Learning to Play Twilight Imperium

“Just put your trade agreements and ambassadors together until you have a little pile of diplomacy.””

“He says he’s going to be here soon.”

“Hey, when are we ordering pizza?”

Last Sunday, I sat down to play our first game of Twilight Imperium.

Twilight-imperium-layout_12I love games. I live for games. Game design is my passion, and nothing makes me happy as big, complex game I can sink my teeth into.

1000 Hours in MS Paint

1000 Hours in MS Paint

Twilight Imperium is a big game. It’s a damn big game. It’s a game of conquest, politics, diplomacy, and trade; it’s a game about space opera on a large scale. It’s a game where ships look suspiciously like nipples.



It’s also a game that can go on for a whole day or even a whole weekend.

Getting people enough people together to play such a game can be a challenge. We had scheduled the game for over a month prior, and even then we still had multiple issues to work out.

“Ï don’t think I can stay the whole time. My head is killing me.”

“Look, I said I’d play, but I have things to do. I didn’t say I would play until the middle of the night; that’s not what I agreed to.”

“So, when are we getting food again?

Teaching the rules to such a game can be a challenge in and of itself. It isn’t that there really are any hard to grasp rules in Twilight Imperium; it’s all pretty straight forward. The biggest problem comes from there being so much of them, and covering everything can take quite a while. I was lucky to have had what my friends called a “lecture series” on the game first, but almost everyone else was being exposed to it for the first time.

“So the first thing is the Strategy phase, where we each choose a Strategy card, starting with the Speaker…”

It only felt like 2 and half though.

It only felt like 2 and half though.

“…and you only have to have a Distant Sun encounter if you choose to land on the planet. Now if you will turn to page 3 of your rules summary handout…”

Confusion was bound to occur.

“So all ships have one hit point, unless they have the sustain damage ability.“

“So how do we know how many hit points they have?”

“It will say on the ship summary.”

“So the War Sun has three hit points?”

“No, it just has two.”

“So it can take three hits before blowing up?”

“No, it takes two hits then blows up.”

“That’s what I said.”

With rules out of the way, we began setting up the stage to a great galactic epic. Factions were chosen. I was the majestic and diplomatic space turtles. The owner of the game went with a race that was perpetually on fire. There were fish scientists. There were even boring humans.

“I don’t know, so…here.”

“You’ve fucked us all, ——.”

With setup complete, we were all off to a grand adventure.

“So can I build in the activated space?

“No, you can’t, since it’s activated.”

“But it is activated.”

“Yes, because you put a token there.“

“So I can build there?”

“No, because you can’t build in an activated space.”

“Oh, it’s activated?”


“So can I build there or not?”


We played several rounds, wheeling and dealing each round.

“Do you think I should go for Mechatol Rex?”

“Did anyone play a spy?“

“How much Influence can you spend now?”

“Do you want to ally with me? Because ïf you fuck with me, I will destroy you with my War Suns.”

I enjoyed myself, but managed to fall behind a little each turn. Twilight Imperium works by a victory point mechanic, and it’s very hard to earn more than one victory point per round. I fell behind early not wanting to try to invade my neighbor’s planet both because I didn’t feel like I had the military strength to succeed and also because he’s a bit shit at games and I didn’t want to be a bully.

Two players managed to quit before the end of things. It proved to just be too much game, for too long.

“It’s a fun game, I’m just in too much pain.”

“It’s a good game, but I probably shouldn’t play it. Games that have this worker placement style mechanic always wind up frustrating me.”

“Well, I had fun.”

In many ways, so did I.

Teaching and learning new games is always a challenge. Learning big games can be difficult. In the end though, I think that’s what I find so rewarding about it. In those few hours, despite the confusion and occasional miscommunications, we got to have an experience that very few people ever get to have. We built some grand empires and played through some mighty struggles. Personally, I can’t wait to do it again.

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