Twilight Imperium is a legendary board game. There are urban legends about how long this game takes to play. It’s considered one of the biggest, best and longest Sci-Fi 4x games on the market.
In 2017 Fantasy Flight Games released a new fourth edition of this classic game. This new edition promised streamlined rules, upgraded components and most importantly to some; a much shorter playtime.
This past Saturday I got to put this new edition of Twilight Imperium to the test.
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My background with the board game Twilight Imperium.
I got into Twilight Imperium with the third edition of the game that was released by Fantasy Flight games back in 2005. I personally didn’t get it until the holidays in 2007. I enjoyed the game right out of the gate but, like many gamers, had a hard time getting it to the table. This was mostly due to the game length but also the difficulty in teaching the game to new players. Lastly was the fact that once a few local players had played a few times they tended to dominate any new player to the game.
There was one period where we played a bunch of games in a row. Every Saturday night for four Saturdays in a row. Those nights are very fond memories for me because at that point everyone playing knew the game well and it actually became much more strategic, tactical, fun and quicker. We were at the point where we could finish a six player game in under five hours.
Then Eclipse was released. Here was a game that scratched the same itch at Twilight Imperium but played in less than half the time. Eclipse also added more Eurogame elements, which I really enjoyed. After getting Eclipse I think I played my copy of Twilight Imperium two more times and that’s it. At this point, it’s been nine years since I’ve gotten any play out my copy of Twilight Imperium.
Despite that, I was very tempted to pick up the new 4th edition when it was announced, mainly due to the fact it promised a tighter, faster game. I never did give in though, as I worried this would be another game that sat there unplayed for months if not years.
Getting Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition to the table
We have been planning this game of Twilight Imperium for about a month now. A friend and local gamer, Chad, decided to pick up a copy of the game on the condition that his regular game group agreed to play it at least once a year. I’m not part of his regular group but when he mentioned this I noted that I would be more than happy to play sometime and could even provide my game room for such an event. Chad jumped at the chance.
The plan was to play a full six player game, but this past weekend was a super busy weekend here in Windsor. There was a craft beer thing going on, a rib fest going on and Art in the Park. To add to the mess, one of my kids was going camping with Scouts, so needed to be dropped off and picked up. The day before the game we were down to four players and sadly the night of the game that dropped to three due to a work emergency. So what was meant to be an epic six player experience turned into a three way battle among the stars.
Some of the changes I noticed in this new edition of Twilight Imperium
The first thing I noticed about this new version of Twilight Imperium was the overall improvements to the presentation. The ships are made of better plastic, the box comes with a functional insert (shocking from Fantasy Flight), the artwork on the map tiles is a lot brighter and clearer and the player boards are also much more functional. My only complaint is that those player boards are really thin, thick card and not cardboard. Other than that pretty much everything in this version of the game looks just a bit better than the last edition.
One of the first rule tweaks we encountered was variable set up for different player numbers. It’s not the same round galaxy no matter how many players you have. I personally really liked the shape of the three player map we used. We ended up using the recommended system set up and picked from the six recommended starting races. Basically, we did everything we could to make this first play go smoothly.
Overall the game plays pretty much the same as the previous edition. It’s a race to ten points and each round still starts with selecting one of eight strategies. Now it’s been far too long since I’ve played 3rd edition to know if they match the ones in the old version, but I do know there is some overlap if they aren’t identical. Because we were playing with three players, we each had to select two of these strategies. Similar to Puerto Rico, each of these strategies allows the activating player to do something and then all of the other players can do a related but usually less powerful action.
Along with their chosen strategy tile players also have command tokens. Most of these are spent to do actions each turn, while the others represent how large your space fleets can be. Most tokens will be spent to take tactical actions, which involve activating a system on the board. When a system is activated ships can be moved into that system. If ships from multiple factions are present there’s a battle. Then production occurs in that system. Most of the other actions in the game are driven by the strategies chosen by the players.
Strategic actions include getting more command tokens, building Planetary Defense Shields and Starbases, getting trade goods, influencing command tokens already on the board, developing technologies, politics, and more. I’m not going to get into all of these here.
