Players: 3 to 6
Game Length: All day. No, really.
Best enjoyed: With 4-6 players (or 4-8 with the Shattered Empire expansion) who want an epic space empire game, and don’t mind if it takes all day.
Twilight Imperium Third Edition is a space empire game where players will take control of one of a variety of alien races struggling to control the galaxy in the wake of a devastating war that saw the former rulers reduced to ashes.
Each player starts in their own corner of the galaxy and gradually builds up fleets and technologies. Before long, however, they’ll have colonised their area of space and start to look towards their neighbours for expansion options. To win the game, players will need to accomplish a range of public objectives, such as developing certain technologies or controlling a number of planets, each of which is worth victory points. They’ll also have secret objectives, difficult to achieve but hopefully the element of surprise will allow them to complete these before their enemies push them out. The first player to 10 victory points will win the game!
There’s an unmistakeable allure to Twilight Imperium. An enormous amount of plastic and cardboard comes with the box, and the game promises a vast space opera with all the trimmings. Borders will be drawn, planets will be claimed. War machines will sputter to life, fuelled by cutting-edge technologies and belching forth death-dealing starships to strike down their enemies. Starfaring navies will clash, wars waged in the skies will spill over to the planets. Political heavyweights will dictate rules to the other races that favour their own agendas. It’s an immensely ambitious game, and for the most part, accomplishes what it set out to do quite admirably.
Twilight Imperium’s ambition is, in part, its own downfall. With so many different systems in the game, learning them all and how they interact is no mean feat. Fantasy Flight have put out an extensive errata, clarifying many of the rules and how they interact, and if you want to play a game you will need to read all these documents in depth. Even during the game, you’ll need to read up on the rules. That’s not to mention the large number of optional rules and components that may be added in – leaders, Distant Suns tokens, the replacement Imperial Strategy, and many more.
All these systems together cause the game to have an extremely long playtime, perhaps 6 hours or more if played with more than 4 people. Many a gamer has started a session of Twilight Imperium in the early evening, then gotten past midnight before deciding that the game should probably be shelved. If you do want to play, it’s recommended that all players look up a good tutorial beforehand, and that at least one player reads the rules and errata in depth.
Twilight Imperium is generally regarded to be greatly improved by the Shattered Empire expansion. This expansion adds (among other things) a few alien races, pieces for two extra players, and a new set of Strategy Cards. This last addition is regarded the most important, as it makes choosing Strategy Cards each round a much more interactive experience – otherwise, the optimal choice is for the first player to choose the Imperial option and the second to choose the Initiative option so they may claim the Imperial option next round.
Many games have tried to imitate Twilight Imperium and condense it down to something more manageable; of these, Eclipse has done perhaps the best job. There’s still something magical about Twilight Imperium, and putting aside a full day to have a grand space opera with a large group of friends with plenty of snacks and lunch or dinner breaks is a unique experience well worth having.