To truly understand just how special of an experience Twilight Imperium is, you have to look at the full scope of the game. At a surface level, it’s a grand strategy space game where you’re vying for military, political, and economic supremacy playing as a large number of different alien races with special powers. But it’s also the legendary eight hour board game that’s inspired many gaming sessions that extends into the small hours of the morning. Twilight Imperium is an ambitious wargame that builds and builds until it explodes into a series of epic firefights that capstone the experience. It’s also a vehicle for wheeling and dealing with your friends, forming fragile alliances and breaking them at the right moment – or keeping your word and fighting side by side until the bitter end. But most of all, Twilight Imperium is a game of stories, but unlike a dedicated storytelling game, you’re writing your own narratives. Because with a game as rich and deep as Twilight Imperium, you can’t help but create legends that will last for years each and every playthrough.
It all boils down to how the game flows and progresses from start to finish, which is built on a surprisingly linear foundation. You begin with a secret objective that gets you two points, and as the game goes on, objectives are revealed one at a time, which grant additional points. The first to get a set amount of points is the winner. So you start the game by building up your infrastructure, taking over neighboring planets and constructing a fleet. Once everyone’s done that, a game of positioning and logistics happens, with everyone trying to move their fleets so that they can maximize points when they do decide to strike. Some light skirmishing will happen in the process as some players test the boundaries of both their fleets and physical territory, while others will just want to stay out of the fighting for as long as possible, taking a defensive formation. Finally, the game inevitably erupts as players make their big moves, powers throwing everything they have at other powers until the dust settles.
The fuse on this bomb of a game is Mecatol Rex, the planet at the center of the galaxy you’re fighting for and the seat of power in the game’s background lore. Some of the objectives, and many of the secret objectives task you with holding Rex under certain conditions. These lures inevitably draw people towards the center, which means conflict over who gets to make port at Rex always happens during any given game of Twilight Imperium.
More crucial, however, is the fact that some of the secret objectives do not make you go for Mecatol Rex, but rather focus on taking system in the outer rings, sometimes even home systems. So while you have certain players fighting over Rex and being drawn into the center, other players are more interested in the planets closer to home, which will lead to conflict between players who are interested in the outer rim, but also sometimes against a player who’s going after Rex, who may find themselves fighting a war on two fronts. Everything about Twilight Imperium encourages conflict, and always ends up in a glorious, complex web of agendas and battles.
But though Twilight Imperium plays out similarly every time in the abstract, the details of a game are varied thanks to how open-ended your execution of objectives can be as well as how you react to what other people are doing. Do you invade a neighbor for a preemptive strike because they’re amassing a large force by your border? Or do you maintain good relations and hope that that portion of their fleet isn’t meant for you? How are you going to position your fleet based on what you want to do and the reality of the board? Do you want to build an economy out of conquered planets, or will you corner the trade market and accrue resources that way? Do you even want to go to war at all, instead making alliances and manipulating the galactic laws to hamper potential threats and further your agenda? Twilight Imperium is constantly throwing questions at you. It’s up to you how you answer.
No matter how you choose to approach the game, you can be sure that each session will create stories that you’ll be recounting for days to come. Twilight Imperium lets you be a brilliant strategist, and almost everyone will come out of a game with a story of an amazing feat they pulled off. And the flashpoint effect that Mechatol Rex creates ensures that these stories will always be as epic as the game’s length. Legends are forged in the flames of war, after all.