Twilight Imperium – Ultimate Epic Game or Ultimate Waste of Time?

Twilight Imperium (3rd Edition)
Ultimate Epic Game or Ultimate Waste of Time? 

Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition is an epic game of space conquest and diplomacy.  The old Lazax empire has fallen, and the other major races are now scrambling to claim the vacant throne and rule the galaxy.  TI3 is a game of resource management, action selection, political action, diplomacy, and, of course, military conflict.  The theme is rich and deep, having both copious in-game backstory as well as a long and thorough history of game development, being now in its third edition.  Twilight Imperium was the first game released by Fantasy Flight, and it remains their flagship game to this day.         

Components and Setup 

click here for full rules, click here for the FAQ and errata)

I am NOT going to try and be as detailed about the rules as I normally am.  Instead, I’ll try to give the overall flow of play to paint a basic picture of how the game runs.  For more information, follow the link above for the full rules posted over at the FFG website.

/images/78039-68332/TI_Small_Race.JPG” width=397>As I’ve already said, players can spend a counter from their Strategy Allocation area to take advantage of the secondary ability of a Strategy Card when an opponent chooses to use its primary ability during their turn.  The number of counters in the Fleet Supply area indicates the maximum number of capital ships that can be in any one of your fleets (in any one system).   

Spending counters from your Command Pool is how you produce units, move, and carry out attacks on the board.  During your turn, you may choose to “activate” one system.  If it’s a system that you already control (and you’ve already built a space dock there), you can produce new units at that planet.  To do this, you have to exhaust planets with a total combined resource value equal to the cost of the units you’re producing.  Plus, systems have a certain limit to the number of units that can be built there, which is based on the resource value of the planet where the space dock was built.

If the system is one you do not control, you can move in ships from anywhere within range and, if appropriate, battle against any opponents there and invade any planets.  Combat is relatively simple, where each type of ship has a target number to be rolled on a 10-sided die.  If you roll that number or higher, then your opponent has to lose one ship per hit (although Dreadnaughts and War Suns can actually take two hits before being destroyed).  Fighters are particularly good to soak up these hits, but only certain capital ships can carry them around (Carriers and War Suns).  

You cannot reactivate any system that you have previously activated in the same round, nor may you move ships from a previously activated system.  This Command Pool mechanic is designed to represent the simultaneous actions of all the different races, and therefore all actions taken in a round are considered to be happening at the same time.  Logically, therefore, this would prevent you from using the same system or units more than once in that period. 

Shattered Empires expansion to fix this altogether.  

Shattered Empires expansion, there are tons of optional rules that can be added to the base game to enhance play.  Some of the ones we’ve tried out are as follows:

  • Age of Empire – Basically, the objective deck is turned face up from the beginning of the game, so players know exactly what objectives are available and how long the game will last.  This allows for a little more advance planning, but also removes some of the mystery from the game.  The main reason we do not use it now is that it does not interact with the alternate Strategy Cards from Shattered Empires (which we use pretty much exclusively now). 
  • Distant Suns – Special counters are placed face-down on each unoccupied planet at the beginning of the game.  When a planet is invaded, the counter is turned over and has some effect.  It may be good (like getting an extra technology advance or some trade goods), or it could be bad (like having to fight against inhabitants or having your whole landing party killed by radiation).  This adds a little extra spice to the early rounds of expansion by making it feel more like real “exploration” of uncharted territory.  The down side is that the effects are very random and it is definitely possible that one or two players can get set back a turn or two.  We still will probably always play with this option from now on.
  • Shattered Empires Good Stuff – Like I’ve said a few times, I doubt we’ll ever play again without some of the enhancements from Shattered Empires.  These “auto-includes” are the alternate Strategy Cards, new and race-specific technologies, new objective cards, additional planets, shock troops, space mines, and artifacts.  TI3 alone is a really solid game, but Shattered Empires shores up several of the weaknesses from the game as well as offering all these cool options, and I highly recommend adding them to your games.

Note that there are also a few other options that we haven’t gotten around to trying out yet, such as using Leaders, the Wormhole Nexus, and Preset Maps.   

The Verdict!

Before I get into my personal wrap-up, I want to mention that of the 8 people in our group that have played TI3, I rate it the lowest.  The average rating amongst the group is a 9.25, with five different people giving it a 10.  So clearly, the problems I have with it are not shared by the majority of our players.

Rules: Understandibly complex, but the core systems involved are not actually that difficult to get a grasp of. 
Downtime: With short individual turns, the game moves quickly and all players are involved almost all of the time.  Most real “downtime” comes when people are involved with negotiations or are trying to make tactical decisions. 
Length: The seven games played by our group have averaged an actual play time of 7.9 hours each.  While this is pretty much incredibly long, it never feels that way. 
Player Interaction: Extremely high, in virtually every conceivable way.
Weight:  Heavy (really heavy)
GamerChris’ Rating: Like I said, I still really like the game, but it’s “fallen from grace” a little because of these nagging issues I have with it.  Still, if I have the time, I’m usually willing to play, so I currently give it a very solid  7.

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