By: Kate Thompson
On December 15th, my partner Neil and I had some friends over to play Twilight Imperium 4th Edition, which my friend Rob had recently procured. Neither of us was particularly familiar with the game. I’d played 3rd edition once approximately a decade ago, and I’m not sure Neil had even heard of the game before. However, I knew he was likely to enjoy it, based on the types of games I know he likes.
We had a great time. Twilight Imperium is an epic game, but it is also simple. Getting the hang of all the rules is a bit of a hurdle, but once you have done that, all you really need to do is make sure you are completing objectives and getting points. Of course, your efficiency at this task can improve over time with familiarization of the game, but that’s the beauty of any good game.
Neil and I had decided not to get each other gifts for Christmas this year. But the day after we played Twilight Imperium, I could tell that he really enjoyed the game. Each silence that day was broken by a revelation or other ponderance about the game. And then, discussions about how we might be able to play the game with only two players.
And then, we were at our local board game cafe (The Board Room in Bedford, Nova Scotia). We were there to buy small games for stocking stuffers and gifts for friends… But I happened to have quite a lot of loyalty points that could be redeemed for a hefty discount on our purchase.
And then, we were walking out of the store not only with small games but also a big one.
And then, we were setting up a 4 player game… when we had but two players.
Long story short, we bought TI4, and this is the story of how we have tried to play it with 2 players!
Note: This post assumes you already know how to play Twilight Imperium 4th Edition. Here is a tutorial video I found on YouTube:
I also really like this episode of the Space Cats Peace Turtles podcast for guidance on what aspects of the game to focus on when you’re learning to play. The episode also gives pointers about how to effectively teach the game:
Two Players With Two Adjacent Factions Each
As I said, our first idea was to play a 4 player game where we each controlled 2 factions. This was the day after our first game, so we decided that we would each play the same faction we had the night before (since we were familiar with how those factions worked), and then one random faction.
So, I was playing The Universities of Jol-Nar and The Emirates of Hacan. Neil was playing the Sardakk N’Orr and The Federation of Sol.
In this first attempt, we placed our faction home systems such that the two that I was controlling were adjacent to each other, and the two he was controlling were adjacent to each other. We did this for the convenience of being able to easily reach our pieces, but we realized this was a mistake for a couple reasons:
The feel of the game is a bit different when things start with two assumed alliances. That, on top of the two points mentioned above, means the game definitely plays differently this way than a normal 4 player game. Other than that, the game went pretty well. I enjoyed playing. We decided to try this again, but we altered the placement of our home systems.
Two Players With Two Non-Adjacent Factions Each
For our next game, we still played two factions each, but we alternated our home worlds so that the two we were playing were not adjacent to each other. In this second attempt, I was playing The Necro Virus and The Barony of Letnev, while Neil played The Naalu Collective and The Mentak Coalition.
The Naalu Collective ended up taking the win in this game thanks to their ability to always go first, meaning they got to score first. Tricksy.
Again, I feel as though the game worked. There were a couple things that don’t go as smoothly as when you are playing with four players, but the game is still epic and fun.
Two Players With a Neutral 3rd Faction
The last thing we have tried (so far) is a three player game where we each control one faction. There is a third faction that we take turns controlling. I played The Embers of Muaat, Neil played The Universities of Jol-Nar, and the faction we shared was The Emirates of Hacan.
There are a few things I like about this variant compared to the previous two:
Unfortunately, the Agenda Phase is still a little wonky. This is because in each agenda phase one player controls two factions, and the other controls one faction. So, whoever controls two factions basically gets to decide how the votes will go. The only exception is if they spend a lot of influence on the first vote, and aren’t left with enough to overpower the other player on the second agenda. This could happen sometimes, but probably only in the case when the two factions run by one player have to vote first and consecutively… Which won’t always be the case.
This game was won by The Embers of Muaat who are awesome because they start with a War Sun! Really had fun with that faction.
This three player variant is my personal favourite so far of our attempts at 2 player TI 4. I would like to try the “Two Players With Two Non-Adjacent Factions Each” again with factions that don’t discourage trade, though.
The take-home message is that we have found a lot of enjoyment in all of these 2 player variants. The one major issue is the Agenda Phase -- it doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to in any of these variants. In addition, playing this way is a lot harder on the brain, since you have to keep track of more than one faction. So, if you’re up for a cognitive challenge, and you don’t mind the agenda phase being a little wonky (what political negotiation isn’t?), then I recommend giving this a try!
If you do try this out, please let me know! I’d love to hear how you did it, and how it went!
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