I have spoken about my favourite games on this website before, however, I have never gone into detail for Twilight Imperium. There is a very good reason for this. Twilight Imperium is a colossal game of grand strategy in space that has a lot of rules (though it isn’t difficult), takes up a lot of room and can be quite long. As a result I don’t get to play very often, which is sad for me. However, I recently overcame all of those difficulties and managed to get two more friends of mine to learn it and we had a game. It actually only took about 5 hours, and I won (last time I played, I got utterly spanked by just about every other player). I suspect my strategies wont work quite so well next time, as next time the players will be more experienced. I will need to learn. This post contains affiliate links
The Baron sat on his onyx throne, arms folded and scowling at his advisors as he received the information there were now two serious contenders for the Imperial Throne on Mecatol Rex. He pulled his face into a sneer when his Fleet Commander told him that the Mentak Coalition were building warships and intent on developing Warsun Tech, “They are little more than Pirate Scum. Send the fleet to meet them, but on a battlefield of our choosing.”
He was even less impressed when he heard that the Emirates of Hacan were also staking a claim. “Those flea bitten beasts are little more than thieves, posing no threat. They only want money and losing a war to us is bad for business. Send a fleet to their border to show them how impressive our guns are, and let them know we are open to trade.”
When the advisor looked askance at him, the Baron laughed. “I am neither stupid nor a brute. We will need trade to survive war with the Mentak and claim the throne. Dissuade the Hacan now. Destroy them later if needed.”
The court closed with a wave of his hand and his advisors murmuring “Yes, Excellency” in unison before filing out. The Baron smiled. After years of scheming, the throne was within his grasp.
As stated, Twilight Imperium is a game of grand strategy. What is grand strategy, I hear you ask. Simply put, the players control an empire with ultimate responsibility for developing the civilisation, technology and even politics of said empire. You get to do pretty much anything you could think of in this game from advancing technology, making trade agreements, fighting wars and passing laws in the Senate (more fun than it sounds). And, each faction is unique with its own bonuses and story. I played the militaristic Barony of Letnev.
Living in underground cities on a barren (and now polluted world), the Barony are quite an aggressive faction that get a strong starting fleet, decent starting technology and two planets.
Descendants of a penal colony that fell into ruin with the fall of the Lazax Imperium during the Twilight Wars, the Mentak Coalition are a strong fleet presence which includes piracy bonuses. Pete, my more aggressive opponent, took this race.
The final race, assigned to Chris, was the Emirates of Hacan. The Emirates are a race of felines that do extraordinarily well during trades, trade goods being usable to build ships or buy influence in the senate. Sadly, or perhaps not so sadly, when I explained their nature as feline traders, they were henceforth known as Khajit from Skyrim and everything they did became a Skooma joke.
Gameplay is quite simple. Players have a certain amount of command counters that they split between command, strategy and fleet. They replenish two at the end of every turn, however many actions in the game require expenditure of command or strategy counters. The game is then split into Strategy, Action and Status phase
There are 8 strategy cards available, each of which has a primary and secondary function. Players choose one of the strategy cards in the strategy phase, for use in the action phase. The player who picks the card executes the primary strategy, whilst every other player may execute the secondary strategy by spending a command counter from their strategy allocation pool. The strategy cards are as follows:
If there are three or four players, each player takes two. The number in the bottom right indicates the initiative order for the action phase, lowest number going first and so on. All have a primary and secondary strategy, excepting Initiative which simply allows the player to go first, take the speaker token (They get to settle ties and are player 1 next turn), and activate all the secondary strategy abilities without spending a counter from your strategy allocation. I will do a brief overview of the strategies.
Diplomacy – Allows you to create an unbreakable truce with one player for the turn.
Political – Allows the player to take 3 action cards, draw the next Political Card to make laws and decide the agenda for the next politics phase.
Logistics – Allows the player to take 4 command counters from their reserve to place anywhere on their sheet
Trade – Initiates Trade, or breaks it.
Warfare – Allows a player to retrieve a command counter from a previously activated system
Technology – Grants the player a free technology
Imperial – Player receives 2 Victory points and a new objective is revealed.
In the action phase, players take it in turns to take actions. The three actions to choose from are Tactical, Transfer, and Strategic. A tactical action is simple. A player activates a system, taking a token from their command pool and placing it on a system. Once activated, the player can move ships in into the system, fight any enemy ships in system, land troops/colonise planets and build. I put build on at the end there, however, players cannot invade a planet and then build a spacedock in the same turn. However, if they moved ships into a system they controlled with a spacedock, or simply activated a system with a spacedock, they would be able to build ships.
This seems like a good point to showcase the various ships.
Space combat is simple. Each ship has one D10 (a Warsun has 3) and has to hit its battle number to achieve a hit. Both sides fire simultaneously (though PDS Units in range get to fire before combat starts), and casualties are removed simultaneously, chosen by the player losing ships. In our game, first combat was initiated by Pete against me because he wanted to experience it. He destroyed all my ships in system, but he only had cruisers with no ground troops which meant he couldn’t invade my planets. I had reinforcements there next turn to punish his audacity.
The Mentak Cruisers hung there in orbit, occassionally launching impotent laser bombardments on the Letnev Base, before retreating to high orbit just in case the defending garrison actually had anything to shoot back. Sgt. Mikhael Aristov would have loved to oblige the pirate scum with a missile barrage or a mass driver, but the base was down to personal arms and munitions for ground assault only. The Lieutenant had become something of a problem, becoming steadily unhinged with each successive barrage to the point that Aristov was convinced the man would surrender the base even though the ‘Taks hadn’t landed any ground forces. Which probably meant they didn’t have any. (Un)fortunately, the Lieutennant became a casualty of the most recent bombardment, “falling” from a walkway when the underground base shook as the ‘Tak lasers struck the defence shield. None of the soldiers in this command would question the accident, and Aristov had redirected their efforts into getting a signal out to the Admiralty. That had been four weeks ago, and tempers were fraying given the tight quarters. And then, he had received word from one of his boys manning the sensor shack. Barony Dreadnoughts had entered the system with significant escort. Those pirate scum were in for a surprise!
Transfer actions happen between two systems a player controls allowing them to be activated with one command counter from the command pool and one from the reserve. This allows players to move units between two systems, for instance to reinforce a forward position with dreadnoughts whilst pulling out destroyers. It also allows players to build in one of those systems.
Finally, a strategy action allows the active player to execute the primary strategy on their chosen strategy card. Other players can then execute the secondary strategies as they see fit so long as they have tokens in their strategy pool. A particular example of Pete executing strategy effectively was to play the political strategy on his turn. This allowed him to put a law onto the Senate floor for debate.
The law to be passed stated that due to civil unrest, any system controlled by a player must have troops stationed on it. As I had been reinforcing a front to meet his fleet, four of my planets were currently ungarrisoned. This was bad news for me if it passed, and his silver tongued ways were already swaying the skooma addled Khaj…er, the Emirates of Hacan. Fortunately I had executed the politics strategy earlier in the game, which allows the active player to take three action cards. I had one for this very circumstance. Plus, the Hacan stood to lose planets so I felt confident.
The Letnev representative took his seat after giving the speech of his life. The ‘Taks had proposed a law that blatantly attacked the Barony, targeting four planets that had relinquished their garrisons to reinforce Leopold base at the request of Commandant Aristov. A ‘Tak fleet was forming in a neighbouring system and a fullscale mobilisation was needed to protect the borders of the Barony. Of course, none of that mattered one jot to the capricious senators here. All that mattered was that the Barony had not been the instigator in the border wars of the previous years. The representative reminded the senate that the Mentak Coalition had attacked without provocation or reason, destroying several baronial ships, and blockading the planets along the border without even the back handed decency of invading and feeding the starving population. “Our troops,” he had said, “Left stable planets to reinforce worlds vulnerable to oppression by violent neighbours.”
The League of neutral systems had been swayed, and it all came down to the Hacan. When the speaker announced that the law passed, the Letnev representative looked on at the Hacan delegate with undisguised hatred. Once the ‘Taks are done, you are next, he thought.
So, that law passed despite my best efforts however it transpired that quite a few Mentak planets were ungarrisoned, so they reverted to neutrality too. And, to be fair, in a previous politics strategy/session of the senate, the Hacan had proposed a law that would make one player’s fighters more powerful. I had chosen that agenda knowing full well that no one had fighters on the board, but that I was upgrading my fighter tech secretly. As a result of my fighter strategy being secret the upgrade was voted to me, which meant that when Pete’s fleet inevitably attacked, my fighter screen was brutal to his Dreadnoughts. It didn’t hurt that I had two direct hit action cards that allowed me to blow up two of his dreadnoughts as soon as he assigned one damage to them.
The Status Phase
The status phase is where housekeeping is done. Command counters are removed from the board and returned to reserve. Each player takes two and an action card, repairs Dreadnoughts/Warsuns, returns strategy cards and claims victory points based on public objectives gained and secret objective. If any player reaches 10 victory points, they win. Once housekeeping is taken care of, the next game round starts.
It was a practice game we played, though I am still happy to have won it. I would have been happy to have lost too because it was fun. In the final turn, The Mentak’s largest fleet attacked the Barony’s largest fleet whilst it was in a military base, and the Barony prevailed. Play passed to me and I played my strategy card. I was on 8 victory points. I played the Imperial Strategy and got to 10.
The Letnev envoy hurried down the grey, sterile halls of the Senate Building on Mecatol Rex, the grin on his pale skin resembling something horrific to most species. The Mentak fleet had been lured into an Ambush by the Baron’s elite forces including the brand new Elite Fighter Corps he had personally financed. The ‘Taks had foolishly invaded a system protected by PDS batteries and a legion of Aerospace Fighters. Not to mention the garrison fleet. The advanced targeting systems of the Mentak Warships were completely outgunned and destroyed. The senate would no doubt receive word of this battle soon enough through proper channels, but of course the Baron had paid a significant sum to tight beam the news to his consulate. The envoy stepped through the entry portal of the senate chamber, home to hundreds of senators from the disparate worlds that previously formed the Imperium under the Lazax. With the Mentak crippled in battle, and the Hacan distracted by piracy along their border, the time was right to call the final vote. Bribes had been paid. Votes were already determined. By the end of today, the Baron would be Emperor.
This game is absolutely one of my favourites for the level of detail and the number of options you have available. In our game, there were actually only 3 battles. And they all took place in one system on my border with the Mentaks. The Hacan never engaged growing powerful on trade, but never quite catching the Barony. It was an excellent game, enjoyed by all.
It’s more than just gaming
Twilight Imperium is a fantastic game of strategy, warfare, trade and politics. It is something that many gamers can really get their teeth into and have a lot of fun. But it’s more than just the gaming. There are so many fandoms nearly appearing in this game, though the three that stuck out were Star Wars (not quite Death Star, Not Quite Coruscant), Battlestar Galactica (The cruisers look suspiciously like Battlestars) and Dune (The Race names resemble various factions in Dune). That in itself sparked conversations and more fun. We also managed to get an afternoon of Skooma jokes and Khajit impressions from Skyrim which nearly had me falling from my seat (this has happened in the past…). And I was able to cobble together four pieces of flash fiction for this blog to give you a bit of flavour of how I saw the game unfolding and the stories that built it up.