I haven’t played a lot of board games in my life. Mostly Harry Potter games, which are quite funny… Anyway, when my sister asked if Aston and I wanted to play Twilight Imperium with her and her boyfriend and one of her friends, I was curious. Aston said yes instantly, having played a lot of board games and always wanted to try this one.
So, basically, the objective is to conquer the universe one galaxy at the time, with your fleet, all the while earning victory points, because without them, you don’t win the game. I kind of like the idea that it is not a game where you have to beat up your fellow players without mercy, to win it, but it is about earning victory points the fastest.
That is about all I like about this game and let me start by saying, there is nothing fast about it. We played it for 12 hours straight and it only ended because Aston played the end game card in the end, having been lucky enough to draw it and thus being able to end the game. I even tried to kill myself twice, but the game wouldn’t even let me die…
Here is the thing. No, actually there is a lot of things wrong with this game, first of all the rules.
There are too many, too unspecified, the same word doesn’t mean the same thing, on two different cards, and too many of the rules are left to be questioned. We ended up in a situation more than once where one player played a card and another played a card that may counter the first card, and then no one knew what would happen because the description wasn’t clear.
I will say too, I have never before encountered a game where the language was an obstacle for me, most of the time I am pretty good at English, but in this game, I found myself reading every card over and over, simply not taking in what it read on them, not understanding the rule that was – not – being explained.
I got the strong feeling that to understand this game, you have to have a photographic memory, read and remember the rule books, and what it says on the cards doesn’t matter then. Us mere mortals, we simply can’t learn a rule book from cover to cover, which is why an explanation should be possible on the cards, but it really wasn’t written in a way so that mere mortals would understand it.
I found that through most of the game, I felt blindsided, because I didn’t know the rules, and every time I picked up an action card, or a diplomatic card, or any other card, I felt that there might me more to it that I understood from reading the description. A good board game should explain itself along the way, and not leave anything hidden from its players. I felt that my greatest opponent as I was wasting 12 hours of my life, was the game itself. That is bad. Really, really bad.
The turn system is confusing as well. One of our players kept misunderstanding when it was his turn, what he could do and how a turn ended. Other than it being confusing it is designed to make the game longer. What it really does is prolong the agony.
Once a turn starts, the first player does something. It can be moving the fleet or building something for instance. Once this player has done one thing, the next player does one thing as well and so forth, but that is not the end of the turn. Once all players has done one thing, the first player can do another thing, and then the next, until all players has nothing left to do. That means that with five players, one turn took about an hour at least, all players having four or five turns in one turn.
What could speed up the game a lot, and make it much more interesting to participate in, was if the turns were different. Simply let one player move all his pieces at once, let him build and be done whit his turn. That would make the other players much more alert, it would make it interesting to watch (and a lot of the time you spend just watching the others,) and it would cut down on the time spent on each turn a LOT.
And then, the Victory Points. Like I said, they are a good idea, but really, they don’t work in this game. The idea that most of the time, at the end of each turn, you can only claim one Victory Point is ludicrous. That means that if you play to nine Victory Points, (until the first player gets nine and wins), it will at least take you nine fucking hours, if that player gets a point at the end of every single round. It means to, that there is no possibilities of catching up, if you get left behind at the beginning. Once you are just two or three points behind, how could you ever hope to overtake someone then?
It is not a game that leaves you a lot of fighting options.
Which makes it long, slow and pointless.
Another thing that got on my nerves about this particular game, is player etiquette. This game has no rules, protecting its players, and if you play with someone who is a bit of an asshole, (no offence,) you can be played out very quickly. My sister, for instance, was attacked very early in the game, by her neighbour and he destroyed her army and took her home system. Now, that is just uncool game-man-ship. It left her playing along for the remaining 10 hours, without a fighting chance. All she could do was sit on her last planet with her ground force and smile. For ten fucking hours. Uncool. Really. And the game doesn’t offer any chances for someone to get back in the game when something like this happens.
I could have easily done the same to my neighbour, but I chose not to. I don’t find that kind of playing funny at all. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind fair battles, I don’t mind at the end of the game, to kick the other players asses, but that would be by the end of the game, not the beginning, no matter how strategically clever that may be. Let’s be honest, in an all day game like this one, the main objective must be for all players to have a good time. Nothing else should matter more. Being kicked off the face of the universe early on, can’t be much fun at all.
Speaking of player etiquette, this game has a lot of options if you want to disable your opponents. Like, for instance, you can play the Trade card, and cancel another players trade agreements, and forbid the other players to trade with said player. Again, that is a funny idea, but it doesn’t work in praxis unless you have some grown up players who knows when it is okay to use it and not and who can handle having it used against them as well. I had my trade agreements cancelled by one of the other players, and it didn’t really bother me, since I didn’t really need it, but when, much later in the game, I played the card against the player who had cancelled me, after he had snuck up on my army, and used all the rules he knew and I didn’t to back stab me, he got angry at me for playing the trade card. I have very low tolerance for that kind of playing.
First of all, in an introduction game, which this was, since three of us had never played it before, you help each other, you explain the rules, and you warn your neighbours before you sneak attack them, making sure that everyone has a fair chance. Once you all know the game and the rules, THEN you get to the back stabbing. Or maybe that is just me, but stealing victories because the other players doesn’t know every single rule, must feel a bit hollow. And again, it doesn’t help serve the purpose of all players having a good time during the game.
So, in conclusion. This game could be fixed. It could be sped up, the rules could be adjusted and then, maybe it could work, but as it is, even with both expansions, it is drawn out, pointless, insanely boring and leaves ignoble players far too many options when it comes to making sure that someone has not having fun at all.
And it is a shame. Because the idea of the game, is kind of cool. As a computer game, I would totally play it, because the computer would know the rules and nothing on the cards would be debatable and you wouldn’t feel blindsided even if something didn’t make perfect sense at first.
As a computer game, I would still want to be able to earn Victory Points faster though.
Anyway, I tried it. And I am not playing it again anytime soon. Maybe someday, with some other players, who understand the point of a strategy game, and who will be willing to change the rules to make it winnable within a reasonable time limit, but as it is now, my life is simply too short for that. I would rather play Heroes of Might and Magic on my computer, or Harry Potter board games with my girl friends. At least that is funny, even when you lose, because you have a fighting chance all the way.
And before I just sound like a sore loser, I didn’t lose. I actively threw my army at an opponent twice, desperately trying to leave the game before night fall, as I was due at the stable, and I would much rather go feed the horses in the rain than finish this game, even if I was way ahead with the Victory Points at the time.
And I couldn’t even kill myself. What kind of a game doesn’t leave you with a suicide option? Can I please start banging my head against the wall, any wall? Or might there be a debatable rule about that as well?