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Subject: Space Empires:4X - Is it Worth your Money? rss

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Ocean Druen
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Buy this game now if you answer yes to all of these questions, otherwise read the full review to make your choice:

Do you like science fiction and desire to play a conflict oriented game where you can build your space empire and conquer others?
Do you like games where you explore and find danger, surprises, and other goodies?
Do you not mind bookkeeping with a pencil and player sheets?
Are you indifferent or like chits?

Space Empires 4x (SE4X) is a game of building a space civilization and then decimating your opponents. The game is designed around combat and more closely resembles a wargame than other civilization building games. In SE4X you spread your empire through conquest not by building museums or sending your greatest opera singer on a galactic tour (not that I know of games that have that in their theme).

A Brief Disclosure about Me

Many moons ago I played Master of Orion, then Master of Orion II (MOO2) on my computer and remain a fan of the game. The third game was below my expectations, and other games of the genre let me down as well. When I first saw the P500 announcement for this game I was skeptical, first it seemed too far out of what I’m used to at the folks at GMT; and second I did not feel that there could be better than average translation of this type of game to a board game. The idea of this type of system as a board game was appealing to me because I have not had a MOO2 experience that satisfied me for a long time and with a board game format I can play opponents face to face. I pre-ordered the game and as the time for shipping approached I anticipated it more; then there was a shipping delay...

This game is not MOO2 in a board game form and if I would base my comparison on that basis this game would mostly fail. I also understand that this type of game is not for everyone. Therefore do not have the desire to push this game on anyone outside the demographic it was designed for. For me it hits on the old gaming that started me years ago when games were played with lots of chits, my desire to have a "civilization" building game in space, and to have a game that can be modified enough to design my own scenarios and rules (haven’t done either but it certainly is possible and encouraged).

The Components

The game comes with a mounted map board, 4-player aids, a pad for recording economic turns and fleet compositions (to be done in pencil), many chits, four ten sided dice, a rule book, and a scenario book. There is nothing fancy in this box; no miniatures, no fancy tiles, not even a back story in either of the books.

The board is nice and thick and folds together neatly but is nothing special. It is a basic generic hex map with a space background (stars). The hexes are oversized to fit several chits (four comfortably) and you will need this space, and a little more at times. The board also has outlines designating the starting areas for some of the scenarios with the four player scenario starting areas most prominent due to color coding. There is also a turn progress track on one side. What the board is missing is an income track for each player that would make tracking income much easier.

This game comes with chit which present their own problems. These chits are difficult to punch out and even afterwards do not come out very clean. There is also one chit that has a little yellow on the "hidden" side that I had to use a sharpie on: and even then it can be obvious there is a single marked chit. Some people just do not like chits, I do not mind them and for this game they work well because they can be flipped to hide what the content is, or to form o colony, or indicate that a unit moved. There are too few 1 & 2 markers that I have run out in a 2-player game. A nice touch with the ship pieces is that they have different pictures of ships for each player. The designs of ship also look like they have the same design philosophy presenting an appearance that they belong in a fleet together. This is a nice touch to liven up what would otherwise be a drab component.

This game could have used hex tiles for terrain, flipping them for exploration. If this was done then the game would undoubtedly look nicer, but this would raise the cost of the game and would not increase the functionality.

The player aids are excellent, there is a lot of useful information on them and they have an alternative use in hiding all of your paperwork. These simple charts outline all the ships (at each technology level) on one side and the technologies on the other (with cost).

The two included books outline the rules and the different scenarios (including solitaire scenarios). Like other GMT products, the rules are outlines easily enough and I had a great grasp of them before playing the first time. Finding answers to the rules is easy and all questions can be answered by reading the rule a second time. As a bonus the game designer is prompt in answering questions right here on BGG. Combined with the scenario book these two items give a good direction of how to modify the game by either design your own scenario, or making new technologies and units, or how to make minor changes to the rules to play the game the way you want to play it.

