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Twilight Imperium

This is the game that phoenixalpha and I spent several hours struggling with last week. Part of the consensus the four players formed of the game was that it was excessively complex, suffered from poor rules writing, and basically required you to have played the previous versions in order to understand WTF was going on. Not all reviewers would agree with this evaluation, but I will note that the reviewer linked to had played TI2 and so was familiar with the basic structure of the game.

Back in the days when GDW and SPI pretty much owned the monstergame genre, there was a lot of talk about "chrome" and "dirt". The former referred to interesting historical information provided in the rules (or on the counters) that really didn't affect play much, if at all, and added to players' enjoyment of the game. Unit identification, for example. In most games there wasn't a lot of difference between one American armored division and another, but players liked it better when you marked the counters so that the 4th, 8th, and 12th Armored could be distinguished from one another.

Dirt, on the other hand, was detail that got in the way of game play. Complicated rules that pushed a game from the simple "game" side of the spectrum to the complex "simulation" end, usually at the cost of enjoyment as players struggled with the rules and their effects...the early Armor Effects/Anti-Tank Effects and Air Replacement rules in the Europa series were infamous examples of this, as were the Gap Numbers in SPI's Atlantic Wall.

I'm afraid that the third edition of Twilight Imperium has ample quantities of both chrome and dirt, unfortunately. The command chit system succeeds in behaving like every command system since the dawn of boardgaming, i.e. frustrating the players and hamstringing their ability to get anything done. The sequence of play is unclear, basic mechanics such as "How do I acquire new planets?" and "Where do trade goods come from?" are buried in the rules - which themselves win no prizes for either clarity or organization, especially from a grognard like myself with long years of experience with detailed wargame rules from AH, DG, GDW, SPI, XTR and 3W. Having important information scattered between race cards and the rulebook doesn't help either.

Perhaps my grognard prejudices are showing, but I am completely unimpressed by the plastic ships. These succeed in reducing the several alien races' fleets to generic equivalency while presenting absolutely no information useful to the player beyond the fact that they are fighters, destroyers, carriers, cruisers, dreadnoughts, and war suns. In view of the fact that several races start with differing advantages based on certain ship types, this is just plain dumb. Would colorful counters with the attack and movement values have been that hard to produce?

Speaking of technology, the way the races progress up the technological ladder - or, more correctly, through the twisting turning interlinked passages of technology - is just berserk. Some races start with tech advances that others don't, but you can't trade the advances and a lot of them are just random. Why do cruisers get a +1 but not the other combat spaceships? Why do carriers get an extra +1 movement but not the other ships? How do fighters magically gain the ability to fly between stars? Again, this is something that a decent ship/ground force counter mix could have addressed much more easily, and allowed different racial paths of technological advance into the bargain.

Again, if I'd played this game before I'd probably like it a lot better, but as it is, it strikes me as a mulligan stew of good ideas mixed with bad component choices and poor rules. Never before had Redmond Simonsen's abjuration about a game's graphics communicating information to the players struck me quite so hard - this game has far too much noise in its graphics for the signal to get through.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 17th, 2006 03:30 pm (UTC)
And yet (not having played it, mind you!) it's sold out, at the warehouse. None on the shelves.

And shortly, I may be applying to work at FFG. I strongly doubt that if I work there, I'll have say in anything game design related, but I'll keep that Chrome/dirt metaphore in mind.
Jun. 17th, 2006 07:05 pm (UTC)
I don't find that hard to believe at all. The game obviously has a sizable base of dedicated fans who enjoyed the first two editions and are eager to pony up for the new edition with all its additional bells & whistles. I'm just saying that as a n00b who's never played the game before, it's a real pain in the ass to learn.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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