Tag: twilight imperium (page 2 of 2)

Tabletalk: Strategies in Twilight Imperium

The Strategy Cards, as compared to an ordinary Reference Paw.

The galaxy is a dangerous place, Your Excellency, and it is always changing. With the Lazax Empire gone and so many leaders vying for power, the situation is as mutable as the stars themselves as they wheel in their courses. If you mean to prevail, you need to draw back from the tactical view and see the galaxy as a whole. You need to plan around and ahead of your opponents. You need the right strategy.

Last week, we discussed the very basics of Twilight Imperium, in the form of Tactical and Transfer actions. But I also mentioned these large, trapezoidal cards that determine the order of play in a given round. These are Strategy cards, and they have a pretty large part to play as the game progresses. As previously discussed, you can activate your Strategy card when it’s your turn instead of taking a Tactical action or using an appropriate Action Card. It does not have to be the first thing you do in the round. It is also worth noting that you cannot pass your turn until after you’ve activated your Strategy for the round.

I’m going to go over the broad categories of each Strategy, and then highlight some specifics from the expansions. Note that most of these cards have primary and secondary abilities. While the primary ability usually applies entirely to the player using the Strategy, other players can use the Secondary ability, in clockwise order from the active player, usually by spending a Command Counter from their Strategy Allocation area.

What follows is a breakdown of all 8 Strategies, what they do, and how you can benefit from taking the card in question.

1 – Initiative/Leadership

In most circumstances, the biggest benefit to taking this Strategy card is that it allows you to go first in the round. In the base game, Initiative lets you claim the Speaker token, which means you also go first when choosing the Strategy next round. It also saves you Command Counters when executing secondary abilities on other player’s Strategy cards.

Leadership, on the other hand, grants its user new Command Counters. The secondary ability lets all players spend Influence to pick up more, including the active player.

2 – Diplomacy

There are times when words are more powerful than weapons. Diplomacy allows the player to ease some of the pressure they may be feeling from their opponents in a direct fashion that does not involve combat. The basic game lets the player force a peace between themselves an opponent for a round, and allows the other players to refresh previously exhausted systems. The expansion’s Diplomacy II instead allows the active player to establish a Demilitarized Zone for a round, marking a system so that NONE of their opponents can activate it. The card also allows for the peaceful annexation of an unoccupied system.

3 – Political/Assembly

Ah, politics. A process simultaneously more civilized and more vicious than warfare itself. In Twilight Imperium, there is a deck of Political Cards filled with agendas from bans on weapons research to dispensation of resources to another player. The basic Political Strategy lets the primary player manipulate the deck after they resolve the top card, as well as providing Action Cards and Command Counters. Assembly, on the other hand, offers the active player the choice of taking the Speaker token for themselves while naming another player to resolve an agenda, or resolving one of their own agendas while naming someone else as Speaker. This is also where players can refresh planets when using Assembly.

And then, there’s the option for Political Intrigue, which I will go into next week.

4 – Logistics/Production

Since the role of the Logistics card (providing Command Counters) is taken by the Leadership card in the expansion, we have Production instead. The active player gets to produce units at one of their space docks without activating the system. The secondary ability is similar, but limits production capacity. It’s a very straightforward Strategy.

5 – Trade

The base game of Twilight Imperium and each of its expansions all have different versions of this Strategy. In all three of them, players negotiate to exchange Trade Agreements, and collect Trade Goods from those agreements to supplement their resources. The base game is a bit harsh in that players using that card’s secondary ability must spend one of their precious Command Counters to get the goods. Shattered Empire does way with that portion of the card, and seems rather friendlier. Shards of the Throne includes Mercenaries in its Trade Strategy, and I’ll give a primer on who they are and how they work next week.

6 – Warfare

War in Twilight Imperium is all about Tactical Actions, moving your fleets and armies into position for the perfect strike. The basic Strategy card lets you take back one of your Command Counters used for a Tactical Action, allowing you to use it again elsewhere, while secondary players can move some of their smaller ships. Shattered Empire instead introduces us to the High Alert token, a far more visible way to get your point across. Placing a system on High Alert means all ships in that system get bonuses to movement and space combat. The token can move with the fleet at the player’s option, or it can remain there as a deterrent for any potential invaders. Secondarily, the improved Warfare Strategy lets players move ships, regardless of class but limited in number, without activating their destinations.

7 – Technology

This Strategy Card is how players expand the technological repertoire of their burgeoning empire. The card in Shattered Empire lets the primary player do so more quickly, while the secondary ability is cheaper for the other players. There is a simplified tech tree I’ll make available to you, courtesy of someone over at Board Game Geek. You may find it useful for planning purposes.

8 – Imperial/Bureaucracy

Twilight Imperium is won by its Objective Cards. Some of them are Public Objectives anyone can claim if they meet the requirements, while others are Preliminary or Secret Objectives specific to the individual player. The Imperial strategy lets the active player reveal one of the Public Objectives, then grants them free Victory Points, while the secondary abilities allow for the production of units. Bureaucracy, on the other hand, grants no free Victory Points but instead lets the active player manipulate the Public Objectives, and lets them score one if they can, something not normally possible before the end of the round. This allows for more flexible and, arguably, more fair play, while keeping up the pace of the game. Which is important when the game takes up your entire day.

With this knowledge, you are now prepared to play most of the game! All that remains is to break down some more specifics.

Next Week: Getting The Most Out Of Your Minions – Leaders, Representatives, and Mercenaries

Tabletalk: Tactical Actions in Twilight Imperium

Courtesy heidelbaer.de

Greetings, Your Excellency! You have been chosen to lead your people towards victory on the galactic stage. The Lazax Empire has been overthrown, and Mecatol Rex is yours for the taking. Perhaps. You must command vast armies, immense spacecraft, ambassadors, trade envoys, and the very industries of the planets of the former empire to defeat your noble rivals or, at the very least, beat them to the punch. Fortunately for you, I am here to help you. I am your humble tutor, and this is Twilight Imperium.

Twilight Imperium is an expansive board game, for between 3 and 8 players, that is best described as a space opera in a box. Each player assumes control of one of the races who were formerly a part of, or interested in usurping, the Lazax Empire. From your home system, in one of the galaxy’s corners, you will head out to achieve objectives, gather resources, build your forces, and defeat the other players. The first player to a designated amount of victory points is the winner! If you want to sit down with your friends and create your own science-fiction epic, vying for power and making backdoor deals to achieve your aims, this is the game for you. Just… put aside a day for it. Yes, an entire day. Maybe more than one if you have 8 players. But we’ll get back to the timeline later; let’s talk about how you play.

For this tutorial, we will use the Federation of Sol.

Each player, including you, will get one of these command cards. It’s a reference sheet, a repository for the various counters you’ll need, and a description of your race, its background, and its mentality. When the galaxy is mapped out, which is a mini-game in and of itself, one player will start the game with this, the Speaker token, indicating that they kick off the start of a round of Twilight Imperium: the Strategy Phase. Starting with the Speaker, each player chooses one of these eight overarching Strategies. I’ll go over them in detail in a future session, but all you need to know for now, is that the Strategy cards determine the order of play for the round. So, if you choose Initiative (or Leadership, if you’re playing with the expansions, which you should), you will go first in the round, even if you are not the Speaker. But regardless of where you are in the turn order… what do you do when it’s your turn?

Strategy Cards, as compared to an ordinary Reference Paw.

The answer is simple: one of four things. (Five, if you count passing.) You can execute a Tactical action, Transfer forces between friendly systems, pull the trigger on your Strategy, play an Action card that designates you can play it ‘As an Action’, or you can pass. The round is over when all players have passed, and a new one begins. But let’s go back to that Tactical action, which is the beating heart of Twilight Imperium, the thing that keeps the game moving and slowly paints the galactic canvas, one brush-stroke of starlight at a time.

These are a few systems that could appear in your galaxy. Let’s say you have forces at Jord, your home system, and you want to move them to the Tiamat/Hercalore system. That takes a Tactical action. Take one of your Command tokens from the Command Pool area on your command card, and place it on your target system.


This is called ‘activating’ the system. You move your space forces first, possibly into a hail of defensive fire from Planetary Defense installations, and dealing with any combat in space. Then, you may move your forces from your fleet onto the planet, possibly with bombardment, and even more defensive fire, and engage in invasion combat. Once that’s done, you get any new planet cards you’ve acquired (face-down, so you can’t use them this round), your turn is over, and play proceeds. That’s a hostile system movement; how about if you have a friendly system to move to? Or build from?


It’s similar to hostile movement. You activate the system, move in your fleet and forces, and then, if you’ve controlled the system since last round, you can build a space dock there. If you already have a space dock, you can build other units here, up to a limit imposed by the industrial capacity of the planet the dock orbits.


To build, you have to exhaust (turn face down) systems with resources equal to the cost of whatever you’re building. In this example, we’re going to build two Cruisers at Jord. To pay for these Cruisers, each costing 2 resources, we first activate the system our Space Dock is in, and then exhaust Jord by turning it face-down. If Tiamat or Hercalor were ready, we could use them to build more ships or forces, but since we just got them this round, we can only exhaust Jord.

You can also do this as part of a Transfer action. Transfer actions are almost identical, but allow you to rearrange forces between two friendly systems, and build in one of them, but it consumes two of your command counters. And you need to keep that in mind, because you do not get these counters back. Not directly, anyway.

This implementation of tactical actions is part of what makes Twilight Imperium so brilliant. Downtime for the individual player is minimized. And even when it isn’t your turn, you’re going to want to see what your opponents are doing. Even if they’re light-years away from you, they might be building a fleet you’ll want to try and dilute, or guide your allies… if you have any… into attacking. You’re going to want to think two to three actions ahead, and time your movements as best you can, to obfuscate your true intent for as long as possible. For Twilight Imperium is much more than a game of moving plastic pieces and rolling dice.

Next Week: Strategies and You – What’s With The Trapezoids?

Writer Report: Another Year

Bard by BlueInkAlchemist, on Flickr

I’m crossing my fingers and knocking on wood (ow) in the hope that the worst of 2013 is behind me, and that the new year will not open with bad news. Cold Streets is still getting tested, and I’ve got a decent idea of what to shore up, what to cut, and what to expand. I’ll wait until everybody’s chipped in, though, before I get started on that.

In the meantime, I’ve been getting more ideas about Godslayer. Specifically, how it should begin. My recent foray back into TV-watching has had me taking in some cracking good pilots, and they all have a few things in common. They hit the ground running with their stories, they get the audience invested in their characters and worlds pretty quickly, and they don’t over-complicate the opening of a long narrative. I think a lot of genre novels can have trouble doing this, and I would rather not be counted among them. Especially if I want to gear Godslayer towards a younger audience.

Let’s see, what else? Got some local projects cooking. Keeping up with Flash Fiction. Still not sure if Fantasy Flight would be interested in a novel set in the Twilight Imperium universe.

Was something else happening today?


Couldn’t be that important.

Twilight Imperium – Hunka Hunka Burning Sun

Previously in Twilight Imperium: It was a pirate’s life for me.

There are a few games out there that promise a different play experience every time you unpack it. I’ve played a few that do vary from session to session, but after two games of Twilight Imperium, I can say that every game is, in fact, different. Tactical actions are done the same way, and the strategies were the same, but everything else was different. Even though we opted for another pre-set map, rather than taking the extra time to distribute the system tiles per the rules, the map was completely different. I did not expect all of the tech specialties to pepper our galaxy the way they did. For the most part, we chose our races at random. My father chose the L1z1x Mindnet (blue), my neice represented the Federation of Sol (purple), my brother-in-law lead the Yssaril Tribes (red), and I drew the Embers of Muaat (black).

