Twilight Imperium: Friendly Space Race

By Bob and Lizzy

Brutus rating: 9 zingy lightsabers in the back out of 10
Pairs Well With: Slurm! Romulan Ale! Anything pumped with sugar and caffeine

Look at this magnificent shit. You know you’re in for some intense game-time when the box art is this expensive and epic.

The story of the Misery Farm and Twilight Imperium begins with Bob and Christmas. Bob spends every Christmas with her family and a number of close family friends (as South Africans the lot of them are constitutionally incapable of negotiating ‘small, quiet’ events). There’s lots of food, wine, dogs, excited children and merriment.

It’s hell.

Initial plans were to go from family home to Reading for new year’s eve with the friendly robot boyfriend (FRB) before looping back round to the blessed isolation and wonderful silence of home in Southampton. Then the kids got an honest-to-god noisemaker as a Christmas present. The electronic kind, which plays loud, tinny jingles and farty sounds at the push of a button. Far from being a form of passive-aggressive punishment inflicted by child-free friends on their parents it turned out that their mum (!) had actually bought this thing (!!) herself (!!!) as a gift for her own kids (!!!!).

Naturally, Bob wanted to leave as soon as humanly possible. Unfortunately there wouldn’t be room for her at the FRB’s house until the late in December, and he had planned an all-day Twilight Imperium 3 game on that day. But there would be a constant supply of tea and biscuits if she was interested. Sold!

She had no idea what she had gotten herself into.

First port of call if you need a game overview is of course the blog Shut Up and Sit Down. If you are living under a rock and are somehow reading this without having heard of them, then know that they are nice young men who combine informative game reviews with a quirky and funny presentation style (so pretty much the opposite of us). Their review of the game as fun, complicated but not arduous, and epic in both scale and style was encouraging, and Bob proceeded to download the rules with a view to getting a rough idea of the components, win conditions, and what a turn generally looks like (the holy trinity of basic game understanding).

Here she hit a snag. Having only recently become the kind of special, habitual nerd who can visualise a game to any sort of degree just from reading the rules, these presented something of a challenge. It wasn’t the length of the rules which intimidated her, nor their complexity, poor structure, or incredible, gasping dryness. It was more that better things to do than reading them seemed to repeatedly crop up. Taking a nap, for example. Eating all the Christmas jelly beans. Re-watching Star Trek, Frozen, and the Muppets Christmas Carol (with all the scary bits fast-forwarded so the kids wouldn’t have to hide behind the sofa). If she weren’t under strict instructions from supervisors to Chill the Fuck Out and Take a Holiday then some work might even possibly have gotten done. Maybe.

This wasn’t entirely unfair, in hindsight. TwImp heralds from an era of Fantasy Flight games (i.e. their entire history) when writing down the rules was considered an unfortunately necessary afterthought to game creation. The amount of text in the FAQs on their website exceeds that of the written rules by a factor of about fifty, and even the super handy-dandy cheat sheet on board game geek (second port of call for the game explorer) is twelve pages of tightly-packed and colour-coded terror. Bob refused to be deterred though, forging bravely ahead. It was either this or another day of confiscating her mum’s 11am gin and being forced to watch a ten-year old play Pokemon Platinum* on their shiny new 3DS**. To some long-term gaming buddies this mission to Read the Damn Rules seemed one step away in terms of desperate foolishness from considering a career in crippling heroin addiction. Eventually even Bob had to admit defeat at page 14, and instead downloaded the TI3 app***.

Game day rolled round with an inauspicious start. Bob arrived late and without all the necessary supplies of crisps, cigarettes and sugary beverages that would make a ten-hour game bearable. Luckily the FRB has excellent friends. Ones complete with mandatory nerdy graphic Tshirts and an exquisite layout of appropriate snacks including Gagh (gummy worms), Slurm (Mountain Dew), and a handy supply of delicious codeine and Marlborough Reds to alleviate the crampy terror brought on by driving. FRB did his part by making Bob two whole cups of tea without complaining more than 6 times.

Delicious caffeinated sugar water.
Delicious caffeinated sugar-water.

And it only took an hour to set up the game and go over the rules. Briefly: a central planet IMG_0414(Mechatol Rex), the seat of political power in the galaxy now mired in civil war and petty bureaucratic struggles. It is surrounded by planet and space hexes, which generate resources if you invade take them under your wing. You play as a race fighting for dominance according to certain objectives. First to ten victory points wins. You can usually get a point per turn, and a turn takes an hour. No joke.