The game could use small storage trays to better store the components because there are so many different ship types. Small plastic bags are provided but just do not cut it. Screens could also help to hide which pieces you have in your "reserve", in two player games I use the box top and bottom to cover these chits. You will also need some pencils to add to the box. A final component that I would like to have is something to indicate that a group moved, eventually a lot of units are on board and it can get a little confusing to determine when a group moved; I’m going to start to use small plastic chips or glass beads for this purpose.

For many players (myself included) components is an important part of the game. Receiving a mounted map that is really a space hex map (with larger hexes) and a bunch of chits I would consider these below average for components on a game at this price point. The lack of a proper storage solutions and the need of additional components (screen & glass beads) is another slap in the face. In this case I did know what I was getting into and I don’t mind chits. Overall while the components are below standard they work properly with the game and are more than functional.

Gameplay

SE4X simulates building a galactic empire from their humble beginnings on a single (productive) location to a conqueror of other galactic empires. The focus of the game is combat and all of the technologies (save two) are combat related. An empire in most games will have two dozen ships max and will not get the opportunity to research every technology. In a sentence the game is building up a military infrastructure, then taking out an opponent. Only one opponent needs to be taken out to win the game.

The board starts giving each player some shipyards, scouts, colony ships, and a mining ship. The rest of the board will have chits on them that are flipped to the "unexplored" side. There are two types, player space and deep space. Each player has the same number of planets, asteroids, etc. Deep space is much more dangerous (with several discoveries that can eliminate all incoming ships). In most scenarios the dangers of deep space will be between the players. Therefore someone (if not all) will have to start exploring deep space

Bookkeeping is done with the traditional and quaint method of logging everything with a pencil and the tracking sheets. There are two different forms: one for the economic turn and another for keeping track of your fleet’s technology level. In practice this method goes by very smoothly and while this seems a little archaic it works.

There are two concepts that I believe separate this game from many others in this genre. First, all your military ships are hidden from play until there is combat (fog of war). This not only means your opponent(s) do not know what ships you have, and the technology you are using on those ships. Second, your ships do not upgrade automatically to new technologies and instead must return to star dock. Some players do not like to play with this rule because (I assume) it increases the bookkeeping. The increase in bookkeeping is small and using this rule (which is optional but encouraged) increases the experience of the game. I encourage players to play with this rule.

I have only played with the advanced rules which I recommend for everyone. They do not all too much to the difficulty of the game (IMO), but will ad several strategic levels to the game. The basic game becomes building large ships and clobbering it out. The advanced rules add fighters, cloaked ships, and mines / sweepers all which need to be handed in different ways, which in turn expands the strategic options greatly without much additional effort.

Combat is handled by rolling ten sided dice. Fire does not occur simultaneously so ships that fire first can take out later ships to prevent themselves from firing (the attacked decides which ships are hit). Larger ships need several hit to take down. After the first round ships have the option to retreat rather than fire. There are some other rules but overall if you align the ships in firing order combat flows by quite well.

The rules are as stripped down as basic as they can get for this type of game. Once you get down the basics the rest just seems to fall into place, if you understand the basic rules there is not that much more to the advances rules. When you do get the rules down they make sense in a way that you do not need to be constantly look at the rules. This is a lighter game than is appears (although not a light game). The rules do have some quirks. A new player should be up and running fairly quickly.

Each game will have a different map with most scenarios having each player having the same chits for the home systems. This does create a balance at the start of the game you will have minerals which will give your economy a boost while you prepare to go out and develop far colonies. Close colonies means a good long term economy, but it will develop slower while your miners need to go further away to grab minerals to harvest.

The first few turns is sending out your scout ships to explore the galaxy to find planets to colonize and find minerals to bring back to your colonies. The first 3 to 5 turns players can play at the same time. Eventually the players will have first contact then the sparring begins as each player will try to develop a tactic to invade their enemies using feints and / or brute force. Deep space will be filled with black holes, asteroids, wormholes, and unknown tiles that no one wants to risk a ship to explore. Deep space will also have several very rewarding tiles. At first there will be a single path of attack, but as deep space gets explored additional paths of attack will open up.

