Tag: twilight imperium (page 1 of 2)

Making Twilight Imperium Mine

I’ve written up a couple in-depth after-action reports of Twilight Imperium before. I’m willing to do it again for the game that happened yesterday, but I find myself spending time and brain-power analyzing the game in terms of its structures, house rules, and interaction with the players. I’ve only played the game a few times, so I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve seen a variety of races bounce off of one another, and I’ve tried bringing different sets of rules to the table.

6/21 Game
Our galaxy on 6/21.

One of my favorite discoveries is ‘Star By Star’. Part of the fan-created set of mods called Shattered Ascension, ‘Star By Star’ modifies the initial setup of the galaxy. Instead of everyone’s Home System sitting on the outermost rim of the galaxy, the hex containing that system is in with all of the other hexes, which are dealt to all players and held like a hand of cards. This allows more dymanic placement of systems and intriguing gameplay. You can’t put your home right next to Mecatol Rex, the former throneworld of the Lazax Empire, and the Embers of Muaat need to start on the outermost rim.

The other major change in house rules that I feel makes the most of the game is the modified nature of the objectives. Normally, Preliminary Objectives are dealt to players in private, and Public Objectives remain in their deck face-down until the Bureaucracy strategy reveals one. And in that case, the person with that strategy can reveal an Objective that very suddenly ends the game. There is an option rule called Age of Empire that makes Public Objectives… well, public… from the very start. I modified our Bureaucracy strategy so that the Objectives are tied up in ‘red tape’, requiring them to be ‘unlocked’ before they can be scored. Additionally, the Preliminary Objectives are shuffled up and one for each player is set out. Any player can claim any Preliminary Objective, allowing them to score a Victory Point and draw a Secret Objective, but each player can only score one Preliminary Objective. This is a bit more balanced and allows players to play to their strengths and positions, rather than wasting time and energy on something that’s outside of their plans.

Game on 6/21
A clash between the Barony of Letnev (red) and the Federation of Sol (blue)

I’ve played Twilight Imperium with several different players. While the randomized nature of the procedurally-generated galaxy, the Objectives, and race selection always ensure that every game is a different experience, it’s become clear that some races favor a particular style of play. Those that give advantages in terms of combat strength, such as the L1z1x Mindnet, Barony of Letnev, and the Mentak Coalition, seem to shine under the control of an aggressive player, while others like the Emirates of Hacan, Xxcha Kingdom, and Universities of Jol-Nar reward more patient play. There appears to be a balance between those types of races in the base game, with the Federation of Sol right in the middle.

As for the expansions, it may seem that the Embers of Muaat are incredibly overpowered, but the advantage of their starting War Sun can be blunted by players on the lookout as well as those racing towards War Sun technology of their own. Some of the races favor a longer game with patient play, such as the Arborec or the Ghosts of Creuss, while the Nekro Virus rivals the Mindnet in terms of naked aggression. There are a few races I haven’t seen in action yet – the Clan of Saar, the Winnu, and so on – but they’re certain to make an appearance sooner or later.

Game on 6/21
The Barony beating out the Arborec (gray) for the win.

Regardless of the races in play or the rules you use, I have yet to play a game of Twilight Imperium that’s disappointed me. Every one has been a day-long experience, every one has left me intellectually drained, and every one has been deeply satisfying. I love that it can both play right into your individual play-style and push you to try new things, as well as providing ways to get to know your friends. Who will stab you in the back while you’re pursuing a particular Objective? Who will send a Spy to the Galactic Assembly when they’ve been talking about making peace? If you have the time and resources, I highly recommend playing it at least once. Despite its scope and complexity, it is an excellent game; perhaps one of the best that I have ever played.

Tabletalk: Let’s Tell A Story

Courtesy Bully Pulpit Games

As someone who writes tales about people who don’t actually exist, the process of telling stories fascinates me. While working alone allows me to be the final arbiter of what does and does not happen, some of the best storytelling experiences I’ve had come not from a word processing document, but from other books and dice. The methods and weight of rules might vary, but the experience is always unique.

Some games are built specifically to emphasize their story and characters more than anything else. Fiasco and Shock: are my two go-to examples of tabletop games firmly in story mode, while Maschine Zeit and Farewell to Fear maintain some more traditional dice-rolling rulesets not to define gameplay, but to reinforce storytelling. The emphasis in these games is on who the players’ characters are, not necessarily what they do.

On the flip side are games like Dungeons & Dragons and any of the titles within the World of Darkness universe. The ‘background’ portion of a given player’s character sheet is entirely optional, and the emphasis is on the stats depicted on the front. These games are built to generate epic moments, memorable feats of daring-do, and nail-biting suspense as the dice roll.

