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The Best In Tabletop 2017 – Twilight Imperium 4th Edition

The Best In Tabletop 2017 – Twilight Imperium 4th Edition

We’ve been lucky in 2017, with amazing games hitting store shelves and our tables. We saw some of our favorite developers hit the shelves yet again with a couple of fresh faces thrown into the mix. It was hard to choose just 10 games to spotlight on the list, and here is one of them.  Stay tuned to see the other games on this list and for the full list.

Twilight Imperium is something special. It’s the type of experience that distills the massive logistics of managing an empire of sprawling planets, jittery citizens, and enormous flotillas into a manageable four to five hours. It imparts a sense of large in a way most games would give their left chit and right die to capture. The word “epic” has lost much of its meaning in the current gaming climate, but Twilight Imperium is here to add literal oomph to that epithet.

The new fourth edition is an odd duck in that it’s really closer to a TI 3.5 as opposed to a whole new version. Unlike the significant shifts from the first to second edition and then second to third editions, this feels more like a massaging of systems and realigning of core values. It’s really a love letter to the game as opposed to a scrubbing of the innards and gutting of the engine.

This is for the best as Twilight Imperium Third Edition is an excellent game. You’re commanding massive fleets through a central Puerto Rico-inspired action selection mechanism. Turns consist of managing agency via command tokens which capture the tangled web of logistics and internal politicking. The alterations to this design consist of two main aspects: a physical face-lift and a mechanical streamlining.

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Firstly, this is a beautiful product. It’s a huge box with lovely cardboard bits and mounds of plastic spacecraft ready to tear up unsullied worlds and crass militants. The dedication to clarity via graphic design is a huge boon and one of the strongest assets of this release, a quality which carries through to gameplay.

While there are a number of minute adjustments and shifts in balancing abilities, there are a couple of larger changes within the scope of the system that we must discuss. The first is something that instantly stole my heart and cemented my affirmations for this version of the game–a jettisoning of the tech tree.

Tech trees are for the birds. They’re unwieldy, difficult to manage, and feel more like work instead of organic technological evolution. The fresh system is one of requirements. The strongest advancements demand players possess a number and variety of already researched tech types. So, you want War Suns? Then you need to have already acquired three red technologies and one yellow. This simple system is easy to grok and allows much-needed flexibility in the process. You no longer feel as though you’re researching useless stepping stones leading to something greater. It’s a fantastic adjustment to a core aspect of the game and the most satisfying change in my weathered book.

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Another significant alteration is a redevelopment of the political system. The addition of rules-changing laws via player voting is a huge aspect of Twilight Imperium’s personality. The problem was that the previous implementation was fraught with issues. Fourth edition hammers those wrinkles flat by allowing you to utilize the votes provided by all of your planets without inflicting that tough decision of wasting resources for the following phase. It also smartly restricts the agendas as politicking doesn’t even occur until Mecatol Rex has been settled. By removing the policy discussion from a player-selected strategy card it occurs more organically in play. The laws themselves also feel much more significant and strongly tied to the proceedings. The result is a fantastic overall approach.

There are other momentous adjustments including divorcing PDS/Space Dock construction from building units, massive faction balancing, and a re-worked objective system that simply sings like a quartet of roaring Hacans. All of this simply adds up to a smoother experience. While playtime is not in the ballpark of brief, it has been reduced mostly through cutting fat and shortening previously over-complicated decisions. The ability to maintain that feeling of epic while harnessing a contemporary design philosophy is certainly a massive achievement.

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While much of the analysis of the fourth edition is centered on its divergence from the previous iteration, it’s worth discussing how relatively easy this title is to play for newcomers. It is a large, somewhat heavy design but the extraneous bits are welded onto a very solid and easily digested core. You’re simply spending a limited token resource to move about the board and build up forces. It’s paramount to keep your focus on both the public and private objectives as the affair is won by the first player to reach 10 victory points. Simply direct all of your effort accomplishing what the game wants you to accomplish and you will do well.

From a high level, the most significant achievement of Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition is the simplifying of the pieces surrounding that core. The previously noted reworked agenda phase and streamlining of the tech system are huge contributors. Everything from combat to player held action cards are straightforward and contain the necessary and intuitive pointers on the components to avoid referencing rules or bogging down play.

As a release in 2017, Twilight Imperium Fourth is monumental in both its achievement as well as its size. This is a game any warm-blooded thematic gamer needs to experience at some point in their cardboard career. The beauty of the situation is that now is the perfect time to board the ship and head to the front.

Which games topped your list this year? Tell us in the comments!

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Image Credits:  Charlie Theel

Editor’s note: A copy of the game was provided by the publisher.

In addition to Geek & Sundry, Charlie Theel writes for Ars Technica, Miniature Market’s The Review Corner, and co-hosts the gaming podcast Ding & Dent. You can find him on Twitter @CharlieTheel

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