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How to Play – Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition

How to Play Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition

There is no denying it, Twilight Imperium is a long and complex game with a lot of different rules. However, it is one of the best gaming experiences I have had and, in my opinion, completely worth the time investment. This article will be an overview of how to play the game rather than explaining every single rule. This should be beneficial to new players and will give you a useful starting point to the game, rather than overloading you with information.

I have written this article as something to read prior to learning your first game. This means that if you are all new players, someone will need to read the rulebook and I would also recommend this tutorial video. There is also a very helpful rules reference guide if any questions come up during the game.

Introduction to Twilight Imperium

In Twilight Imperium, you will play as one of 17 different factions, all fighting to be the first to reach 10 victory points and claim the Imperial Throne. You will do this by colonising planets, building fleets of ships, researching new technology, trading, plotting and waging war.

Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition - Faction Sheet (left) and Command Sheet (right)


  • Speaker - Someone will be randomly assigned the speaker token. This player will go first when the game begins.
  • Factions - Each player will receive a faction sheet, home planet tile with matching home planet cards, rectangle control tokens, triangle command tokens and two faction specific technology cards. On the back of each faction sheet will list the starting technology and starting units.
  • Placing units - Place the starting units in your home system, infantry, planetary defence systems (PDS) and space docks are usually placed on planets, but ships are placed in space.
  • Choose colour - Each player chooses a colour and takes the plastic units, technology cards and command sheet that matches that colour. Each player will place eight command tokens on their command sheet; three in tactics, three in fleet and two in strategy.
  • The galaxy - The galaxy is comprised of system tiles which either contain planets, anomalies such as a supernova or empty space. Each planet will have a resource in yellow and an influence in blue. Resources are generally used to buy units or technology and influence is used to gain command tokens and to vote during the agenda phase.
  • Cards - The action, agenda, stage one, two and secret objective cards will be shuffled and placed near the game board.
  • Victory point track - Each player will place a control token on space zero of the victory point track, with five stage one and five stage two objective cards being displayed, with the first two revealed.
  • Secret objectives - Each player draws two secret objectives cards and keeps one.
  • Other components - There will be eight different strategy cards, supply of trade/commodity tokens, infantry/fighter tokens and D10 dice nearby.
Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition - Game Layout

Playing the Game

Twilight Imperium, published by Fantasy Flight Games, is played over a series of game rounds and each round consists of four phases which are resolved in order.

1. Strategy Phase

Starting with the speaker and going clockwise, each player chooses a strategy card which will provide powerful abilities during the action phase. During the action phase, players take turns in order corresponding to the lowest number of their strategy cards. I will briefly go into why you may pick certain strategy cards:

  • Leadership - You will gain more command tokens enabling more actions during the action phase.
  • Diplomacy - This can be used to prevent attacks or reuse planets.
  • Politics - This card determines who gets the speaker token for the next round as well as letting you draw action cards which grant you special abilities.
  • Construction - You will be able to construct PDS units or space docks. PDS units are good for defending planets and space docks allow you to produce units.
  • Trade - This card will give you trade goods to spend on units/technology and commodities to trade to other players. Commodities have no value on their own but turn into trade goods once traded.
  • Warfare - A player may choose this card in order to move the same units twice or build units and then move them in the same turn.
  • Technology - A player may choose this card to research new technology. Technology gives you powerful abilities or upgrades your units. In order to research technology, you have to have the required prerequisites which are on the bottom left of the card.
  • Imperial - This card allows you to score additional victory points and gain secret objective cards. Secret objective cards give you additional ways to score points.

2. Action Phase

This is the main phase of Twilight Imperium, where you will move units, resolve combat, produce new units, use strategy cards and interact with other players. You may also trade with players who are adjacent to your systems. Trades are usually for commodities, trade goods or promissory notes (cards given to players granting some power over you). You can also make alliances and deals but always be careful of betrayal.

On your turn you may take one action and players keep taking turns until everyone has passed. On your turn you can do one of the following:

  • A) Tactical Action - Move ships, space combat, invade planets and produce more units.
  • B) Strategic Action - Play your strategy card.
  • C) Component Action – Use any ability on action cards, technology and faction sheets that have the word Action: on them.
  • D) Pass - You can’t perform any more actions or no longer want to. Once everyone has passed, the action phase is over.
Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition - Command Sheet with Command Tokens

A) Tactical Action

In order to perform a tactical action, you take a command token from your tactics pool and place it on a system to activate it. You cannot activate a system that already contains one of your command tokens.

Once you have activated a system you can move ships into it, engage in space combat if there are other ships in that system, invade planets and produce more units if you have a space dock. There is a really handy section on the command sheet that lists the steps of the tactical action, the status phase as well as some other useful information.


You can move ships into a system from any number of other systems, the amount of spaces a ship can move is equal to its movement value. Ships can also carry infantry and fighter ships depending on their capacity. If a planet you own no longer has any of your units on it, place a control token on it to indicate you still own it. You can’t have more ships in a system than the number of tokens in your fleet pool.

Movement Restrictions

  • A ship must end its movement in the activated system.
  • A ship cannot pass through a system that contains another player’s ships.
  • A player cannot move units out of a system that contains one of their command tokens.
  • Anomalies which have red borders will affect movement in different ways.