And then, there are those games with what I’d like to call ’emergent storytelling’. Quite a few board games try to work atmosphere and elements of storytelling into their gameplay, like Pandemic, Elder Sign, or Escape!, but the nature of these games’ mechanics tend to get in the way of actually telling a story. Boss Monster and Seasons, on the other hand, give players enough breathing room to give their on-the-table representatives a bit more personality. Between turns, you may decide that your adorable forest-dwelling bunny wizard is actually bent on world domination, or that your towering and malevolent gorgon dungeon master actually wants to flip her dungeon so she can go on a long-awaited vacation. The towns built in Suburbia can’t help but take on some personality (“Why is that high school right next to a slaughterhouse?”). And the excellent Battlestar Galactica has you not only taking on familiar faces, but pitting them against one another in new ways as you try to determine who among you is a Cylon even as you struggle to survive. There’s nothing quite like throwing the Admiral in his (or her) own brig just on a gut feeling your character has. Finally, there are those who would advise you not to play Twilight Imperium with role-players. If a gamer take the honor of their race seriously, there may be a major grudge that plays out over the game’s many hours if you do something like occupy one of their systems or assassinate one of their councilors. Who says politics is boring?

What games do you feel cater more towards storytelling? What emergent gameplay do you enjoy the most?

Tabletalk: Your Table’s Real Estate

Courtesy Theology of Games
Courtesy Theology of Games

Space at your common table, be it in your dining room, den, or boudoir, is precious. It needs to be used wisely when it comes to entertaining. You need room for everyone to sit and be comfortable. Room for refreshments is always welcome. Games that occupy the table should make good use of whatever remaining real estate their is, holding the attention of your guests and keeping them involved and interacting. This is one of many reasons why Monopoly sucks – most of its board is full of negative space.

It also never changes. Board games that I’m finding myself thoroughly enjoying have gameplay that varies from session to session. When a galaxy in Twilight Imperium is created by the players around the table, it is going to be completely different from any scenario setup or previous galaxy, adding another element to the strange brew that makes it fun to devote eight hours to a single game. Quantum is similar in that the ‘board’ is mutable and can be altered or changed drastically to change up the experience. Games like Mage Knight, Archipelago, and Escape: The Curse of the Temple take it one step further by making their boards what would be called ‘procedurally generated’: the board is revealed and assembled as you play, guaranteeing a fresh experience every time.

Other games like to decentralize the action. Galaxy Trucker may have a central board to track everyone’s position in the convoy, but all of the real action happens on the players’ individual boards, as meteors and laser blasts render your cobbled-together space truck back into the shoddy spare parts you used to build it in the first place. Suburbia gives each player their own space to build their SimCity-esque metropolis, with its bank and goals in a central location. Seasons may have a calendar in the center of the table and a single, shared scoreboard, but players will be interacting with their own decks, tokens, dice, and boards to manage the careers of their chosen adorable aspiring forest-wizards.

While board games continue to provide new and interesting ways to make the most of your table’s real estate, card games remain some of the most economical entertainment to grace that same area. While deck-builders like Dominion and Eminent Domain centralize the pool of cards players have to choose from in constructing their decks, Boss Monster takes the route of games above that sees players focused on individual areas just as much as the center of the table. Chez Geek and Munchkin encourage players to keep track of both their own area and those of other players as competition for victory becomes more and more rapid and cut-throat. Finally, hidden role games like Bang!, One-Night Ultimate Werewolf, The Resistance: Avalon, and Coup bring the eyes of the players up from the table and into those of the other players, the game play arguably more about bluffing, gambits, and deductive reasoning than any information provided at the center of the table.

Just to reiterate a point made earlier in this post, Monopoly sucks. Its gameplay never changes and its board consumes too much real estate on the table. Many games make better use of the space, even with similarly sized central boards; Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, SmallWorld, Lords of Waterdeep, and Battlestar Galactica are all examples of recent games that require a good chunk of your table’s space but make the most of it by varying gameplay elements, getting players involved and interacting, offering challenges or emergent narrative, and so on. It’s these things that make the game I’ve mentioned well worth the space on your table (and your shelves), and will more than likely bring people back for more, time and again.

Tabletalk: Winning in Twilight Imperium


We’ve come a long way, Your Excellency. You’ve become acquainted with the galaxy surrounding the ruined throne-world of Mecatol Rex, you’ve learned how to command your fleets and transfer forces between systems, you’re familiar with a variety of strategies, and you know how to issue commands to your Leaders, give referendums to your Representatives, and hire Mercenaries. But all of these are mere building blocks on your path to victory – how do you walk that path?

Victory in Twilight Imperium is not necessarily contingent on having the most planets, beating an opponent into stardust, or even acquiring the most Trade Goods (currency that can be used for production or influence). Victory comes in the form of Objectives. Players are competing to be the first to achieve a certain number of Victory Points. The means to earn those Victory Points are dicated by cards that define different Objectives. Some are Public, and some are Secret.

