“Captain Adama, systems are showing a black hole in the neighboring system,” reported navigator informations about the location, shortly after the spacecraft moved here from the home planet. The ship was not completely overwhelmed by chaos. They had their experience with such things. But you can sense the uncertainty. “We have already sent a signal to the fleet, but nobody responds. Magnetic field begins to attract us, we have enabled the shifters. Waiting for further orders.”
Danger was constantly increasing and the vessel waited in vain for their companions. Energy, which was moved to the engine in order to maintain a stable position of the ship, was unsustainable. All people present on the bridge knew that. The fleet did not appear.Meanwhile, navigator checked their position several times. It was not correct. Now them know for sure. They are alone. Lost in Space.
Space Empires 4X is starting a new generation of board games inspired by favorite computer space simulations. They are just called 4X, meaning abbreviation of four “X” letters: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate. All fans of Master of Orion and other computer games certainly are celebrating right now.
The company GMT Games has decided to publish Jim Krohn’s game (in development with Martin Scott) and it was named Space Empires 4X. As with other their games, when the number reache 500 in preorders, they started printing. And is was soon, because 4X game have more fans, than you know. Board game headed out into the world in 2011 and the first edition was quickly sold out last year. Now finally after a long wait, the second edition arrives on retail shelves with improved chips. And now it spreads all over our editorial desk, does not want to come down and takes place for reviewing other board games. Why? Because this game is a bit addictive, at least for fans of the universe.
Although we have now betrayed the whole point of reviews, we believe, that article has not lost sense for you and you will continue to read further. Space Empires 4X is the third game of GMT line, with which we have the honor. First ones were excellent Twilight Struggle (review available only in Czech for now) and brilliant Dominant Species (review available only in Czech for now). And also this game is hidden in similar box and does not lag behind its rivals even in contents.
Everything is dominated by a huge game plan, that will take up most of your desk. This basically pushes all the other components to oblivion. But only for a moment. There is a lot of them. A very important role is played by notepads in Space Empires 4X. Each player will be enriched by a one double-sided A4 with printed boxes, where you will constantly mark your units power. You keep it in secret, of course. Beneath the tear-off pad of A4 sheets, there are also help-cards from stiff paper. This is where you will find information about all units in the game and all other information needed to play.
Game board is dedicated to the entire universe. Only a small portion of its one side is taken by a turn counter and stages of economy turn. Map itself is divided into four color-boxed sectors. Each of them belongs to one player. Among the sectors, there is a cross connecting them all and is called simply deep space. This is where you can expect the real danger. However unexplored universe counts in also all boxes in your home system, with only one exception – your planet.
You will find four ten-sided dice in the box, represent the chance present almost all the time, when traveling in space. You use them for example, when confronted with a black hole. But most importantly, you will find a pile of sheets inside the box. It is these small and puny square chips, that would fill everything in the game – units, planets, asteroids, black holes and resources. The largest gathering of similar chips can be found in the four player colors – pieces of space ships. The fifth color is white for deep space. Only a few chips of damage, battle chip and also the group size tokens remain to be mentioned. Total chips number is awesome 792, which is by far the most, what we have seen in the game in our office. Of course, this number is also associated with little risk of losing them.
Preparation of the game is basically simple, although a little long. Each player puts in front of him a help-sheet and a paper form for his fleet. Opponents choose one color from the available ones and take all the space ship pieces in this color. You must now spread all space tokens in this color randomly in your part of the board, framed by your color. Your home planet is put into the center of the home system. Each one hex has to be discovered and explored by your ships, before you know for sure, it is safe. By the beginning players gets scouts, ship yards and colony ships.
The game itself has surprisingly smooth and easy phases, that you will quickly remember. All players play three rounds alternately flying and fighting. These three rounds are followed by the economic phase, in which players have the opportunity to gather resources and improve their fleet.
The standard turn has three phases to offer – movement, combat, and exploration. Most important is the movement itself, that you want to use every time. In the initial stages of the game, you explore your part of the universe, discovering deserted planet, raw materials, but also risk encountering with black holes, asteroids, and other insidious dangers. For example, the box with the Danger! sign will immediately destroy all units, that have arrived there, so you must be prette careful.
Later you are using movement to regroup your ships, to defend your sector and planets better. Throughout the preceding text, we have not mentioned two important principles. You do not know type of enemy units and their number in advance. The chip with the specific type of fleet is rotated downwards and only the regular type is known to you. Under it, there is hidden the so-called group counters. Token indicating, how many ships are actually hiding in this one formation. The numbers are revealed only during first battle and then remain public. Battle commences at any time, when two units of different colors meet on the single cell on the board.
