Well, it’s official, after nearly a decade of knowing about it, hearing about it, and dreading it, I finally cracked and gave Twilight Imperium a try. Haven’t played it yet? Let me encourage you. Haven’t read about it? Let me be the first to warn you. Haven’t heard of it? Well then, let me be the first to introduce you!
Why Be Scared?
Twilight Imperium is nearly 20 years old. Although it’s not the exact same game it always has been, it’s fair to say one thing hasn’t changed, this game is long. Twilight Imperium may be the game that coined the phrase “analysis paralysis”; analysis paralysis is when a turn takes time only due to the sheer effort of deciding what to do. The game lasts an average of about 10-20 rounds, with about 10 turns total per round (not per person); This means that with 100 to 200 turns total, with each turn only taking about a minute, the game should last no more than 3 and a half hours, right? Wrong.
A turn in Twilight Imperium could take a minute if people took their time and took the moves when they could, but they won’t. You won’t either. Twilight Imperium is a game about choices, timing, and planning ahead, and every time you make a choice you will second guess it, ruining all those big plans you had previously.
What’s In a Round?
Each round of TI follows a series of phases. The first part is to choose strategies, which only happens once per round. The second phase is actions to take around the map– building, colonizing, fighting, etc, and works around the table as each player takes one of the actions until they run out of available actions. The third phase is just a cleanup phase for all the players to clear temporary things off the board and prepare for the next round.
The strategy phase shouldn’t be underestimated. There are 8 strategy cards and each player gets to choose one. These are really important to the flow of the game. One of the strategy cards give you more technology, essentially upgrading your fleet, another one gives you victory points, moving the game towards the end; still, others allow for a whole range of actions, from political agendas to adding extra turns in the second phase.
During the second phase is where the game is actually played. Players take time moving ships around the galaxy, colonizing planets and gaining their resources and political influence. There is also attacking, using your strategy cards, and building up your fleet, but that’s not what you will struggle with during this round. One of the more interesting parts of the game is that anytime you do… well, anything… in any region on the map, you “activate” that part of the map and it becomes unusable for you the rest of the round. If you build in a location, you can’t move in or out of it. Move out of a location, and you can’t move or build in it. This might no sound like much, but build in a spot and then see a warring alien race moving in and you will be helpless to stop them.
This is why you will spend so much time determining what to do. Every action is permanent, every decision prevents the use of another, and the order you do them in will make a huge difference.
There is also something to mention about the final phase that was hard to grasp at the beginning. When you wrap up the round, you allocate tokens into three different regions on your board. These become strategy, fleet, and command tokens. To take strategy actions you have to use the tokens, to activate and build or move you use command tokens, and your fleet can only be so large based on your allocation. I’ll talk more about this in my personal thoughts.
Why It’s Worth It?
It might sound like you should be scared of starting a 12 round game that takes 9 hours, and maybe you should, but if you have a good group of friends and a table you can give up for a couple days, then this game is worth trying out.
All the talk about these hard decisions and harsh choices isn’t only why the game takes so long, it’s also why you’ll love it. This game is all about strategy. There are action cards that can’t really blow up a plan, but they go both ways and are a part of the game. If you are getting stomped by action cards, it’s probably because they are giving up other actions you are taking in order to draw more cards. If one person is gaining too many victory points and obviously going to win, it’s probably because you and the other players are ignoring it for your own personal agenda.
Twilight Imperium is a cosmic region control version of chess. Take your time, don’t rush each other, and expect it to take time, but enjoy every moment of it.
After playing this game for the first time, my friends and I understand a phenomenal amount more than reading the rules can teach you. It’s not something I can teach, but pay attention to your command/strategy/fleet tokens. It’s easy to use every action every round, but using tokens to activate spaces is a permanent use of the token. Every round you gain two more, but if you use and don’t pace yourself, you will run low in the end game. Fleet tokens aren’t usable at all but they determine your max fleet size at any one location. If you have to reallocate fleet to action tokens you won’t be able to attack in force, or even build in mass. Pace yourself in the early rounds, don’t ignore your tokens, and don’t ignore the power in the long game. If I could suggest one thing to a new player, it’s to build up your tokens in the early game; just because you can make a move doesn’t mean you should. If it won’t directly secure a planet or setup a vital move, then it probably isn’t worth it. Building takes a command token, so if you are only building one or two things and can wait a turn and build more at once, maybe you should.
Playing is experiencing, and experiencing is learning and you will make mistakes in this game, but you’ll learn and end up looking forward to correcting those mistakes in the future.
The best part about the game is that it is legitimately fun. It’s hard to fully stress how, beyond the analysis paralysis, you will still enjoy the game, but you will. You’ll be a part of the problem and it will help you understand the wait. You might even play this game with a movie (or 3) in the background to help kill time between turns, and when the game ends you will still feel a sense of loss or accomplishment at all the things you should have done.
You can pick up your own copy on amazon here!
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