Twilight Imperium – How playing a board game is the best exercise for your brain
Thus far, all my writing on this site has covered serious topics – cross-laminated timber’s potential to limit and even reverse climate change. The potential growth of blockchain based industry in Washington State. Content marketing how-to’s and local politics; today I want to talk about something completely different. I want to talk about Twilight Imperium, one of the most strategy intensive board games on the planet (and in outer space).
Hi everyone – *clears throat* my name is Conor and I play Twilight Imperium.
Hopefully, that sounded like the classic AA meeting introduction in your head, because sometimes that’s what playing Twilight Imperium (TI) feels like. It’s easy for the game to become an obsession for those of us who love strategy games – with games taking multiple hours, its easy to find weeks of your year disappearing into the TI universe.
In general, I believe playing strategy games is good for you. Figuring out the right tactics while constrained in resources and abilities and having to pay attention to critical objectives? It's my favorite way to exercise my brain in my free time. However, Twilight Imperium is a whole ‘nother beast compared to many strategy focused board games. While most tabletop games take 45 minutes to maybe 2 or 3 hours, you don’t finish a Twilight Imperium game in under 4, with an additional 30 minutes to set up and put the game away. Most matches last close to 8 hours and having them stretch to 12 is commonplace.
Granted, I was one of those kids that sacrificed a summer towards playing Lord of Ultima (think massive empire and alliance building game with a huge logistical component) and many a fall day in middle and high school (I was really cool okay guys) was spent playing Runescape, recruiting and managing a “clan” of other players from across the world. I truly believe that the skills I developed through playing those games have served me well. I spent countless hours writing to persuade and learning to organize teams virtually – skills I’ve applied to everything from leading a high school football team, to technology consulting work that often demands cross globe communication. Not to mention, typing 90 WPM is inordinately helpful in the digital age.
But like I said, TI is a different beast. While my youthful days of online gaming demonstrate some clear skills transference to work I do today, the fact that my friends and I sometimes take 8 hours out of our week to play a board game? Well, it sounds insane to many – including, at times, my exasperated partner. However, I genuinely believe in the value of the game – or else I wouldn’t be talking about it today. TI is a substantial time investment, but it's worth it.
In defense of Twilight Imperium
The thing you have to realize about Twilight Imperium is that it is perhaps the most intense, dynamic, and competitive tabletop strategy game of all time. Let's compare it to Diplomacy, a game I’ve played quite a bit of and the favorite of titans such as Henry Kissinger and JFK. Master Diplomacy players can resort to standard “openings” like in chess, before working their magic on other players – not so in TI.
Each time you play, a unique map is generated by the players whom each play as one of 17 different factions with unique abilities. Throw in a variety of technologies that can be purchased to upgrade units and add capabilities, an “agenda phase” where laws can be enacted to change the game state, objectives that vary with every game (unlike Diplomacy’s standard of holding 18 command centers), and many other in-depth variables, and TI becomes a behemoth. The game requires concentration, strategic thinking, tactical excellence, diplomatic prowess to maneuver your opponents, and a little bit of luck. When it's over, you’ve got hours of potential strategy discussion from dissecting a single game.
So yes, I do spend a day, about once a month, with five friends maneuvering and jockeying for control of a fictional galaxy. Yes, we devote an inordinate amount of brainpower to out thinking, manipulating, and bluffing each other. And yes – this game makes me a better strategist and a better problem solver. TI forces me to understand the motivations of competitors and allies alike, makes me better at putting myself in their shoes and getting into their head. It forces me to keep the strategic goals of achieving key objectives in mind while also developing an economy, marshaling finite resources, and developing backup strategies.
Moreover, it’s an enjoyable way to spend a day with your friends.
In his spare time, Conor Bronsdon is a Moderator of the Washington State Twilight Imperium Facebook Group and has organized two Twilight Imperium Tournaments in Seattle since the game’s 4th Edition came out in Fall of 2017. If you’re ever in Seattle and want to get in a game – shoot him a message.
In April, we organized the 2019 Seattle Twilight Imperium Tournament – 30 players from across the country (shout out to our three attendees who flew up from Phoenix, Arizona) gathered to compete in a 2-day contest with a simple format and one winner. Six qualifying games, winners advance to the final one victor emerges and is crowned emperor. Beni Rose shocked us all by winning the championship game (despite qualifying from 3rd place after the first and second place players at his table had conflicts) to be crowned as champion again, now holding the Seattle Tournament titles for 2018 and 2019*.
He and I sat down for a conversation about the final game and about winning Twilight Imperium strategy – you can listen above and view the results from this year and last years tournaments here. If you’re interested in trying out Twilight Imperium shoot me a message or join the Washington State Twilight Imperium Facebook Group for regularly organized games.