I chose to include the options of Custodians of Mecatol Rex and the Wormhole Nexus, as the last time we played, it was far too easy to steam right to the capital. My neice began taking advantage of Sol’s racial powers right away, spawning extra Ground Forces on planets she occupied. My father industrialized quickly, pushing out from 0.0.1, while my brother in law and I established at least a casual alliance as he took sped out from his own home systems. My War Sun, hampered by slow movement, was at least able to claim the rare triple-system near Muaat. The newcomers got a handle on how the turns and actions worked, and by the end of round 2, we all had a good idea of how to proceed with our various plans.

As round 3 moved forward, my father essentially blocked off my neice’s advance towards his systems, and she seemed put off by the approach of my War Sun, now armed and fully operational. My brother bolstered his position on one side of Mecatol Rex, and the War Sun moved into the other side. For most of the rest of the round, each of us tried to determine who would actually go for it. I took the Diplomacy action to prevent my nearest system from getting trounced by either my neice’s growing armies or my father’s dreadnaughts. With that peace of mind, I rolled into Mecatol Rex, the public objective for which had just been revealed. At this point, the game was very close, with my father and my neice tied for first at 2 or 3 Victory Points.

My dad’s a bit notorious around our gaming table. With his massive fleets and aggressive expansion, nobody trusted him. At one point, he asked “How did I make 3 enemies in a 4 person game?” My brother and I were sort of glaring at one another as his Flagship occupied space near my War Sun. As Sol and the Mindnet also glared at one another, there was a palpable sense of tension around the table. It felt very different from the previous TI game, and as my brother swept into my father’s space, I knew that our erstwhile alliance was coming to an end.

Sure enough, the Yssaril Tribes moved in on Mecatol Rex. A great deal of fire was exchanged, but at the end, I was still able to complete my Master of Ships secret objective. The lead that afforded me was tenuous at best, as both my brother and my neice were right behind me. We had agreed to play to 8 victory points, and my objective put me at 6. This was the point in the game where the Diplomacy strategy could almost be used as a weapon or a means to limit an opponent’s choices, and the Bureaucracy strategy became more and more attractive.

By this point, my father had caught up to me in terms of tech. He, too, could construct War Suns. I knew I had to deal with him, but I had to do so in such a way that neither my niece nor my brother could capitalize on my focus. I needn’t have worried, through, as it was at around this point that the Yssaril invaded Muaat. Knowing that I could not claim any more objectives if my homeworld was occupied, the bold move was meant to forestall a Muaat victory. I now had the choice between going after my homeworld or taking my brother’s as he had taken mine. Before I could decide, my brother activated Diplomacy, declaring his home system a DMZ.

With no choice, I steamed home, abandoning Mecatol Rex, and fought to reclaim Muaat. There was some confusion over the proper use of the Gen Synthesis technology, but in the end, Muaat remained in the hands of the Yssaril. The other players were closing in, aiming to destroy my remaining space docks and possibly knock me out. However, during the Strategy phase, I had chosen Bureaucracy. When I activated it, the Imperium Rex card was available, and I played it, ending the game.

Twilight Imperium is quickly becoming one of my favorite board games of all time, and not just because of this win. The variety and depth of the game is staggering, and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. I have yet to play with Mercenaries, Political Intrigue, or Leaders, to say nothing of Distant Suns, but I know they’re on the horizon. My niece, at the conclusion of this game, asked “When are we playing again?” in a very eager tone of voice.

Even if I’d lost, I couldn’t have asked for a better victory.

Twilight Imperium – A Pirate’s Life For Me

Courtesy heidelbaer.de

Twilight Imperium is, in a word, massive. It is a box full of galactic hexes, plastic ships, embossed cards, cardboard counters, and reams of rules, all with one purpose: to recreate a space opera on any flat surface that has the space to accomodate it. I often refer to it as “Game of Thrones in space”, as it relies just as much on political intrigue, backroom dealing, table talk, and canny positioning as it does strategic war planning and tactical combat. I finally had the chance to sit down and play a game, graciously hosted by Jay of Goblin Artisans. Joining us were Josh, who does board game reviews, and my father, a man who’s been playing wargames since around when Tactics II came out in 1958.

