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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… the thriving Empire of Lazax dominated the universe from their capital on Mecatol Rex, the ce...

Twilight Imperium 4th Edition Twilight Imperium 4th Edition

Twilight Imperium 4th Edition

Twilight Imperium 4th Edition


A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… the thriving Empire of Lazax dominated the universe from their capital on Mecatol Rex, the centre of the galaxy. A great number of different races were part of their Empire, where trades and technology developments were flourishing under the peaceful rule of the Lazax.  As time passed, greed and apathy grew in the heart of the people which thrust the entire galaxy into a state of war.  The once mighty Lazax Empire was no more and the Lazax Emperor and his people were wiped out thrusting the entire galaxy into a war of succession, the Dark Years. The conflict raged and caused many civilisations to collapse and dwindle into a shadow of their former selves. Years later, as hope and pride started to return, the surviving races began to again aspire to the throne of Mecatol Rex and impose their rule upon the entire galaxy.

You are the leader of one of these races and you're competing to elevate your power and influence upon the entire galaxy and to occupy Mecatol Rex as Emperor once more.

You can watch my poor attempt at an unboxing video below:


Gameplay

The main objective of the game is to be the first player to 10 victory points.  'Just 10 !', I hear you say...well that paltry amount will still take the best part of 10+ glorious hours. These VPs come by fulfiling a variety of objective cards as the game progresses.  At the beginning of the game, public objectives are randomly selected and just two are revealed for the first round.  Each game will have five Stage I objectives (worth 1 VP) and five Stage II objectives (2 VP each). One more objective is revealed at the end of each round.
Ready to go...this game is a table-hog.
Each round has four phases, the Strategy phase, the Action phase, the Status phase, and in this case, the best has very much been saved till last, the Agenda phase.

There are eight different strategy cards in the game which are available every round to the players.  During the Strategy phase, players choose their strategy card and receive its benefits for the remainder of the round.  Each strategy card has an initiative number, and a unique primary and secondary ability. The initiative number of the card determines the turn order for the round and like many other games cards that weren't chosen has a bonus, in this case, a trade good placed on it for the next round.  I really like this mechanism as at some point those low initiative strategy cards are too tempting to turn down.  Adding a bonus onto unplayed cards also reminds me of one of my favourite gateway games that I introduce new players to 'modern' Euros - Puerto Rico.
All the strategy (cards) ...
There are many different types of objectives in this game and the gameplay between experienced players reflects which objective cards have been revealed.  I did find that during the first few rounds of my first game, I completely ignored the public objectives to my detriment.  When the revealed objectives require technology boosts or aren't combative, then you may wrongly surmise that most players will remain peaceful during the turn and try to improve their tech or other aspects of their civilisation to meet those objectives. However, players are also given one secret objective at the start of the game which score VPs in exactly the same manner as public objectives.  

The two main reasons I no longer play Puerto Rico with experienced players, is first I normally lose, but second, you can largely work out what your opponents will do by the board state, Puerto Rico is too prescriptive. The same definitely cannot be said here, there is no way, for me at least, to work out or even in some instances, understand what my opponents were doing.
The Winnu claim Mecatol Rex
During the Action phase, players take turns to do either a tactical, strategic or component action. A tactical action player activates a system (hex shaped tile) and moves their units into it. If there are enemy forces, a battle will ensue. If the battle is won by the invading force then their ground forces will start a ground battle on the planets which is a particularly bloody affair, ending only when one side is eliminated. 

A space dock in the system will allow you to produce units there.  When a system is activated by a player, they must place their command token on that system.  This prevents you from activating the same system later in the round. This mechanism is also found in Star Wars Rebellion and provide a measure of inter-turn strategy that must be considered when moving your forces around the galaxy. You can generally only move a unit only once in the round. 

Command tokens are used to do pretty much everything in this game and like all FFG games, this one comes with the standard plethora of tokens, only much more so!   However, these are a limited supply and you'll soon be crying out for more command tokens - using the secondary ability on other players strategy cards, that will be one command token please; want to increase the fleet size in a system, one command token.  You get the idea, give me more command tokens!
Space Lions player board.
During the Strategic action, the player plays their strategy card and uses its primary ability. Alongside the initiative numbers, the main purpose of choosing a particular strategy card is to get its primary ability.  For example, Strategy Card 2 (Diplomacy) prevents other players from attacking one of your systems and lets you re-use those planet’s resources again in the same round. After you’ve used the primary ability of your strategy card then all other players are given a choice if they want to use its secondary ability.  They must spend one command token and can revive two planes which they have previously spent on its resources. 

