Twilight Imperium New Players

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Ages ago, from their home on Mecatol Rex, the regal Lazax ruled all other empires. When their civilization eventually crumbled, the repercussions sent the galaxy into a dark age. Centuries later, smaller empires are beginning to reestablish contact with one another and set their eyes upon the Imperial Throne. Which nation can reunite the galaxy under their dominion?

Welcome to TI4!

Twilight Imperium 4th Edition, or TI4 for short, is an immersive game where you try to elevate your galactic empire to claim the Imperial Throne. This is a rich and complex game, but not a complicated one; there are many different aspects to the game, but the rules themselves are quite straightforward.

Some of the things you'll do to improve your empire are:

  • Expanding: Arguably the most important thing, at least at first, is to add new planets to your empire by sending ships with ground forces. (If another player already owns those planets, see "Warfare" below.) You'll use these planets to generate the Resources and Influence that most other actions will require.
  • Exploring: The first person to claim a planet learns what interesting secrets it holds, including fragments that lead to powerful Relics. With the right technology, you can further explore known planets and/or explore the reaches of space itself.
  • Production: Enhance a planet by adding structures, both Space Docks (to produce units) and Planetary Defense Systems (to shoot down invaders). Use your Space Docks to make ships (for exploration, warfare, or both) and ground forces (infantry and mechs) so you can take and hold planets.
  • Research: Learn new technologies, which can upgrade specific units (e.g., get you Carriers that are faster and hold more troops) or grant you potent new abilities (e.g., fly through asteroid fields, draw extra cards, or reroll dice in combat). Every race has two unique techs they can research, which helps them stand apart.
  • Trade and Diplomacy: Negotiation, promises, and threats are a huge part of TI4. In addition, once you're "neighbors" with another race (which means having a ship or planet adjacent to them), you two can make transactions. Every race has Commodities, excess goods they produce that are useless for them, but become valuable Trade Goods when traded to others. And you also have Promissory Notes, special political favors (backed up by game mechanics) that you can offer as part of a deal.
  • Warfare: "Space combat" is ship-to-ship and leaves only one victor in that region of space. If you win, or there were no ships, you can land ground forces for "invasion combat" where you conquer a planet. That said, actual combat tends to be infrequent until the late game. A powerful military is one of the best ways to get what you want, but it's usually the threat of a potential attack that gives you an edge in negotiation. ("Look, we both know I could just take that planet; I'm giving you a chance to abandon it and cede it to me peacefully.")
  • The Galactic Council: This isn't a thing at first . . . but after someone claims the planet Mecatol Rex, all players will vote on two agendas each round, using their planets' Influence. These can be game-changers, so be ready to negotiate to sway others to your side.

The end goal of TI4 is straightforward: The first player to 10 Victory Points wins. Don't let yourself get so caught up in growing your empire, accumulating wealth, conquering planets, etc., that you forget to focus on doing the things that score VP!

So, how do you score VP?

  • There will always be Public Objectives (like "Own 2 unit upgrade technologies") that grant VP to anyone who accomplishes them.
  • You will have your own personal Secret Objective cards that can be scored like the Public ones.
  • The planet Mecatol Rex. The first person to claim it gets 1 VP. And each round if the person who currently controls it plays the "Imperial" Strategy Card, they get 1 VP.
  • Some cards grant VP, though usually there's a way that you can lose that card (and thus the VP it grants).

How the Game Flows

A game of TI4 is broken up into rounds. Each round includes three phases (eventually four phases, once someone takes Mecatol Rex). The Action Phase is the "meat" of the game, where we take turns in initiative order until everyone passes. See the diagram on the right.

Strategy Phase: Choosing your Strategy Card is important. It sets your initiative order (the number at the top left) and has a powerful Strategic Action. You decide when to use this Strategic Action and you are the only one who gets its full benefit.

Action Phase: On your turn, you must take an action or pass. Once you pass, you're done for this phase and cannot come back in. The three types of actions are:

Strategic Action: When you play your Strategy Card, you get its Primary Ability and then the other players may pay to use its weaker Secondary Ability. For example, the "Construction" card lets you build two structures for free, after which everyone else may pay a Command Token to build one structure.

Tactical Action: The most common action. You must spend a Command Token to "activate" a system on the board, then you can do stuff there. This might include moving in forces to attack and/or conquer a planet or it could be as simple as activating a system you already own to produce some ships. Basically, this covers anything you want to do on the board.

Component Action: Some racial abilities, Action Cards, Leaders, etc. let you take special, unique actions; e.g., "ACTION: Ready each Cultural planet you control."

You can keep going as long as you have actions to take; it's up to you whether to use all your Command Tokens or save some so you have extra next round. The only hard rule is that you have to use your Strategic Action before passing (so everyone gets a chance to piggyback on it).

Status Phase: Everyone gets a chance to score objectives, then we "clean up" to get ready for the next round.

Agenda Phase (once Mecatol Rex has been claimed): The Speaker reveals an Agenda and everyone votes on it. Then we do that for a second Agenda. Your votes are equal to your planets' Influence, and it's up to you how much to commit to the first vote versus to hold back for the second one. Expect lots of deals, promises, and threats.

Choosing a Race

The following races are the easiest ones for new players to start with. Read the summary for each one and decide which sounds like the most fun for you to play. Bear in mind when reading these that "Commodities" are for trading with others, "Resources" are for building units and researching, and "Influence" is for voting and gaining extra Command Tokens.

The Barony of Letnev

Skilled admirals commanding powerful fleets. They start with a potent armada, can have more ships per fleet than any other race, and have multiple ways to reroll attack dice in space combat. When they invade a planet, they can "surprise upgrade" one infantry to a mech, making it much easier to win the fight. Their home system is rich in Resources, though a bit light on Commodities and Influence; fortunately, they can capture high-Influence planets easily to help offset the latter.

The Emirates of Hacan

Traders and bankers with a wide reach. They can trade with anyone (not just their neighbors), which lets them broker third-party deals (for a fee). Better, they can trade things others can't: Action Cards and (via mechs) their planets. Their home system has weak Resources and Influence, but they have insane access to Commodities (and can eventually spend Trade Goods as votes to offset that low Influence). Their starting armada is built for exploration, but they can just buy warships later.

The Federation of Sol

Expansionists with great spec-op ground forces. Sol gets an extra Command Token each round, which lets them simply do more. Their infantry and troop carriers are amazing, especially once upgraded, and they're great at recruiting new infantry (with multiple ways to add them without having to use a Space Dock). Their starting armada focuses on carriers and infantry, perfect for expanding and easy to add warships to later. Their home world has great Commodities and Resource and decent Influence.

The Universities of Jol-Nar

Peaceful masters of technology. They start with more tech, and have an easier time unlocking more of it, than any other player. They start with a strong home system (great Commodities and Influence, decent Resources) and a well-balanced armada. However, this is balanced by a penalty to all combat rolls, which makes any fight they're in an uphill struggle. Their flagship and mechs can help offset this penalty, but Jol-Nar must usually negotiate to avoid being bullied (or outright invaded).

The Xxcha Kingdom

Respected diplomats, negotiators, and politicians. Xxcha can annex unclaimed planets via Diplomacy alone (no invasion needed), can veto an Agenda if they don't like it, and can research unique tech letting them counter invasions or Action Cards. Their home system has great Commodities and decent Resources and Influence, and they can let any planet be used twice (doubling up its Resources or Influence). Their armada is defensive; add a few mechs and you can shoot down incoming ships.

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