Public Objectives are made available to all players throughout the game, one at a time. These vary from having a certain number of Technologies and spending Influence, to occupying systems or even Mecatol Rex. At the end of each game round, any player can claim one of the available Public Objectives. A player who takes the appropriate Strategy can also claim one, giving them an edge in Victory Points. Temporarily, at least.

Secret Objectives (and their smaller cousins Preliminary Objectives, available in the expansions), on the other hand, are dealt to each player at the start of the game. These are worth more points than the starting Public Objectives, but are more focused and harder to obtain. Often they will bring players into direct conflict. Like Public Objectives, they must be claimed at the end of the round. Finally, it is worth noting that neither Public nor Secret Objectives can be scored if the player’s Home System is occupied by another player.

There are other ways to acquire Victory Points, be they ancient artifacts or unique finds uncovered on distant suns, but for the most part, the Objectives are what you want to aim for. Watch for them when they appear, and plan your strategies accordingly. Best of luck, Your Excellency!

You’re going to need it.

Tabletalk: Minions in Twilight Imperium

Pictured: The Admiral (top), General (center left), Agent (center right), Scientist (bottom left), and Diplomat (bottom right).

You may think, Your Excellency, that taking control of the galaxy is a lonely prospect. Looking at your home system and the expanse of space spreading out towards the throne world, huge fleets floating silently in the void, environmental hazards callously standing between you and your goals – it can be rather daunting. Thankfully, you aren’t as alone as you seem. You can and will have assistance, even if you have to pay for it.

Twilight Imperium provides options for several ‘minions’, as I like to call them. Not military units per se, they are supplemental facets of your bid for dominance. The systems they add to the game are rather straightforward, but can take a bit of explaining, so let’s begin.


Each race can include three ‘Leaders’, luminaries of your people that help you in various ways. Like your Ground Forces and PDS units, Leaders are always considered either on a planet or being carried by a ship. However, a Leader can be transported by any kind of ship, and never counts towards the ship’s capacity. Leaders are powerful, but fragile: they can be captured or killed if their transporting ship is destroyed in a Space Battle, or if an Invasion Combat in which they’re involved fails. Captured leaders can be ransomed and sometimes executed, provided you are unable to rescue them. Let’s leave out the particulars of such operations for now, and learn about the five different types.

Scientists increase technology discounts provided by planets, add to the build capacity of nearby Space Docks, and add to the defenses of a planet their own, preventing bombardment from War Suns.

Diplomats delay incoming invasions and allow fleets (with permission) to pass through enemy space.

Generals allow re-rolls during Invasion Combat, make bombardment much more difficult, and give a bonus to defending Ground Forces.

Admirals give the ship they’re on one extra die, increase the movement of a Dreadnaught they occupy, and prevents defenders from retreating (unless they also have an Admiral).

Agents help invading Ground Forces avoid enemy PDS fire, allow you to take over enemy Space Docks and PDS units, and can be sacrificed to take the role of a ‘Sabotage’ Action Card, preventing an opponent’s Action Card from happening.


When the Assembly is called, instead of voting on referendums yourself, you can send a Representative. You are, after all, a very busy potential potentate. At the start of the game, you will get three Representative cards. Each one adds a number of votes and sometimes have special abilities, like gaining you extra Trade Goods or forcing someone to vote a certain way. Most of them are Counselors, but some are either Spies or Bodyguards.

At the Assembly, each player chooses one Representative and sends them in face-down. Starting with the Speaker and going around clockwise, any Spies that were sent are revealed and their abilities resolved first. If the target of a Spy is a Bodyguard, it may also resolve an ability as a result of being targeted. After all Spies are resolved, non-Spies are revealed in the same way. Players can then offer one another Promissary Notes before voting occurs. These are special, binding agreements that may help a player get what they want out of the Assembly. Either way, if a Representative is assassinated or otherwise killed (by a suicide bomber, for example), he or she is removed from the game entirely. Bodyguards cannot be assassinated, but can die by other means.


Attracted to money and opportunity, Mercenaries are available for hire to anyone activating the Trade III Strategy card. When executing the primary ability of Trade, the active player looks at the top two cards of the deck of available Mercenaries, chooses one, and returns the other to the bottom of the deck. Each Mercenary card has a corresponding token, with one side for Space and the other for Ground. The active player places his new hire Ground-side up on any friendly planet. Mercenaries can switch between Ground and Space during a Tactical or Transfer actions, as well as specifically from Space to Ground during Invasion Combat.

While they can add to your forces and abilities, Mercenaries cannot hold planets on their own. Any planet robbed of its Ground Forces reverts to neutral even if the Mercenary survives. Some Mercenaries have Evasion, allowing them to live longer in combat. However, if your Mercenary is killed, both the card and the token are removed from the game.

We’ve looked at the core concepts of Twilight Imperium‘s Tactical Actions, the different Strategic options, and now we’ve covered Leaders, Representatives, and Mercenaries. The biggest outstanding question remains:

How do you win the game? Read on…

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