Okay, so this game. This game, guys. It’s insane. No one playing it for the first time can
possibly have any idea what the hell is going on. Going over every single rule would be exhausting, and remembering them all on the first try is impossible. It’s entirely plausible that everyone was cheating the entire way through but the fact that we were playing with two extra expansions (and therefore a whole bunch of new and expanded rules) meant that no one noticed or really knew what was going on themselves.

Luckily it’s definitely the kind of game that can be played without a fully-fleshed strategy as IMG_0419long as you have a rough overview of what you might want to do on a turn, and there’s someone around the table willing and able to walk you through the fine points. Some things, like spending resources, invading planets, and building technologies and spaceships are very knowledge-dependent, unfortunately, and messing them up can really ruin your turn. Mercifully the sheer size and duration of the game makes it weirdly forgiving until the very last few rounds.

Some parts are refreshingly simple, such as the straightforward dice-rolling ‘pew pew’ of combat. On the other hand some elements, like playing a political action card in order to pass a law in the galactic senate, are almost like bizarre meta/minigames in themselves, as you try to bribe each other for votes while assassinating other players’ delegates. Sometimes, if another player is particularly annoying you with their piractical trading methods or pointed demilitarisation of strategic planets, you can even assassinate them twice*****.

Romulan ale, for when your girlfriend has passed a motion to have you executed by the senate. Again.
Romulan ale, for when your girlfriend has passed a motion to have you executed by the senate. Again.

The potential for greatness is there (and beginners can do just as well as experienced players with a bit of strategic placement and luck), but it is absolutely exhausting on your first time round. After having your ass solidly kicked across the galaxy by the Winnarian traders you might even swear off it entirely.

But then find yourself thinking, at odd moments, how you could improve your strategy to finally conquer Mechatol Rex and really show those damn space-lions who’s boss.

As you play and get comfortable with the rules (which can take several long, long games) it all starts seriously picking up in terms of mad, bonkers, shooty fun. Despite its enormity the strategic elements are reasonably flexible. Alliances are made and broken based on objectives and the layout of the planet hexes (ah, that nebula of hugs sure looks protective. Wait, guys, why are you launching that dreadnought? Guys…?). You learn the particular skills and weaknesses of your race and start to posture with great big spiny hedgehog death stars war suns.

This. This is what posturing looks like.
This. This is what posturing looks like.
See that weird little fish-looking guy in the background? Flagship. 'Pointing the wrong way' apparently.
See that weird little fish-looking guy in the background? Flagship. ‘Pointing the wrong way’ apparently.

Bob’s first race comprised spooky space ghosts who love wormholes and for some reason have a super-90s-wildstyle-graffiti-looking symbol/crest thing. They have the unique ability to build an enormous flagship which then acts as a wormhole itself, allowing fleets of warships to pop up all over the map (entertaining but not recommended for beginners). Incidentally the flagship looks an awful lot like a fish with antennae bits all over it. Bob assumed this was to streamline it so that it might effectively fly through the massive friction and air resistance of outer space, but it turned out that she did in fact have the ship flying backwards. Other races include incredibly combative swarms of cockroaches led by a shadowy matriarchy (who for some reason no-one trusts. Damn speciesists), clouds of fungal spores, lion-people with civilisations built on the backs of elephants slowly traversing their desert home-planets, cyborg remnants of the once-ruling race spreading their mindnet low-cost broadband internet through the galaxy.

All that remains of the galaxy after a number of mad alien races have tussled over it.
All that remains of the galaxy after a number of mad alien races have tussled over it.

This game is fun, and mad, but very very long. Set aside a full day for it, and don’t play it without an experienced player to guide you through.

*Sidenote: Pokemon game names are really dumb and not-intuitively chronological. Dem crazy Japans amiright?

**Sidenote 2: This kid wouldn’t let Bob take a turn and had the bloody cheek to tell her that an Umbreon was a kind of Pokemon in a tone of voice usually saved for the hopelessly elderly and out-of-touch. Since being informed that we had in fact had Pokemon when we were kids it’s been non-stop Poketrivia quizzing of seemingly every Pokemon except the original 152. She calls them the Pokemon from ‘back in your day’.

*** More useful than the 12-page cheat sheet**** by a factor of about 300. It helps you keep track of what technology you’re building and are able to build, and keeps an eye on your various battle stats.

**** This is a ridiculous fucking thing anyway. It expects you to print out the pdf on legal paper and then fold and staple it into a booklet. What is this, 1963? It has the potential to be amazing but only if it were turned into a beautiful, easily-navigated hypertext doc. With a fucking contents page and some kind of fucking recognisable structure. One day. In the future.

