Twilight Imperium: Prophecy of Kings Expansion

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This massive expansion is packed to bursting with new content that you can add to your games of Twilight Imperium. The galaxy has grown far larger, as seven never-before-seen factions enter the game, each boasting their own unique strengths and weaknesses, from the gene-altering powers of the Mahact, to the watchful guard of the Argent Flight, to the mysterious and ancient Empyrean.…
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Awards

Dice Tower

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • explosiveness
  • shenanigans
  • unpredictability

Might Not Like

  • Extended play-time
  • exacerbated complexity
  • unpredictability
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Description

This massive expansion is packed to bursting with new content that you can add to your games of Twilight Imperium. The galaxy has grown far larger, as seven never-before-seen factions enter the game, each boasting their own unique strengths and weaknesses, from the gene-altering powers of the Mahact, to the watchful guard of the Argent Flight, to the mysterious and ancient Empyrean. And new factions aren’t the only way the galaxy grows bigger! Forty new system and hyperlane tiles add new planets and obstacles to the map, and with two new colors of player components included in the Prophecy of Kings expansion, you can play Twilight Imperium with up to eight players.
Player Count: 3-6
Time: 240-480 min
Age: 14+

 

Dreadnaughts mount a bombardment of Lirta IV while destroyers devastate a flight wing; meanwhile, trade envoys from Hacan treat with the galactic academics of Jol Nar, desperately trying to avoid cosmic pirates, robot marauders and terrifying behemoths attacking through a rift in time and space. It’s all in a day’s game with Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition: Prophecy of Kings.

For the uninitiated, TI4 is a Science Fiction 4X game by Fantasy Flight, set in a time of galactic upheaval: the powerful Lazax who ruled the galaxy have been dethroned and players represent 1 of 17 races vying to fill the power vacuum. It features military conflict, diplomacy, and all the backstabbing you might expect from a game with one winner and no prizes for second place.

First published in 1997, TI has seen four full editions plus expansions, codices and extras, to say nothing of an extensive homebrew library. The fourth edition came out in 2017 and, in 2020, the expansion Prophecy of Kings was released, which will be the subject of this review. If you are not already familiar with the format and mechanics of TI, you may wish to look elsewhere for a summary before proceeding.

What Does The Expansion Add?

There are three key elements: new content; new mechanics and new objectives.

New Content

First and foremost, there are seven new races with lore, unique abilities and a play-style which emphasises a certain aspect of the game, generally one of the new features in the expansion. They are also utterly bonkers, which introduces a key theme of what POK adds to the game – shenanigans. Hijinx, chicanery and wily ways have always been a strong feature, and they’re encouraged to an even greater extent by POK, so if you enjoy appearing out of nowhere through a wormhole, or deploying a new technology to ambush an aggressor, then you will love all the new ways to surprise and scupper your opponents.

The factions (old and new) also gain Leaders (three characters from the lore with special abilities) and mechs (ground-forces, printed in infuriatingly different shades to the base units), allowing you to develop new strategies with the races you know and love. There is, additionally, new content in the form of systems, action cards, objectives, technology and agendas so there is a lot of material to explore (not to mention shenanigans).

New Mechanics

Prophecy of Kings adds the exploration mechanic: when a system is claimed for the first time, or when a player deploys a technology or faction ability, it is ‘explored’, rewarding the active player with a card from the exploration deck offering a boon. There is a similar mechanic introduced in frontier tokens, which reward exploration of non-planet systems. Both of these can lead to the acquisition of a relic – an item with special abilities that can be utterly game-changing (shenanigans!).

How these new mechanics play out in practice will be explored in more detail later, but as a concept they lean heavily into the lore of the game, rewarding players for aggressive expansion and, therefore, investing in military presence. This addresses some players’ feelings that there wasn’t enough benefit from military dominance which not only hampers some factions but also detracts from what a lot of people want from the game: large scale war.

New Objectives

Different players undoubtedly prioritise different things: fierce military encounters defined by strategy; cunning and conniving diplomatic dupery; dramatic reveals and epic plays; sprawling campaigns played out over long weekends which combine all of the above. However, at its heart TI is an objective focused game which requires players to score points.

The new objectives work in much the same way as the existing ones, but broaden their range, offering new challenges with which to wrestle. Fundamentally, though, these are just more variations on a theme: a melange of military, economic and technological goals towards which players must strive.

All of these new additions offer interesting, engaging and incredibly well-produced elements for players to delve into, and extremely fertile ground for cultivating new strategies and experiences. However, not all players will find them entirely to their taste. Let’s take a look at the difference they can make during play…

Early Game

The biggest difference here is the new mechanics: exploration means almost every tactical action involves drawing cards and resolving their effects. One might add resources or influence to a planet; another may allow production of a unit; or you might draw a relic fragment, three of which can be traded for a relic and its untold power.

Exploration, therefore, brings a new sense of excitement to these otherwise fairly mechanical and predictable initial actions, which can be thrilling. On the other hand, it adds a lot of time. Where the first round of TI4 might have been expected to take between 30 and 40 minutes, it will now take at least 40 – 45, depending on how familiar you are with it and how much attention you give to each exploration and what is drawn.

