Previously in Twilight Imperium: It was a pirate’s life for me.

There are a few games out there that promise a different play experience every time you unpack it. I’ve played a few that do vary from session to session, but after two games of Twilight Imperium, I can say that every game is, in fact, different. Tactical actions are done the same way, and the strategies were the same, but everything else was different. Even though we opted for another pre-set map, rather than taking the extra time to distribute the system tiles per the rules, the map was completely different. I did not expect all of the tech specialties to pepper our galaxy the way they did. For the most part, we chose our races at random. My father chose the L1z1x Mindnet (blue), my neice represented the Federation of Sol (purple), my brother-in-law lead the Yssaril Tribes (red), and I drew the Embers of Muaat (black).

I chose to include the options of Custodians of Mecatol Rex and the Wormhole Nexus, as the last time we played, it was far too easy to steam right to the capital. My neice began taking advantage of Sol’s racial powers right away, spawning extra Ground Forces on planets she occupied. My father industrialized quickly, pushing out from 0.0.1, while my brother in law and I established at least a casual alliance as he took sped out from his own home systems. My War Sun, hampered by slow movement, was at least able to claim the rare triple-system near Muaat. The newcomers got a handle on how the turns and actions worked, and by the end of round 2, we all had a good idea of how to proceed with our various plans.

As round 3 moved forward, my father essentially blocked off my neice’s advance towards his systems, and she seemed put off by the approach of my War Sun, now armed and fully operational. My brother bolstered his position on one side of Mecatol Rex, and the War Sun moved into the other side. For most of the rest of the round, each of us tried to determine who would actually go for it. I took the Diplomacy action to prevent my nearest system from getting trounced by either my neice’s growing armies or my father’s dreadnaughts. With that peace of mind, I rolled into Mecatol Rex, the public objective for which had just been revealed. At this point, the game was very close, with my father and my neice tied for first at 2 or 3 Victory Points.

My dad’s a bit notorious around our gaming table. With his massive fleets and aggressive expansion, nobody trusted him. At one point, he asked “How did I make 3 enemies in a 4 person game?” My brother and I were sort of glaring at one another as his Flagship occupied space near my War Sun. As Sol and the Mindnet also glared at one another, there was a palpable sense of tension around the table. It felt very different from the previous TI game, and as my brother swept into my father’s space, I knew that our erstwhile alliance was coming to an end.

Sure enough, the Yssaril Tribes moved in on Mecatol Rex. A great deal of fire was exchanged, but at the end, I was still able to complete my Master of Ships secret objective. The lead that afforded me was tenuous at best, as both my brother and my neice were right behind me. We had agreed to play to 8 victory points, and my objective put me at 6. This was the point in the game where the Diplomacy strategy could almost be used as a weapon or a means to limit an opponent’s choices, and the Bureaucracy strategy became more and more attractive.

By this point, my father had caught up to me in terms of tech. He, too, could construct War Suns. I knew I had to deal with him, but I had to do so in such a way that neither my niece nor my brother could capitalize on my focus. I needn’t have worried, through, as it was at around this point that the Yssaril invaded Muaat. Knowing that I could not claim any more objectives if my homeworld was occupied, the bold move was meant to forestall a Muaat victory. I now had the choice between going after my homeworld or taking my brother’s as he had taken mine. Before I could decide, my brother activated Diplomacy, declaring his home system a DMZ.

With no choice, I steamed home, abandoning Mecatol Rex, and fought to reclaim Muaat. There was some confusion over the proper use of the Gen Synthesis technology, but in the end, Muaat remained in the hands of the Yssaril. The other players were closing in, aiming to destroy my remaining space docks and possibly knock me out. However, during the Strategy phase, I had chosen Bureaucracy. When I activated it, the Imperium Rex card was available, and I played it, ending the game.

Twilight Imperium is quickly becoming one of my favorite board games of all time, and not just because of this win. The variety and depth of the game is staggering, and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. I have yet to play with Mercenaries, Political Intrigue, or Leaders, to say nothing of Distant Suns, but I know they’re on the horizon. My niece, at the conclusion of this game, asked “When are we playing again?” in a very eager tone of voice.

Even if I’d lost, I couldn’t have asked for a better victory.