3-6 players, Competitive, Galaxy Ruling Political Powerhouse
Designer: Dane Beltrami, Corey Konieczka, Christian T. Petersen
Artwork: Scott Schomburg
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
I remember the very first time I heard of this game. A buddy from work mentioned to me this game he played once that took 8 hours to play a single game and it was so very epic. He mentioned how there was a plethora of space races to choose from and how the game was just all over the place, but in a good way. Of course, this piqued my interest so I investigated further to discover the fabled Twilight Imperium. When he was telling me about it the 3rd edition was the newest version and I saw the admittedly steep price tag and opted to pass on it.
Years later I still had never played the game although I kept hearing about it from multiple sources. The word, “epic” kept coming up and I am a sucker for epic things I won’t deny. But ugh, I still couldn’t justify the price tag of over $130, primarily BECAUSE it was an 8 hour game. I mean a game that length I would be lucky to get it to the table but once a year based on my ever growing collection and time limitations. Welp people, I got lucky and won a gift card to one of my FLGS’s (favorite local game store) and the FIRST game on my list was Twilight Imperium. And now, there is a shiny new 4th edition! I had the honor of getting to sit down with my group to play a five player game and can finally put into words my thoughts and feelings on this “epic” game.
Overview of Gameplay
This is a beast of a game no doubt, however the basic fundamental gameplay is pretty straight forward. In Twilight Imperium up to six players will be vying for control of the galaxy in a number of different ways depending on their play style and/or their chosen race. There are 17, yes 17 different factions to choose from that afford unique abilities from the next. Some are economic powerhouses, others are militaristic and even others are focused more on building up their tech. There are a variety of ways you can go about proceeding in the game, however on your turn you basically only have a couple actions.
Starting out players can place a token on a galaxy tile to move units or activate their production facilities to produce more units OR they can activate their chosen strategy card which gives them special abilities for that round. Now I am leaving out a TON of random other things like combat and trading and activating action cards etc. But streamlined down to the nitty gritty these two actions are gonna be done the most. Now to win the game players will be working to complete these objectives that are revealed as each round progresses. The game starts with two random objective cards revealed to kinda give players a direction to aim for and each new round that passes will reveal yet another new objective to complete. The first five cards are each worth one point each and the last five are worth two points each. On top of that each player is dealt a single secret objective worth another point if completed. Each round each player can complete a single secret objective and a single public objective UNLESS they play a particular strategy card that enables them to score an additional objective for that round. For a standard game the first player to 10 points wins! There is also a variant for a longer game that goes to 14 points if you REALLY have the time to burn an entire day.
So, each player will take a single action around and around the table until every player passes and then the round will end and this will start again first with players choosing a strategy card. There are eight of these strategy cards and each one is completely different. For example one of them focuses on warfare, another on trade, there is one that nets you more action cards and yet another that allows you to upgrade your technology. Whichever one you choose you can take its primary ability as your action during your turn and then everyone else can take its secondary action if they spend a particular token from their player sheet. This is a nice touch to keep player engaged even on everyone else’s turns. Another interesting thing about this is that these strategy cards are numbered and player turn order will change every round based on which strategy card they select.
So where were we? Players choose strategy cards, players take actions till everyone passes, ah yes then do it all over again. BUT WAIT, we are missing the best part. You see at the beginning of the game when the tiled galaxy map is setup there is a center planet that acts as the seat of the galactic council. The first player to bring in ground forces and enough influence gains a victory point AND kicks off the start of a whole new game phase, The Agenda Phase. At this point after players have all passed the agenda phase commences where the “Speaker” (basically the peep who has final say in all this and can be chosen based on a strategy card) draws a single agenda card and reads aloud to all players. These cards are really neat as they can enact new laws and directives that can drastically change the state of the game.
Players will then vote on these laws with their collected “Influence” with the speaker voting last and breaking any ties however they choose. Influence is gathered from the planets that players have conquered through their journeys through the galaxy. If a law is passed then it is enacted for the duration of the game. Either way after the first agenda is resolved then a second is drawn and resolved and then the game starts again with the selecting of the strategy cards starting with the Speaker.
Components/ Game Board
My gawd. So.Many.Components. I mean now I can see why the game is on the high end of the cost spectrum. LUCKILY though they are not fiddly cardboard tokens and such. Most of the components in the game consist of each players plastic space units they will be using to overthrow the galaxy, or heck shore up a nice defense at the very least. I will say the plastic space ships and little infantry flags are really nice and detailed and there are multiple different styles of ships that look completely different. There are even these little “War Suns” that are basically little Death Stars.
