Review of Twilight Imperium, 4th Edition
- Designed by Dane Beltrami, Corey Konieczka, and Christian Petersen
- Published by Fantasy Flight Games
- 3-6 Players
- Playing time: good luck
Forgive me for starting a review with a metaphor, but it seems to fit in this case. If games were pizza, the writers of this blog would tend to favor the margarita, a finely-honed, thin-crusted European-style delight, executed with amazing skill by a dedicated pizzaiolo using only a handful of ingredients. These are the Azul’s of the gaming world. They might shy away from a stuffed, deep-dish Chicago pizza, an overflowing, gooey mess of toppings and bread. If ever a game were deep-dish and overstuffed, it is Twilight Imperium. It has too many components, too many systems, and is deeper than a pie from Pizza Due.
Yet … somehow it works, and creates a gaming experience unlike any other I’ve encountered in the hobby.
With that introduction, here’s a review of Twilight Imperium, 4th Edition, from Fantasy Flight Games.
The Basic Idea
In TI4, players take the role of various space-faring races vying to become the next dominant species of the galaxy. Players use a combination of Puerto Rico (given the theme, New Frontier?) style role selection combined with “dudes-on-a-map” board interaction. This includes conquering star systems, trading goods, a political phase in which players vote on laws, researching technology, building spaceships, and so forth. Players try to acquire victory points by completing various secret and public objectives, and by holding the central planet in the galaxy, Mecatol Rex. Many victory point objectives require holding a certain number of planets of a certain type, spending large amounts of resources, or doing things to vex other players. There are ample videos online to introduce you to specific rules, if you’re curious.
For seasoned veterans of the system, games might last a few hours. For all else, plan on all day. I enjoy inviting friends over in the morning, providing a lunch, and finishing in the evening. If playing with my kids, we leave it set up on an unused table and play over a couple weeks’ time.
Differences from the Third Edition
The Fourth edition of Twilight Imperium is more of a tweak than an overhaul of the Third Edition, but the tweaks are substantial. The basic flow and object of the game remain the same, but several subsystems have received needed adjustments. Trading goods now requires you to be neighbors on the map, which is thematically appropriate and encourages interaction. The political cards seem more powerful, making influence more important. Researching technology has been simplified, with a tech tree replaced by a simple color-coded prerequisite system. One of the Puerto Rico-style role cards lets players build space docks towards the center of the map more quickly, increasing the tempo of the game. The components and artwork have been tweaked as well.
Twilight Imperium remains Twilight Imperium. If you considered the Third Edition an all-day abhorrence, nothing is going to change your mind here. If you enjoyed the Third Edition, and have a hundred dollars to spare, this is better. A lot of thought went into small changes that make the game more streamlined and interactive. At the same time, those that were hoping for a real two-player option or shorter playing time will be disappointed.
There’s a lot to like here. The complexity and scope of the game create a gaming experience that’s hard to replicate outside other heavy civilization games. The game has a long strategic arc, while being incredibly tactical in which of the powerful strategy cards one selects, how turn order plays out, which resources are saved versus spent, and so on. Anyone who thinks this is a game about smashing large fleets into each other constantly really doesn’t understand the point of it, and will probably not win. Twilight Imperium is a game that looks like a sledgehammer but needs to be played with a scalpel, carefully crafting routes towards victory-point payoffs. There are large, dice-fest space battles, but they might not occur that frequently over the course of a game, depending on how players approach things. If one’s focus isn’t constantly on points, one loses.
There’s also some to dislike. If you’re a non-confrontational gamer, be warned that many options for victory points require messing with your neighbors, especially as the board gets crowded. At the same time, more peaceful strategies can lead to victory through good use of diplomacy, planetary defenses, and so on. The game relies on many action cards to add dramatic flair to events, which can turn carefully crafted strategies on their head. It sacrifices elegance for drama, like many Fantasy Flight games.
In sum, if you like this Chicago-style kind of game, you’ll probably love Twilight Imperium 4th Edition. If you left your heart in Naples, best avoid.
Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers
Chris Wray (1 Play): I enjoyed this one. I even asked for (and received) a copy for Christmas. Jeff’s analysis is apt: TI4 is a complicated mess, sacrificing any semblance of being streamlined in favor of creating a massive, space civilization game. But it shines at what it does, and it is a remarkable gaming experience. Every game will be memorable, even years later.
I’m happy to set aside a day to play TI4. My biggest negatives are that (a) despite being the Fourth Edition, there are still countless typos, plus an unexplainable (and unforgivable) number of rules errata, and (b) for a game that lasts so long, you do seem to be awfully at the mercy of which goal cards you draw.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
§ I love it! Jeff L.
§ I like it. Chris Wray
§ Not for me…