The few times I've played Sinister Homeworlds, this always felt like a flaw.
The victory conditions in Sinister force you to pick off weakened players or not lose. (Or, even more weirdly, aid the player who's aiming to *destroy your homeworld* or not lose.) However, swooping in to destroy a weakened homeworld doesn't help you *win* the game; it just keeps you (and everyone else) from not losing.
That's a pretty unintuitive game mechanic. I've tried explaining it to two different groups of first-time Homeworlds players, and it just seemed to generate confusion & frustration. It broke the illusion that the game is about a galaxy at war, and turned it back into a bunch of plastic pyramids on a table.
Has anyone ever come up with a Sinister variant that doesn't have this problem? Something with a score-keeping mechanic, maybe?
For instance, how about this: "Sinister Standoff Homeworlds"
The object of the game is to acquire 4 victory points (VPs). [Use a stash of opaque or Xeno pieces to keep score, or just use a scrap of paper.]
At the beginning of the game, the player on your left is your target world. During the game, if your target world is destroyed, that player is eliminated and the next player on your left becomes your new target world.
If *you* destroy your target world, you gain 3 VPs and the eliminated player's target world (ie the player two seats to your left) gains 1 VP. If *any other* player destroys your target world, the player who destroyed it gains 1 VP and you gain 1 VP.
Peace Treaty: After two homeworlds are destroyed and there is still no clear winner, the remaining players may either unanimously decide to "declare a peace treaty" (in which case, all of the surviving players win) or may continue to play until a third homeworld is destroyed. After the third homeworld is destroyed, the surviving players may again decide to declare a peace treaty or continue the game until there is a single winner.
Ties: If two players reach 4 VP at the same time, the two players may choose to either "declare an alliance" (in which case, the two players share victory, everyone else loses) or "go it alone" (in which case, all other players are eliminated, and the game continues until one of the tied players eliminates the other, thus becoming the sole winner.)
In essence: it's Last Man Standing with a twist. A 3-person game plays the same as Sinister, but with 4 or more players, you can win *either* by destroying your target world and 1 other world (being "Evil", essentially), or by playing defense and then teaming up to destroy the player that shot first (being "Good"), or by teaming up with your target world and then destroying all the other players (being "Really, Really Evil" ::grin::).
I did some of the math and it seems to work on paper, but I'd have to play it to know if it's any fun.
-- Mike Wheatberry