El Mariachi said:
I'd certainly recommend that if you can, try the Long War once just so you can make up your own mind on it. We didn't think we'd like it all that much (normal twilight games are long enough) but were pleasantly surprised. We also played with all the optional rules (with both expansions) except for space mines, SETs and the rules which override each other. It was good fun but I can definitely say that after playing with them twice now (we normally ignore it), my gaming group and I don't believe that the Leaders option is worth the extra complication. They have too little impact on the game for the amount of rules governing them and they're very easy to forget about. Distant Suns and Final Frontier were as fun as always but disappointingly the mercenaries saw almost no action in the entire game. In theory, they should be quite good and the quirky special rules each one has looks fun but in-game we rarely consider hiring them. Maybe next time in a smaller, 4 player game they'll see some use but I've played with the merc option a number of times now and just haven't seen them do all that much.
Using the default, 3 ring map was definitely the right choice. It was a very interesting game and a lot of important moves were made throughout the day. There were a few diplomatic attacks which I personally don't like (I'll blockade your space port and you can blockade mine so we can each score a VP) but some actual proper attacks as well which is always good.
I appreciate your adding to the thread to let us know that things went well, but for Pete's sake please give us some DETAILS! Who were the races involved? Who won? Were there any especially epic moments? What was the most memorable event?
I would like to give my differing perspectives on a couple of comments, if you don't mind. My group has found Leaders to be very worthwhile, and we've seen Diplomats and Agents have a huge effect on the game! If your goup has trouble remembering to use them, though, I can see how you might want to play without them.
What I really don't understand is what you wrote regarding the Mercenaries. Are you literally never taking Trade III in your group, or is the person who takes Trade III really choosing NOT to hire a mercenary?!? If it's the latter, then you guys are making a very serious mistake! You don't have to pay for a Mercenary the turn you hire him or her, and since you're the Trademaster you can be sure of making trade agreements. As long as at least one of those agreements is still in effect the next time Trade III is chosen, you'll get a Trade Good before you have to pay your mercenary and you'll be able to pay him with that. In short, there is absolutely no reason why the chooser of Trade III shouldn't hire a Mercenary (unless you have no worlds with at least one ground force or Mech for the mercenary to appear on). Furthermore, I can tell you that whether those quirky special rules are fun or not, they are certainly effective! Twice now the actions of an enemy Mercenary have cost me the game. The first time a neighboring player without XRD Transports or Statsis Capsules used the Mercenary with a one carrying capactiy to unexpectedly transport a Mech to my home world, an occupation which preventing me from scoring and allowed another player to win.
The second time the Mercenary who can land a hit on the enemy unit of your choice if he is killed took out my full Carrier in a preemptive strike, dooming the invasion of the Artifact planet I was planning which would have brought me victory.
Finally, the same evil Mercenary who blew up my carrier showed up in another game in which we were using Imperial II. My brother had used Lazax Gate Folding to occupy Mecatol Rex, and brought in the Mercenary along with a small fleet to protect his occupation of the throne world. The presence of the mercenary was very clever, since any attack force would see the carrier it planned to use for the occupation destroyed in the space battle, and no one would want to risk that loss. Unfortunately for my brother, I saw the consequences of letting him keep Mecatol Rex and send in a few ships just to kill his guardian mercenary. None of them survived, but they accomplished their mission:).
Finally, I don't like the diplomatic point trading either, nor do I care for reckless use of Support for the Throne.