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Tabletop Game / Twilight Imperium

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How many board games let you play as a lion? In space?!

The creative conquest of space will serve as a wonderful substitute for war.
— James S. McDonnell

The throne to the galactic empire is empty and several alien races put forth bids for it. Your goal is to guide your race to meet the conditions necessary to claim the throne and take control of the known galaxy/universe.

Twilight Imperium (now in its fourth edition) is a tabletop/board game that uses hex map tiles to build a new map for each game. The setting is a galaxy where a minimum of three players and maximum of six can choose from among ten different alien races. Gameplay strategies may include battles, trade, politics, and/or any combination of these strategies. In fact, it is entirely possible and not all that uncommon to win the game without fighting a single battle, by earning points for accomplishing goals not related to combat.

The game set includes the map tiles, race sheets, ten-sided dice, several different types of cards (action, political, technology, and objective), plastic pieces for starships and ground forces, and many other extras. The ultimate goal of the game: To conquer the universe? To destroy your enemies? Nope: To get ten objective points.

The players begin the game by taking turns using the system tiles to create the map of the galaxy. Putting empty systems or systems with obstacles by your opponents and keeping all the resource-rich planets for yourself can lead to alliances or vendettas forming before the game really begins.

Once the map is built each player starts off with preset ships, resources, a home system, and certain special abilities. Markers dictate how many tactical actions can be taken in a round, how many strategic actions, and how many ships may be assembled into a fleet. Through the use of these tokens the player can move fleets, increase fleet size, or activate strategy cards. Objective points are collected by achieving randomly-selected goals or controlling certain systems, most prominently Mecatol Rex, the former Imperial capital. Each turn each player chooses a strategy card that lets them perform a special action and lets all the other players perform a "secondary" action. Strategies aid in building ships, attacking other players, forcing cease fires, developing new technology, fostering trade, or most importantly: scoring victory points directly.

The Shattered Empire expansion set added several new races and enough plastic pieces to play the game with up to 8 players, along with lots and lots of cool optional rules.

The Shards of the Throne expansion added a few more new races, a few more cool new optional rules, and a more structured scenario covering the end of the old empire with a fixed map.

The fourth edition of Twilight Imperium was released in 2017. It includes some of the content from the third edition's expansions, such as factional technology, flagships, and all the factions. It also makes a number of tweaks to the game's mechanics, largely with a mind to fixing perceived flaws with the previous edition.

The Prophecy of Kings expansion for the fourth edition was released in 2020, adding a similar variety of features as the original Shattered Empire expansion did, including more pieces for up to 8 players, leaders, an exploration mechanic and 7 new races, bringing the total to 24.

Fantasy Flight Games also released The Roleplaying Game of this setting, but unfortunately it was short-lived (approximately two years, tops) as company restructuring and fears over the extensive Shout-Out use becoming fodder for plagiarism lawsuits took their toll. Hints have emerged during GenCon 2020 that Edge Studios (the successor to FFG's own now-closed RPG division) is developing a new roleplaying game for the Twilight Imperium universe using the Genesys rules.

This board game features examples of:

  • All Planets Are Earth-Like: Averted: Each planet has its own unique description. Not that the descriptions have much real effect on the game.
  • Asteroid Thicket: Special technology is the only way to get through systems filled with asteroids.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Many abilities or even entire factions might qualify, but the War Sun unit deserves particular mention. While it is incredibly powerful and versatile, possessing devastating firepower, high movement and capacity, and a massive bombardment to support invasions.... it is also dreadfully expensive and requires many prerequisite technologies, meaning that by the time anyone could even feasibly produce one, the game may be nearly over (by which time players typically cannot afford to divert resources or attention away from scoring objectives). It can also be destroyed in a single devastating hit if a player risks using its "Sustain Damage" ability and the opponent has the dreaded "Direct Hit" action card.
    • There is also the Stellar Converter relic. At first glance the ability to blow up a planet might seem cool, but it is limited to non-home, non-legendary, non-Mecatol Rex systems. Unless someone conveniently parks a huge contingent of ground forces on a planet near you to target, it often won't accomplish much more than killing a couple infantry and pissing off whoever you used it on.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: You winning the game means you become The Emperor.
  • The Battlestar:
    • The WarSun ship. Oddly similar to the Death Star from Star Wars.
    • Most of the race-specific Flagship units from the second expansion also qualify as Battlestars.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The Sardakk N'orr are giant insects, and their racial ability lets them fight better.
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • Pax Magnifica Bellum Gloriosum, the Latin motto on the box, translates roughly as "peace is magnificent, war is glorious!"
    • The name used for the Earth, Jord, means "earth" in the Scandinavian languages. Not the Earth, mind, just earth.
  • Binding Ancient Treaty: One of these falling apart is the background for the game..
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: A few races qualify. The Arborec are sentient plants, the Ghosts of Creuss are sentient energy patterns from another dimension animating suits of armor, and the Embers of Muaat seem to be living flame.
  • Bizarre Alien Reproduction: All Arborec unit is organic, and they don't need space docks (factories) to produce new units, instead they use their infantry for that purpose. They must have a very unique reproduction cycle, as a single Arborec infantry can produce even the largest ships/battlestations.
  • Body Horror:
    • The L1Z1X were derived from the Lazax, only they have altered themselves cybernetically so far that they aren't really the same race anymore.
    • The Arborec from the Shards of the Throne expansion definitely count. They're a race of sentient plants that infest the corpses of other races with their spores, turning them into zombies they can use to communicate. The race description suggests this practice has led to them developing imperial ambitions through osmosis.
  • Brain in a Jar: The Hylar of the Universities of Jol-Nar. Or dare I say, the Universities of In-Jar?
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: Played so straight it hurts. Also highly depends on how many parsecs per hex. Though one hex includes planets explicitly stated to be in different solar systems
    • Though an "instantaneous point-to-point" type FTL would explain all the mechanics but deep-space cannons.
  • Cat Folk: The Lion-like Hacan.
  • Cool Starship: The Dreadnought and the WarSun are both dreadfully awesome.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: Not by default, but a few Action cards will have you shooting your own fighters and the like if you find yourself attacking in inconveniently superior numbers.
  • Conveniently Close Planet: It would make playing the game rather difficult if this were not the case.
  • Corralled Cosmos: Subverted if you have extra players using the expansion, but mostly played straight.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: The L1Z1X Mindnet are a completely cyborg race that seem to have lost touch with their original race characteristics. Rather reminiscent of a certain Star Trek species...
  • Cyborg: The L1Z1X.
  • Defenseless Transports: carriers have minimal defenses. Though if they're carrying fighters instead of ground troops those can protect them.
  • Deflector Shields: Defense weapons that you can set up on captured planets double as shields to prevent bombardment.
  • Divide and Conquer: A reasonable strategy if you control politics or trade.
  • Dolled-Up Installment: REX: Final Days of an Empire, as a result of getting the rights to remake the classic Dune board game but not the actual IP rights.