*****Sorry Chris. That’s what you get for not letting me invade Mechatol Rex.

Photos courtesy of Nick Lanng and Chris MacLennan


Quantum: Space Dice!

By Lizzy, Bob, and Briony

Number of dicks in ear: 6/10. Dick size will grow in inverse proportion to the size of the map.
Pairs well with: cheap vodka. (It’s what people drink in space.)

6D-31- 365 Quantum1 Lizzy loves a game where you know who you are. Where you really know what your motivations are and why you’re collecting <Generic Resource!>. Quantum is a game about space, and it does this quite well. It has a space background. You play as a kind of space conquistador, colonising the stars using cubes. Cubes are very important in Quantum, because cubes mean victory and the ownership benevolent leadership of galaxies.

“Which galaxies?” you cry!
Whichever galaxies you like!

‘Which map shall we use?’ ‘The one that looks like a swastika!’ ‘That is absolutely not what a swastika looks like, Bob’

The layout of the map is quite variable; there are several possible galaxies to choose from for each player number, and each has its own name. You can fight over the Outer Reaches, the Barren Empire, Terra Major, Terra Minor.

Even the planets themselves each have a name. Tau 18, Ursus Major 2, you get the idea. They even have lore and geography, if that’s your bag. It’s all very good sci-fi. Points for sci-fi.

Here’s Bob posing for a photo and pretending to attack her own ships. That’s not how the game works. Silly Bob.

For further points, each of your dice are your loyal spaceships and the number on the die represents the kind of ship it is. Even better, there’s some kind of story to the mechanics behind each number! A lower number is a lot slower but better at combat because it’s a bigger ship. A 1-die, for example, is a battlestation, which is the best at fighting but can only move 1 square at a time. A 6-die is a scout, they can zip around like crazy but aren’t too hot behind the weapons. At this point in the game your in-house Bob or Bob-substitute can demonstrate agility by throwing dice around going ‘pew pew’. It’s helpful or something.

As well as the changing planetary layout, gameplay is also affected by cards, which affect the kind of play which your space-conquering race can undertake. After invading landing on a planet you can, as they say in the trade, ‘do a research’ and so learn to do fun stuff like shoot more effectively and fly across the entire galaxy to thrust your dick in your team-mate’s ear.

Quantum7 Quantum2 Quantum6

If you are the kind of person who hates dice combat you might hate this game. But even our friend ‘Dr Hates-Dice’ loves this game! And he hates dice, or any attempt at putting randomness in a game. Briony, of course, is sadly unable to roll dice or dice-shaped objects and so found this game something of a challenge. She also hates dice.

Tons o'dice
Tons o’dice
Space Cards
Space Cards.

In the words of Lizzy it is a game of learning and fun, if you understand how basic maths works. Bob, for her part, is unable to count, making the ‘fun if you know how maths works’ description more of a threat than an incentive. She has, however, played games with Lizzy before and understands that when our dear Liz looks particularly gleeful after rolling a die and buying a research card that no one is safe and… oh god oh god we’re all going to die… why is no one stopping Lizzy… we all know what happens when we don’t stop Lizzy and… oh yep she’s won. And she has the cheek to ask why we don’t trust her in board games.

6D-31- 374
We’re all gonna die when she gets that face on.


Nonetheless, this game doesn’t rub your face in your failure like a misbehaving puppy. If you do badly it’s because you’re bad at very basic counting, strategy, and rolling dice. This is in comparison with games like Terra Mystica where you feel like a failure from round 2 because you haven’t picked up on the very specific and delicate strategy required of your race. Quantum is particularly enjoyable if you bear your position as commander of the fleet in mind when communicating with the enemy. “The OrionRepublic welcomes the puny Kepler Imperium to our planet!” “The Orion Republic denies all knowledge of the weapons fire around Minim 2586. You must have been watching a training exercise.” Also humming ‘Duel of the Fates’ (literally the only good thing in ‘The Phantom Menace’) and the Star Trek theme tune are recommended during manoeuvring and battle.

6D-31- 393
A lonely spaceship contemplates its fate at the edge of the galaxy.

All in all this is a pretty fun game. It’s still Lizzy’s favourite thing to have come out of Essen 2013, well over a year on. Good luck on your colonisation, loyal Space-Dice. May the solar wind be always at your back.

Bob does not take particularly well to losing. Shame it happens so often.
Bob does not take particularly well to losing. Shame it happens so often.

Image and photography credit to Dr. Photographer.