The Learn-to-Play book has a very handy chart in the back for new players to match up the best strategy card with their immediate tactics. Want to research more technology? choose Card 7.  Do you occupy Mecatol Rex? Card 8 should definitely be your choice. Every time I picked a strategy card my mind was doing gymnastics trying to work out the convoluted permutations of the secondary abilities for each other player. i.e. trying to minimise their bonuses effect to my empire.  I love the hard decision space this game gives you which is quite unlike any other I have tried.  Although I wouldn't recommend playing this with AP-prone players, for obvious reasons.
Rules, Learn to Play and the Lore Compendium. 
A Component Action is an action in which you can play an action permitted by the components (cards) in front of you. This may also be a race-specific ability.  This is a kind of an optional action and can be used to (smash your opponents) delay using your pass (ending your entire round) manipulating the player order and having the advantage of moving last in the round.  I really like games that allow you to manipulate the turn order to either move early and strike first, or react to your opponents moves. Whenever I manage to pull off such a move in any game; TI4, Empire of the Sun or any of the COIN games spring to mind, I get a huge sense of accomplishment. Although it is usually shortlived because I forgot to anticipate my opponents' next move.

After all players have passed in the Action Phase, players score up to one public and one secret objective, if possible in the Status phase.  One public objective is newly revealed, and players draw some action cards, collect and redistribute their command tokens on the command sheet etc. etc. Basically, you're getting the game board in a fit state for the next round. However, if someone occupies Mecatol Rec, then the Agenda Phase follows.
The battle for Mecatol Rex rages on.
If you've played Diplomacy you'll almost know what to expect in the Agenda Phase, blackmailing,  bribing, lying just like politics today...  The Galactic Council sits in session, chaired by the current speaker and each race is represented to discuss important issues in the galaxy. If you've seen Star Wars I, it's that, but much more interesting... An Agenda Card is drawn, and players vote Yay or Nay using their influences generated by their planets. There are many different agendas in the game, some seemingly irrelevant and some utterly devastating, easily changing the game.  Which is why the debate over and around the table can get so animated, especially when one player is struggling to get their 10th VP. The Ministry of Peace agenda, for example, allows a player to cancel their opponent’s aggression in their system one time.   Even if you are playing a weak race (not all races are created equal), or your planets are not very rich, you could still win the game by manipulating the vote in the Agenda phase. 

Combat is a surprisingly simple affair, you roll one 10-sided die for each ship in the space combat and if you roll greater than the ships combat value (shown on the faction sheet) it's a hit. Each hit kills an enemy ship which is chosen by the other player.  The big ships, dreadnoughts, flagships, and war-suns have the ability to sustain damage meaning they'll take two hits. However, you've got to destroy all of the fighters and frigates defending them before you get a chance to actually hit/destroy the big ships. It is very important to have many cheap fighters as fodder to protect big ships - again, this was not appreciated by yours truly in the first few rounds of the first game.  There are some nuances to this combat, for example, if the enemy has a lot of destroyers, your fighters may be wiped out in an anti-fighter barrage before the combat round begins, leaving your dreadnaught defenceless and an easy target. 
Everybody wants some.
In order to occupy planets, you'll need to bring ground forces with your vulnerable carriers. They are not powerful units (combat value: 9) but can be the most important in your fleet. If you win the space combat, you can land ground forces on the planet.  If the enemy has a planetary defence system (PDS) then they get shoot your troops before they land.  However, if you're Dreadnaught or War Sun have survived the space combat they can bombard the enemies ground troops beforehand.  These variable abilities require you to strategise over every move/destroyed unit and it provides a lot of fun, and also added intrigue in the Agenda Phase.  'You want to deal and you attacked me last turn! That's going to cost you, buddy!'.  Great fun.