  • Earth Is the Center of the Universe: Totally averted. The seat of the empire's throne lies on another planet called Mecatol Rex, and it is in the middle of the map.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The Prophecy of Kings expansion has a relic called the Stellar Converter, which allows you to destroy planets. As mentioned above, it's a bit of a letdown, because you cannot target Mecatol Rex, homeworlds or legendary systems, which means that almost any planet that would be worth using it on is out of the question.
  • Fantastic Racism: Almost every race has another race that they absolutely cannot stand, though that's only in the background fluff. Anyone can ally with anyone in the actual game.
  • Fantastic Science: Most acquired technology in the game.
  • Fish People: The same race that count as Brain in a Jar.
  • Galactic Conqueror: One possible way to achieve victory.
  • Gambit Pileup: Likely to happen with several opponents trying to out-think each other.
  • Gunboat Diplomacy: Directly attacking other players in this game isn't considered as an effective way to achieve victory, so players with aggressive races tends to use this method of negotiation.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Averted: The cyborg race is actually completely non-human.
  • Hard-Coded Hostility: There are some "aggressive" races in the game, but most of them can be played without causing much conflict. And there are races like the Nekro Virus, which must attack other players to absorb technology as they can't develop them on their own. They are considered so hostile, they can't even participate in the political aspect of the game.
  • Hive Mind: The L1Z1X Mindnet. MIND. NET.
  • Humanoid Aliens: Most of the races, though not all.
  • Humans Are Warriors: The Federation of Sol gets more ground troops and command counters for them.
  • Impossible Task: Some of the secret missions can look like this, and a few map combinations will make them actually impossible. For instance the mission to capture all the wormholes is impossible if there aren't any on the board.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet: Huma- I mean, Terran- erm, Those People From Jord are seen as latecomers to the galactic scene. They're pretty good at making lots of ground troops but don't have a whole lot of other advantages over other races.
  • Interstellar Weapon: Planetary defense systems can be upgraded to fire at adjacent hexes. It's not very powerful, but it's fun.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Most of the smaller ships (and the regular ground troops) require you roll an 8 or higher on a d10 to obtain a hit on an enemy ship, especially when they haven't been upgraded. Be prepared to do lots of rolling before you hit anything.
  • Intrepid Merchant: the Hacan (Lion guys) have this as their hat.
  • Invisibility Cloak: You can develop a cloaking device like technology, that let's you move through systems occupied by enemy ships.
  • It's the Only Way to Be Sure: With the X-89 Bacterial Weapon tech upgrade, you can kill every unit in a planet's surface with a single bomb. In case of some races (like the Arborec or Sol) that could be the only way to get rid of them after they get hold of a planet.
  • Kill Sat: The WarSun type ship.
  • Landfill Beyond the Stars: One of the neutral systems, "Garbozia", is described as this. The name is something of a giveaway.
  • Lost Colony:
    • A few of the planets that are unclaimed when you start the game are said to have belonged to certain races at some point in history.
    • There is also an optional rule which allows some planets to be lost colonies when you first explore them. Unfortunately they may be some other race's lost colony as well, handing one of your opponents a free planet when you explore it.
  • Massive Race Selection: Ten in the regular game, four more in the first expansion, and four more in the second (one of which is only playable in a single scenario, but that's still seventeen races in the regular game). The fourth edition has all seventeen of the third edition's races in the core box.
  • Mechanical Monster: The Nekro Virus is an offshoot of the L1Z1X Mindnet obsessed with rendering all organic life into a fine paste, then dumping the paste into a gravity rift.
    • You Will Be Assimilated applies as well, but only for tech if the Nekro Virus player blows up an enemy unit in battle he gets to copy a technology belonging to the unit's owner.
  • Mle Trois: Requires at least three people to play.
  • Mental Fusion: The L1Z1X Mindnet, a race suspiciously similar to the Borg from Star Trek.
  • More Dakka: Several ship types and ground troops (especially if you are playing as humans Terrans) seem to encourage you to make as many as you can.
  • My Death Is Just the Beginning: Since each race is limited by the number of playing pieces available, sometimes it can be more convenient to deliberately loose poorly-placed ships in a battle so that they can be rebuilt at a more advantageous location without having to travel through the intervening space. Ships can be scuttled without fighting a battle for this purpose as well.
