- Designer: James Kniffen
- Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
- Players: 1-8
- Age: 14+
- Time: 90-120 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by publisher
Twilight Inscription is subtitled “The Epic Roll & Write Experience”. At first glance, it is certainly trying to win that crown; with a game including up to 8 players, and an upper time limit of 120 minutes! As with most Fantasy Flight Games – there is a backstory: “The Lazax Empire has burned to ash, rejected by its subjects. The aftermath was tragedy and petty conflict in equal measure, a time of loss and exhaustion. In the ensuing Dark Years, the factions of the galaxy retreated and recovered their strength. Now, they look upon the stars and see an opportunity—a chance to reclaim what was lost. A chance to redefine galactic civilization. A chance to leave their mark upon the stars. With a limited pool of resources at your disposal, you’ll need to carefully manage Navigation, Expansion, Industry, and Warfare as you amass victory points and earn your right to the throne on Mecatol Rex. Will your faction become the new rulers of the galaxy? Or will your fledgling empire fade into obscurity? “
Players take on the role of one of twenty-four different factions – each with their own story, goals and strategies. You are dealt 3 of these at the start of the game and choose which one you want to be. Each faction has a unique power that can always be used and a second bonus action which can be triggered when you claim the Faction icon on one of your sheets.
Additionally, each player will get four different sheets to write on – Navigation, Expansion, Industry and Warfare. They are recommended to be arranged so that the titles of each sheet meet in the center of the player area – but in the end, you can put them however you want. Note that these sheets are double sided; the B side offers an identical layout while the A sides are different. As you play the game, you will try to gain Assets – things in circles. Things in dotted circles must be used immediately when gained. Things in dashed circles can be gained and then used later when the player wants to spend those things. Each player will get a chalk marker to use on their sheets.
The Mecatol Rex sheet is placed in the middle of the table. The varied card decks are set up. The necessary Agenda cards are set up next to Mecatol Rex. The 25 card Event deck is prepared, with the level 1 cards on top going down to level 5, alternating blue and black cards the whole way. The relic cards are shuffled and placed nearby; these cards offer victory point bonuses or powerful one time bonus effects. Finally, one Objective for each sheet is revealed and placed above Mecatol Rex. The first player to achieve the objective for each sheet’s objective scores the larger point value; all other players to achieve it later will get the lower score.
The dice are placed near the table. There are 3 black dice and 3 colored focus dice. On these dice, you’ll find three kinds of icons: Research (triangles), Influence (nesting hexes), and Material (we call this the other shape, like a N sandwich).
Before we get into the game, let me talk in broad terms about the four different sheets that each player has – as they each work a little differently. Each sheet has two technologies on it which can be unlocked – when this happens, you get a special ability whenever you make this sheet the active sheet for the turn. Also, there are places to unlock the colored focus dice on each sheet.
Navigation – a map of the galaxy/universe. You start in the lower left in your home system. You can explore new systems by drawing lines to the next one in the path. You can claim systems by circling them. The icons needed for each icon are shows in the chart in the upper left. You’ll see Mercatol Rex in the upper right; furthest away from your home system. There are bonuses for reaching this planet (as it is the fallen capital of the Empire), especially if you are the first to make it there. As players reach Mercatol Rex, they write their faction name on the topmost available slot on the chart, gaining both the VP and votes to the left of the line.
Expansion – this sheet is dominated by a few planets. To use these, they must first be unlocked with a planet icon. Once unlocked, you can cross off icons in the planets; each time you completely cross off a row or column in a planet, you get the bonus good seen at the end of that row/column. These bonuses mostly improve the effectiveness of the other sheets. You can also claim population icons here, which is good for points as shown on the track at the right of this sheet. At the top of the sheet are some areas for tracking resource expenditure; these are meant to be used each turn – regardless of which sheet you are working on.
Industry – this shows your infrastructure. There is a honeycomb of spaces, which can either be scrapped (crossed out) or claimed (circled). One space near the middle is already scrapped for you. You want to claim spaces in order to get the goods inside those spaces, but the catch here is that you can only claim a space which is directly adjacent to a scrapped space. You can scrap any space which is adjacent to either a scrapped or claimed space; and you will sometimes need to do this to extend your reach to spaces you want to later claim. The bottom of this sheet also has tracks for you to record your councilors claimed as well as the three different types of commodities.
Warfare – This shows your military forces and how they are deployed against your LHO and RHO. The left side of the page shows the different ships and the icons needed to build them; these are then drawn on the grid on the right side. There are 4 bands of this grid, and the bottommost is used in the first fight, then the next up for the 2nd fight and so on. As you deploy forces, they must be next to the bottom deployment line OR adjacent to a previously placed force.
So that doesn’t cover all the little details of the sheets, but it’s enough to get a gist of what each does.
In each round, the top card of the event deck will be flipped over, it is read aloud and the instructions followed. There are 4 different types; and each works a little differently:
- Strategy – (most cards are this type) – players choose one of the four sheets to be the active sheet for the round. The icons pre-printed on the card are then spent on that sheet. Then, the dice are rolled, and players spend the resources on the dice they have access to. All players have access to the 3 black dice; and then if you have unlocked any/all of the focus dice on the specific sheet you have chosen for this turn, then you can use the icons on those corresponding unlocked dice. In general, you are not to look at other player’s actions until you have finished your own. Also, you will never mark another player’s sheets. And, while you have designated one sheet as active, there may be times that you’ll mark the inactive sheets (i.e. using the icon tracks on the expansion sheet, or if you claim a resource, you’ll need to mark it on the industry sheet, etc).
