Twilight Imperium Review & Ultimate Board Game Guide

Nothing quite creates chaos like a power vacuum. And what could be more chaotic than a power vacuum in the vacuum of space?

The emperor of the galactic Lazax empire has died. Now, on behalf of your people, you must do what it takes to make sure your faction emerges as the new center of power.

Twilight Imperium (Fourth Edition)
  • Create your own galactic space opera with a massive game...
  • With seventeen different races and a random board setup, no game...
  • Ages 14+. Innovative game systems create strategic decisions...

Brief Overview of Twilight Imperium

Twilight Imperium Board Game

Twilight Imperium is a chunky galactic diplomacy and war game for three to six players.

As the leader of one of the many alien civilizations, you must expand your influence and control of the remnants of the Lazax empire by completing objectives and scoring victory points. Whoever reaches 10 points first wins the game, taking the seat of power in the capital, Mecatol Rex.

On a board made up of 51 system tiles, no game ever has to be the same. Brute force, negotiation, diplomacy, bribery, trade, and technological discovery are just some of the weapons at your disposal. You’ll need a combination of them all if you’re going to win.

Unboxing Twilight Imperium

Twilight Imperium Board Game

Space is called space for a reason: it’s made up of a lot of empty space (don’t quote me on that). Twilight Imperium, though, is a whole other story. You’re gonna need to rent out some extra storage for this big boy. In all, you’ll get:

  • 354 plastic miniatures (59 for each faction)
  • 17 faction sheets 
  • 6 command sheets
  • 51 system tiles
  • 8 strategy cards
  • 8 ten-sided dice
  • 1 victory point track
  • 454 cards (to represent planets, technologies, objectives, and agendas, to name a few)
  • 714 tokens

That’s right. It’s BIG. Your first game could use over 35 tiles to make up the galaxy, depending on how many players you have in the group. While each faction will need a lot of room on top of that to store reinforcements, cards, and tokens, too.

It looks great when you do manage to set it up, though, although it can take some time. The vast galaxy engulfs the table in a sea of dark blue, ready to be conquered.

The best bit – and taking up the most room – are the miniatures. They’re beautifully crafted, each one with fine detail. What’s more, there are tonnes of them. This, no doubt, is what contributes to the hefty price tag, but the components alone make up for it.

On the artwork, I am a big, big fan. It’s nothing especially innovative, but rather it relies on nostalgia for the sci-fi of old. The deep, bold colors are very retro, bringing back memories of a bunch of old SEGA Mega Drive games I used to play. Also, you don’t have to be a Trekkie to spot its influence here.

How to Play Twilight Imperium

Twilight Imperium Board Game

Setup

To begin, each player gets randomly assigned one of six factions, which have various strengths and weaknesses. They take the corresponding home system tile and cards for the starting planets listed on it, along with the units and technologies on their faction sheet.

On your first game, set-up the game board as described in the instructions, however, in future games, you can create custom galaxy layouts using the modular system tiles.

Finally, everybody takes a secret objective card, keeping it hidden from the other players. Then, place ten objective cards face-down next to the victory point track and turn over the first two for everyone to see.

Objective

To win Twilight Imperium, you must be the first player to reach 10 victory points. These are achieved by completing objectives (either your secret one or the communal ones) and are awarded in the status phase. Once someone reaches 10 victory points, the game immediately ends.

Turn Phases

Twilight Imperium takes place over the course of four phases:

  1. Strategy phase

Players take turns publicly taking one of the eight strategy cards from the common area. They are split into Leadership, Diplomacy, Politics, Construction, Trade, Warfare, Technology, and Imperial. 

These allow the owner a special action in the next phase. For example, the Leadership card will grant the owner extra command tokens, the Imperial card will let the owner take an additional objective card, and the Trade card will help the owner build up their resources.

Each card has a number on it between one and eight that determines the order players take actions in the next phase (i.e. initiative).

  1. Action phase

This is the bulk of the game. In initiative order, players take one action in turn (some of these are explained in further detail below), continuing around the group until all players choose to pass. There are three types of action you can take:

  • Tactical – move units, battle other players, produce new units, or various other actions that affect the units on the board. One action costs one command token.
  • Strategic – use the primary action on your strategy card. The card will also have a secondary action, which can be used by your opponents once you have used the primary action. This costs them a command token.
  • Component – use an action on one of your controlled components, including your faction sheet and technology cards.

Effective management of your command sheet and command tokens is important here. When you acquire command tokens, you must choose there and then which type of future action you will allocate it to by placing it in the relevant place on your command sheet.

  1. Status Phase

It’s reward and clean-up time. Players that have completed an objective notch up their points and further objectives are revealed. Repairs can then be made and everything is restocked. Each player also receives two command tokens.

  1. Agenda phase

Now, players vote in the galactic council on measures that will affect the future rules of the game. The more influence you have, the more votes you can cast!

Controlling Planets

When a player takes control of a planet, they get to take its corresponding card. On the card, you can see what resources and influence it entitles you to. Resources can be used to acquire units of technologies, while influence lets you acquire command tokens or make more votes in the agenda phase.

Invasion and Combat

Invading new systems is a big part of Twilight Imperium. To do so, players will need to enter a system and knock out all ships defending it, before moving on to defeat its ground forces.

Combat is resolved by taking the same number of combat dice as units you have in the battle. Roll them individually for each unit. If the roll is higher than that unit’s combat value, it scores a hit and destroys one of the opposing player’s units. The other player gets to choose which unit.

