Well although our normal game night is every Tuesday occasionally we bend the rules and have a Saturday gaming marathon. This exception is almost always due to our desire to throw down in a game of Twilight Imperium. For anyone that hasn’t played this mega-complex monster before you really are missing out. It is a game of galactic domination that combines many aspects of some of the best games of their genre to make one epic gaming experience. With combat built around Axis and Allies, role selection similar to Puerto Rico, resource management that may remind you of Agricola, some political maneuvering and deal making a’la Diplomacy, and finally lots and lots of alien races complete with their own unique special abilities.
While this game would fall into the “Ameri-trash” category at it’s core with the plethora of rules, variants, and dice rolling; the addition of several core elements of successful “Euro” games produces something unique unto itself. If there is one drawback to this game, it takes longer to play than grandpa does to trim his noes hairs. This game is seriously long, figure for at least an hour per player if you have a table of veterans and double that if you are learning the game. When you can involve up to 8 players in the struggle for the galaxy this means you will likely need to make this a day long event. Plan for lunch, plan for dinner, and plan to be up until the wee hours of the morning. It also has a fairly steep learning curve unless you have played a lot of the aforementioned games from which it draws some of its elements.
That said, this game is so entertaining that despite the time constraints we usually play it once every month or two. Last Saturday we headed over to Pats Place and threw down in not one, but two games of this monolithic juggernaut. We had 5 players, 3 experienced, and 2 that had played once before. The first game took around 8 hours to get through and we immediately reset and did it again, breezing through the second game in a paltry 5 hours. The beauty of this game is that no two games are the same, the galaxy will shape up differently and there are so many races that in a dozen games I still have only played a little more than half of them. Also be sure you have a big space, we tend to use a pool table with side tables for some of the pieces that don’t fit. Yes, there are some pieces that won’t fit on a POOL table.
For our games we play with the addition of the Representatives, Mechanized Units, Capital Ships, and Artifacts. For our Strategy Cards we use everything from the second set except for #6 Warfare as the ability to remove a counter works well to offset Diplomacy or Signal Jamming and is more strategic we find than the newer version. Setting up for our first game we each drew two random home systems and then picked one of those two races to play. We ended up with a decent mix, I was playing the Naalu, and we also had Yssaril, Xxacha, Mentak, and Jol-Nar. Now for those that haven’t played the game the Yssaril are downright busted. So much so that if they are played they generally become a massive target. In this game however they were being played by one of the newer players and throughout the game he made it his goal to “mess with everybody” and so they didn’t have the regular amount of hatred directed at them. The game progressed steadily, with all of us achieving our preliminary objectives by the second round.
The Yssaril made a turn two push into a system adjacent to the Xxacha homeworld but after sustaining no losses thanks to the -1 to opponents combat racial the turtles fell back and formed up to counter-attack next round. The Yssaril had only come to cap a preliminary objective however and quickly withdrew early in the next round before causing a costly early conflict between the two. I was lucky enough to have an artifact planet within a few systems that turned out to be one worth a VP so I kept an eye on that from the nearby Jol-Nar and started to pump out some fighter production.
The third round would turn out to be a pivotal one as the Political card resulted in a law being played that would either prevent all production for the round, or permanently reduce the production capacity of all space docks by two. With the defensive Xxcha and the tech oriented Jol-Nar in play they managed to pass the law and production was hampered for the rest of the game. This was devastating to the fighter based Naalu and with the sudden shift the Mentak started teching towards war suns as the limit essentially meant that he who had the better ships would win the day. The Jol-Nar were already on their way there as well but they also had their flagship in play which is comparable to a war sun itself.
The Yssaril continued to keep a heavy fleet back and hamper opponents with action cards. A Local Unrest card took out an unprotected space dock and stalled me out for an entire turn as I was unable to return it to the board that round and score the objective I was aiming for. The Xxcha managed to keep a hold of their territory through heavy PDS use including their flagship and savvy use of other players Diplomacy Strategy card to protect weaker systems. Meanwhile the Mentak had jumped out into the lead after scoring their secret objective. The attention didn’t stay focused on them for long though as next round the Jol-Nar took Bueraucracy and made a 5 point leap, capping a one and two point objective as well as their secret objective. Sitting at 8 points and with another 2 point objective coming next turn the Mentak got a moments respite as the Xxcha, Mentak, and Naalu all closed on the Jol-Nar homeworld.
The following round the Naalu took over the planet of Jol, (thanks to their amazing ability to always go first) stopping the Jol-Nar from getting objectives that turn as the Mentak and Xxcha tied up the Jol-Nar fleets. With one threat dealt with the rest of the round was a scramble to push back the Mentak as they were close to winning as well but it ended in a huge flurry as both Xxcha and Naalu scored a two point objective and their secret objective resulting in 4 races sitting at 8 points going into what was sure to be the final turn.
The Mentak were able to grab the Warfare Strategy Card and swoop in to take a poorly defended artifact world with a war sun and complement of dreadnaughts providing more than enough bombardment to take out the ground forces there. He then revealed his support for the throne card he had snatched earlier in the game and left the Xxcha and Naalu stunned, both on the cusp of victory themselves.
We were a little uncertain if the win was instant once the point threshold was reached via the artifact world and the support for the throne or if the game state was only checked in the Status Phase but everything we could find in the rules indicated instant and so the Pirates rode off with a ship full of booty and the crown of the galaxy.
After some quick pizza and wraps we set up to play again. This time the races included myself playing L1Z1X, Yin Brotherhood, Arborec, Nekro Virus, and Embers of Muat. It was gearing up to be a blood bath of a game. Muat got took trade and was able to get a second war sun up and running on turn 2 causing the other players to give him a wide berth. The Nekro Virus ran around engaging everyone he could, blasting carriers and picking up techs. L1Z1X and Yin got in heavy second round scrap and after some poor rolling by the L1Z1X and the suicide bomber Yin destroyer, the Yin were in a great spot with a big chunk of enemy territory. The L1Z1X meanwhile were forced to retreat to the systems adjacent their homeworld and defend for most of the rest of the game.
The Embers of Muat had used its early advantage to grab and hold Mecatol Rex and thanks to a few nice objective flips involving MR was ahead in the points. Meanwhile the Nekro Virus was spreading across the galaxy like a…well, like a virus. Their flagship had hit the table early and was now closing in on Mecatol forcing Muat to retreat or lose their fleet to the mighty Alastor. This gave the Nekro a few turns to catch up on the VP track putting both them and Muat at 5 points.
The Yin Brotherhood and the Arborec stayed on the fringes of space taking potshots at smaller Nekro fleets, unwilling to engage with the Alastor, each player waiting for another to take one for the team and go remove it from the equation.
Eventually it was the Nekro themselves who broke the stalemate, hurling the Alastor into a fleet with one of the Muat war suns. The Yin were quick to respond and moved in to crush the secondary Nekro fleet only to be destroyed in turn when the Nekro pulled its primary fleet out of Mecatol Rex. When the dust had settled on that round the others had waited too late and the Nekro ended up scoring their secret objective and a 2 point one to vault to 9 points and on the next turn easily defended their homeworld and scored the last point needed.
All in all it was a great day of gaming, it left me with a headache, but in a good way, and not the bogus headaches that wives always seem to have either. I was a little disappointed in how the second game played out as I had not had a chance to try the L1Z1X yet and the early loss essentially removed me from the picture, the turn before the game ended I had finally rebuilt enough that expansion was an option but with this game sometimes that is your fate. While that seems unbearable in a game of that length to be out of it for the most part you just have to make the most of it and take solace in the small victories.
If you have not had a chance to try Twilight Imperium I recommend you make it a top priority. If you have played please share your experiences. I would love to hear opinions on races and what additional options others play with.
This should be a semi monthly game for us so stay posted for more tales from the galaxy not so far away.