This weekend I had the pleasure of playing Twilight Imperium 4th Edition for the first time. In fact, prior to this weekend I had never played Twilight Imperium in any edition and neither had any of my friends. We played a five-player game that had the following races in play:
Prior to the game, I sent all players the Learn to Play, Rules Reference, the Shut Up & Sit Down TI4 video, and the RTFM Learn to Play video. I printed extra rules references and learn to plays so each player could have a copy that they could view on their own while waiting for their turn. I also printed out a two-sided strategy card overview and gameplay overview found on BGG. I did not expect everyone to consume everything I sent to them, but having the basic concepts down would go a long way towards making the teaching of the game go smoothly.
Besides what I sent to the other players, I watched Harsh Rules, the Shut Up & Sit Down Twilight Imperium Documentary (mostly for fun), and devoured the Space Cats Peace Turtles podcast. I did this as I was going to be the facilitator for the game and wanted to be able to answer any and all things that came our way during the game. Also, as most of these items were podcasts or videos, I was able to listen to them in the car, while running or working out, or even when doing chores around the house so it wasn’t an additional time sink.
If all of that seems daunting, I want to assure players interested in playing the game for the first time that the Fantasy Flight Learn to Play and Rules Reference are more than enough to learn and play this game. The Learn to Play is laid out wonderfully and easy to read and follow with many examples and the Rules Reference has almost every scenario covered. There were a few situations we could not clarify in the rules reference that we ended up googling and finding the answer to but that may have been us just thinking too far into things.
I would recommend having everyone read the Learn to Play though before playing for the first time. It just made things a little easier and minus some questions to start the game, we all were on equal footing.
I set the game up the night before and it took me roughly an hour, but that’s because I decided to switch our colors after laying everything out initially. Our group plays enough games that we all have a color that we have a strong connection with but after laying everything out and seeing the tokens, I realized it would be a lot easier to remember who is who if the colors of your races tokens were reflected in the color of your ships. We definitely could have played with our usual colors but I just wanted as few chances for mishaps as possible.
For the initial set-up, we used the recommended five-player map in the Learn to Play with Sardakk N’orr gaining the four extra trade goods for being closest to their neighbors of Xxcha Kingdom and Barony of Letnev, which both received two additional trade goods.
We started the game at 11:00 am and concluded at 8:30 pm. The game ended during the seventh round. We thought the game was done around 6:30 pm but the three players that had thought they had won (more on this in a bit) did not, and it sucked the life out of the table as no one had planned for a future round which considerably slowed our pace of play especially considering some of the risky maneuvers taken by the players. A repeat play would probably take us around five to six hours.
We included some music as well through Spotify as ambiance. Initially we used the Moon soundtrack but then found a Twilight Imperium playlist that we transitioned to.
Round one saw everyone venture out from their home worlds to claim planets that could be used in later rounds for resources and influence. Immediately the Barony of Letnev and Sardakk N’orr struck up an alliance that revolved around the B Wormhole being N’orr’s with the impression of no aggression being shown and turning that wormhole into a defacto demilitarized zone. Xxcha Kingdom showed some early aggression expanding towards the Federation of Sol that caused some tensions after an initial alliance was discussed. Sol also took control of the B Wormhole right outside their home world as I was fearful of an attack coming from the other side of the board. Everyone produced in the initial round except the Emirates of Hacan.
The first two public objectives were easily accomplished by players (Spend 8 Resources and Spend 3 Tokens from your Strategy/Tactic Pool), with every player scoring one and many being eligible for two.*
*EDIT: As has been pointed out to me, we played the spend cards incorrectly. We played them as cumulative throughout the round but in fact, they are spent when you score points. Whoops.
In hindsight, I made some major blunders on turn one as Sol as I should have taken more planets and expanded more from my home system. This seemed to be a common setiment among other players as we discovered the inner-workings of the game. I also realized that my pizza slice (pie slice?) sucked. The wormhole at the gates of my singular home world was daunting and two of the nearest pieces were empty space and an impassible anomaly. I was super jealous of what Letnev and Hacan had as their neighbors.
Round Two saw more expansion and the table started to realize how formidable the alliance between the Barony of Letnev and Sardakk N’orr was becoming. Letnev ventured onto the the perimeter of the Hacan reach as Hacan positioned themselves near the center and Mecatol Rex. Sol followed suit as Xxcha became the first non-allied race to have foreign races adjacent to each border.
The new public objective was to “Own 2 Technologies in Each of 2 Colors.” As a group, we had been neglecting technology and when we did get it, we would often forget about the bonuses afforded to our group. This will definitely change in future games but it was just one of many things we neglected as we did not understand their true value. There was another hefty round of scoring as players scored the other of the easier public objectives. This objective did show the first disparity of the game as N’orr was at a disadvantage with this objective as they started with no tech.
On Round Two, I realized how much I sold myself short as I should have been landing on Mecatol Rex and securing the center system. Everyone was still weary of engaging in combat with anyone or making an overly aggressive moves so for the most part, we stuck near our originating system. For the most part, players stuck to their pie slices and there was an influx of trading, with Hacan swimming in trade goods from now until the end of the game.
Round Three saw Sol land on Mecatol Rex and secure the center of the board. A supposed alliance between Sol and Xxcha ended soon thereafter as Xxcha moved into the system and annihilated all Sol space fleets. The ground invasion did not go as well as Sol’s infantry held onto control of the planet. Hacan and Letnev shored up adjacent systems with an eye on expansion but the creation of a space dock and the production of units had Hacan weary of Letnev encroaching on their home world. N’orr amassed a war fleet in the meantime. Now that we had seen combat play out for the very first time, the threat of N’orr’s +1 to combat rolls became ever more scary.
There was a flurry of scoring that round with Hacan scoring a secret and public objective and Sol taking Rex and scoring a public objective. This put the neighbors in definitive first and with Sol sitting on Rex in a weakened state, it looked like it was going to be a swift exit for Sol.
The first Agenda Phase of our Twilight Imperium careers threw our group into disarray. Sol had the most influence by far and the initial agenda had players that voted For and it passed would receive a Victory Point but players that voted For and it did not pass would lose a Victory Point. Players were unsure of Sol’s leaning as they could sway the vote either way and if they voted For and Sol swung their might, they would be even further from victory. The Agenda passed and all players received a Victory Point. The second agenda was Anti-intellectual Revolution and as a group the vote was decided we would exhaust planets as opposed to lose ships.
As Sol, I worried that I had stretched myself too far. I did not expect an attack from Xxcha at all (and later learned it was only due to a secret objective) and the loss of that fleet was severely damaging. Hacan being threatened (at least in positioning) by Letnev assured me some time but with the B Wormhole next to my planet, I worried about an invasion from afar. I also knew that even with my races special ability, holding Rex was a luxury that I couldn’t afford for long.
I also should have leveraged my role as Speaker more. I could have received bribes or had players lose a victory point (which in hindsight, would have been the best move).
Round Four saw an ideal scenario unfold for Sol. N’orr took over an adjacent system from Xxcha that diverted their attention. Xxcha did not move their fleet out of the Rex system, which acted as a defensive buffer for Sol and allowed them to score Imperial right out of the gate and build their fleet back up. Despite this unintended friendly bubble, Sol used some action cards to take potshots as Xxcha for earlier aggression’s. N’orr expanded toward Xxcha as their alliance with Letnev held strong.
There was a round of scoring from the table again, but due to the Imperial Card, Sol started to distance itself from the other players. Hacan held close by however. The Agenda Phase was not nearly as troublesome as players were voting on who received a card that would grant them additional abilities.
I was shocked to be able to score Rex and hold it for another round. I also held onto the Speaker role as no one took the Politics Card. Xxcha was being hit hard by my action cards and an impending battle with N’orr loomed so I didn’t see them as a threat. In fact, it was nearing time for me to get adjacent to their home system to score my secret objective.
Round Five saw Rex change hands as N’orr destroyed Xxcha’s fleet and Sol’s infantry on the planet. Besides that, there wasn’t much change on the board and besides Hacan tying for the lead with a secret objective, there wasn’t anything of note in the Agenda Phase.
I was at a standstill now as I was unsure of what to do. My secret objectives were unattainable and I was not going to be able to secure Rex again. I had a good thing going with Hacan as well so I did not want to move on them. I had originally planned to fly a suicide mission next to his home world to get my secret objective, and even got the go-ahead from him to do so…but I forgot.
