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Space Empires:4X
A game for 1-4 players designed by Jim Krohn


Introduction

The year was 1975.

The Vietnam War ended. Star Trek was in syndication and Space:1999 had its television debut. The Altair 8800 sparked the demand for home computers. Bill Gates founded Microsoft. And a Texas game company MetaGaming Concepts released a science fiction space game called Stellar Conquest, where the object was to explore space, expand you empire, exploit resources, and exterminate your opponents.

Once personal computers came along, it spawned an entire industry devoted to games, including Avalon Hill's Andromeda Conquest, one of the the first 4X computer games and loosely (if not entirely) based on Stellar Conquest.

In 1993 Space Empires made it into the computer world, spawning several sequels and along the way Jim Krohn decides he wants a board game version of a space conquest game.

With the release of Space Empires:4X we have come full circle!

Space Empires:4X was one of the most anticipated games from GMT when it was announced in the fall of 2010, generating over 1500 pre-orders by the time it went to print in August 2011.

Components

GMT has of late been one of the top notch production companies, and Space Empires is no exception. The box comes packed with high quality well printed counters and player aids, a set of rules and playbook, some very fun colored dice, and a large mounted map board.

The box is just packed! Photo courtesy of Jim Krohn

The rule and scenario books are both printed in full colour on glossy paper and the player aids are on sturdy cardstock. The counters are standard 5/8" wargame style counters and the four different player counters have different ship silhouettes on them which is a nice touch. My counters were more firmly attached than I'm used to, so I suggest using an exacto knife along the seams to help punch the counters out cleanly.

The mounted board is particularly nice. In some ways space games start with a built in disadvantage that there are few interesting ways to display the blackness of space, but the art team did a nice job of making a functional and attractive board. The various tracks and marker space on the board are simultaneously unobtrusive and clear.

Rules and Game Play

The Basics
The rules for the game check are not overly complicated and span 15 pages. I will note that the designer has published an online FAQ (version 1.6 at the time of this writing) for game, both on BGG and at Consimworld. The FAQ should clarify any questions that arise from the rule book, and I commend Jim for keeping this document up to date.

Each player begins with a pool of about a dozen different types of units they'll be able to research, develop and build throughout the course of play. Game play follows a simple sequence. Players will first bid for the right to determine player order. Three turns are then played with the same start player, wherein each player will move units, resolve any combat, and then explore. Once three turns have passed, an economic phase is executed where you will have the opportunity to spend construction points on new ships and new technologies.

Winning
Generally speaking, the object of the game is to destroy the home world of another player and the first player to do so wins the game. This both encourages and requires aggressive development of your military resources and to be constantly vigilant for opportunities to attack your opponents, especially in moments of weakness.

Set Up
The scenario book provides a wealth of options for how to play the game, but the core set up will give each player a home world, home planet markers, deep space markers, and a starting mix of units.

Playing
This game is a classic balancing act as you need to decide which technology you want to pursue and which units you want to build. Colonization helps increase your economic build potential, which in turn feeds your research and development, and your ability to build units. You can be more defensive or aggressive according to personal preference, but with the objective being the destruction of an opponent's home world, you only have a limited amount of time to develop your economy before needing to take action. This is especially true in a multiplayer game.

There is a lot of paperwork in the game to track your technology research and units. Ships build with "old" technology need to return to a player planet in order to gain the benefit of any technological upgrades that have been developed in the interim. There is an advanced/optional rule that obviates this process and simply gives all units new capabilities. I feel that the need to use this optional rule will depend strongly on the group you're playing with (my personal preference is to have instant upgrades).

Combat
Combat is a core requirement in this game and the system is detailed but not cumbersome. Ships are kept hidden until they encounter mines or an enemy fleet and technologies are revealed at the time of engagement. I suggest deliberately moving your ships more slowly than they're actually capable in order to mask the kinds of units you have in a group!

Solitaire
There are some solitaire scenarios putting the player in the role of defending his zone of space from alien doomsday machines that have come to wreak havoc in their home system.

Conclusions

For those who are fans of civilization building games, Space Empires:4X is an engaging game that fills a void in the boardgame arena. Most games that make the transition from computer to board game tend to yield something either so simplified that it loses the appeal of the computer game or is so complex because of the kind of record keeping requirements (that computers are so good at) that make a game that is nigh unplayable. I feel that Space Empires:4X nicely takes the middle ground in this respect as the book keeping required, while detailed, does not so overwhelm the players that the focus can rightly go where it belongs - to the action on the board.