The fight itself is basically the most difficult phase of the game to be learned. It takes place outside the game plan, where units are shooting at each other, according to the initiative ranked from point A to point E. First, both sides of conflict reveal their strength, units and numbers.
According to their speed, ships are alternating in attacks and their commanders (you) can choose the target freely. Shooting itself consists of attacker giving total ships firepower (ship strength + attacking technology) and defender giving defense numbers of his ship and technology. You subtract second number from the first to get score to beat. You have to roll lower number with the ten sided dice, to make a hit.
As you can see, battles are a little coincidental, but they are mostly influenced by strategy. Enemy army strength is unknown since the meeting, so the game is tense and players can regroup their forces, when on the same hex. Fights have many special rules, like size bonus, asteroid rules or ability to back out.
Game ends, when first homeplanet is destroyed. You can easily decide winner in two player game and in more players, the destructor is the winner. All other lose, and it does not make a difference, if it was your homeworld, that was destroyed. This annihilation task means one thing – noone can win without the direct battles and attacking. And this makes the game really really interesting.
Space Empires 4X is essentially a very simple strategy game. The game flows in an entirely logical way and really smoothly. The only two things, that you would have to get used to is the detailed phase of the economic process and particularly remember the possibilities of individual ships and technologies. In the first game, there was a lot of reading. Help cards come handy, whenever you are looking for exactly, what you want to build. But in future games, you will not need them anymore, because you would know the game by heart.
But we should get back to the simplicity of the game mentioned earlier. Of course, the simplicity is only looks over a deep strategy game system. But that’s just great, because learning how to play Space Empires 4X is so much easier – you start to pick up principles after a few minutes. The remaining several hours of learning the little specifics happens during the game. Yes, you should prepare yourself for a pretty long first game.
Under the system of simple turns, movements and struggles, a huge strategic potential is hidden. Each vessel is has different properties – attack, defense, and the number of hits necessary for its destruction. In addition to basic types (scouts, fighters,battle cruisers), you have also a special ship types, such as docks (for construction of new ships), decoys or mine sweepers. It is also great, that images on the players chips are different, and it adds a feel of different race fighting agains each other.
Very soon after the beginning, you will definitely want to build a colony ship. You system quite surely has some uninhabited planet, that can be terraformed, populated and help to increase your earnings and expand empire. During the game, you spend these points for building ships and improving technology. Which one? It depends only on you and your strategy. You can upgrade ships, their movement, attack, defense, terraforming or ship size. There is a huge range of options in the game and any decision are leading to a change in strategy and alter the course of the game.
All the time, the game preserves really excellent atmosphere of space combat. It contains also tiny gadgets in the form of advanced and optional rules, through which will each player with a penchant for the universe be in heaven. But Space Empires 4X is absolutely full-fledged game, even when playing according to the basic rules. We recommend the advanced game only in a situation, where you are sure, that you are really in control of all the basics. Adding other elements can significantly increase turn length, which could lead to a long game, unless you have everything in the blood. But you can do many things simultaneously, which speeds the game up really nicely.
In advanced rules, you can hide your ships in Klingon overshadowing technology from your opponents. So they cannot see you, if they do not develop scanners, that can detect this technology. You can also build transport ships, with fighter squadrons or build mines, which destroyed one ship in its explosion during battle. Even more interesting is the ability to create your own space highways between the planets. You will earn extra income from it, but also accelerate the movement of your units, when flying on them.
The entire Space Empires 4X are based much on the interaction between players. The actual rules and winning conditions are designed directly to encourage players to compete among themselves. And this fighting and conquering enemy planets is the driving force behind the entire game. All players have a really great motivation and strategy, which turns this game into a real first space war. With laser cannons and all that goes with it. Can you also hear the specific X-Wing sound?
We did not mention the possibility to play Space Empires not only in traditional sectoral divisions, but also using scenarios referred to in second brochure. And we have concealed even more from you till now. The game even includes a solo version! And lost of options, how to split a galaxy in two or three player games to make it even more interesting. You can also easily alter game length.
Space Empires 4X is a board game, which has quite everything you need for a space fighting and even more. If you are a fan of battle games (we are not saying wargames for a reason, because this is sci-fi), you do not mind a little coincidence in battle resolution and you like tension, then Space Empires 4X is great choice. It does not matter, if you are experienced player or not, because the game has several levels of rules and moreover a completely intuitive base, on which it builds. Otherwise you need only your tactical thinking to be fully absorbed into dark depths of space.
+ huge number of units
+ exploration of space
+ space is different each time, randomly put together
+ secret numbers of units in groups
+ tactical battles
+ simple basics
+ ability to extend game with many advanced rules
+ scenarious for each player number
+ solitaire play
+ inventing of technologies
- some situations are decided by chance
- lots of tokens means longer game set-up