Twilight Imperium: First Impressions

I’ve had the Twilight Imperium box sitting on my “to play” shelf for nearly six months now, it’s been taunting me: “Play me, together we will rule the galaxy as player and game.” I’ve got to admit I’ve been more than a little intimidated by this game.

The box this game comes in is the size of a small car, at least it’s the biggest boxed game that I own, and all the anecdotes I’ve heard about this game have suggested reserving an entire weekend to play it if you planned on using all the optional rules and play it with 6 players.

Last night we finally cracked it open, and with the assistance of someone who;d already played it once we got down and dirty and tried to conquer the galaxy.

It’s difficult to describe Twilight Imperium, it’s not a space combat game, it’s deeper than that. Each player takes control of a race, each of which have a number of abilities and disadvantages and the players race to get 10 victory points (or 14 in the optional rules). Victory points are gained by completing objectives, one of which is revealed every turn or so in addition to each players “Secret objective”.

Play progresses with the players selecting a strategy for that round (in a 3 player game you pick 2 strategies) which gives you a special ability you can activate and determine turn order, such as:

  1. Initiative : You go first
  2. Diplomacy: You can declare a truce preventing you and another player from attacking each other
  3. Political: Handle a political event which the players have to vote on.
  4. Logistics: Get more action tokens
  5. Trade: Get trade goods
  6. Warfare: Expand
  7. Technology: Get new Tech
  8. Imperial: 2 free Victory points

The players then take “actions” in turn until no one has anything left to do (You are limited in what actions you can do by the number of command counters and action cards you have so this isn’t going to last forever).

Your actions can be:

  • Activating your strategy allowing you to reap the rewards of it’s primary effect, and allowing other players to chose to spend a token to activate it’s secondary effect.
  • Activating a space area allowing you to move ships to it, attack ships that are there, or attempt to colonise planets.
  • Playing an action card which have various effects.
  • Passing.

Combat is relatively quick each unit has a target which they have to roll to damage or destroy a unit, there is no advantage to defending VS attacking, and the player receiving the damage can allocate it as they see fit among their fleet, two lone X wings can take out a Deathstar in a crazy suicide mission.

The ships are blatantly “Inspired” by ships from science fiction films and TV shows like Star Wars, StarTrek DS9 Battlestar Galactica etc.

Here is the cool thing YOU GET TO BUILD DEATH STARS! That’s right plural, not one but two!

Different ships have different abilities, fighters are cheap but can’t travel between systems by themselves, carriers are rubbish at combat are required to carry ground troops to invade planets, dreadnoughts can bombard ground forces from space and so on, you have to build your fleet using your space docks which do nothing more than build ships and you can’t have more ships in any one fleet than the number of tokens in your fleet pool.

It’s one of those games that looks really complicated from a distance, but once you get the hang of it it’s really simple. It took us a whopping 6 hours to play a 3 player game but we had no idea what we were doing to start with, it didn’t take long for us to get the hang of it.

So what did I think?

I really liked this game, I’ve played a lot of Risk lately due to my friends getting Risk: Legacy, Risk: God Storm and Risk: 2210, if you want it to be Twilight Imperium can be a slightly more complicated “Risk in Space”, but you are missing out on a lot and if you go full on battle crazy then you probably won’t win.

I really liked the exploration facet of the game, we played with a rule, which I think is optional, that puts face down tokens on each of the planets; these tokens are uncovered when you first land on a planet and can have good or bad effects it really gave you the feeling you were exploring the galaxy.

Twilight Imperium in a way reminds me of a game that I used to play when I was in school on my old Mac LC II called Spaceward Ho! It’s a lot more complicated than Spaceward Ho! in some ways but in others it’s simpler (You don’t really upgrade your ships that much in Twilight Imperium for example).

If you like space exploration, politics and battle, then you will love Twilight Imperium, I’m already looking forward to my next game, which I hope will be fairly soon.