Twilight Imperium: The Empire Sprawl is Real

In order to increase this blog’s breadth of games with high table presence beyond the reach of my own experience, I asked the good denizens of Reddit for suggestions. I especially asked them to focus on games for which they had photos that I could repurpose here. Today and periodically in the future, I’ll type up my notes on the games that these folks shared. u/Witzman kindly gave permission to share today’s photos.

Outer Space has plenty of space (hence the name). My dining room table has less space. Twilight Imperium fits comfortably in the former and less so in the latter.

Measure tables by the parsec

u/Witzman seems to have a similar situation. I’m counting a dining room table and 3 side tables in the photos that he shared. And only 4 (?) people are playing, rather than the 6 that the game supports. Despite this, the game barely fits.

I don’t see any components that actually waste space by being overly large. The biggest space goes to the hexes comprising the game board. These need sufficient space for players to pile in a bunch of ships. Then add in the player mats, the high player count, and the various areas for setting up markets for drafting!

I especially enjoy the planets painted on the tiles and player mats. Each has its own special twist, whether it’s natural little swirls of clouds, a machine cut into the side of a continent, or something suspicious going on at a pole. Each is a gem waiting for the players to investigate and enjoy.

Humanize the player mats

In addition to beautiful, interesting planets, the player mats include portraits of leaders from those planets. In providing these characters, the publisher has helped to humanize the factions (which is not to say they are all exactly human). The faces say something about the nature of the beings. I’m not even sure what I’m looking at with the Ghosts of Creuss — and that’s the point, as this faction is confusing, sneaky, and can come at you from a direction that you might not expect.

When I’m laying out player mats, it’s often tempting to compactify them so much that no space remains for illustration. After all, illustrations contribute directly to cost (more cardboard = more material = more money), indirectly to cost (increased box size, increased shipping costs, increased time to market), and implicitly to cognitive burden (yet another thing to distract the players from the “real” information). But they add so much to table presence.

The illustrations of ships in the popouts of the mats, above, also contribute to table presence and actually can reduce cognitive burden by providing a key to help players match miniatures to their respective capabilities.

Showcase the miniatures

And those spaceships really are the star of this show, as the mechanics afford many opportunities to interact with them. That level of engagement is essential for a game that can take eons to finish. Ultimately, their position on the board is pivotal in determining the outcome of the game.

They come in at least 8 different shapes, ranging from tiny outrigger-like pieces to “traditional” warships of the Star Wars destroyer variety, and even to spherical war suns (somewhat resembling Star Wars death stars–am I sensing a theme here?) A variety of ground forces round out the collection. As with Eclipse, high-quality miniatures add to the tactile experience of the game and amplify an onlooker’s desire to physically reach out and interact with the game — the very essence of table presence.

Notes to self

  • Never settle for copy-paste tiles in production.
    • I’m looking at you, Catan.
    • They should each have unique paintings, as in TI and Tapestry.
  • Having a high player count helps amortize the cost of so many distinct miniature shapes.
    • This is a Fantasy Flight game, so they are amortizing in other ways, too.
    • Despite these mitigating factors, this death star still costs over $130 (marked down from $165) on Amazon today.
  • As with 18OE, massive cognitive and spatial cost is no impediment to a high rating with the BGG crowd (and, perhaps, an asset).