Playing with the advanced rules presents a variety of options that are well balances. There is no single dominant technology or strategy although some are better at countering others. For example: carriers and fighters can obviously be combated with point defense, but you can also use mines for defense, or build battleships and dreadnoughts who can soak damage. As a result you may not researched the best counter technology towards your opponent you are still able to be effective. Having hidden units encourages players to build smaller ships to use as scouts to determine what they are fighting, then developing technology on ships to counter. Keeping your ships hidden and the use of decoys allows you to maintain some surprise when combat does occur.

There is a lot of technology to research. You empire will need to specialize in technology and one should not expect to research a technology every turn. Unless there is a lot of turtling no empire will research everything. Then with the standard rules technology is not immediately implements. This overall slows down the technological edge as attack fleets will be behind in technology. Another result is that defending players will need to keep guessing on what may be coming. At the end of the game this is minimized as ships move faster.

Once the players learn the rules and understand the tactic involved the game moves quicker than expected. I have only played two player games and would expect that more players would increase the play time. The time went by quickly and at no point did the game seem to drag.

Successes and Failures

SE4X does have some failings. The game does take some time to play and people who want to play a quick game spanning the life of a galactic empire should look "elsewhere". There is a lot of randomness to this game that some people would not enjoy. Finally the components could have been better thought out; the board should have an additional tracker for player income, additional 1 / 2 chits, and additional battle chits. Expect to purchase and outside storage solution and something to track which units on moved.

The game get so many items right that the deficiencies seem so minor. Players will get the feel of building an empire and exploring deep space. There is a great balance to this game and when encountering another empire they feel sufficiently different. The game also rewards those who build scouts to determine enemy positions and technology before attacking or when planning a defense. Combine all this and the result is a highly enjoyable game with a perfect feel.
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Padraic Kirby
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Thanks for the great review. I have played a few solitaire games to get the rules clear before bringing it to the club.

Agree you need a way to tell which ships have moved, but that is true in all chit war games. The convention is to turn them clockwise as you move them. I always forget to move my Miners...Grrr. I now have a mantra when playing: "Miners move first". I like your idea of using glass beads as there will not be a lot of fleets out there to mark.

I tries counter trays for storage but went back to using ziplocks. Each player gets 4 ziplock bags. One contains their Start forces. Second contains all basic ships up to size DD, Third contains all basic ships CA to DN, Fourth contains all advanced ships. Takes up little space and you only need to open advanced bags later in the game.

Agree GMT needs to provide a pdf of the 1/2 strength counters or allow us to order separately as a part.

I built 4 card screens for the game last night.

Well worth my money. Bring on the expansions.

Pat
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David Debien
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agrippa wrote:
Takes up little space and you only need to open advanced bags later in the game.


Uh oh. Pat just openned his last bag of chits. We all know what that means!
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Chris Wilcoxon
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casualgod wrote:
agrippa wrote:
Takes up little space and you only need to open advanced bags later in the game.


Uh oh. Pat just openned his last bag of chits. We all know what that means!


Which is why I lay all my ships out during set up. If my opponent is paying attention they could work out what I built but they haven't been so far...
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Ocean Druen
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agrippa wrote:
Agree you need a way to tell which ships have moved, but that is true in all chit war games. The convention is to turn them clockwise as you move them. I always forget to move my Miners...Grrr. I now have a mantra when playing: "Miners move first". I like your idea of using glass beads as there will not be a lot of fleets out there to mark.


I have found that the clockwise move doesn't work too well because there are usually multiple stacks per hex and they seem to get bumped around too much.

agrippa wrote:
I tries counter trays for storage but went back to using ziplocks. Each player gets 4 ziplock bags. One contains their Start forces. Second contains all basic ships up to size DD, Third contains all basic ships CA to DN, Fourth contains all advanced ships. Takes up little space and you only need to open advanced bags later in the game.


Most of my complaints in this area are getting set up, I'm going to go with having four storage boxes for each player and separate each ship into different trays. I'm just impatient to get this game on the table!!

