It describes itself as 'An Epic Board Game of Galactic Conquest, Politics and Trade' and the emphasis is definitely on Epic - the box measures 59cm x 30cm x 10 cm an weighs an absolute ton. It's Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition by Christian T. Petersen (herein after referred to as Twiglet for the sake of brevity).
First impressions? It's Fantasy Flight Games at their best, it's huge, has hundreds of detailed plastic pieces and lavishly illustrated box, tiles and player mats. It has 10 races (though only six can play) and vast action and political card decks ensuring that you never play the same game twice. The rules are also clearly explained and well illustrated, but the sheer breadth of them means you're bound to miss some rules the first few times you play.
That's the good, so what's the bad? Well, you've got to be prepared to give up a day to play this one, I've played many games, the shortest of which was a 3-player, with players who had all played yesterday, that came in at an impressive 2.5 hours, the longest game (a 5-player with several newbies) was curtailed after 10 and a half hours. Yes, 10! It's one of those games where you know it would go much faster if you all could remember the rules, sadly it takes so long to play that you can only play it every few months, by which time everyone has forgotten them again. We also struggle to fit all the pieces onto our 5' x 3' table - this game takes up a lot of space. Still, even for all that I love Twiglet.
It's not only epic in terms of box size, the rules read like all you favourite games rolled into one über-game, it has a variable turn structure (very similar to Citadels), a modular hex board, surprise action cards, politics and voting, combat, claiming territory and victory objectives. The rules also include 5 'game options' which allow you to tweak the rules slightly, like very simple expansions.
The modular board consists of a number of hexagonal tiles (between 28 and 37 depending upon the number of players) which each feature either a star system containing 1 or 2 planets and possibly a wormhole entrance which connects to another tile on the board, a nebula (limits movement, good defensively), a supernova (totally impassable), an asteroid belt (cannot be moved into or through initially), or a player's home system featuring 1 to 3 planets. Planets provide resources (used for building ships and buying technology) and influence (used to vote on laws and elections). When you use a planet's resources or influence you exhaust the planet and it cannot be used again until it has been refreshed at the end of the turn. The game also features trade goods, which you receive for bilateral trade agreements between players - these can be used interchangeably with the resources provided by planets.
Play begins with each player in turn taking one (or two, depending upon the number of players) strategy cards. These strategies each have a 'primary' ability available to the player who chooses it, and a secondary ability, available to all the other players at a small cost. The choice of strategy determines the running order of the subsequent turn (much like Citadels) so you can get the jump on an opponent by choosing a lower-numbered strategy. There are eight strategies:
- Initiative (primary: none but you don't have to pay for other player's secondary strategies and you get to move first and choose strategy first next time; secondary: none)
- Diplomacy (primary: choose a player - you cannot attack each other this turn; secondary: you may refresh half your planets allowing you to use their resources or influence again)
- Political (primary: resolve a political agenda and rig the political card deck; secondary: you may draw an action card (surprise tactic)
- Logistics (primary: gain 4 command counters (needed to expand you fleet, play other players secondary strategies and move, build & attack); secondary: spend influence to gain command counters)
- Trade (primary: negotiate new trade agreements, then earn trade goods from your trade agreements (+3) or break everyone's trade agreements; secondary: you may earn trade goods from your trade agreements)
- Warfare (primary: you may deactivate a system you have already moved into or built in, allowing you to move further or build more; secondary: you may move some of your units into an adjacent empty tile)
- Technology (primary: gain a technology of your choice; secondary: you may pay 8 resources (or trade goods) to gain a technology of your choice)
- Imperial (primary: gain 2 VPs and reveal a public objective; secondary: you may build in a system regardless of whether or not it is already activated)
The main bulk of the turn then consists of players taking it in turns to either: play the primary ability of their strategy card and then let the others play the secondary; activate a system to move into it, attack another player, capture planets and/or build reinforcements there; activate two systems to swap forces between them or pass. This phase continues until all players have passed. To activate a system you need to place one of your limited supply of command counters in it, and once activated you may not move units into or out of that system. This means you have to think careful about the order in which you activate your systems and your command counters limit the number of systems you can activate in any one turn. Command counters are also required to perform the secondary ability on the majority of the strategies, so they really are very important - you will find yourself often hoping to get the Logisitics strategy to replenish your supply of command counters.
At the end of each turn you get to refresh your planets, receive an action card (very useful surprises that can really scupper an opponent's plans), claim any of the public objectives you have met for some VPs, or your secret objective for more VPs and return the strategy card you chose. The turn then begins again. The game is won when a player gets 10 VPs, most of the early public objectives are worth one, and most of the secret objectives are worth two, however, just playing the Imperial strategy card gives you 2 VPs, so the game is almost always won by the player who chose it the most. There has been a lot of complaining on BGG about how the Imperial strategy card breaks the game since if you don't take it every chance you get, you will get beaten by someone who does. However, I'm lucky enough to play it with a bunch of people who don't all rush to the Initiative and Imperial strategies, we play the game and try to win through a variety of strategies - that's not to say they never get chosen, just not always.
There are several different units each with their own model and strengths and weaknesses, and combats can be fought in space and on the various planets. Each race has its own special abilities which will affect your style of place, some of them are strengths others are weaknesses, and since there are 10 races and you determine your race randomly, the game will be different every time you play.
It is not the most original game, either in mechanics (the designer freely admits he was influenced by several other games in a Designer's Notes section in the rule book) or in theme (anyone fancy trying to find a synonym for 'War Sun'? The large, spherical and most deadly unit?), but it is a well crafted and beautifully presented game. The length of the game is perhaps a bit excessive (the box claims 4-6 hours, but it certainly takes longer than that if you haven't played it for a while) but I love it none-the-less. Rumour has it that an expansion is forthcoming which will increase it up to 8 players! For which you will require a small country to act as a table and you'll need to start early to finish a game within the day. Overall, I give this an eight, though I'd be tempted for a little higher if it was a slightly shorter game.