Sunday, February 3, 2013

Massive Game Review - Twilight Imperium

You know how sometimes you want a whole lot of game? Like, you want to spend most of your Saturday around the table, having to stop every two hours for food or bathroom visits or to remind your wife that you haven't died yet? When that happens, it may just be that you want to play Twilight Imperium. But pack some Snickers, because you're not going anywhere for a while.

I've heard a lot of people compare Twilight Imperium to Eclipse, and the comparison is valid, but that does not mean that Eclipse can replace this massive classic. Eclipse is a very good game, and it is quite a bit faster than Twilight Imperium, but Twilight Imperium does lots of things that Eclipse doesn't do.

For one thing, our favorite thing about Twilight Imperium is something you won't find in Eclipse - politics. And I don't mean the kind of politics where you go, 'OK, I have three votes, you have two votes, so I win this one thing that means I get a point.' There are in-game politics in Twilight Imperium, but more importantly, there is a ton of actual political maneuvering happening as you play. You might send your massive battlefleet to attack one enemy as a favor to another because that other guy let you pick up the extra planet you needed to boost your production and recruit a couple extra soldiers. And then when your ally of convenience gets too close to winning, probably because his fleet was not blasted to ribbons by yours, you'll kiss and make up with your mortal enemy so that both of you can sabotage the rising star's hopes and dreams.

This political part is pretty awesome. You can find this sort of deal-making in nearly any game that includes conflict, but in Twilight Imperium, it's not just possible, it's practically required. Considering that there are times during the game when you will have to vote on particular galactic laws - laws that could ruin one player and save another - the half-meant handshakes and flimsy alliances are critical to surviving in the cat-eat-dog universe of Twilight Imperium.

Since the win conditions depend largely on cards that pop up every turn, and you'll never be entirely certain what might help someone else win on their next turn, the most important thing to do in Twilight Imperium is just to do well. Explore planets. Build fleets. Invent new tech. And secure those senate votes, because you can be a total bad-ass in the deep black of space, but you're nobody if you can't get a bill passed.

And sure, Twilight Imperium takes longer than Eclipse. But when you play Twilight Imperium, it's not just a game. It's an experience. It's three or four hours of negotiation and battles, outmaneuvering and betrayal, Mountain Dew and swamp-ass. You may be a little exhausted when you're finished, but at the same time, you'll know that whether you won or lost, you just enjoyed a whole hell of a lot of memorable quality time. Heck, I haven't won Twilight Imperium, but I am delighted that I got to play.

All the other stuff you want out of a space civilization game is in Twilight Imperium, probably because Twilight Imperium was kind of the founding member of the space civ club. You can research technology, discover planets, build spaceships, and wage war. Mysterious alien races with supernatural abilities create giant starships that will bring entire galaxies to heel. The galaxy is different every time you play, and there are enough different races to try that you'll have to play half a dozen games before you see them all.

Twilight Imperium might sound pretty sweet, but you may still be avoiding it based on the amount of time you're going to spend playing it. Well, good news - the third edition of Twilight Imperium has been considerably streamlined, which means that while a huge game will still take several hours, it won't be the twelve-hour marathon of the first version. We finished a three-player game in under four hours. If I ever manage to recruit five friends who bring lots of Red Bull and some amazing mental stamina, I think we could probably wrap it up in under six hours. So not only is this a spectacular game with lots going for it, it's faster than it used to be (or so I hear - I never played the old one).

I can't recommend Twilight Imperium to just anyone. You have to be a certain kind of person to want to bite off this much game. You have to enjoy games where stuff explodes. You have to have the mindset that says, 'I'm in this for the long haul, and win or lose, I'm going to give it my best shot.' You have to be willing to make deals and break them, to trust your enemies and betray your friends, to sit around a table for so long that your butt molds to the shape of your chair. This is a whole lot of game, and you have to be up for it, but if you are, man, are you going to love Twilight Imperium.


3-6 players

Shore is purty
Board changes every time
The politics - both in the game and around it - are amazing
Tons of stuff to do
Strategic options abound, and tough decisions everywhere you turn

Still pretty darn lengthy
Not for people who are scared off by big rulebooks

Twilight Imperium is a damned expensive game, but I got a discounted copy from Noble Knight Games and saved a pretty decent chunk of change:


Wind Lane said...

This is one of those games that I won't ever buy, but I'll still play it when somebody else invites me to a big game day of it.

The last time I played it was an eight player titanic game that lasted almost half a day.

I'm fine with a game that long, but I prefer to not do that too often. Once every six months seems about the sweet spot for me.

Jonathan said...

I like Twilight Imperium 2nd edition a lot more than Twilight Imperium 3rd edition. What do you think?

Matt Drake said...

I only played third. I couldn't compare the various editions. Before my wife bought this game for me for Christmas, I couldn't have commented on any of them.

Anonymous said...

Our 4-8 player games range from 5-11 hours, and I love every time I play it. Maybe the best $70 I have spent on a board game.

But I am 'that kinda person'.

Anonymous said...

2nd Ed to 3rd Ed comparison: