Where Were You in 1997?
Twilight Imperium of a strange hybrid of a board game. This is technically a science fiction strategy game. Made in the United States, the first and flagship game from Fantasy Flight Games back in 1997.
Hence, this is the twenty-fifth anniversary of Twilight Imperium. Time flies. Where were you in 1997?
I was in the second year of graduate school at Temple University. Board games were not on my radar, neither was sci-fi.
Homework, grading papers, office hours, research, and working the night shift at a Korean deli were my routine. Not much free time for play or fun.
Gone were the sessions of Dungeons and Dragons with friends. Magic: the Gathering was megapopular but I will not get into Magic until 2009.
When I finally discovered Twilight Imperium at my local gaming store, I was put off by its long rule book and longer playtime. I didn’t have that much free time, and the few gaming friends I have would rather play lighter fare with less time commitment.
But I was intrigued and so in love with the game. When I listed the best sci-fi board games, I named Twilight Imperium an honorable mention.
So, what changed? What made me give Twilight Imperium another try?
In short, Tim Pratt.
Politics, Technology, Trade, and Space Combat
When I say Twilight Imperium is a strange hybrid of a science fiction game is because it is technically an Ameritrash game (highly thematic, with lots of miniatures, and combat by dice.
However, it has elements from Eurogames, like area control, a hexagonal map, trade, and diplomacy.
Incidentally, Christian T. Petersen, the game’s creator, and Fantasy Flight Games founder, is a US-American who grew up in Denmark.
Furthermore, he said he took inspiration from Settlers of Catan‘s board design, Puerto Rico (the eurogame, not my nation), and the Game of Thrones board game (published and created by Fantasy Flight). Of course, these elements were incorporated in successive editions.
With the fourth edition released in 2017 streamlining the rules (don’t fret, the Prophesy of Kings expansion released in 2020 made the game longer), it was the perfect time to revisit the game.
The game gives you the option to build your own galaxy (as long as you keep Mecatol Rex at the center).
Furthermore, the game is played in different stages, giving the player several opportunities to implement different tactics. Do you play aggressively or make deals? Do you invest in trade or leadership?
So, the game is still long, about six to eight hours long? Why should we play it?
In short, the game is awesome (when played with the right group of people) and because after reading Tim Pratt‘s novels based on the game’s lore, you will want to play it.
Who said tie-in media does not bring new fans?
The Emperor is Dead, Who Would be Emperor?
As a science fiction fan, especially as a lover of space opera, I am in love with Twilight Imperium‘s lore and concept.
The Lazax Emperor is dead. Mecatol City is in ruins, an empire in decadence, slowly losing influence. Meanwhile, the Winaaran Custodians will choose a new emperor among the great races of the galaxy?
A power vacuum, dozens of alien races with cool abilities, space combat, politics, and diplomacy, more than one path to victory… What is not to love?
Prepare your spaceships and get ready to roll those ten-sided dice. But, alas, make sure to arrive at Mecatol Rex before your rivals, and don’t let their resources and influence grow.
That is Twilight Imperium at its basic–any science fiction fan’s wet dream.
Will the Federation of Sol, the Emirates of Hacan, The Universities of Jol-Nar, the Clan of Saar, the Yssaril Tribes, the Winnu, or L1Zix Mindnet be the new emperor? You decide.
Admit it, you want to be the space lion alien race. We all do.
If you are in love with The Culture novels, The Foreigner series, The Expanse novels, The Machineries of Empire series, The Vorkosigan Saga, even Dune (and don’t tell me a certain space lion race does not remind you of Dune), you would love playing Twilight Imperium.
Moreover, Star Wars and Star Trek fans will find plenty to love here.
Because to win, it will take more than rolling dice. Also, a little role-playing will help too.
Do You Have Eight Hours to Spare?
In fairness, not every game takes eight hours (which is a whole work shift). The game can be played in four hours–as long as everyone is familiar with the rules and with about 3-4 players.
Again, with the right group, the game shines–especially if people get into the characters. Ideally, if you think like the race you are playing, your strategies should be clear.
And granted, some races’ abilities seem overpowered (I am looking at you, Nekro Virus).
However, that is part of what makes the game special. In effect, it is no different than playing Cosmic Encounter or DnD. These games create emerging narratives.
I will not discuss Tim Pratt‘s novels yet since I will make a post after I finish the trilogy. But the first two are page-turners and lots of fun. Read them.
If you ever dreamed of becoming a galactic emperor, or settling planets and commanding space armies, this is the game for you.
Similarly, if you ever dreamed of negotiating commodities and resources with aliens or voting laws and directives with those alien federations, this is definitely the game for you.
Thus, beware of those black holes, don’t trust those asteroids and nebulas and get your gravity drive handy. The Emperor is dead. Why not become the new one?
Do you have six to eight hours to spare among friends?
Reader, are you a fan of Twilight Imperium? Have you played the fourth edition yet? What is your favorite race?