- War – Here, you resolve two fights, one against your opponent on each side. You draw a new deployment line, then look below that line to calculate your strength to the left and the right side – i.e. the number of nodes filled in. Write the number for each side down and then compare against your neighbors. If you have the higher value, you win the positive asset (found above where you wrote your fighting value); and if you have the lower value, you take the negative asset (found below your recorded strength). In a tie, no one gets anything. Do this for both sides.
- Production – there is one each in Era II, III and IV. See how many trade goods you get from the grid in the bottom right on the Industry board. Claim to corresponding number of goods in the area just to left of this
- Council Events – there is one each in Era II, III and IV. First players claim votes based on the +votes icons claimed on the Industry board. Then, the Agenda card for the round is revealed which has a pass or fail action on it. All players pick up their Industry sheet and checks either the Pass or Fail box and writes the number of votes they are using. The results are tallied, and each player crosses out a number of claimed votes equal to the number they wrote down. The winning outcome is resolved per the card directions.
Once the event card is fully resolved, the round ends. Draw the next card and repeat the process. Continue doing this until you resolve the Era V card “A Throne for the Taking”, after which the game ends. Now, each player scores each of their four sheets. There is an area to mark your scores – you add the points scored for the sheet’s objective to the points gained on the sheet itself. Tally the total for the four sheets and write it next to your faction’s name on the Mercatol Rex board. The player with the most points wins; ties broken in favor of the player with the most remaining claimed (but unused) votes.
My thoughts on the game
Wow. There’s a lot to process in this game. The original game, Twilight Imperium, has been described by some as “epic”, and this R&W version of it is just about the most “epic” in the R&W genre – both in scope of time as well as the number of possible marks you can and will make on the FOUR sheets in the game.
While the game is long, it’s pretty easy to navigate through the different steps. It helps that each Event card outlines the steps to be taken on that particular turn. Though there are 25 rounds, some are quicker than others. As you move towards the end of the game, as you would expect, the length of the rounds increases dramatically – as you have more and more things to consider with each successive turn. The unpredictable ending of the game also causes players to think a bit more as they have to weigh the risks/benefits of locking in points versus pushing their luck for bigger payouts – assuming the game continues long enough for them to reap those benefits.
While it’s easy to know what to do on any particular turn – I will say that figuring out your overall strategy can be a bit opaque in your first few games. With four full sheets, it’s honestly a bit hard to visualize how they will work together. It’s hard to know how much emphasis to put on production or army strength. The warfare angle also depends on what your opponents are doing…
What I would not recommend is trying the quick start rules. I’m not one to be overly critical of things, but wow – I’d tell you to just throw it out. It definitely walks you through the first few rounds of the game, but you get no explanation of what your actions will mean for the game. I tried it in my first attempt, when I was playing solo, and I ended up aborting the game as I felt I was better off just restarting after reading the rest of the rules. Seriously, if you’re the sort of person who is willing to play a 2-3 hour game, you’re likely also the sort of person who is willing to read all the rules or be taught all the rules so that you can make the most of your playtime.
While we’re talking about the rules, I should say that the main rulebook is otherwise well written. There are a LOT of things going on in this game, and the full rules do a good job of explaining the different parts of each sheet and how they work together. There are plenty of illustrations in the rules as well to help you understand the different concepts.
In my games so far, I’ve seen players take different approaches, and I’ve seen multiple strategy paths win the game; though by this I mostly mean that I’ve seen different specializations win the game. In the end, you will need to do at least a little bit on all of the sheets at some point. Many of the sheets provide bonuses on aspects of other sheets, and this is an extra incentive to get these combos marked off on your sheets.
It is helpful to use the chart at the top of the expansion sheet to keep track of the basic icons that you’ve used. One thing I wish the game included was an area where you could keep track of some of the special icons that you pick up along the way. As you might earn the special icon on a different sheet than where you use it, you need to either remember where the unused icons are or scan all four sheets each time you take a turn. Though this is a roll and write, and it’s not supposed to need anything else, I’d almost prefer there to be another sheet to mark these or maybe cardboard chits that I could earn when I gain them and discard when I use them.
The base game is fairly complex, and each game will likely go in a different direction based on the faction that they choose to play with. The powers of the factions are quite different, and you’ll likely want to shape your overall strategy to take advantage of both the ongoing special effect as well as the one which can be triggered with the “double C” icon. These powers are generally strong enough that you’ll not want to ignore them, or you’ll likely find yourself at a disadvantage against other players who are using them.
If you’ve a regular reader of this blog, you’ll likely have read the rise and fall of the roll and write genre through our reviews here. While many of us here quickly fell in love with the style of game when it first came out, there is a bit of ennui with them recently as many of them have a “sameness” about them. I definitely do not get that feeling about Twilight Inscription. This really has more the feeling of a boardgame that happens to use die rolls and sheet marking as one of the parts, not the only part.
There is a lot of game here, and I’ve been pretty engaged through my games thus far. The game length is admittedly on the upper end of the spectrum for me, but like I said, the game keeps you involved throughout – and I’ve been happy to play this so far. There is a lot of solitaire play in the game, though you interact with other players in the War turns as well as the council voting. For me, it’s a pretty good balance; I admittedly like games where I have my own area that other people can’t mess with… but I wouldn’t want to do that alone for 2 hours.
I have certainly not fully explored the game yet; there are plenty of other factions to play with – and each will cause you to approach the game differently. Also, I think I have yet to see how some of the different Agenda cards can change the game nor how choosing to specialize in different ways will work. The game can play up to 8 players; but man, you’re gonna need a humongous table. With each player needing 4 full sheets on the table to look at, it’s unlikely that any gamer would have enough space for all 8 people to sit and see everything. But, it’s nice to have a long/complex game that could expand to that player count. I don’t think I have any other game in my current collection that can do that. And I know that I don’t have any other roll and write game that hits all the spots that this one does.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y
- Not for me…