There are a few cardboard tokens that consist of extra pieces to account for MORE infantry and fighters is players run out of their plastic counterparts. There are also some tokens that represent the trade goods and commodities that players can use to barter with one another. Oh, and let’s not forget the cardboard tokens that each of the 17 factions will utilize as action tokens during their turns. I mean, there are A LOT of tokens but in the grand scheme of things you will only be using a small amount of them during a game as you cannot play a 17 player game (*sweats thinking about that).
Let’s see beyond all the tokens there are bookoos of cards. And now that I realize it they are all of that mini size that Fantasy Flight enjoys so much with their games. They are all of a good quality and feel premium in the hand so that’s a win. The player mats are fine considering, not all THAT thin but they are not thick cardboard either. To be honest I couldn’t even imagine trying to store 17 thick cardboard player mats in that box so it’s prob a good idea they went with the paper material.
The board itself is composed of multiple cardboard tiles to form out the galaxy. These tiles are nice and sturdy and look great AND they have ZERO warping, which is just incredible considering how humid my playing area is. After the board is all setup it really looks awesome….and is a gigantic table hog. Be prepared to have a very large playing area when setting this game up regardless of player count as the player mats are also rather large as well and you will also need space to set up all your tech cards, action cards, planets and plastic units. Overall, the gameboard and components are all excellent.
In a rare instance, Fantasy Flight has actually produced an insert for one of their games. To be honest I was fully expecting to open the box to the same cardboard shipping insert they package into almost every one of their games. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised when I discovered a fully functional plastic AND sturdy insert! Still it was a bit of a puzzle to figure out how to store all the cardboard tokens after punching everything. You see each of the 17 factions has their own unique tokens that need to be bagged up individually so you will need to figure out a good way of placing them in the insert. I just bagged them up and stuffed each of them in the side storage areas with the cards all sitting in the card slots at the bottom of the insert and each of the 6 bags of colored unit minis placed in the respective spots. The player sheets and rulebooks sit atop that stuff and the box seals nicely with no bulge to the lid. The box is large as to be expected but can fit in a standard Kallax shelf with very little overhang.
Visual Appeal /Theme
There is so much theme in that box. I mean the game comes with an entire Lore book that has pages and pages of the Twilight Imperium story from the past events to the Twilight Wars leading into the Dark Ages and finally bringing us to the point where we are playing the game. Not only that general background lore but each and every one of the factions has a nice long bit of story telling of each one printed on the back of their respective player sheets. I have only read a couple of these but I was surprised at how well written they were and interesting to boot! I started to read one and told myself I would only skim it but found myself really invested in the lore of that particular race and ended up reading every word. Needless to say, they did an incredible job with the story and lore for all the races.
Because of that players can really get into the roles of their particular factions and the lore behind the factions directly ties into the faction’s special abilities which is also a nice touch and increases the amount of theme tied into the gameplay. Visually the faction’s sheets are very well laid out for players to easily understand the units and rules behind each such as movement and cost. Looking further, the artwork for each faction is done superbly to compliment their respective lore. The planet art on the game tiles also looks very well done AND each planet card has a small bit of text describing the respective planet to give players an idea of what the planet is like. This kind of information has no gameplay element but furthers the theme into epic status. As far as space themed board games goes, this one has the most well thought out and integrated theme of any that I have played.
There are two rule books included with is the Fantasy Flight standard for their games. One is a learn to play and the other a Rules Reference. The learn to play was easy to follow, for the most part, and allowed me to get setup and going for my learning play through before I had my group take a swing at it. That said, it was split up kind of weirdly with some sections before others so the order seemed out of place to me and was kind of a hassle to flip through to find anything. There is however a nice turn order summary on the back of the learn to play manual which is always welcome AND a turn order summary printed directly on each players token mat they will be using. HOWEVER, they did not print the steps for the Agenda Phase on this reference sheet which seems odd to me as it becomes a standard ongoing phase through most of the game.
