Imperium (board game)

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Imperium box cover

Imperium is a science fiction board wargame that was published in 1977 by the Conflict Game Company and GDW.[1] It was designed by Marc W. Miller[2] and developed by Frank Chadwick and John Harshman. The game came in a cardboard box illustrated with a space battle on the exterior. It included a cardboard-mounted, folding map of a local region of the Milky Way galaxy, a set of rules and charts, and the 352 counters representing the various spacecraft, ground units, and markers, and a six-sided die.

A new edition of this game, Imperium, 3rd Millennium, was published in 2001 by Avalanche Press. This new release had improved graphics and updated rules. In 2002, I3M was nominated for four Origins Awards. Avalanche Press has since abandoned the game, having decided not to renew the license to produce it.


Marc Miller states that the playing of Phil Pritchard's game Lensman "well into many late nights inspired the Game Designers' Workshop staff to come up with a similarly star-spanning strategic interstellar wargame titled Imperium; that Imperium was never published, but was ultimately transformed into a simpler game with the same name: Imperium, Empires in Conflict/Worlds in the Balance."[3]


Imperium is a two-player game simulating a series of conflicts between the emerging Terran (human) Confederation and an immense and ancient alien empire, the Imperium. The Sun and nearby stars lie at the extreme edge of this alien space-faring civilization, and the Terrans struggle to survive and expand against this powerful state.[4] While the Terran player is in control of the entire Confederation military, the Imperial player represents a low-ranking provincial governor on the frontier, who is forced to petition the central government for reinforcements and is occasionally subject to its meddling.

When Imperium was published in 1977, its scenario was not connected to any other game. GDW published Traveller in the same year, but Traveller was at that point a system for running adventures in a generic science fiction setting, with no established background. However, as the company constructed the Third Imperium as the default setting for Traveller, the situation in Imperium was retconned into the Traveller Imperium's history; it became the First Interstellar War, the first of many wars leading to the overthrow of the Vilani Grand Empire of Stars (Ziru Sirka) by the Terran Confederation and the establishment of the Rule of Man.

The fold-out map depicts a nearby region of the Galaxy that includes important nearby stars as well as hyperspace jump routes between them. This sector forms a single province within the Imperium.[4] The map is printed on a dark background and is overlaid by a hex grid. Each hex represents a half parsec, which would require about 1.8 years to traverse traveling at 90% the speed of light. Along the edges of the map are tracks for marking turns and tallying resources. The map includes a number of commonly known stars, such as Alpha Centauri, Procyon, Sirius, Epsilon Indi, and Altair, as well as a considerable number with more exotic names (mostly taken from the Sumerian language). Only a dozen stars have naturally habitable planets, although many more have planetary systems with outpost-capable worlds.

The game includes a variety of ship types, ranging in size from the small scouts and fighters to the mighty battleships. The ship counters are blue for the Terrans and red for the Imperium. Each counter includes a set of ratings, the ship type, and a silhouette. The combat ratings give the Beam weapon combat factor, the Missile factor, and the Screen factor. Beam weapons are for close range combat, while missiles are best fired at long range. Typically a beam weapon is slightly more effective than missiles, and Terrans have better beam weapon ratings while the Imperium favors missiles. Ships with a black silhouette can perform a jump between stars, while a white silhouette can only remain in orbit.

The following ship types are available for production: Scout, destroyer, several different types of cruisers, dreadnaught, improved dreadnaught, battleship, monitor, missile boat, mother ship (similar to an aircraft carrier), fighter, transport and tanker.

The available jump routes can significantly hinder the movement of a side's forces. Certain star systems act as bottle-necks, and can be used by each side as a defensive front. Two of the stars do not allow refueling, so tankers are required to leave these sites. Ships (excepting fighters and missile boats) are allowed to move at sub-light speeds across the hex map, and so can move directly from star to star without following the jump routes. However the movement rate of these ships is only one hex per turn.

