Twilight Imperium

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Twilight Imperium
Twilight-imperium-layout 12.jpg
Box Art for Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition
Designer(s) Christian T. Petersen
Illustrator(s) Scott Schomburg
Brian Schomburg
Tyler Walpole
Publisher(s) Fantasy Flight Games
Years active 2005
Language(s) English
Players 3 – 81
Age range 12+
Playing time 6+ hours
Random chance some
Website Fantasy Flight Games: Twilight Imperium
1 7-8 players available with the Shattered Empire expansion.

Twilight Imperium is a strategy board game produced by Fantasy Flight Games. It was designed by Christian T. Petersen and was first released in 1998. The game is currently in its third edition, released in 2005. The third edition currently has two expansions – Shattered Empire was released on December 12, 2006, and Shards of the Throne was released on May 27, 2011. The information in this article focuses primarily on the third edition (as the prior editions have significant gameplay differences).

Game Background[edit]

Thousands of years ago the galaxy was ruled by the Lazax race from their centrally-located capital of Mecatol Rex. After centuries of decline their empire fell and the Lazax were seemingly exterminated by their enemies. The Winnarian custodians of Mecatol Rex maintain the imperial libraries and oversee the meetings of the galactic council until the day that a new emperor arises to unite the galaxy under a single race's rule once again.


The game uses a semi-random board constructed of hexagonal tiles, each showing up to three planets, empty space, or a red-bordered system containing an obstacle to starship movement (asteroid field, nebula, supernova, Ion Storm, or Gravity Rift; the last two were added in the expansions). The standard gameboard setup contains 37 tiles in three concentric hex-rings around the center tile, Mecatol Rex.

Plastic playing pieces are provided in six colors, with various starship classes and ground forces. The players are limited to the number of playing pieces provided with the game, except for fighters and ground forces.

Numerous counters are included for use in record-keeping, including command tokens, strategy cards, control markers, trade goods, and extra fighter and ground force counters. The counters are printed on heavy cardboard stock.

Several decks of cards are used to track planets, trade agreements, and technologies controlled by a player, perform special actions, provide randomized goals for victory points, and set the political agenda for a turn. These cards are about half the size of standard playing cards.

Four ten-sided dice are provided.

The Races[edit]


A Hacan diplomat, with a Federation of Sol soldier in the foreground

The game also includes a "race reference" card for each of the ten alien species described in the game which includes all the relevant game information on one side and a brief history of the race on the other. Up to six (or eight, with the 'Shattered Empires' expansion) of these races will appear in a game, depending on the number of players. Each race has unique special abilities, homeworld(s), and starts with different units and technology.

All the Races have distinct characters and themes. The Hacan are wealthy lion-like traders, while the Sardakk N'orr are insect-like warriors. Other unique races include the Jol-Nar, the technological masters of the galaxy; the Xxcha Kingdom, politically powerful diplomats; the Yssaril, chameleon-like spies; the Embers of Muaat, beings of living fire; and the Mentak Coalition, space pirates.


Three to six (eight, with 'Shattered Empires') players can play. Each player randomly selects a race to control. The players are each dealt a number of system tiles which they place one at a time to construct the galaxy map, with Mecatol Rex at the center. The players' home systems are placed around the periphery of the map.

A first player is chosen randomly. That player is given the "speaker" token and is allowed to choose a strategy card for the turn first. In future turns, the first choice of strategy card is given to the player who chose the "Initiative" strategy card in the last round. Each player, starting with the Speaker, chooses a strategy card for the current turn (two cards if there are 3 or 4 players). The strategy card chosen determines the order in which the players will act during the current turn, provides a primary ability that the holder of the strategy card will use during the turn, and a secondary ability that the other players may use when the primary ability is activated. There are eight strategies – Initiative, Diplomacy, Political, Logistics, Trade, Warfare, Technology, and Imperial. Any unchosen strategy cards receive bonus tokens which encourage players to choose them during the next strategy phase.

Each player, in turn order, then takes one action. Actions can either be strategic – which involves using the primary ability of their strategy card – or tactical – which involves building and moving units and combat. Each player must use their primary strategy ability at some time during the turn, to allow the other players to use the secondary ability of that strategy. Players are limited in the number of actions they can take during a turn by their supply of command tokens, which are divided between strategy (used to access the secondary action of other players' strategy cards), fleet supply (limiting the number of ships that can occupy a system), and command pools (used for tactical actions). Players continue taking actions in turn order until each player has passed.

Units and technology can be purchased with a combination of planetary resources and Trade Goods. The Trade strategy allows players to exchange Trade Agreement cards, which then allow their holder to earn Trade Goods when the Trade strategy abilities are used.

Combat plays much like Axis & Allies. It is fought in rounds with each unit rolling one or more 10-sided dice to attempt to score "hits" on the enemy player, who is allowed a counter-attack with all their units before choosing which units are destroyed.

Many aspects of play are modified both by the special abilities of the race the player is playing and by advanced technology the race controls. The Political strategy card can also introduce various laws that further modify game play. Players vote on these laws using the political influence ratings of the planets they control.

The players also receive Action Cards each turn which can be used to tip the balance in combat or to gain other advantages for a turn.

At the end of each turn the players have the opportunity to score victory points for one public goal that has been revealed and/or for their own secret objective (each player begins the game with one random secret objective). The first player to achieve 10 victory points is declared the new Emperor and wins the game. There are a few other public goals that allow a player to win without having to score 10 victory points.