Still I rate this game a "10" and I don't have any problems doing so.
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Pete Belli
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Well written with a superb introduction.

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Chris Berger
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You misspelled SEX4 in several places.
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Jenny Nguyen
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Clipping the chits makes everything a little bit more presentable with slightly less overhang in the hexes.

I personally like the look of 'under-produced' chits. I was surprised that the board was even mounted. It wasn't too long ago that every GMT map came as paper ;p and the deluxe maps were sold separately which were printed on thin-nish cardboard.
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Ocean Druen
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arkayn wrote:

You misspelled SEX4 in several places.


I'm trying to sell the game without using cheap gimmicks like sex and fear laugh
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DarkTori wrote:
arkayn wrote:

You misspelled SEX4 in several places.


I'm trying to sell the game without using cheap gimmicks like sex and fear laugh


I need to find me a gimmicks store
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Anders Olin
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Fantastic review. Cannot wait to play my first game, and perhaps I need to take on Master of Orion 2 as well (again, what a fantastic game that is)
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Brian McCormick
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Great review! My wife doesn't like the theme at all so I think we'll be heading more in a Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game-esque direction for our empire-building needs. Maybe when my son is old enough he'll play this one with me...whistle
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arkayn wrote:

You misspelled SEX4 in several places.

Everybody but you abbreviates the game "SE4X".
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DarkTori wrote:
Buy this game now if you answer yes to all of these questions, otherwise read the full review to make your choice:

Do you like science fiction and desire to play a conflict oriented game where you can build your space empire and conquer others?
Do you like games where you explore and find danger, surprises, and other goodies?
Do you not mind bookkeeping with a pencil and player sheets?
Are you indifferent or like chits?

Space Empires 4x (SE4X) is a game of building a space civilization and then decimating your opponents. The game is designed around combat and more closely resembles a wargame than other civilization building games. In SE4X you spread your empire through conquest not by building museums or sending your greatest opera singer on a galactic tour (not that I know of games that have that in their theme).

While you immediately make it clear below the questions, I would still have liked this to be directly and clearly incorporated as a question:

Do you like games with clear winners and clear losers, games where the building aspect is only a means to the end of winning the conflict?

As I said, you're quite clear this is the case in that second paragraph. But to make the questionnaire truly self-sufficient I feel this should be communicated right in the set of questions.
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Guido Gloor
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The statement below is false.
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CapnZapp wrote:
arkayn wrote:

You misspelled SEX4 in several places.

Everybody but you abbreviates the game "SE4X".

I like to abbreviate it as SE:4X, even.

Alternatively, one might use SEXXXX.
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haslo wrote:
Alternatively, one might use SEX:XXX.

You forgot the colon. I inserted it for you.

What? ninja
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Freddy Dekker
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SEX4 indeed.

I've been waiting to find out who or what the sex was four, only to now find out it's a typo.

How disappointing.soblue
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Chris Berger
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See, I feel like the latent typo that skulks in SE:4X was put in there on purpose as a bit of subliminal marketing. They couldn't have done that on accident. Since it's obvious that if I try to type SE4X, I will end up fat fingering it anyway, and since Jim put that in there to try and help sell the game, I might as well just give in and SEX4 it. Unfortunately I just got ED, so any more SEX:XXX might have to wait.
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Freddy Dekker
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aha,..

sex 4 ed.

question answered.
 
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Jim Krohn
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You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
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arkayn wrote:
See, I feel like the latent typo that skulks in SE:4X was put in there on purpose as a bit of subliminal marketing. They couldn't have done that on accident. Since it's obvious that if I try to type SE4X, I will end up fat fingering it anyway, and since Jim put that in there to try and help sell the game, I might as well just give in and SEX4 it. Unfortunately I just got ED, so any more SEX:XXX might have to wait.


No, it wasn't intentional, subliminal, or anything.
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Chris Berger
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Re: Space Empires:4X - Is it Worth your Money?l
Jim Krohn wrote:
No, it wasn't intentional, subliminal, or anything.


You would have to say that. ninja
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