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Twilight Imperium – First Game

So many a piece.
All those cards along the bottom – that’s just my own stuff. Only mine. This is a five player game.

I wanted to sort of capture my thoughts on this game – it’s just so big. And I don’t mean just, physically big and you need a gigantic table to hold it, or just big, as in it takes many hours to get through, or big as in the box is absolutely enormous and heavy, or big as in the sheer number of rules and components to pour through before you start.

…but rest assured it is absolutely all of things.

It’s big in every sense of the word, but most importantly, it’s big narratively, and thematically. The universe feels pretty decently large before you all even start filling it with yourselves. But the minute you do, it becomes huge, even bigger than the five of you combined, and by the time you reach the mid-game we were already so invested in the world we’d built that we weren’t even starting to grow tired of the actual game part. We just had to see where everything was leading. This was … at about the six hour mark.

I remember several times during the game just shaking with fright. I remember having grand plans, and backup plans, and backup backup plans. But there’s a lot of hidden information, in the form of hidden agendas that each leader of each entire race is compelled to complete – it starts out as an objective worth some points, but, there are surely others. But the thought of your agenda is what drives you through the game, informs all the little decisions, everything you say to each other.

The interaction. God.

People at the table who are usually quite quiet and mousy even, people who wouldn’t usually get so into any tabletop game from the roleplaying side, spontaneously breaking into speeches about how crossing that boarder into our space would absolutely not be okay – it would be an act of war and can your people even handle that? Ours are barely eating as it is.

Political cards and trade agreements drive a lot of the bartering and galactic interaction between everyone – their colours start showing slowly, and the more turns go by, the more you just have to see it all through and not only see whether you are able to do what you want, but what on earth everyone else is really up to, and whether they’re about to whirl around and put a knife right in your back.

The galaxy is big but it isn’t that big. It’s always just small enough that you barely don’t have what you need to win the game. So it forces you into conflict – eventually, one way or another, everyone had to fight. We’re essentially at war for the throne – there’s no such thing as sitting back and hoping it’ll work out. In my case, my goal was to control all the interstellar wormholes used for transport through the galaxy. I controlled the entrances to each of two sets of portals, but the others were right next to enemy homeworlds – we had shaky peace treaties keeping each other from going through and invading the other’s space. At the opportune time, I turned and proceeded through the wormholes to claim my objective and get enough klout to claim the throne. But, I made a critical mistake and didn’t leave a rear guard at the entrance to one of the wormholes. Oops.

In an instant, they were on us, ripping my fleets apart – what I had done was a real act of war, breaking trust and several agreements between our races – but I was also just getting too close to claiming the throne. In the end, everyone wanted it, whether they were peace loving lizard people or my own race, a rich selfish controlling baron, protoss-like in appearance, who was geared for war but I played him so passively, with such tenuous relationships that were sure to break eventually, in a matter of not if but when.

We had to cut the game short right after this. By cut it short, I mean we cut it off at about 10:30 at night – we had started playing at 1pm that afternoon, with a short 30 minute break for pizza in the middle. A full nine hours at the table flew by. There was only one or two of us tapping out – even after that long, the rest of us were begging to play just one more round and see what happened.

I was still in the lead in points, technically – although my mistake had been real, and had the game played to completion, I was sure to lose. All the space left behind by my dead people and ships were being filled up by other races, colonized and established and helping my enemies. I had near nothing left.

I can’t begin to describe the despair I felt upon forgetting that one rear guard. The galaxy would have been mine.

Tabletop games don’t make me feel this strongly. I don’t ever get this invested. It’s definitely the most thorough and rich experience I’ve ever had with one – though the time/cost required on entry was quite high.

I’m going to love playing it again – maybe a few months from now to emotionally recover.

Published inBoard Games

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