We began with a pre-generated semi-randomized galaxy, rather than taking extra time to indulge in the interesting but time-consuming minigame that allows players to set up the systems, hazards, and resources around the capitol, Mecatol Rex. We then chose our races, with me dealing two home systems to each player and letting them pick one. Josh chose the Xxcha Kingdom, Dad picked the Sardakk N’orr, Jay selected the L1Z1X Mindnet, and I settled on the Mentak Coalition. After a brief tutorial on tactical actions and how play would proceed, we sat down for the first round.

Round 1

Instagram of pre Round 1
Spinwards from top left: Xxcha in yellow, Sardakk N’orr in blue, L1Z1X in green, and Mentak in red.

Since none of us had played Twilight Imperium before, Round 1 was very much a round of getting familiar with the mechanics of the game. There was a touch of confusion regarding the relationship between the strategy cards and one’s choices; I had to reiterate that one does not have to execute a strategy card immediately on its priority number. For the most part, the round consisted of all four players claiming systems in their immediate environs. The Xxcha Kingdom extended an olive branch to the Mentak Coalition right from the beginning, and began what was, for most of the game, a very cordial and peaceful relationship. The Sardakk N’orr began its spread relatively quickly, and the L1Z1X Mindnet began churning out dreadnaughts. None of this was surprising, and by the end of the round, all of the players had a much firmer grip on not only the rules of the game, but how to go about earning their first Victory Points.

Round 2

Instagram of Round 2
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this…” The Mindnet invokes Warfare.

Given the semi-random nature of the pre-set galaxy, it was by sheer dumb luck that most of the planets within easy reach of the Xxcha were heavy on influence. They begin exerting it almost immediately, dominating votes and earning one of the first public objective’s victory points. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The L1Z1X was already in a threatening position, using Warfare to intimidate their Mentak neighbors while also eyeing up the encroaching Sardakk. The Sardakk, for their part, occupied Hope’s End, training their first Shock Troops and preparing for what would either be a massive invasion of Mercatol Rex or a thrust into L1Z1X or Xxcha space, depending on which race looked at them funny first. Still, at this point in the game, no major battles had been fought and the galaxy was relatively at peace. This, however, was not meant to last.

Round 3

Instagram of Round 3
Mecatol Rex is temporarily dubbed “Space Tortuga.”

In a bold move worthy of audacious pirates, the Mentak seized Mecatol Rex during this round. While this was undoubtedly a victory for the privateer coalition, the annexation of planets by the Xxcha even closer to their borders would be a telling weakness that was not immediately recognized. The forces of the L1Z1X continued to build on the very doorstep of the usurpers, while the Sardakk continued building military might of their own, right on the doorstep of the Xxcha. Tension was building throughout the galaxy, and it was only a matter of time before implied threats would have to be answered with irrevocable action. The Mentak scored the Defender preliminary objective, which put them in the running for the lead with the Xxcha, while both the L1X1X and the Sardakk scraped what VPs they could out of their preliminary objectives.

Round 4

Instagram of Round 4
Pirates and cyborgs fight as turtles mobilize and bugs threaten.

The Xxcha, a race not known for quick action, began to mobilize in the direction of their bellicose neighbor, the Sardakk. Considering the size of the Mentak force occuping Mecatol Rex, the Xxcha had no desire to break their non-aggression pact. The Mentak, for their part, could not leave the fleet of L1Z1X dreadnaughts in a position to strike their systems, and thus struck first, their flagship leading the way and destroying the fleet. However, considering the growing number of Sardakk shock troops on the doorstep of Mecatol Rex, the Mentak could not bring any troops of their own along, and thus did not gain any territory from this action, nor did they qualify for the public objective that required an invasion of an enemy world. The Xxcha were free to make their maneuvers and enforce policies that benefitted them. Only by working together could the other three races oppose them politically, and accusations began from the Sardakk and L1Z1X calling the Mentak a ‘puppet’ of the Xxcha. With relations continuing to sour, and skirmishes breaking out, the possibility of a total galactic war began to grow. The Mentak’s occupation of Mecatol Rex qualified them for the Usurper secret objective, sliding them into the lead just ahead of the Xxcha.