Technologies are simplified from the last edition. Instead of a tech-tree, each tech has a list of prerequisites listed on it in the form of icons coming from four different tech types. So to build tech with two green tech icons on it, you have to have two techs in play with green icons. Some planets on the board, when controlled, can also fulfil these tech prerequisites. Another big improvement in regards to technology in this edition is that the ship upgrade technologies go right on your player board. Along with this, the player board itself is much more clear and even indicates which attributes of various units can be improved with technology.
Ship combat seems to be basically the same as the previous edition. In most cases, you are rolling D10s and trying to meet or beat a target number based on the combat ability of your own ships. Each hit takes out an opponents ship unless it can soak damage. Both sides fight simultaneously and ships aren’t lost until the end of the round. Ground combat is similar but there’s no chance to retreat.
One of the biggest changes I noticed from the previous edition was how actual player negotiations and trading between the players is handled. Players generate commodities during the Trade strategic action. These can be traded to other players as part of a deal. When that happens these commodities become Trade Goods that can now be spent as resources. In addition, players get a handful of these cards that they can include in deals. These include things like “Cease Fire” and “Trade Agreement.” What these cards do is add an actual mechanical effect to negotiations. I thought this was really well done.
Another change, at least based on my memory of the previous edition, is that the Agenda Phase, where the voting happens doesn’t actually come into play until someone has taken over Mecatol Rex, the planet in the center of the board. Also when you do enter the voting phase, you vote on two agendas each round. The actual mechanics of voting appear to have remained the same. This I really liked, as you didn’t have to worry about voting during the first few rounds of the game when you are just starting to expand out from your home system.
One thing that I noticed during our play, was that the action cards seemed rather powerful. It seemed very easy to quickly get a handful of these cards and they were letting us do all kinds of things, things that seemed rather overpowered. Getting ships for free, retreating without consequence, instantly destroying enemy units, etc. We also found that once the Agenda phase was unlocked some of the voting cards were a bit crazy in their impact. We had one card where if we voted in favour one player lost all but one of the ships in their entire fleet (of course we voted in favour).
The last major change I noticed was in regards to game length. Now the game cannot go on forever. At the start of the game, ten public objectives are laid out, face down. Two are flipped over at the start of the game, but each round a new one is flipped. Once you get to the sixth objective these start to be worth more points. No matter how many points players have the game ends after the last card is flipped. This was a very welcome change to me.
Now, remember it’s been nine years since I’ve played Twilight Imperium Third Edition, so it’s possible that some of these changes aren’t actually changes at all.
My overall thoughts on Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition.
Right off the bat, I have to say Twilight Imperium 4th Edition is a better looking, better produced version than 3rd edition. This is true in pretty much every aspect from the box and insert design to the artwork on the planet tiles.
I think the most important thing is that this game still feels like Twilight Imperium. The basic flow and feel of the game remains unchanged. You are going to start each round selecting a Strategy and then you are going to go around the table as player use those strategies and spend command tokens to move and build units on the board and improve them through technology.
We managed to finish our three player game in 3.5 hours and that included setting the game up and teaching the rules. It seemed to me that the objectives were easier to accomplish than many of the ones in the older game which was a big part of speeding things up. The new technology system also helped with this. This came as a surprise to us. I was all ready to play until 6am if need be. So it seems the claim that this edition of Twilight Imperium is quicker than the last edition is true.
The one thing I didn’t like, is that it really felt like the randomness of the game has been increased with this edition. The fact that one Agenda card wiped out Chad’s complete fleet is a good indication of this. As was the fact that during the game I drew two secret objectives that I qualified for instantly, whereas Justin had one that he could have never claimed. Along with this are the action cards I already mentioned above.
The other thing that seemed to be missing from this is one of the 4xs. Exploration. There really isn’t any exploration in this game. In Twilight Imperium 3, you put tokens on each world and as you discovered each planet you would flip these tokens and something would happen. You would get resources, there would already be units there, you might discover new technology, etc. There is nothing like that here.
Overall I had a really good time playing Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition. While it may not have been quite as epic as I remember my games of Twilight Imperium Third Edition being, I think that mostly had to do with the player count and not rules changes to this edition of the game.
What I really want to do now is play a game of Twilight Imperium Fourth edition with the full player count of six.
Have you played this new edition of Twilight Imperium? What did you think?