Difficulty (Low = Easy)
Duration (Low = Short)
Growing up, I always had a particular fondness for board games, but I didn’t realize just how intense board games could get until I got to college. One day, a dorm-mate of mine came by and asked if I’d be interested in joining them for a game of “Twilight Imperium”. The name alone caught my attention, and so when I asked for a brief descriptor he simply said “It’s like Risk, in space, but more complex.” With my attention now fully captured, I agreed and met up with them on a Sunday afternoon for what was to be the start of a weekly tradition.
Twilight Imperium is set against the backdrop of a tumultuous galaxy that was previously ruled by the powerful “Lazax” race. After countless centuries in power, they eventually saw their influence and might decline until their eventual extermination at the hands of their enemies. Now the galaxy is fragmented, as a constant power struggle attempts to determine the galaxy’s newest emperor and countless races look to fill the power-vacuum the Lazax have left behind.
I will say the lore behind Twilight Imperium is extensive and well-written. I was impressed by the detailed histories on the back of each Race sheet, as well as the short story included at the beginning of the rulebook not only in the main game, but the expansions as well. This rich setting really helps bring the universe of Twilight Imperium to life.
The first thing you need to know about Twilight Imperium is that it’s a long game. No. Seriously. It’s long. The box advises 6 hours + for game time, and in my experience this is a very accurate timeline. Particularly nuanced or high-player count games can go upwards of 8-10 hours so this is definitely one not just for a game night, but rather a game-day.
As you could probably tell from the backstory, our game is set in an expansive galaxy, and Twilight Imperium’s game-board certainly reflects that. The board is made up of over 32 individual hexes, not including the “home systems” of the respective races players assume during the game. Among the hex-shaped pieces are asteroid belts, nebulas, supernovae and wormholes. Players are given an equal number of hexes and are charged with placing them starting at the inner ring and working out until all pieces have been placed. I’m a big fan of this mechanic, as you begin strategizing at the very start of the game. Maybe you have a good handful of systems with high-resource value planets. You can’t put all of them near you…so where do you place them to perhaps encourage more conflict between your opponents? Maybe you were dealt a wormhole…do you risk putting it near you and maybe getting quick and easy access to resource-rich systems at the expense of easier access for your enemies? Or do you provide that gambit to another player? Right from the start, Twilight Imperium provides an engaging, strategic experience.
The game has many nuanced elements to it, but I’ll try to boil it down as much as possible. At the core of the game are 8 “strategy” cards, that each have their own unique benefits. Each player can only have one of these strategy cards in any given round, and between rounds you are given the chance to pick a different strategy card. The 8 cards are as follows: Initiative, Diplomacy, Political, Logistics, Trade, Warfare, Technology and Imperial. At the beginning of each round, each player chooses a strategy card. A player cannot “pass” their turn until the card has been activated, which is what makes them so important to the overall flow of the game. These cards might allow you to advance your technology, establish a new trade agreement or even declare a cease-fire with an enemy for a round while you attempt to recover and/or reposition your forces.
Besides activating your strategy card, you can perform other actions such as relocating your fleet of ships, building new ships, going to battle with your opponents, or annexing new planets to add to your empire. As you acquire planets, they provide you with two important forms of “currency”: resources and influence. Resources (represented by a green icon) are used to purchase and build additional units including spaceships and ground forces, while influence (represented by a red icon) is used during political actions in the game. Typically, planets you acquire will focus on either having a higher resource number or a higher influence number.
When not activating strategy cards or acquiring new planets, you may find yourself engaging in interstellar combat with opponents. There are complete sets of sturdy plastic pieces that represent different spaceships, ground forces, space docks and planetary defense systems. Each of the ships have their own movement and combat values, and some also have the ability to transport units including ground forces to other planets.
In Twilight Imperium, you win by acquiring “victory points”. You can get victory points by fulfilling “Public Objectives”, which are revealed over time throughout the game, or “Secret Objectives”, which each player is dealt at the start of the game. You can also get points by activating the “Imperial” strategy card in regular play. There are two point limits you can play with – 10 for a (relatively) shorter game, or 14 for a full-length game.
The different races in the game also provide a unique strategic element. Typically, races are issued at random, but house rules may allow you to take your pick. Certain races may favor utilizing trade agreements or political influence, while others favor technological advancement of warfare. The race sheets detail each race’s “Starting Technology” and “Special Abilities”, which help to distinguish the races from one another.
Twilight Imperium is an amazing game. It’s an immense, epic experience that is sure to provide entertainment for years and years. The very long game-time is probably its biggest downside, as you can’t regularly integrate it in a casual game-night with friends. Even if you could squeeze it in, you might think that with such a long playtime things could get boring pretty quickly, but Twilight Imperium does an amazing job of keeping every player engaged. If you’re able to make time for it, it’s one of the most rewarding game experiences out there.