The Rules Reference is pretty good although some of the wording is confusing. For example a question was raised on how many units a tile could hold but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what specific word to look up to figure that out…….turned out it was “capacity”. Yeah, that sounds obvious NOW but at the moment in the middle of the game when trying to find that it felt like an eternity. Overall though it was much easier to figure out and explain to players than I thought it was going to be. There are a ton of little rules though and most of them revolve around production and capacity. Remember those two words, your sanity may well depend on it.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
So much interaction held within, I mean this games foundation is built upon it. When you start playing all the players are spread out a bit and slowly will converge on most all of the tiles of the game as the game progresses. Even still, those early rounds there is an abundance of player interaction. Earlier I mentioned the secondary ability on the strategy cards. Whenever a player uses their strategy card, every other player can spend a token (if they have one) to use the secondary ability of that card as well. This keeps everyone engaged and alert on what everyone else is doing and also keeps players interested of each card’s abilities. As the game goes on players will start strategizing more and more on when to use those precious tokens. Because of this, there is very little downtime as well. Even when a player doesn’t use the secondary ability it usually will revolve around the table quickly. On the turns where a player doesn’t use their strategy card and just chooses to produce or move, it still goes rather quickly. Players can only move so far with their ships as they all have a specific movement speed so choosing where to travel is a pretty simple affair. AND, you cannot travel to or from a space you previously traveled to in that round so each consecutive travel action you do becomes faster and easier.
The ONLY thing that I found that would be a negative in this regard are the battles. I just wasn’t a big fan of the way battles worked in this game. It’s simple enough, players roll one dice per ship they have on the tile but each ship has to get a specific number or above to hit. Easy enough yeah? And that part is fine to me, the part that I don’t like is the constant rerolling of a single die if each player keeps missing. I found this to be just silly and anti-climactic. For example, a player invaded and attacked one of my tiles, At the start of battle it was pretty fun as we each had a few ships. Well after a few rolls we were both down to a single ship and neither of us wanted to retreat. So, we both just continually rolled a single die against the other one, over and over and over. Both of our ships had to roll AT MINIMUM a 9 on a 10 sided die. So, we were there rolling for awhile till FINALLY one of us scored the hit. Now, not only was this silly for each of us, but the other four players were bored to tears watching it.
Optimal Player Count/Replay Value
The game can be played anywhere from 3 players to 6. We played through a 5-player game and I thought it was just about perfect. There were some alliances that ended up happening in the game and all players ended up trading during the game as well which was fun. The voting stage was also extremely fun as everyone (except the player playing as the Nekro Virus race) had a chance to spend influence to try and sway the fate of the galaxy. Although with five players the game lasted just about 8 hours. This is a very long and very drawn out game so don’t expect this time to fluctuate too much. Adding another player would probably extend the time a bit longer and going down to 3 players would probably make the game a bit shorter. BUT, the downside for a 3-player game is the limited amount of options for trading and voting. I think this would ultimately make the game a bit less fun in that regard. I would give my vote to 4-5 player count.
The replay value is immense and not just because there are 17 freakin races to choose from. The day after we played our game our group was still discussing all the different possible strategies they COULD have made instead. We discussed what we thought the other players SHOULD have done to win instead of what transpired. This really opened my eyes towards the replayability of the game. I mean personally I would want to try a different faction next time I play but the argument definitely could be made for playing the same faction again until you master them.
Positive Final Thoughts
Twilight Imperium is a very fun and involved game throughout. The components are great and the sheer amount of playable factions, each with unique abilities, is outstanding. Player interaction is very, very good. Hours would go by and I wouldn’t even realize it. Seriously the first six hours flew by and I didn’t even notice. The agenda phase was fun arguing and trading goods to try and sway votes and the laws and directives were actually interesting. AND there was a huge stack of them and we only saw but a handful so that just goes to add even more replayability.
Negative Final Thoughts
My biggest complaint is the way the battles worked with the dice. With die rolling I prefer rolling a handful of dice and seeing the exciting outcome. Rolling a single die over and over until you get above a number (usually a 9 on a 10-sided die at the beginning) is not what I call fun or exciting battling. Also, the battles are just not all that fun to observe.
The only other complaint I have with the game is the fact that I probably won’t get to play it but MAYBE once a year because of the length. Running around 8 hours per game I will be hard-pressed to get my group together to take an entire day just for a single game when we have a plethora of games new and old that are in dire need of playing AND usually take a fraction of the time. This is the exact reason I had a hard time of justifying the cost.
The Bottom Line
I liked the game quite a bit. When I played, the time flew by so it didn’t feel like an eight-hour game as we were all engaged and active throughout. This truly is an “epic” game. I enjoyed my time with it BUT after our group finished, we were wiped out mentally. I didn’t leave the playthrough excited to play the next game as much as I was hoping to be. I really could wait another year before visiting Twilight Imperium again which honestly is a good thing since I probably won’t be able to find the time again until next year. The thing is though………is that I WANT to play again. I may not be excited to play RIGHT NOW, but I can for sure see myself months from now thinking, “I wonder how those shrouded lions play…..”.
The Fuzzy Llama Silver Seal of Distinction