Moving Through The Game

The above is just a light dusting of the action to expect. As turns progress, players will grow and upgrade their fleets of ships, invade planets to expand their galactic hegemony, unlock new technologies, trade with or bribe other empires, and make other diplomatic missions. All in an effort to achieve objectives and score victory points.

The first player to reach ten wins.

Your First Game of Twilight Imperium

Twilight Imperium Board Game

There is a lot going on in Twilight Imperium, and you’re bound to miss something. One of the most important areas to try and get right is the strategy card, as this will hang over you for the entire action phase.

So, first off, it’s not uncommon to make the mistake of assuming that you get to use both actions on the card. You don’t. The primary action is for you and the secondary action can be used by others. So don’t go factoring it into any plans you’re making other than bearing in mind it will be available to your opponents.

Next, if you’re not the person who played the strategy card, don’t forget to use those secondary powers! They’re there for the taking, so make the most of them.

Lastly, on gameplay note that you must use your primary action on your strategy card. Before you do this, you won’t be able to pass.

Also, when it comes to allocating factions at the start of the game, I do think it is best to avoid letting people choose. Each faction has very different abilities and statistics, and some are certainly more desirable than others. As such, to alleviate any resentment hanging over a game with the potential to last 8 hours, I recommend doing it randomly. That way, whoever’s last won’t feel like they got left with the slim pickings.

Pros & Cons

Twilight Imperium is an expansive experience that combines multiple concepts to create a wide-ranging strategy game. This isn’t a simple military campaign. Oh no. There’s a whole host of issues and levers that will keep strategy lovers with more than enough to chew over, from the logistics of a ground invasion through to high-level diplomacy.

Pros:

  • Complex strategy game
  • Good balance of strategies
  • Modular tiles means great replayability

Cons:

  • Can take 5+ hours to complete
  • Could be a bit weighty for some (literally and figuratively)

It does especially well to balance out the different approaches, most notably with the strategy cards. No one card felt significantly more powerful than the others. This is helped by the different objectives set throughout the game, which encourage players to evolve their strategies. I liked that success didn’t necessarily depend on who had the largest army – although this is going to be a big help.

I’m a fan, too, of any game that allows trading and the relationships that can be built (and destroyed) as a result. It works brilliantly in Twilight Imperium, nicely adding in an extra layer to the diplomacy of the game. In particular, it allows and regulates for binding and non-binding deals can help settle a few potential arguments…

Well-Balanced

And while this is a very layered game, I think the balance of depth and detail with playability is just right. The combat and invasion aspect, for example, isn’t a simple matter of throwing some bits of plastic at a card, rolling a dice, and claiming it as yours. Instead, you need to work out how to destroy the defensive ships; bombard ground defenses; fend off anti-ship cannons… and that’s before a troop has even set foot on the sand/snow/mud (delete as applicable). The physical ground invasion is then a whole other matter!

As we all know, one does not simply walk into space Mordor.

This expansive level of detail is invigorating. And, while there is a lot to take in, it’s not overwhelming. The different mechanics, such as the card-drafting, initiative, combat, trading, and agenda voting, are all simple enough to understand on first reading.

Get Comfortable…

It’s these straightforward systems that keep the game engaging, despite it having the potential to sometimes go on for up to 8 hours. Processes don’t take as long as they do in other deep strategy games like this, and that is a big plus. Not to mention, the fact that players alternate taking single actions during the action phase keeps everyone focused for the entirety.

Of course, 8 hours is still a big chunk of time, and this may not be to everyone’s taste. The first game, in particular, could quite easily skew above this as players learn the ropes – especially considering the rulebook is hardly the most concise. So make sure everyone’s in it for the long haul before getting started with this one.

TL;DR

Twilight Imperium is a massive undertaking, but a rewarding one. Taking control of an alien race, you must steer your civilization to becoming the dominant power in the galaxy.

This is going to be a long endeavor, but incredibly gratifying. It isn’t just a war of spaceships, blasters and thermal detonators (although, it certainly is that, too). This is an all-encompassing 4X clash of economics, politics, diplomacy, trade, and technology. Total (space) war.

Conclusion: Verdict?

When a game goes into this kind of depth, it needs to chug along smoothly to keep things interesting and players engaged. Needless to say, I got totally lost in the world of Twilight Imperium. Preparing for battle and waging war was intense. But it was the galactic diplomacy, technological breakthroughs, interstellar trade agreements, and politics of it all that left me buzzed. Who doesn’t like a nice batch of trade negotiations, right Star Wars fans?

Moreover, the modular tiles that make up the map mean you can create hundreds of different star systems, producing a very different challenge every time. So, while Twilight Imperium may cost a fair amount at the outset, the total amount of play hours you’re going to get out of it makes for an incredibly efficient investment.

When your group finishes Twilight Imperium, it’ll feel like you’ve just made history. Empires rose and fell. Heroic resistance movements were energized before crumbling into the dust. Legends were born…

But it wasn’t for nothing. You’ll be talking about them for years to come.

Twilight Imperium (Fourth Edition)
  • Create your own galactic space opera with a massive game...
  • With seventeen different races and a random board setup, no game...
  • Ages 14+. Innovative game systems create strategic decisions...

Have you tried Twilight Imperium? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this epic game. Drop a comment below!

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Stats at a glance

Players: 3-6

Ages: 14 +

Crazy!

240-480 Mins

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games

Published: 2017