THE GAME IT LIKE IT
Every board gamer needs to play the game Twilight Imperium, 4th Edition, at least once. It isn’t just a board game; it’s an experience. But if you don’t have time to get this to the table or if you’re interested in a lighter version of TI4, you might consider looking at some of these other 10 games that share some of the same mechanics, feel, or themes as Twilight Imperium. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played a game and said, “Ah, that reminds me of Twilight Imperium.” If you’ve had this experience, slap the name of that game down in the comments. Here are the top 10 games that remind me of Twilight Imperium.
1 TWILIGHT IMPERIUM LIGHT
If you’re looking for another game that has rich technology, is set in space, and focuses on exploration with great components and hexagon tiles, you may love Eclipse. It’s an abbreviated and streamlined cousin to Twilight Imperium, and it scratches the same itch in a much shorter time. Many people consider this game “TI Light” because, like TI, it’s a deep strategy game that focuses heavily on territory control and tech tree growth.
2 STRATEGY CARDS
One of the primary mechanics that stood out in TI when I first played it was the strategy cards. I messaged the designer of Puerto Rico to find out if there was any influence from Twilight Imperium on his design of Puerto Rico. He had not played and did not know TI at the time, so the similarity is purely a coincidence. What is strikingly similar is the use of TI Strategy Cards, which serve the same function as the Role Cards in Puerto Rico. While this mechanic was novel when these games came out, it’s much more common now. I know that these games are incredibly different, but I hope you’ll allow the comparison simply for this one mechanic. Selecting a role that benefits you more than all the other players while also rewarding everyone at the table is a great way to include all players in the gameplay at once, and both games do this. Likewise, New Frontiers, which comes from the Race for the Galaxy family, is a game that shares this mechanic as well as the space theme.
3 VARIABLE PLAYER POWERS
One of my favorite games of all time, also set in space, that uses variable player powers that significantly impact how each faction plays the game is Cosmic Encounter. Most of you have likely played or heard of this game, so I won’t belabor my comparison. This element adds variety to each game and also gives both games an asymmetrical feel. Another game that deserves an honorable mention in this category is a Kickstarter title that I’ve really enjoyed playing, Rogue Angels. Its alien species and their various backstories pay homage to TI and the rich background that each different race brings to the game.
4 4X: EXPLORATION
If you like Twilight Imperium, please consider liking this video too. This encourages our creators to do more content for this incredible game. Space Empires 4X is a game from GMT that, like many other games on this list, offers a complete 4X experience in a much shorter time frame than TI. Though it’s not flashy and relies more on spreadsheets and counters than miniatures, it captures space exploration and tactics really well. Your engine will get off the ground much more quickly, your income will grow steadily, and you’ll still get the feel of galactic conquest in a shorter time frame. Though this game has one of the worst-looking boards I’ve seen for space games, 2 hours feels like 20 minutes when you play it. What I enjoyed most about Space Empires 4X is the tactical side of the exploration.
5 4X: EXPLORATION
Games that focus on expansion are all about claiming new territory, creating new settlements, and exerting influence over parts of the board. Another game that takes advantage of the expansion element of 4X, though this one is set in a dystopian 1920s age, is Scythe. Exploration isn’t quite as foundational because you can see the whole map from the outset. For that reason, the expansion is much more important. Though Scythe isn’t really a 4X game, if you’re interested in the expand and exploit elements of TI, give Scythe a try.
The next X in TI is exploitation. This involves gathering and using resources in areas you control or by taking them from other players. While Space Empires also does this well, I’ve already covered it, so instead we’ll compare TI with a game that I’ve been playing in its computer form for a very long time, and now it’s a board game: Civilization: A New Dawn. This game doesn’t emphasize military themes in any way. The map is completely revealed at the start, where players race to collect resources. This game is much simpler and lacks much of the depth of TI, but offers some comparisons with the modular board, variable player powers, and area influence.
7 4X: EXPLORATION
When I think about Extermination, the last of the 4x, I think of the game Cry Havoc. It’s got great miniatures with tons of variability and asymmetry in the factions. While resources are the source of conflict, the conflict itself is the best part of this game. It’s a game about epic battles that doesn’t even use dice. The battles are very focused and efficient, but they still offer you a wealth of choices to make. While TI takes much longer to get to the combat, and players often spend much of the game posturing,
8 EXPANSIVE SPACE OPERA
When it comes down to the actual fighting, both of these games are great. If you’ve watched this far and you’re not already subscribed, please consider pushing that button. On to number 8. If you’re looking for another epic space opera, one with multiple boards, a box full of over a hundred miniatures, and even a pile of cards and tokens, Star Wars Rebellion might offer the heft that you’re looking for. This game’s focus is completely different because it’s all about hiding or finding the rebel base. It has a strong narrative and cinematic feel to it because you feel like you’re the commander of the entire galactic empire or rebel alliance fleet all at once. When it comes down to it, this is a heads-up wargame.
9 Player Relationships
My ninth pick might be one that many of you object to, but an essential part of Twilight Imperium is how you use diplomacy with the other players. You need to rise up out of the game and forge real connections with the other players through trade, resource sharing, or mutual territorial agreements. All of these features are also central to the classic board game Diplomacy. More importantly, in both games, you always need to be ready for a massive backstab.
We could compare just about any space game to Twilight Imperium, such as Gaia Project, Race for the Galaxy, Terraforming Mars, and even Firefly, but beyond the theme, many of these games just don’t compare. But there is one game that captures the same 4X world building feeling, the same epic civilization growth, the same feeling of territorial discovery, and the same tactile handling of miniatures, and though it’s based on planet Earth, Clash of Cultures is a nice streamlined version of Twilight Imperium. It clocks in at around 4 hours, but its designer, Christian Marcussen, adores the majesty of TI and has created a tight, accessible version of TI that captures its spirit well. Clearly, what makes Twilight Imperium so great is that it accomplishes all of the elements that these other games do in one box. Let me know which of these games you agree with me on and what other games I should have included in the list. Thanks so much for your time.