I am sure that those of you who are reading this have more than likely read the reviews submitted by Dennis and Dave. If you have not, then you should before diving yourself any further into this materpiece! They both provide good insights and thoughts into the game mechanics and rules system.
The game itself is a game that up to six players can play if they all have nothing better to do with seven to twelve hours. (I recommend that this game is never played with less than five players, and I imagine finding that many players who want to hunker down and endure the long haul will be difficult at best). When you begin playing, be ready to spend an hour or so just preparing the game for play. With all the game pieces and cards to keep track of, I do not see how set up could ever be quick. Fortunately, a lot of the set up had already been taken care of when I arrived. This is a game that truly makes being fashionably late fashionable again.
After the game has been set up and the rules have been explained (well… the rules will never be fully explained, but at least you can get a grasp for game play), you will make one of the most important die rolls for you entire galactic empire. That is, you probably will. There was no clear rule establishing turn order so our group rolled for it. This is important because the order of turns directly drives how many victory points you can obtain (see Dave’s review for information about turn order and the all important Imperial and Initiative strategy cards). Now, finally, all of that is taken care of and the game can begin.
During your turn you can build your fleet, move your fleet, activate your strategy card, or pass. Other things do occur, but this is the crux of the game. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to earn ten victory points before anyone else by any means possible. Often times you will find yourself discussing fleet positions and your plans with your friend/allies/enemies (depending on how many victory points you have already earned) in order to position yourself in an effective manner. You will find yourself “positioning” for about 70% of the game. The rest of the time you will be trying to stop someone from winning the game or hoping that you can somehow hold on to a victory. But move your fleet right, make some clever deals, draw the right action cards, and you can earn those ten victory points in no time. By no time, I of course mean in seven to twelve hours.
As for the mechanics of this game, well, they are slow. Each turn can take an extremly long time as often much thought goes into the placement and movement of your fleet. This means that you will have a lot of downtime as you wait for four or five others to take their sweet time as well. The game is slowed even more do to the constant changing of turn order. The strategy cards dictate who goes first, second, and so on. These go from player to player each turn via a draft and as a result you never know who you are going before or after unless you are paying very close attention.
The game is driven by space battle and conflict, yet combat does not seem to occur until a player is nearing a victory. Unfortunately, the method of actually winning the game can have little to do with fighting/die rolling. A player can be in a weak position with little sway in the galaxy and still walk away with enough victory points to “win.” Specifically, in our most recent game, I played well for several hours against quality opponents and found myself with a chance to win the game. The response from the other players was to utterly destroy my empire. So I was attacked from all sides and my fleet did finally crumble. As a side note I should mention that I would have had been in a better position if it were not for those fluky action cards that somehow pop up at the most inopportune times (again, see Dave’s review for more detailed information on these wonderous things). However, despite being decimated, I was still able to win on the following turn. How? Victory points. I was already in position to collect my victory points and the moves of the other players made almost no difference. So, although I was destroyed for the most part, I still managed to win the game.
Winning is always great, but who wants to win by being owned? This was the most unsatisfying victory I have ever had in any game. I would have preferred to win even by sheer luck then by the the odd victory point system (and I am all about minimizing luck in a game where ever possible). A deserved loss though would have just left me irritated. While most games of this type have the gang up problem, particularly in the end game, Twilight Imperium seems to encourage utter chaos. The first time I played this game ended in much the same fashion, only we went through several turns of everybody against one person. Again, while this is expected, you would not expect everybody against person A, then on the next turn everybody against person B, then against person C, and so on. Yet, this is the endgame function of Twilight Imperium. Many players will take a turn at being in the best position and as such everyone else is forced to use their resources to bring them down if they still want a chance at winning. Ultimately, a player will win if they happen to sneakily steal a victory point while the other players are focused on stopping someone else.
Despite all the inherent problems with the rules and game mechanics, I give this game a 0 on the +90 to -90 scale. The game is entertaining, which is one of the most important things a game needs to be. During the course of the epic adventure you will have many decisions to make and many options to pursue. Twilight Imperium is for people who want more out of a strategy game then dice rolling and is a step in the right direction for games of conquest. It’s almost worth the time it takes to play.
Fun Factor: +35
Game Mechanics: -10
Rules System: -25