Final Setup for All Players
The final activity for all players is to collect the initial collection of 8 Command Counters. Each player places 2 counters in the Strategy Allocation section of their Race Sheet, 3 counters in the Command Pool section, and 3 counters, flipped over to show the ship side, in the Fleet Supply section.
Nicholas, because of his special Race abilities, will actually have 9 Command Counters. He gets 1 extra counter for Strategy Allocation, starting out with 3 Command Counters in each area on his Race Sheet.
Here for example is how Steve placed his 8 starting Command Counters.
Before the first turn of the game, as a formality, the Speaker Token is given to the starting player. This token will of course move around as players select the Initiative Strategy Card. For our example game Steve is the starting player.
Game Speed-Up Tips
A 3-player game takes between 3 and 4 hours to play. The first time everyone plays the game it can take longer as players learn the rules. There are a number of considerations you can make to help speed the game along.
One option for game speed up is to have someone be responsible for setting up the whole game board in advance. This takes away from some of the fun experience of the game for the other players but will reduce overall game time.
The game plays faster if you can assign roles to players. For example, if you put someone in charge of the Action Card deck they can ensure that everyone gets an Action Card during the Status Phase of the game as well as help keep player Action Card hand count within limits.
The Planet Card deck can be assigned to a player for efficient distribution. It helps to sort the Planet Card deck and to remove Planet Cards from the deck which are known to not be in the game. For example, Home Systems not used have planet cards which can be removed, making the lookup of other planets go much faster. The Home System planet cards are uniquely marked at the bottom by the Race logo and are easy to tell apart from the other planet cards.
The Political Card deck could also be assigned to a players for efficiency.
Another common idea to speed up the game, once players are familiar with game-play, is to allow "honor builds". The player announces what he is building and while he is building, the next player takes his turn. Usually builds are uneffected by the next player's actions.
Having extra dice, giving a set to each player, will also help things move along quicker once Space Battles begin.
Another obvious way to end the game sooner is to have the players agree upon a lower ending-game Victory Point value. By default the winner is declared when someone reaches 10 Victory Points. For a shorter game, you can drop this to 8 or even 6 Victory Points. The challenge with using a shorter Victory Point score condition game end is that the number of rounds is reduced.
Using the "Age of Empire" official game option, where all Public Objectives are known and laid out for all players to see at the beginning of the game, and using a marker as game-clock, instead of advancing by the use of the Imperial Strategy Card, makes the game play faster. The "Age of Empire" option is described in the 2-player variant rules of this tutorial.
End of Setup
The Game Begins.