One of the key critiques I have of this game is that all players are created equal. It would have been interesting to see a variety of alien races out of the box with slightly different special abilities or powers. While multiple variants along that line have already been posted on BGG and elsewhere, as these are not official variants, trying these out in your local gaming group may not translate to the same experience in a different group.

The other comment of note is that the play time of this game can go long; expect your first few plays to be at least three hours and possibly longer. Play time is listed as 1-4 hours, depending on the scenario chosen and I think you could safely increase those times by about half, depending on your level of experience. The solitaire scenarios, which are the ones I'm most interested in, are much shorter (and if you plan poorly can be very short indeed as the doomsday machines make mincemeat of your planetary systems).

If you like playing civilization building games with direct and active conflict and don't mind breaking out pencil and paper to keep track of your key economic and technological systems ( I won't be surprised if someone comes out with an app that part of the game soon), then this game is for you.


Thank you for reading this latest installment of Roger's Reviews. I've been an avid board gamer all my life and a wargamer for over thirty years. I have a strong preference for games that are light on rules but heavy on purposeful decisions.

Among my favorites I include Twilight Struggle, the Combat Commander Series, the Musket & Pike Battle Series, Julius Caesar, Maria, EastFront, Here I Stand, Napoleon's Triumph and Unhappy King Charles!

You can subscribe to my reviews at this geeklist: [Roger's Reviews] The Complete Collection and I also encourage you to purchase this very stylish microbadge: mb
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David Debien
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Great review. I enjoyed reading it. A lot has been said about the lack of asymetrical powers in this game. Of course, if the game had been published with asymetrical powers there would be cries of the game being unbalanced. Based on the SE:4X community that has sprung up here on BGG, and Jom Krohn (the games designer) has been a big part of this as well, it is possible we will see this kind of content in future releases.
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Bill Foley
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I completely disagree that all players are 'created equal'. That's exactly the function of technology building- you don't know how your opponent is building their fleets at all, or what technologies they are developing. Many ships have a way they can be countered, and every ship has some kind of vulnerability or detriment, be it cost/maintenance, or vulnerability to other technologies. I can see why some might want the 'races' to be unique, but to me the huge variety of technologies makes this moot.
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David Debien
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xfoley8 wrote:
I completely disagree that all players are 'created equal'. That's exactly the function of technology building- you don't know how your opponent is building their fleets at all, or what technologies they are developing. Many ships have a way they can be countered, and every ship has some kind of vulnerability or detriment, be it cost/maintenance, or vulnerability to other technologies. I can see why some might want the 'races' to be unique, but to me the huge variety of technologies makes this moot.


Agreed. For people crying for specialized races: I ask how did these races become specialized. Before one race had better armor or faster drives or what have you, they all started at the same spot in a pre space age culture. In this game, you get to decide what area your race is going to excel in. If we change things to add a built in advantage, then that decision will be made for you by the game. Call me crazy for wanting to make that decision on my own.
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casualgod wrote:
xfoley8 wrote:
I completely disagree that all players are 'created equal'. That's exactly the function of technology building- you don't know how your opponent is building their fleets at all, or what technologies they are developing. Many ships have a way they can be countered, and every ship has some kind of vulnerability or detriment, be it cost/maintenance, or vulnerability to other technologies. I can see why some might want the 'races' to be unique, but to me the huge variety of technologies makes this moot.


Agreed. For people crying for specialized races: I ask how did these races become specialized. Before one race had better armor or faster drives or what have you, they all started at the same spot in a pre space age culture. In this game, you get to decide what area your race is going to excel in. If we change things to add a built in advantage, then that decision will be made for you by the game. Call me crazy for wanting to make that decision on my own.


By the time 2 empires meet they have had enough time to specialize as well...
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Nicely done as usual Roger. I really look forward to your views on the new games coming out.

How do you folks feel this game would play via PBEM? That is, is there anything in the mechanics that would hinder such play?

Thanks!
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Capt_S wrote:
Nicely done as usual Roger. I really look forward to your views on the new games coming out.

How do you folks feel this game would play via PBEM? That is, is there anything in the mechanics that would hinder such play?

Thanks!


