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Twilight Imperium - first impressions

This is a mirror post of what I just wrote for my own forum.

This weekend (well, mid-week, MY weekend) I got to test out Fantasy Flight's Twilight Imperium for the first time.  I've gotta say it's pretty brilliant, but you've gotta slate a few hours to play it; we didn't get through the whole game before people had to go to bed for work in the morning (we went until probably 1:30am, starting around 9-9:30).

The game is a little like a combination of Risk, Axis & Allies, and Settlers of Catan, with a space theme that blatently borrows heavily from multiple popular sci-fi settings.  The board is a randomly determined set of resource/space tiles, much like the Catan board, with each player choosing (or being assigned) a faction with a specific home planet or system of planets along the outer edge of the galaxy that is created by the tiles.  In the centre of the board is Mecatol Rex, a former galactic capital world, similar to Coruscant of Star War, which everyone wants to control for its influence in creating galactic laws, which can affect how the players can interact.  Players have to build a fleet and move out from their home system to capture systems throughout the galaxy to gain resources and political influence, but, while some systems are easy pickings, some are already inhabited, or occupied by one of the other players, and need to be... pacified in order to be claimed.  While it's possible to pass through a hex with an occupied planet unhindered, if an enemy fleet is in the sector, they must battle.  In addition, players have to develop technologies to help empower their fleet, improve defenses, and, ultimately, to develop the War Sun, a Death Star analog.  No empire is built upon conquest alone, however; each faction must trade with their neighbours, each is subject to the galactic laws that are passed, forge alliances, etc., working together for mutual good... or passing along a bribe to grease the wheels to get something that they need at the detriment of others.

Game play requires some long term planning, figuring out how to best achieve your goals, gain victory points and keep your fleet/systems safe; deciding how best to approach the game through strategies of conquest or cooperation.  The game is played in turns, each turn consisting of multiple phases that proceed until each player has exhausted all possible actions or have strategically passed on further actions; most actions require the use of command points or strategy points, which may be in short supply, conserving for later turns may be in your best interest at times.  Each turn, players take on a role that determines action order for the turn; each role has an associated strategic role, from warlords, gaining more command points to conduct more actions, to masters of trade who control all trade interactions for the turn, or diplomats, who can force temporary truces (among the 8 possible roles).
Some care should be taken when choosing how to interact with the other players, though; in my first turn I somewhat hobbled myself, encountering a system inhabited by another planet, I opted to not attack, forging a loose alliance instead, which essentially set me back a whole turn of development and building, and I spent the rest of the game trying to catch up.  That said, there are ways to recover if you look for openings Wink
There's quite a bit of latitude in how the game can proceed.  Coupled with the dynamic board layout and variety of special abilities and tactics associated with the different player races, I can forsee this game having a LOT of replay value... every game would be somewhat different, with different strategies applying to each setup.  We all thoroughly enjoyed our first game, and look forward to giving it another go, with some time to get more than 5 rounds in Wink
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