  • Naming Your Colony World: Although the game makers were nice enough to name all the planets for you, they certainly used several of the methods here.
  • Not Worth Killing: Probably a good idea if you don't want to start a war with everyone. Unless you like that sort of thing.
  • No Warping Zone: Most red-bordered map hexes restrict the movement of ships through them, at least until said ships are upgraded with certain technologies.
  • Numbered Homeworld: The L1Z1X Mindnet have their homeplanet numbered as the galactic center: "[0,0,0]".
  • One-Federation Limit: With enough expansions, you can have an Empire, Barony, Federation, Emirates, Universities, Mindnet, Kingdom, Coalition, Collective, Tribes, Clan, and Brotherhood: although not all of these will be in play at the same time.
  • One-Hit Kill: With a few exceptions, most units need to only take a single hit to be destroyed.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The Barony of Letnev race look suspiciously like vampires. They even have super-strength and the aristocratic air to them. And they're pale!
  • Our Wormholes Are Different: Yes. Wormholes.
  • The Plan: You might want to be capable of everything in this list if you want to win.
  • Planet Terra: The planet itself is called "Jord" (Scandinavian for "earth") but the faction is known as the Federation of Sol.
  • Space Fighter: Check. Fighters are cheap and not limited by the number of playing pieces in the game, unlike larger ships. They're most effective in large numbers and with some tech upgrades.
  • Space Marine: Federation of Sol ground troops in the artwork are obviously space marines. Surprisingly useless for space battles.
  • Space Pirates:
    • The Mentak Coalition race are essentially space pirates. Their racial advantages let them attack from ambush, salvage enemy ships destroyed in battle, and steal trade goods from other races.
    • The Shards of the Throne expansion includes an optional rule for random encounters with space pirates in empty systems.
  • Space Station:
    • The Shattered Empire expansion has two of these built into the map hexes. They can produce trade goods instead of resources. Conquering one is much easier than conquering planets, too, since you only need to get a ship into the system for the station to surrender to your control.
    • The Shards of the Throne expansion includes a random Precursor space station that lowers the number of victory points a player needs to win if they control it.
  • Standard Sci-Fi Fleet: There are the standard types here, but you won't necessarily have all of them depending on how you decide to play.
  • Starfish Aliens: There's the Arborec (sentient plants), the Nekro Virus (insane machines), the Ghosts of Creuss (other-dimensional energy wisps) and the Embers of Muaat (living flame).
  • Sufficiently Advanced Alien: A few races start off with more technology bonuses than others. One race gets bonuses for the acquisition of technology.
  • Taking Youwith Me: Some units can destroy themselves to kill enemy ships. Sardakk N'Orr Dreadnoughts use this tactic very efficiently, and that's the main schtick of the Brotherhood of Yin. Also there are cases when it's rewarding to sacrifice some cheap units to weaken larger enemy fleets. (Like Mentak cruisers, which shoots the enemy before the battle, and for that faction they're unexpensive)
  • Telepathic Spacemen: The Naalu. Their telepathy lets them always act first in turn order, and retreat before a battle even begins.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: Certain technology allows you to create ground forces on one planet, then transport them to another.
  • That's No Moon: The WarSun.
  • Timed Mission: The Imperium Rex objective card sets a time limit on the game. When its drawn, it ends the game immediately with the player with the highest score winning. When exactly the Imperium Rex card comes up is semi-random. It's guaranteed not to be in the first six public goals in a regular game, but it might be anywhere between the 7th and 10th in the deck, and it's guaranteed to be in there somewhere.
  • Trigger-Happy: A few races, like the Sarrdak N'orr, have advantages that are only good in battles.
  • The Turret Master: Some races prefers to set up a network of sentry-gun like installations on their planets, instead of building a large fleet. Such players may even collect "taxes" from passing ships to not fire at them.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Slaughter, trick, or trade with your opponents so that your race controls the throne of the galactic empire. Then everybody is happy!
  • Variable Player Goals: Each player gets his own Secret Goal, worth 2 points. The second expansion offers a new set of "Preliminary Goals" worth 1 point each.
    • In fourth edition, the secret objectives are only worth one point, but players can get more of them. Up to three, to be specific.
  • We Have Reserves: If you have sufficient resources, you may be tempted to use this as a tactic. Two races also have a shade of this in their special rules: Humans can raise additional ground troops, and the Yin Brotherhood can employ suicide tactics in space battles.