The other weekend I played the third edition of Twilight Imperium (TI3) for the first time and was blown away. This board game sees each player take control of an intergalactic civilization vying to become the galaxy’s next leader. The game plays like a wargame, but adds elements of technological advancement, diplomacy, and objective cards to determine the winner. It took us about 8 hours to play, and in this blog post, I’ll highlight some of the best parts of the experience and some potential improvements.
First off let’s take a look at this game’s table presence:
This game is huge, and component is packed with details. In the lower left hand corner you see my reserve of black units, my technologies, currently occupied planets, diplomats, and current trade agreements. Then each player has a reference sheet with tokens showing their allocation of commands, the galaxy itself, action cards, the current public objectives, the currently enacted laws, the strategy card each player is taking this turn, and it just keeps going. The game took 8 hours in part because there’s just so much information to take in and consider. But the overwhelming number of components is also enthralling. Just look at my giant fleet of ships in the lower right of the board! Doesn’t it just make you want to take over the galaxy? And the number of options available to you makes you feel in control of a sprawling race of people.
If good board games are story machines TI3 created one of the most immediately compelling stories I’ve ever experienced. My faction was called The Nekro Virus. I can’t vote on laws at the galactic council, and I can’t research technologies like everyone else. Instead, I can only gain technology by defeating an opposing unit and copying a technology of that opponent. On my first turn I chose the diplomacy action and was allowed to propose a new law to the galaxy. The law I chose immediately gave everyone the WAR SUN technology, allowing them to build death star like weapons. The diplomat from the goblin race assassinated my diplomat, but everyone went along with the proposal and got the tech. Unfortunately I didn’t realize that since I was the virus I couldn’t earn new technologies this was! So, I had to defeat someone in battle first. Later on in the game another player encroached on my territory, so I quickly retaliated and captured their home world. However, by the end of the game everyone was so exhausted and the game started to drag that a few players colluded to end it unceremoniously. The game started off so strong that I loved it just from a few moves, but ended so abruptly and poorly that I felt robbed of the epic conclusion I thought I deserved
Victory Point Win Conditions
To win in a game of TI3 you need to get to 10 victory points. These points can be gained by completing a random secret objective, and by completing public objectives. These public objectives for our game were “pay 10 resources to gain a point”, “capture at least 3 unoccupied planets this turn”, and “control at least 5 planets”. These sorts of objectives don’t lend themselves to epic conclusions. Every battle, technology, action card, and political meeting is so rich with theme that having these generic objectives feels wrong. And equally disappointing is when someone just happens to meet the criteria for their secret objective. It’s extremely difficult to intentionally stop a player from completing these conditions, especially if they’re on the opposite side of the galaxy. Victory point win conditions are often included to more easily allow for a variety of strategies to contribute to victory, like diplomacy, warfare, and trade. But the objectives I experienced mostly just boiled down to controlling a lot of territory and making good use of your resources.
Structural Win Conditions
More appropriate for wargames are structural victory conditions. Risk is a great example of a structural victory condition; a game about global domination that you win by dominating the whole board. A game like Twilight Imperium could benefit from giving players huge structural advantages from completing objectives in the game instead of points. Maybe taking over 5 planets gives you a huge boost in production, capturing 3 unoccupied territories allows an extra production phase, or spending 10 victory points lets you gain an extra technology. This would also allow players to feel a stronger sense of progression, by gaining immense power over the game. To win the victory could be the last player to have a leader figure alive, the player to capture all the homeworlds, or the player to hold the center planet Mekatol Rex for a number of rounds.