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Twilight Imperium, 3rd Edition

Posted by admin On September - 4 - 2011

by Scott Linde

KingKel asked me to provide a short commentary on the unequivocally enormous epic that is Twilight Imperium v3.  Others have written excellent explanations of the game, and some have even provided videos of game-play.  I intend to focus on what in my opinion are the most obvious weaknesses and strengths of the game.

From Fantasy Flight Games

Let’s make it clear up front, I like this game – even with what I perceive to be it’s problems.  I own version 3 and both of its expansions.  Now with that said, let us enumerate some of the most common criticisms.

First off, if you dedicate your time to only euro-style boardgames, you will probably not like this game.  It is unquestionably a long game.  My first two forays into this universe took seven and nine hours.  That clearly is a commitment many are not able or willing to make.  There are a huge number of cards and pieces, and did I mention this game is expensive?  The number and high quality of this game’s components are reflected in its price.  The rules, while relatively clear, are many.  It is not an appropriate game for introducing new players to board gaming, and finding willing experienced opponents can be difficult.

Now, let’s list some issues regarding game-play and feel.  Many first time players are confused by the victory point system.  Winning space battles, capturing planets, or otherwise having the most enormous empire, does not guarantee victory.  The battle mechanics, while simple, have many modifiers from race and technology, leading to battle results that are not easy to predict.  This leads many players, usually with less militant races, to turtle.  Vast navies are built up before engagements begin.  The base game’s retreat option is also very annoying making it difficult to withdraw from a lost battle.

From Fantasy Flight Games

Oddly, the players that enjoy the game the most end up in second or third place.  This is because players that clearly have no chance to win have to sit through a long game that feels even longer, and because the player apparently in the lead is targeted by many other players.  Quite often, the winner’s “empire” is nearly destroyed just before they achieve victory.  The new emperor feels more like a survivor than a conqueror and hardly victorious.
Wow, that is a lot of negativity!  How could I possibly like this game?  Well, I do.  Some of the criticisms listed above have been minimized by optional rules in the game’s expansions.  But I like Twilight Imperium for for other reasons…

This game is a space opera, huge and magnificent.  There is nothing abstract about watching a huge fleet lumbering towards your worlds.  It elicits fear and anger. Threats and counter-threats are made.  Your scientists work feverishly to acquire the latest technology to give you an unexpected edge.  Suddenly your destroyers are upgraded with auto-turrets and your opponent’s imposing carrier fleet is suddenly vulnerable.  You have also convinced an adjacent neighbor that now would be a good time to advance their fleet closer to your common enemy’s unprotected border.

From the Designer Diary By Christian T. Petersen

What I am trying to impart is that this game is an experience – an epic drama.  The high quality back-story and race descriptions leads to a historic feel.  Science and diplomacy have a major impact on the game.  Multiple scientific advances quite often lead to victory points.  Planet development is abstracted so that most actions in the game lead to interactions with other players.  The movement of ships is phased so that there is simulation of simultaneous movement with actions and counteractions.  Games always have downtime for players, but this interlaced movement tries to minimize it and reduces the clear advantage of moving first.

Another interesting aspect of this game is how the map is made.  Starting positions are determined by the number of players, and the capitol of the empire is always at the center.  The rest of the map is built by the players themselves leading to improved  re-playability.

Twilight Imperium does not appeal to every player, but what game does?


Quality  5/5
Fun  3/5
Substance  5/5
Re-playability  5/5
Difficulty  2/5  (1=hard, 5=easy)
Time  1/5  (1=long, 5=45 minutes or less)
Overall  4/5

To view more information or photos, Visit Fantasy Flight Games to learn more!