Most games take four to six hours to complete, although games with six players or those new to the game can take longer.


Generally each player will attempt to expand quickly into the unclaimed systems around their home world, and then use those resources to achieve the revealed public goals, which usually involve control or expenditure of resources, technology, or units (currency) in order to score victory points. It is not generally necessary to engage in combat in order to win the game.

In the base game, half of the secret objectives (which are all worth 2 victory points) involve control of the former imperial capital Mecatol Rex, and controlling the planet grants the most political influence of any planet in the game. These facts and its central location usually lead to conflict over the ownership of Mecatol Rex. In the expansion, Shattered Empire, 5 out of 13 secret objectives involve control of Mecatol Rex.

A decisive factor in most games is the choice of the Imperial Strategy card. Executing the card's strategy immediately scores the controlling player 2 victory points, and reveals the next public goal card (the only way outside of the secret objectives to score victory points). With a group of players that have previously played the game, the Imperial Strategy card generally circulates regularly around the table, with each player taking it as a first choice when possible, and a player who succeeds in taking the card out of turn is usually seen as a threat by the other players. The card effectively acts as a clock on the game, since it is almost always chosen each turn.

Many fans were unhappy with the original Imperial Strategy Card, which they saw as far too powerful, and an alternate was included in the expansion, which allows a player to qualify for multiple objectives, instead of the usual one.

Variants and optional rules[edit]

The game comes with several optional rules and the counters necessary to play them out. Some of these were optional expansions in earlier editions of the game.

The simplest variant is the long game, where the winner must score 14 victory points. The scoring track included with the game has two sides, one for the 10-point game and one for 14.

Many players play a variant of the game where the Imperial strategy card only scores 1 victory point for its owner. This reduces the importance of the Imperial Strategy card and allows for slightly longer games. The Shattered Empire expansion fixes most of the problems seen in the original game and is seen by most Twilight Imperium players as a must have for the game to be playable.

The "Distant Suns" variant places random counters on each neutral planet. These counters are revealed when first explored and can have a variety of beneficial or detrimental effects to the explorer.

Three leader counters (either admiral, diplomat, agent, general or scientist) are included in the game for each race, each of which can provide special benefits for the ship or system they are present in.

Additional optional rules and variants are included in the rulebook.

Twilight Imperium: Shattered Empire[edit]

Fantasy Flight Games released an expansion called Shattered Empire in December 2006. It includes two new sets of playing pieces and additional system tiles, allowing for up to eight players to play a game, as well as many other additions.

Twilight Imperium: Shards of the Throne[edit]

Fantasy Flight Games released a second expansion called Shards of the Throne in May 2011. It features new races, technologies, scenarios and plastic units, as well as many other additions.

Differences Between Editions[edit]

Second Edition vs Third Edition[edit]

The third edition significantly changed many of the game mechanics. While some of the core elements remained the same, the game as a whole was completely revamped. Here are some of the more significant differences:

  • In 2E, only the Hacan, Letnev, N'orr, Jol-Nar, Sol, and Xxcha were playable races. The Mentak and Yssaril were introduced in the Hope's End expansion as new playable races. The L1Z1X were present as non-player hostile invaders, introduced to gameplay via some of the events. The Naalu were completely new to the 3rd Edition (although it first appeared in the first edition expansion: The Outer Rim). While the races present in both games kept the same basic flavor and feel, the racial abilities changed between editions.
  • In 2E, the game rounds were broken into phases: the political, production, movement, invasion, and technology steps. Each player had equal access to these phases every round. In 3E, these phases were largely spread out among the Strategy Cards, coupled with the new threaded activation sequence.
  • In 2E, players collected credits as tangible money that could be spent from round to round. 3E's spending is mostly done by exhausting planets, though the Trade Good concept does allow some limited form of savable liquid assets.
  • In 2E, the only spaceships that could be built were Cruisers, Carriers, Dreadnoughts, and Fighters. 3E introduced Destroyers (cheaper and weaker than Cruisers, but more mobile than Fighters), and War Suns (expensive and powerful super ships).
  • While most of the technologies were ported from 2E to 3E, many of the effects changed significantly (largely to fit with the 3E sequence better).
  • Politics in 2E was done at the beginning of each game round by drawing a card from a Political Card deck, and voting on the agenda. Some of these cards were events which automatically affected the game in some way (such as introducing hostile L1Z1X forces). In 3E, the concept of "events" was removed completely.
  • In 2E, players achieved victory by progressing along a fixed set of objectives, largely centered around the number of resources, influence, and planets controlled, as well as technologies. In 3E, players instead try to achieve Victory Points by completing objectives revealed during the game; these objectives could change from game to game.
  • The tiles, cards, and playing pieces in the 3E are noticeably larger in size than their 2E counterparts.

List of games[edit]

Main game (first edition)[edit]

  • Twilight Imperium
    • Twilight Imperium: Borderlands
    • Twilight Imperium: Twilight Armada
    • Twilight Imperium: Distant Suns
    • Twilight Imperium: The Outer Rim

Main game (second edition)[edit]

  • Twilight Imperium 2nd Edition
    • Twilight Imperium: Hope's End

Main game (third edition)[edit]

  • Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition
    • Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition – Shattered Empire
    • Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition – Shards of the Throne

Spin-off game[edit]

Role-playing game[edit]

External links[edit]