This is a key example of what POK adds to the game: randomness. In TI4, the value of a system or slice is calculable; in POK there is no telling what anything will be worth by the end of round one. A player can expect to draw up to 5 exploration cards in the first round, which could mean a resource swing of up to 5 or 6 – a difference which may well give you the edge.

Frontier tokens can also dramatically alter the standings: requiring a technology to be explored, they are not guaranteed to feature, but when they do they can add planets, systems or wormholes to the game, or give access to a variety of resources, drastically altering players’ fortunes.

Whether exploration is a benefit or a hindrance to your enjoyment will depend on your playstyle and priorities, but it certainly adds more mystery and surprise to the early game which my group quite enjoys. Despite its detrimental effect on the ability to strategise or predict early game Leaders, it adds a certain thrill to your first turns and tends to encourage more attention being paid to other players’ actions, adding a stronger sense of investment and intrigue.

It’s also worth mentioning epic planets: these planets come not only with resource and influence values, but with abilities as well. From gaining resources to deploying fighters or ground forces, they offer an arguably marginal edge to your abilities which have the potential to tip the balance in your favour significantly. This has an obvious impact on map-creation, and makes it much more difficult to generate something balanced, further contributing to the boom-and-bust nature of POK, to say nothing of its unpredictability. What might be an enormous benefit to one faction might be meaningless to another, or something that has the potential to raise a pauper to pole position might never get deployed. The true value and impact of epic planets cannot be objectively quantified, but the interest they add cannot be denied.

Mid-Game

The most significant impact on the midgame is, in my opinion, in terms of the negotiation strategies which are opened up. All of the agents’ abilities (one of the Leaders) are written using language such as, “when a player…” or, “after a player…” (my emphasis), meaning they can be traded for others to use. Similarly, some of the new factions have purchasable abilities, and the game adds an “alliance” promissory note which enables players to use their ally’s commander (another Leader).

Relic fragments can also be traded, in addition to the usual commodities and promissory notes. Moreover, as suggested previously, the expansion mechanic adds a lot more resources into the game, so players are likely to find themselves with more commodities and trade goods at their disposal for negotiations. The new benefit exploration adds to being the first player to claim a planet also encourages more negotiation (or competition) over equi-distant systems and this can even still have an effect as players vye for the inner-ring in the mid-game.

However, these differences are less marked than in the early game, and the back and forth of area control, the gradual march of technologies and claiming of stage I objectives tend to settle into a familiar rhythm between rounds two and three. One other notable effect, though, is that the mid-game feels somewhat squeezed as the early game expands and the end-game approaches apace, as we shall discuss shortly, so players might find they have less time to execute long-term strategies because POK can be a very fast moving – and fast scoring – game once it gets past the bulk of the exploration.

End Game

This is where things can get really spicy. The final Leader I have yet to mention is the hero: while the agent can be used once every game round and the commander’s ability can be used at will, the hero is a one-time-only offer of enormous power. After scoring three objectives, the Embers of Muaat unlock the ability to turn any system into a supernova (destroying all planets and units); the Vuil’raith Cabal have the chance to ‘capture’ any unit adjacent to their spacedocks (placing them into your player area to spend as a resource); the Ghosts of Creuss are able to swap any two systems and all their inhabitants. Any two.

They are, of course, completely insane. Shenanigans doesn’t even begin to cover it – the heroes’ abilities can blow almost any strategy out of the water and so the end game can get both explosive and incredibly cagey as players await the deployment of heroes and relics and their inevitably game-defining impact.

As I have alluded to, the end game also arrives sooner than expected: scoring is quicker in POK, partly by virtue of the glut of resources added by exploration and partly as a result of the increased access to abilities (and shenanigans!) proffered by all the new content. Therefore, given the heroes are unlocked by only three scored objectives, players might find themselves in grasping distance of the finish line a round (or even two) earlier than in the base game.

The new objectives also add to this: they include some much more achievable and varied goals, which means more factions become more competitive, and the pace really ramps up, especially when the Tier II objectives come down.

Summary

What the Prophecy of Kings expansion offers is a move away from precise strategy with an emphasis on player tactics and towards randomness and pivotal moments. In keeping with one of the themes of this review, whether this is an improvement or not will be up to you: if you are looking for intensely competitive tournament-style play in which you keep a log of wins and losses, or if you want a sense of your own skill and how you’re developing as a player, POK might not be for you.

Although it is possible to compare factions’ strengths based purely on what they bring to the table (and oh boy do the TI community love to do it), there’s just too much randomness in POK to make any truly meaningful evaluation of players’ or factions’ chances of winning any individual game.

On the other hand, if you love bamboozling manoeuvres, shocking twists and enormous, jaw-dropping, heart-stopping plays, POK will be right up your alley and I certainly fall firmly into that camp (which you should bear in mind when considering my ratings!): it’s a space opera of epic proportions and it delivers a compelling and repeatable experience.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • explosiveness
  • shenanigans
  • unpredictability

Might not like

  • Extended play-time
  • exacerbated complexity
  • unpredictability