Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

A Second Look at Twilight Imperium

Yeah, I did play Twilight Imperium again since last time.  I’m beating a dead horse here– you already know how I feel based on yesterday’s post— but I spent another six hours giving this game a fair look.  I can’t get my life back, but I can at least summarize my experiences to save you from figuring this out the hard way.

My opponents were intent on doing other things, so I got to take the “War” action card several times.  This got my slow-moving carriers out to the center of the board.  I failed to get enough ground troops down to take Mercatol Rex, but spent a few turns destroying undefended ships.  I then found out that… you can’t really fight a war of attrition here the way you can in games like Risk and Axis & Allies– it’s just too easy to build back up monster fleets really really fast.  (Especially if you know a half-dozen tricks to produce, move, and coordinate your worlds and so forth with the various abilities on the role cards in play.)

I had to back off.  I had spent so much energy on waging war, that I was behind technologically and I really lacked defense in-depth.  (Also… with lots of fleet logistics tokens in play, I didn’t have a lot of extra tokens for making actions.  Not good.)  I kept a couple of monster fleets facing the player I was most scared of… while I had practically nothing facing the other guy.  The first was extremely aware of every nuance of the victory point situation and was only going to come out to play if he thought I was going to get ahead on points.  The other guy I didn’t expect to be particularly aggressive– but then… he chose the war option!

He placed the bonus token of the War role down on his foreword fleet.  I could see him getting ready to charge in on me.  Reacting immediately in the Twilight Imperium mini-turn system, I attacked him before he could break through my wimpy lines.  I might have done a move in there putting a picket ship in position in order to slow him down, too.  I ended up rolling through his fleet using everything I had.

(You don’t get one giant mega-fleet in this game.  You have multiple fleets… so one will fight, then his reinforcements
come in to destroy your weakened fleet, then your reinforcements go in and take back the hex again, and so on… until people run out of fleets in position to strike back.)

I was thinking that I had done pretty well– I owned massive amounts of territory at this point even though my ships were mostly gone.  It was a fragile position, but… I was just on the edge of achieving my secret objective for two victory points.  And this was, of course, the classic point of extreme stupid that you get in three player games– ie, the two players that fight merely hand the game to the guy that remained passive.  But suddenly the guy I was whipping up on produced a Death Star type unit with his superior technology and proceeded to roll right back over me!

All of this was meaningless, though.  I mean, we got to really dig into the combat rules this time because… you know… I stupidly started a bunch of fights even though it was completely against my interests.  But all this time that we were spending playing the game… the passive player was running through the victory point cards somehow with one of the other roles we didn’t care about too much.  As soon as the dust settled, he drew the Imperium Rex card and won the game because he was sitting on a one point lead in victory points.

Whooptey freaking doo!

So basically… there’s massive space fleets on the board.  But the game isn’t really about fighting and shooting and blowing things up.  It’s really, at heart, a six-hour game of Puerto Rico.  Argh!  You know… in principle, it sounds like a good idea to borrow lots of elegant game design techniques from the Euros, but it just seems to me that at some point it’s real easy to end up with something where the actual game play has absolutely nothing to do with the supposed theme of the game.  I think… for my time and money… certain less pretentious games from the eighties are a much better deal.

Bottom Line: If you’re going to play a musical chairs type role selection game, it may as well be short and sweet.  Stick to Citadels (simple) or Race for the Galaxy (wonky and fiddly fun.)  Cyclades is a better game for this sort of epic clash because the victory conditions are much less byzantine– it just seems to be a fairer game all around.   Nevertheless, I prefer the way that Samurai Swords rewards everyone for conducting as many battles as possible– and the secret bidding for ninja, ronin, and player sequence is never dull.

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One response to “A Second Look at Twilight Imperium

  1. elc January 31, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Once everyone understands how to win the fighting is pretty constant. But it’s very rare that you fight to inflict attrition or cramp someone else’s economy. There isn’t time for that. You can only fight for points–or, crucially, to block your enemies points. Once you start blocking others’ scoring opportunities, then…nonstop awesome space violence. Oh and as you noted in your other post, it’s pretty hard to eliminate anyone (only happened once in about 20 games for me) So once again, your not fighting like it’s Risk. You just need muscle to get your points.

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