Sunday, November 12, 2017

Tried out Twilight Imperium 3rd edition.. finally after 10 years.. and it's a delight

I noticed the 3rd edition of Twilight Imperium on game store shelves over 10 years ago given my love of space opera, but it's reputation for being a 12 hour marathon game put me off

The box cover art is especially nice, and my eyes were always drawn to the Lion Man on the cover for some reason. It reminded me of the Man-Kzin series of novels as well as the old PC game I used to play in the previous century called Wing Commander...

My friend Jeff actually bought the 3rd edition years ago for like $35 off a local guy, but we kept putting off playing it given it's reputation. However, now that Twilight Imperium 4th edition is coming out very soon, Jeff decided it was now or never to try out 3rd edition in order to see if he should get rid of it or not. His reasoning is that if 4th is successful, he won't be able to re-sell his 3rd edition copy for much after 4th's release.

I suspect our recent marathon play of Through the Ages was also a catalyst to trying out Twilight Imperium.

When he lured me to play this weekend, he didn't mention what we would be playing, knowing that I would resist, given Twilight Imperium's reputation,. so he ambushed me, in a good way as I saw at the end.

Jeff told me the guy with whom he bought it off did not even play the game and did not even punch out the counters. Indeed, when I came over to play, Jeff recruited me to help him unbox the game by  cutting the ships off the sprues.

Our intention was to play a 2 player game to familiarize ourselves with the most of the rules as we want to get our friend Jim to play for a more fulsome 3 player game. In a 2 player game, most of the trading rules didn't really apply, as well as the secret objectives, so we disregarded those. Everything else is more or less the same.

I initially wanted to play the Lion Men, which I see are called the Hacan in this game, but since they seemed to have special abilities around trade, I passed and we chose our race per the rules, randomly.

  I got Earth, which for some reason is called Jord in this game.

The game comes with lots of ships for each side. They seemed good sculpts for a 10+ year old game. There are even "Death Stars," called "War Suns" though I don't think they blow up planets (at least in the basic game we played).

There are dreadnoughts, cruisers, destroyers, fighters, space docks, with each race getting different stats to build and fight with.

Some people call this game 4X, but I found there is no exploration as all players set up the map, tile by tile, around a concentric ring, before the game starts.

I won't go into too much detail about the actual game as we were in training mode, but not surprisingly, one goes forth and attacks the other guy for the resources and political influence of the planets.

The green planetary number is the number of resources generated, and the red is influence used to vote on the Galactic Council for laws (which I'll talk about below).

Attack, counter-attack, and so forth.

What I liked was the mechanics of the strategy cards... Players pick their strategy and by doing so, deny the other guy the similar strategy, forcing hard decisions. For instance, in one turn, I picked Technology, Trade and Logistics. I thus get to do R&D this turn with my Technology strategy, but Jeff couldn't. At best, if he wanted to do R&D, he could do the "secondary ability" of the Technology strategy, but it would cost him.

The same with Trade and Logistics.

The sheer variety of the game I think comes from the maps, the action cards and the political cards.

In terms of the map, the tiles are nice and thick in the 3rd edition, and there are enough to go around. Even with another player to make it 3 players, we would just use another 8 tiles, with the rest unplayed until possibly next time.  Also, the 3rd edition expansions have even more tiles that could double the size of what Jeff has in the basic game.

There are not just planets, but supernovas, asteroid belts and depending on the random tiles you picked when setting up the universe, you can pick up warp gate-like phenomena that cut across the universe, if the letters match.. A to A, B to B... in our game the letters didn't match as we had 1 A and 1 B, but if they did, it would have altered our strategy no doubt.

Then there are the action cards, and there are a ton of them that could affect game play.. Speech from your palace inspires the troopers, rise of a messiah, etc. 

If you had this insubordination card for instance, you could play it on a player whom you see about to invade you, screwing up his plans with mutiny in his ranks.

There seems to be a hundred of these cards, all no doubt, with random out-of-the-blue effects.

Then there are permanent changes in game play, as players use their political influence from the planets they have to vote on space laws. And again, there are a lot of political cards that give endless replayability in this game.

Lets say you have more influence than the other guy but you have no dreadnoughts built, but he does. You could try to out vote him on "Arms Reduction" and such.  In case of ties, the player who is currently the "Speaker" gets to vote or veto it. I can see with a lot of players, there would be massive jockeying for power and influence during the voting stage.

Therefore, collecting and exercising influence is a factor in this game, not just brute strength relied upon from your mighty fleet.

This game is 10-15 years old, and you could tell a lot of space strategy games copied elements of Twilight Imperium.

Both Jim and I love this genre especially, and indeed, we both rebought on Steam the 1990s game Master of Orion II recently. I think therefore Jim would like this game as well. Both Jeff and I want to try it out with him hopefully in the next week or so.

Now, as for 4th edition, I'm told that it's release is imminent, but going to be priced around $165 Cdn plus sales tax. The 3rd edition is around $90, but you just know that stores will discount 3rd edition 10-20% in the next little while as people will flock to 4th.

Would 4th be worth it? While the game is streamlined a bit, and the 4th edition ships look a little nicer..

I'm not sure paying double the price of the 3rd edition is worth it. I'm told that the map tiles will be slightly thinner than in 3rd edition, and that there are more expansions coming for 4th, which means even more dollars.

However, we'll see about getting the 4th edition. 3rd edition seems like a lot of replayability at half the price.

Anyways, this is a great game for us lovers of space opera, and I regret I listened to the hype about it's game length all these years.


  1. Sorry, too late, 4th Edition is out! A $160+ CAD price tag for a game that will rarely get to the table is a tough pill to swallow though.

  2. Come now Jim.. what is money to a true gamer.. Indulge yourself and buy it. I promise to play it with you as many times as you want and time permits. :-)