entirely. It also gets you some downtime.
Take Action. This is the simple general attack at Obstacle 1. You can also use this to recruit other factions, boosting your own Disposition.
There’s a complicated little matrix of which actions oppose which other actions. One interesting note there is that none of the post-Assess maneuvers oppose Assess. Also, a game is expected to be about six to eight turns long.
It’s not obviously broken. There’s obviously a drive to get an Assess in early in the game. I can see reasonable tactics of shooting straight for it, turtling up with Go to Ground, or just blasting away with Flak until your opponent succeeds in his Assess.
Once you Assess and can use the interesting attacks, Pin seems like a special case: it’s OK, but mostly useful if your opponent has weak skills in required areas like Strategy. Inundate is also a special case: the losses from an unopposed attack are too extreme to make it worth it except near the end of game.
If you’re OK with a compromise in the RPG and you have a very high skill, then Gambit is a fine choice. Since it costs three and does expected damage of half your skill, you’d better have a skill of six or more. Since characters start with a maximum skill of six, they’ll need help or augments of some kind to make Gambit useful.
What happens after you each have an Assess completed? In general, Take Action is what you want for an attack. The defenses are only Flak, Go to Ground, and Conserve. You do have to keep guessing what your opponent will do. Conserve and Go to Ground are both good defenses, but since Flak, Gambit, and Pin are such rare cases, they don’t often differ. Obviously, if your opponent is finding it useful to Pin, you use Conserve and not Go to Ground. If he’s using Flak and can reliably meet his obstacle, you need to Go to Ground and not Conserve… but since Take Action opposes Flak, you never need to Go to Ground after you both Assess. You can safely always Take Action or Conserve, or Flak to split the difference. Those are the central Aggressive, Defensive, and Split positions. Everything else is a relatively rare special case.
You can see more of this from the Burning Empires Wiki, particularly the freely available Infection sheet at http://www.burningempires.com/wiki/index.php?title=Image:Infection_sheet.pdf