Round Six saw major gambles by three players with every single one thinking the game was to be ended. Hacan put themselves in position to score a two-point public objective, which would have put them at ten points and ended the game when scoring occurred. As they met the requirement, Letnev launched an all-out assault that saw Hacan lose one of their home worlds which ensured that they could not score a public objective and win the game. Letnev thought they had won as they had scored a secret objective and two public objectives, which would catapult them from near the back of the pack to the front and the win when scoring happened. Problem was…you can only score one public objective each round (unless you have the Imperial Card). The heartbreak was real.
This scenario was also one of our Google searches, as we were unsure if the Action Card for an immediate and skillful retreat allowed ground combat (but it did). So far, two players end game scenarios were quashed.
That leaves Sol, looking to spend six command/strategy tokens that would score two-points and win the game during the scoring phase. Sol used all counters but one (as there was nothing else they could do) and smugly awaited for the opportunity to score points. Unfortunately, the secondary ability of the Leadership Card does not require a strategy token (which the Sol player thought he had used), which meant they had spent five, and not six, tokens.
Xxcha was the target of aggression from multiple players and due to that aggression and their initial tactical actions, they were basically a passenger this round and had to pass early on, even with a bounty of command tokens left to use. It was the first time that the game had pushed a player to the side.
I honestly don’t remember the Agenda Phase as the mood of the room shifted harshly after three of five players realized that they had in fact, not won.
This sucked huge amounts of ass.
I unfortunately do not have a photo of the final round for some reason but Letnev was able to snag Imperial and score a two-point Public Objective to win the game. Players were aware of the strategy after the first turn but there was no way to stop them from doing what they wanted to do. N’orr struck at their ally to try to disrupt their plans, Sol traveled through the B Wormhole but couldn’t land troops and Hacan fired some shots but it was all for naught.
The final scoring was as follows:
Emirates of Hacan: 8
Barony of Letnev: 10
Sardakk N’orr: 8
After finishing the game, we were exhausted, annoyed, and four of five of us were defeated. That being said, we loved every single minute of it. A second playing would also shave a few hours off the clock as our first agenda (not the phase, just the first agenda) had us bickering for forty minutes so the length of the game didn’t upset us too much. We knew the initial game would be longer than normal too, which helped.
And while we realize that negotiation was a long time, as a group we play many negotiating games so we may have gotten a little carried away with everything.
When the game ended, we couldn’t stop talking about how balanced everything felt and how important and impactful each decision being made was. This felt like the Sid Meier Civ franchise where you could play your own way and still contend. Hacan did not engage in offensive combat until the final round of the game. Letnev and N’orr created a pact that lasted until the final turns of the final round. Xxcha created alliances with players that it quickly turned against (due to objectives) and played the “it’s just business” approach.
There were so many stories and memories made from the game that it was all we could talk about at dinner and via text. It’s not even been twenty-four hours and the group has been texting about future races to play, mistakes to avoid, and snack foods to bring. Three of us had dreams about the game.
If there was anything I didn’t like, it was probably the voting. Going around the table really puts the power in the last players hands (if they have influence). I think I would rather prefer a blind Game of Thrones style voting with nominations being public. But in doing that, that removes a benefit from the speaker and might eliminate some deal making. I’m not in love with either implementation but am interested in seeing what others have done. Or maybe this isn’t an issue at all and I’m just trying to nit pick.
Besides the voting, nothing else really rubbed me or anyone else the wrong way. I guess I hate that I’m dying to play again and need to play as the other races but that’s a good problem to have. I can’t wait to try a three-player map and to try playing these same races again against the other players.
We didn’t make any major rules goofs that we’re aware of and the few rules errors we made (over production, too many fleets) we noticed and corrected within a turn or two. We definitely underutilized many aspects. Infantry, technology, special race abilities, and special agenda cards are some of the notable ones.
I was absolutely floored by Twilight Imperium. It created an experience that was unique and captured our attention fully for almost ten hours. I can’t think of any other board game that had such depth, strategy, engagement, interaction, wow, and wonder. I am glad I took the plunge and cannot wait to become a veteran of this game.
Oh yeah, a few of us dressed up as our races too.