Game play[edit]

Game play consists of a series of "Wars" fought between the two players until one player completely conqures the map. A single "War" may be fought over an evening, but a "Campaign" of multiple wars can take several weeks to complete. Starting positions for each War are dependent on the result of the last and rules for what occurred during peacetime. Each "War" consists of a sequence of turns with alternating player-turns, each consisting of multiple phases. Each turn represents a period of two years. The game includes an economic system in which the units on each side are produced and maintained. The Terran income is based on what type of world the player currently possesses, and whether it is connected by friendly jump paths to Sol. The Imperial income has a fixed budget, but an increment for each connected outpost and world. The Terran player always moves first in the first war. After that the player who lost the last war moves first. Each player turn begins with an economics phase. The player then performs movement and combat, followed by the opposing player's reaction movement and combat phase, and finally the second movement and combat phases. Then the other player repeats the same sequence and the turn ends.[4]

Combat is somewhat abstracted, with the ships being lined up off map.[4] All combat begins at long range. On subsequent combat rounds a die is rolled to see who determines combat range (long or short) with the smaller fleet gaining a bonus to their die roll. The defender places the ships down one at a time, and the attacker places a ship down to match. At the end, any left-over ships can be assigned to also fire on enemy vessels, or kept out of combat. The missile or beam factors of the firing ships are compared to the screen factors of the defenders, and a die roll determines if a ship has been destroyed. Several combat options are available, including firing all of a ship's missiles at once, or the so-called "suicide attack" where a ship maneuvers to point-blank range for a beam attack. Combat continues until one side is destroyed or until either player decides to disengage.

The game also includes abstracted rules for ground combat. Terran land units are green while Imperium units are black. In addition to regular land units and planetary defense units that can oppose a landing, there are special drop troops that can land on a planet without requiring a ship to transport them to the surface. If one side is all standard troops and the other side is all drop troops, the standard troops gain a bonus artillery attack against the drop troops to simulate the inability of the drop troops to carry a lot of heavy vehicles with them. The ground units have a single combat factor, plus a symbol and a unit identifier. Surface combat used a combat differential with the defense combat factor subtracted from the attacker's combat factor. A die is then rolled to determine whether the unit is destroyed.

Victory is determined by a "Glory Point" tally earned by the Imperium. Points are gained for conquering worlds and lost for their conquest by the Terrans. A habitable world is worth four Glory Points and an outpost world is worth one. If at the end of a turn the Glory Point total has reached the amount necessary for victory, then the Imperium player wins. If the total drops sufficiently, the Terran player can likewise win. The range between the amount required for Imperium or Terran victory begins to shrink after turn three, representing the decreasing appetite for continued hostilities.

The game system includes a random events table for various Imperium events. These can favor or hinder the Imperium player. There is also a system built into the game for production of new units, colonization, and other changes during the inter-war periods. Ships can age and be scrapped; the Emperor can grant or withdraw permission to build certain ship types, and territory can be exchanged.


Tony Watson reviewed Imperium in The Space Gamer No. 15.[5] Watson commented that "Imperium brings together many common themes of science fiction, and ties them to an excellent and intriguing game system which places both players in a unique situation with unique abilities to respond to that situation. Its ease of play makes it an enjoyable game. I predict it will be a classic."[5]

David Ritchie reviewed Imperium in Ares Magazine #1, rating it a 8 out of 9.[6] Ritchie commented that "This is either a serendipitous design or a cold-blooded development of a classic. Nicely conceived and beautifully executed. A moderately complex game, playable in a few hours."[6]

Foreign-language versions[edit]

  • This game was published in Swedish by Äventyrsspel under the name Empire. This created the ironic situation that the game was named "Imperium" in English ("Imperium" is the Swedish word for "Empire") and "Empire" in Swedish ("Empire" not a Swedish word). The name change came about because Äventyrspel was concerned about possible confusion with their Star Wars licensed role-playing products released at the same time as this game.
  • A German edition was produced in 1990 by Fantasy Productions.


  1. ^ Richie, David (March 1980). "Review". Ares (1): 25.
  2. ^ Europa Publications Limited (2003). International who's who of authors and writers. Europa biographical reference series. 19. Psychology Press. p. 387. ISBN 1-85743-179-0.
  3. ^ Miller, Marc W. (2007). "Lensman". In Lowder, James. Hobby Games: The 100 Best. Green Ronin Publishing. pp. 176–178. ISBN 978-1-932442-96-0.
  4. ^ a b c d Renolds, Colin (December 1978 – January 1979). "Open Box: Imperium". White Dwarf (16): 14–15.
  5. ^ a b Watson, Tony (January–February 1978). "Imperium: A Review". The Space Gamer. Metagaming (15): 28–29.
  6. ^ a b Ritchie, David (March 1980). "A Galaxy of Games". Ares Magazine. Simulations Publications, Inc. (1): 29.

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