Components

This game is a monster. Its box is rather bulky and contains tons of miniatures, cards, system tiles, various tokens and so on but the box is well designed and deserves the space it takes up.  The organiser is well thought out and functional, which is rarely a thing I say about FFG games. However, I really feel that this game is a beloved property of  Christian Petersen (FFG CEO) and it really shows in the fourth edition. A lot of care and attention has been paid to every single component. If you want to see an excellent making-of documentary check out Shut Up and Sit Down's Space Lions documentary.  If each player knows what they're doing setup can be completed inside 20 minutes, although you could argue that building the galaxy is an integral part of the game and not really setup.
It is done...
Each race has a Faction Sheet showing each unit’s parameters, race-specific abilities, and history of the race on the back. In the box, there is a lore guide which can be treated as a piece of Science Fiction in its own right.  This history was very well written and I enjoyed reading through it all.  The detail that has gone into the history shows the amazingly high level of production in this game. FFG normally have stellar production values and they've even surpassed those in this game.

You can (or you should) role-play during the game after reading the history and unique capacities of your chosen race. The seventeen races in the game are all unique and have strength and weaknesses.  For example, the space fish...are physically weak but very intellectual. They suffer -1 drm in combat, but develop technologies rapidly. Then there are the Hacan (space lions) who are purely motivated by trade. and gain trade goods (which is a kind of currency) easily, giving them the ability to build large fleets from the early stage of the game.  Trade goods are power.
The big box is full.
Each kind of shop has a distinctive miniature and the sculpts are excellent. There are fighters, destroyers, cruisers, carriers, dreadnoughts, a flagship, and war-suns. Their combat abilities are all listed on your Faction Sheet. Researching technology can improve units which permits you to place a tech card onto your faction sheet. This is a really effective way to see at-a-glance how powerful (or not) your fleet is.

Apart from unit upgrades, there are 4 categories of technology in the game, Biotic, Warfare, Propulsion, and Cybernetic. There are 4 levels of technology in each and you must research them in order.  One game takes on average 6 to 7 rounds and you will not be able to fully explore the tech tree in one game.  Planning my upgrades and deploying my fleets according is a great game which I enjoyed immensely, but so often ruined by my opponents. Developing Propulsion first and then upgrading your carrier so that it can move 2 hexes is a nice ability to move your troops out into the galaxy, or you may want to concentrate on Warfare techs and try to build a War-Sun early in the game with the ability to literally annihilate an opposing fleet.



Criticisms

The only criticism I can think of this game is that it takes a very long time to play.  It is difficult to find 3 or more opponents who don’t mind committing 6 or 7 hours in one go, but this game has such a reputation in the hobby that almost all gamers want to try it, at least once. But let me reassure you that those hours pass very quickly it is so much fun to play this game.  Afterwards, you will be exhausted but you will have created an amazing experience with your friends I guarantee will have built a stronger bond for sharing this experience.  Look for opponents, and go for it!


Conclusion

If I had to describe this game, I would say that it is seductive yet elusive. I want to play it more, I love the game, I want to try every single race, and experiment with every technology, but it's very difficult for me to get it to the table. I have a young family and losing 10 hours on a weekend so that I can move plastic and carboard counters across my kitchen table is not a position I can defend often. However, given the opportunity, the time and the right opponents, this game is always welcome at my table.  It tells a grand, epic story of battling races and powerful armies clashing across the stars. The mechanics are simple enough to grasp relatively quickly but the layers of strategy are very difficult to master. After 2.5 games (which represents over 24 hours of play time...) I feel that I understand the game well enough to be able to strategise but not effectively. There are so many racial combinations and variances from game to game that I'm relegated to a reactionary play style. 

This game won't be for everyone, but if you like wargames of any kind (if you're reading this blog then I can surmise you do) then you owe it to yourself to play one of the very few seminal games in this hobby. Track down a friend who owns it or plan a game at a convention, weekend gaming retreat (we all do that right?) You won't be disappointed.

Many game-stores will have a copy of this game in and you can use this link http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/ to find your nearest in the UK or support them using their online web stores if you can't make it in person.

I'd like to thank Asmodee for sending this game and permitting me to review it; if only I could play it some more.  I would also like to thank my war-gaming partner of many years for helping me write this review.

Publisher: FFG
Website: https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/twilight-imperium-4th-ed
Players: 3 - 6
Designers: Dane Beltrami, Corey Konieczka & Christian T. Petersen
Playing time:  Ha ha ha

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