Depends on how many players your looking at... I'm in the midst of setting up a 4 player PBF and there are a couple of issues coming up: namely whether each player has a board going or one player GM's it. And if we go the GM route we kind of loose the Explore tech
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Hi Chris.

I do most of my PBEM via VASSAL (with a side order of Cyberboard/ACTS from time to time), so the board issue would not be there in that case I should think. I am not sure about the Explore tech stuff though.
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divedeeper wrote:
And if we go the GM route we kind of loose the Explore tech

How that? Since you have to fully explore before you start moving, it'd mean a PM sent to and fro every time somebody with Explore wants to move...

I don't think a board per player would be that great; you'd lose counter distributions like that and make the map much more random. But if you don't mind that, it's of course possible.
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haslo wrote:
divedeeper wrote:
And if we go the GM route we kind of loose the Explore tech

How that? Since you have to fully explore before you start moving, it'd mean a PM sent to and fro every time somebody with Explore wants to move...

I don't think a board per player would be that great; you'd lose counter distributions like that and make the map much more random. But if you don't mind that, it's of course possible.


You wouldn't have to lose counter distributions either. Everyone keeps all far space counters in a grab bag and pull a chit when you explore a hex for the first time. When someone turns up a specific counter, everyone else removes on eof those counters from their grab bag. To keep track of which hexes have been explored, you can put a counter (glass bead or whatever) in that hex.
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Capt_S wrote:
Hi Chris.

I do most of my PBEM via VASSAL (with a side order of Cyberboard/ACTS from time to time), so the board issue would not be there in that case I should think. I am not sure about the Explore tech stuff though.


Okay, I am less acquainted with how that works so your results may vary.

haslo wrote:
divedeeper wrote:
And if we go the GM route we kind of loose the Explore tech

How that? Since you have to fully explore before you start moving, it'd mean a PM sent to and fro every time somebody with Explore wants to move...

I don't think a board per player would be that great; you'd lose counter distributions like that and make the map much more random. But if you don't mind that, it's of course possible.


The way I'm picturing it you have the possibility of 2 players knowing what is beneath a 'hidden' tile instead of the one it is supposed to be (although that may not be how the guy suggesting it was thinking).

I was thinking for the multi board that each player would set up their home system and then set the other stuff aside. Then, the active player posts what they discovered and the others updating their boards appropriately. And for the neutral systems the active player draws from a bag and the others do the same process and before.
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Capt_S wrote:
Hi Chris.

I do most of my PBEM via VASSAL (with a side order of Cyberboard/ACTS from time to time), so the board issue would not be there in that case I should think. I am not sure about the Explore tech stuff though.


This may be something we'll have to play and find out ourselves
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casualgod wrote:
If we change things to add a built in advantage, then that decision will be made for you by the game. Call me crazy for wanting to make that decision on my own.

OK, but it's trivial to implement asymmetrical races as an optional rule. Then everyone's happy.
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waddball wrote:
casualgod wrote:
If we change things to add a built in advantage, then that decision will be made for you by the game. Call me crazy for wanting to make that decision on my own.

OK, but it's trivial to implement asymmetrical races as an optional rule. Then everyone's happy.
I'll add, quite reasonably, that other games have asymmetrical units. German and Soviet units fighting in Barbarossa have different capabilities. The differences are sometimes only subtle, but they're there.

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Scoobysnacks wrote:
Capt_S wrote:
Hi Chris.

I do most of my PBEM via VASSAL (with a side order of Cyberboard/ACTS from time to time), so the board issue would not be there in that case I should think. I am not sure about the Explore tech stuff though.


This may be something we'll have to play and find out ourselves


Another game added to the towering. teetering stack of "to play" titles .... LOL!
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leroy43 wrote:
I have a strong preference for games that are light on rules but heavy on purposeful decisions.

Among my favorites I include... Here I Stand


HiS is light on rules?

Man, I've got to look for your review on that one! Thanks for your game play synopsis on Space Empires above. I'm a few days from having mine in hand now.
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Adam Parker wrote:
leroy43 wrote:
I have a strong preference for games that are light on rules but heavy on purposeful decisions.

Among my favorites I include... Here I Stand


HiS is light on rules?