Space Combat

If you activate a system and another player has ships in that system, you must resolve a space combat.

Each player announces if they want to retreat, starting with the defender, you can only retreat to an adjacent system with a planet you control or if it has at least one of your ships in it. Units will retreat if able, at the end of the combat round.

In order to resolve a combat round, each player rolls one dice for each ship. If the result of each dice roll is greater than or equal to that unit’s combat value, it scores a hit which is assigned by your opponent to their ships.

If neither player retreated, you keep repeating these steps until one person decides to retreat or all their units in that system are destroyed.


After the space combat step, the active player can invade planets. The player commits ground forces to land on planets and if another player has units on those planets, they have to resolve ground combat. This is the same as space combat, except this time there is no retreating.

If the active player has surviving units on the planet, they must take the relevant planet cards face down from either another player or the planet deck.


If the active player has a space dock in the activated system, they can produce units by spending resources. Planets and trade goods can be used as resources. Any planet card can be turned face-down (exhausted) and it will generate you resources equal to its resource value in yellow.

A ships movement, capacity, cost and combat value are shown on each faction sheet.

B) Strategic Action

You can perform a strategic action by playing your strategy card. You will resolve the primary ability and starting from your left the other players will decide whether they want to use the secondary ability. Command tokens in the strategy pool are used to pay for secondary abilities but you cannot use your own secondary ability.

C) Component Action

A component action is an action that is printed on an action card, faction sheet or technology card. It will have the word ACTION: in bold printed on it, followed by the effect of the action.

D) Pass

If you can’t perform any actions or no longer want to, you may pass. All players will keep taking actions until everyone has passed and then you will proceed to the status phase. Please note that you can only pass once you have played all your strategy cards.

3. Status Phase

The status phase in Twilight Imperium is all about refreshing things for the next round and scoring objectives, the following steps are performed in order:

  • Score objectives.
  • Reveal new objective.
  • Draw action cards.
  • Remove command tokens from the board.
  • Gain two command tokens and redistribute tokens on the command sheet.
  • Ready any exhausted cards (face-down cards).
  • Repair any units if applicable.
  • Return strategy cards.

Don’t worry about remembering all of this as it is listed on the command sheet which you can follow during the game.

4. Agenda Phase

The agenda phase is only unlocked once the planet (Mecatol Rex) in the middle of the board has been taken. Mecatol Rex can be taken by paying six influence and invading the planet, the first person to do so will gain one victory point. In order to pay influence, you can exhaust planets for influence or use trade goods.

During this phase players will vote on an outcome of two agendas which can have lasting effects on the rest of the game. Players can vote by exhausting their planets for influence. Once both agendas have been voted on, refresh all planets ready for a new round. Players can trade with other players that are not adjacent to their systems during this phase.

Winning Twilight Imperium

Once you finish the Agenda Phase, you go right back to the strategy phase and start over again. The game only finishes once someone reaches 10 victory points or there are no new objective cards to reveal. You mainly score victory points by completing public and secret objectives, however you cannot score public objectives if you do not own all the planets in your home system.

Top Game Tips

  • Focus on objectives and try to score objectives most rounds. It is easy to get carried away with building big fleets and engaging in space battles without having a purpose behind them.
  • Try to get secret objectives early in the game as this will give you a direction for your strategy. The problem with picking them up late is that they may be very difficult or impossible to complete if you have not planned for it.
  • Try to expand and take a lot of planets early on. This will give you more influence and resources throughout the game.
  • Always be mindful of protecting your home system, especially if you are winning the game. People will try to take your home system to stop you scoring victory points if you are not careful.
  • Try to make at least a few allies as this will benefit you in the form of trade and not getting attacked on all sides. Just be prepared to break ties if you feel it is beneficial to do so or one of your allies is close to winning.
  • If you are unsure of which strategy cards to pick on your first turn, Warfare and Leadership are usually best followed by Technology and Trade. Warfare and Leadership give you more options on your first turn and Technology and Trade help advance your faction, but the other strategy cards are more situational.
  • Identify your opponents’ weaknesses as well as your own. For example, if the faction I was playing had poor combat stats, I might focus on defending my planets and try to make more allies.
Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition - Modular Board

Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition - Conclusion

This may seem like a lot of information to digest but it will soon make sense once you start playing. This guide is provided to give you a head start before you learn the game fully, so don’t worry about remembering it all.

There are a few minor rules which I have omitted, to avoid over-complicating things but these should be easy to learn now you know the main concepts of the game.

Twilight Imperium has a lot of rules but if you remember how the round is structured and the different things you can do on your turn, you will be fine. Just remember that there are four phases of a round (Strategy Phase, Action Phase, Status Phase and Agenda Phase) and that the main part of the game is played in the Action Phase where you can do four different things (Tactical Action, Strategic Action, Component Action or Pass).

I really hope you enjoyed this article and learned a few things along the way. Twilight Imperium is an amazing game and an epic experience that you will be talking about with friends for days afterwards and eager to play your next game.

Further Information

This section is just a few sources that I found really useful when I was learning the game and it might also be useful to someone who is teaching the game to new players: