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Fantasy Flight Games: Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) – Review

July 24, 2011

Publisher Fantasy Flight Games
Genre Strategy Board game
Number of Players 3 to 6 players
Play Time 3 to 4 hours (7 to 8 hours for a typical full game)
Initial Review Date 7/23/11
Last Updated 7/23/11
FAQ
Files/Tools  Rules – Download
Click here to Play

This game has been around for awhile but I only recently have had some opportunities to play it. The game has a lot of pieces and a lot of rules making the learning curve on this game steep. I will say that no one rule or aspect to the game is particularly difficult to understand the problem is simply that there is so much to learn at once that it can be difficult to know what to do or even what you can do.

Interestingly, the game that Twilight Imperium reminds me the most of are the Master of Orion series of games. The game feels like a really well done boardgame version of Master of Orion. That is to say while the actual mechanics of the game are not the same the inherent strategies are.

Setup

In the basic game there are 10 races available for play. So you start by picking a race at random.

After races have been chosen the galaxy is built using a series of hexagonal pieces. Since each player has a “hand” of tiles and these are placed one a time going around the table, there is some strategy involved during the setup. This is because there are some tiles that represent hazards that are difficult and/or impossible to cross allowing you to create a natural border or to funnel an opponent in a certain direction.

Game Play

Once the board has been created then the game begins. Similar to Puerto Rico there are a number of role tiles that players pick and any that are not picked in a round are given a bonus counter, making them more valuable to pick next time.

These roles serve 2 functions. To begin with each role has a number associated with it. These numbers determine player order. The roles also represent a special action you can do on your turn. These actions are split into 2 basic parts. A primary action and a secondary action. The player who picked the role performs the primary action and all other players may opt in to the secondary action if they wish. Often the secondary ability is a weaker version of the primary ability and requires resources to take advantage of. Whereas the primary abilities are more powerful and free. In this way you never get completely locked out of a role but at the same time it makes a big difference which one you pick. One of the roles moves a special “speaker” token which determines who picks roles first.

Now, during your turn you have a variety of options available to you. You can play an action card (which are acquired between each turn and by certain roles). You can activate a system, you can activate a role or you can pass. Passing locks you out of being able to take any further actions this turn but it does not prevent you from doing the secondaries of roles.

Action cards are fairly straight forward as they specify exactly what happens, activating a system does a few things. It allows you to move ships into the system. It also allows you to build in that system provided that you meet certain prerequisites (namely having a space dock and control of the planets in the system since the beginning of the turn).

However, once a system has been activated you can no longer move ships out of that system. In this way you can’t attack an adjacent system with ships that were just built or that have already attacked.

This brings me to a mechanic that results in a certain amount of planning. You have a bunch of tokens called command counters which get allocated between 3 categories.

  • Strategy
  • Fleet Supply
  • Command Pool

Strategy tokens generally get spent to make use the secondaries of roles.

Fleet supply tokens determine how many ships you can have in a single region of space.

Command pool tokens are used to activate systems (thereby allowing ship movement and construction)

These only replenish at a rate of 2 per player after everyone passes and you go into the status phase. There are ways to get more via roles but even then you want to avoid spending these tokens frivolously. It also means that having a bigger possible fleet requires tying up command tokens.

Winning the game

So, in the end the game is won by achieving objectives. These are certain objectives that you meet, some can be as simple as just spending resources during your turn or more complex like having to take a certain system or taking a specific offensive action against another player. Some objectives are hidden and specific only to the player who has them where others are public objectives that anyone can claim.

How many objectives each player has claimed is tracked publically and so you know at all times who is currently winning though some objectives are more valuable then others allowing for a dramatic swing.

Conclusion

What I’ve gone over is only a basic overview of the game. I haven’t really discussed researching technology, combat, trading or politics which all can be quite important and each of which have their own set of rules regarding how they’re dealt with.

The game is a lot of fun but it takes a very long time to play and as I’ve mentioned before the learning curve is rather steep. If you have an opportunity to do so I would highly recommend playing it before you invest in this game. Most gaming conventions I’ve been to lately generally have a game of this scheduled, in fact it was at a gaming convention that I played this for the first time. The rules are free to download (I’ve got a link up above) and so I would suggest reading over them and maybe even printing them out to take with you when you play since you’ll end up looking at them a bunch initially.


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