Round 5

Instagram of Round 5
The Xxcha fully emerge from their shell!

Needing the objective that requires invasion, the Xxcha began maneuvers against the Sardakk N’orr, as DMZs began to be declared in the neighborhood of Mecatol Rex. The forces of the Sardakk on Hope’s End continued to grow, with deadly insectoid warriors covering the planet, and now looking at both a loss of one of their systems and the continuing threat of the Mentak fleet orbiting Mecatol Rex. The Mentak abstained from a key vote in the Assembly, souring relations with the Sardakk and the L1Z1X even further. Perhaps in response to this, as the center of the galaxy saw warfare and tension, the L1Z1X quietly built a space dock at a world near the B wormhole. The Xxcha and the Mentak were now tied for the lead, with the Sardakk and the L1Z1X also tied at 3 VPs apiece.

Round 6

Despite the continuing build-up of forces and advancement of technologies, the positions of the races remained static for the most part in this round. Instead of leaving the relatively comfortable position they had from occupying the capital, the Assembly action prompted the use of a political sanction that, after several discussions, wiped out the huge buildup of Sardakk forces on Hope’s End. While all of the fallout from this played out, the L1Z1X built more of their signature dreadnaughts on the Mentak’s doorstep, while the usurpers focused on protecting their ill-gotten gains. The Xxcha retreated from Sardakk space to allow the bugs to retake their world, keeping to the goals of the game and qualifying for another public objective.

Round 7

Instagram of Round 7
Cyborg vengeance!

The plan of the L1Z1X came to fruition when they made their incursion into Mentak space, destroying the fleet around their homeworld. The Mentak began to struggle to muster a response as the Sardakk surged towards the Xxcha, who are themselves shifting their forces towards Mentak space. After five hours of play, the players moved through their turns more quickly and efficiently, executing strategies to move towards Victory Points, with the L1Z1X and Sardakk working to catch up and the Xxcha nudging ahead of the Mentak by a single but vital point.

Round 8

After hours of cordial relations, the Xxcha finally broke their treaty with the Mentak. With plenty of warning to their former friends, their forces entered Mentak space and seized the Tsion station to destroy the space dock there. As the Mentak reeled from the last few rounds’ incursions and geared up to retake their home world, the Sardakk aimed to push back against the Xxcha while the L1Z1X waited to take advantage of chaos to strike towards Mecatol Rex. However, the Xxcha executed the Bureaucracy strategy and played the public objective for which they had just qualified by destroying the Tsion space dock. This earned them their 9th victory point, ending the game.

Instagram of game end
The Xxcha Kingdom wins!

In Review

Twilight Imperium is not a game for everybody. While the mechanics of tactical actions are not in and of themselves complex, and make up the bulk of what you’ll be doing, they are at the core of what is a fairly complex and balanced system. Part of the game’s beauty is in its starting random elements. Unless a house rules system is in effect, no player can walk into a game of Twilight Imperium know who they will represent, what to expect, or how they will work towards victory. The game demands a profound commitment: not only will it eat up several hours, if not an entire day, it requires your full attention at all points. Our session lasted around seven hours, and at no time was I either bored or uninterested in what was happening, focused entirely on my forces and strategies. There were moments of confusion even late in the game, and smart players can take advantage of this. Just like in any political arena, like the noble houses of Westeros or the star-spanning Lansraad of Dune, confusion can be either your unspoken ally, or the final nail in your coffin.

While the commitments might be intimidating and the challenge daunting, the game is very fun to play and very intellectually stimulating. More than any Fantasy Flight game I’ve played, it is steeped in atmosphere, with everything from the nature of the races to the progression of technologies to the bickering in assemblies all creating a thick and lush tapestry of storytelling among the stars. And every story is going to be different! For what it’s worth, I consider myself hooked on the game. It requires planning ahead to play, a setting aside of time and a satisfaction of earthly commitments so you can play with a clear conscience, but if you can get a few friends to take this journey to the Twilight Imperium with you, and at least one of you takes the time to nail down the basics of the rules so nobody’s spending precious game time bent over a rulebook, the journey will be well worth the taking.

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