Man, I've got to look for your review on that one! Thanks for your game play synopsis on Space Empires above. I'm a few days from having mine in hand now.
Here I Stand is remarkably clear in its rules. The complexity in the game stems primarily from the negotiations required between the players (both overt and covert) and the asymmetrical player powers (e.g. the Protestants spend points translating the New Testament and the Bible, while the French like to build chateaus and the Ottomans like to give everyone a reason to dread International Talk Like a Pirate Day).
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Clear on rules is still different from light on rules. I don't think it is light on rules.

Heavy on rules that are clear may be a more appropriate way to phrase it.
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MajorOracle wrote:
Clear on rules is still different from light on rules. I don't think it is light on rules.

Heavy on rules that are clear may be a more appropriate way to phrase it.
I find Die Macher and The Republic of Rome heavy on rules. C3i #18 has a "learn to play Here I Stand in 20 minutes" article.
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leroy43 wrote:
MajorOracle wrote:
Clear on rules is still different from light on rules. I don't think it is light on rules.

Heavy on rules that are clear may be a more appropriate way to phrase it.
I find Die Macher and The Republic of Rome heavy on rules. C3i #18 has a "learn to play Here I Stand in 20 minutes" article.


Well then, I guess its a regular Lost Cities...
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leroy43 wrote:
In 1993 Space Empires made it into the computer world, spawning several sequels and along the way Jim Krohn decides he wants a board game version of a space conquest game.

With the release of Space Empires:4X we have come full circle!

Actually, for a truly full circle, we're anxiously awaiting the computer game version of Krohns board game! ninja
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casualgod wrote:
xfoley8 wrote:
I completely disagree that all players are 'created equal'. That's exactly the function of technology building- you don't know how your opponent is building their fleets at all, or what technologies they are developing. Many ships have a way they can be countered, and every ship has some kind of vulnerability or detriment, be it cost/maintenance, or vulnerability to other technologies. I can see why some might want the 'races' to be unique, but to me the huge variety of technologies makes this moot.


Agreed. For people crying for specialized races: I ask how did these races become specialized. Before one race had better armor or faster drives or what have you, they all started at the same spot in a pre space age culture. In this game, you get to decide what area your race is going to excel in. If we change things to add a built in advantage, then that decision will be made for you by the game. Call me crazy for wanting to make that decision on my own.

You're not crazy.

But there's a reason people prefer to buy written novels over blank pages.

As designed, the game presents a tabula rasa, a place to create your own race, as it were. But as soon as each game is concluded, all records of its glories and shames are lost. Each game completely resets the tech tree.

So when I said the game allows you to create your own race I didn't really mean it. The focus simply isn't there. Your techs are only a means to an end.

All players are definitely created equal in this game. Yes, when fleets make first contact, they're unlikely to possess the same techs. But that is no different from the unlikely occurrence that those fleets will have the same number of the same kinds of ships.

There really isn't any support for the notion of truly different civilizations (or races).

Regards,
Zapp

PS. Do note that the designer could solve this without resorting to the creation of "races" per se.

It would be interesting to see a "campaign expansion" that allows a string of wars, where you get to retain select techs from one play to the next. Or even, that you get a discount on researching techs you had in the previous game. (One rationale is that each game represents a part of the frontline between much bigger empires although separated by vast distances, and that each homeworld actually represents the provincial capital only. Thus technology "seeps" from one front to the next)

Thus creating a modicum of "you have to live with your choices". That way, you'd get your "races" even without the designer writing you on the nose about them.

Essentially, each player becomes his own race. The advantage: you get certain techs slightly cheaper. The disadvantage: this is known to your opponent!

DS.
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waddball wrote:
casualgod wrote:
If we change things to add a built in advantage, then that decision will be made for you by the game. Call me crazy for wanting to make that decision on my own.

OK, but it's trivial to implement asymmetrical races as an optional rule. Then everyone's happy.

Well, I believe to make the "we want races" truly happy, the races should come in the basic game, and they should be a default option.

Meaning using symmetrical fleets/techs should be the "optional rule" and not the other way around!
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MajorOracle wrote:
Clear on rules is still different from light on rules. I don't think it is light on rules.

Heavy on rules that are clear may be a more appropriate way to phrase it.

I agree. I can read most rulebooks in one session (at least when I'm awake). With this one, I needed three
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leroy43 wrote:
The counters are standard 5/16" wargame style counters


I think that should be 5/8" or 9/16" wargame style counters. I mention it not out of pedantry, but in homage to a system of measurement my children will probably never use.

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