Space Empires 4X from GMT Games is a fairly simple and clean game that focuses on the 4X genre in space. If you are unfamiliar with this term, the 4X refers to the following: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. Each player will attempt to explore their immediate surrounding systems, expand from their home planet to nearby planets, exploit those planets and resources they find to improve their economy to build up their space empire and use technology improvements purchased along the way to construct mighty military ships to ultimately go out and conquer the other players. A very solid system is used to model this action and is actually very easy to learn and play. But, like most games that are worth their salt, there are subtle points and nuances that you must learn in order to more effectively do the action of building your empire.
In this Action Point, I would like to take a look at some of the options that players have in exploring the systems that are adjacent to their Homeworld and how various actions work, such as Exploration, Colonization and Mining.
But first, I want to tell you how the game starts. Each player will be given a Homeworld (mine happens to be Chulak as I love the color green) along with their starting ships and infrastructure, including 4 Shipyards, 3 Colony Ships, 1 Miner and 3 Scouts. These ships are all located in the same hex as your Homeworld at the start of the game.
The game then follows a very simple Sequence of Play with the first player being determined based upon how much each player bid for that right during the previous Economic Phase or, if not one bid, the player that previously went first will continue to go first. Each player will then start their Turn One which includes Movement, Combat and finally Exploration.
The vehicle by which players go about the process of Exploration is their Scout ships. These ships have combat capability and can be used to improve your chances of victory when in open combat but their major purpose is to move into unexplored systems to find out what is there. Each of the Scout ships has one movement to start and will be allowed to only move one hex each turn.
The Exploration process is simple. During the Movement phase, all ships that the player wishes to move must move at that time. You cannot wait until you discover a planet to then move your Colony Ship out. This decision must be made at this point of the game when no chits have been turned over in an adjacent system. The Scout moves into the unexplored system and simply stops, not knowing yet what is located under that chit. Once all ships have moved in the Movement phase, the player will then get to turn over the hidden chits to find out what is hidden underneath.
There are 25 chits in a player’s home system with their player color shown on the back. These are setup according to instructions included with the scenario that is being played but all 25 are always used. Each player’s chits are just like other players and have the exact same makeup. These chits contain various elements including Colonizable planets, barren planets, asteroids, nebulas, mineral deposits and the dreaded Black Hole.
This chit turnover can be harrowing. As you can see from the table above, there are not a lot of really dangerous chits in the home systems. This is a different story though as they enter the domain of Deep Space where about 50% of the chits will kill you (such as the infamous Danger!). Exploration is a simple and easy part of the game. The results can be random and I have found that the players that are able to get a few planets very closest to their Homeworld and allow for early Colonization and Colony growth, will have a decided advantage that can start the game in their favor. But, the good thing about this game is that slow and steady wins the race. You must commit to building your Colonies, expanding your reach and increasing your economy first. If you do this, you will have plenty of Construction Points (CP) to build up your massive fleets to go out and fight the dangers facing your empire.
I also wanted to show you a few more pictures of one of my Scout ships that came into contact with a Black Hole. Following the normal Exploration procedure, when a Scout ship discovers a Black Hole marker, they must immediately stop play and check for survival. This survival check is simple to perform.
The player rolls a 10 sided die. On a roll of 1-6 the ship survives, but on a roll of 7-10, the unit is destroyed and removed from the board.
As you can see, luck was not with me on this day as I rolled a 9 which led to my Scout ship being sucked into the Black Hole. If you pass the check, the ship can stay in the hex, or can continue with Movement, and will not be forced to make a survival check at the beginning of the next turn. A Black Hole will remain in the space that it was discovered in and will not block movement through the hex, but each time a friendly or an enemy ship enters the hex, they will have to pause to check for survival. It is simply best to avoid Black Holes!
The goal of each player in Space Empires 4X is to, well, develop the most powerful empire in the galaxy. This typically happens when one player has developed an economy that produces the most CP and then who uses those CP to produce the most powerful ships to move out in the galaxy and eXterminate the competition. The way to develop a good economy is to find planets and Colonize them so they can produce CPs for your use. The faster you can establish Colonies, and grow them to their maximum output of 5 CPs, the sooner you can begin investing in improving your technology and buying better ships.
Colonization is easy. To do this action, you need to have an available Colony ship. Similar to the Mining ship, the Colony ship can only move one hex per turn and will never benefit from your investment in the Movement Technology. Colony ships simply move toward a planet that can be Colonized, either one of the 8 Planets that are in your home system or one of the Barren Planets that require you to have invested in Terraforming Technology. Once they arrive in a hex with a planet, they simply “crash” or land on that planet and begin the process of forming a productive Colony.
In the rules, it talks about the fact that the Colony ship is a one use item as when it lands on a planet, it is immediately broken down to be used in the development of the infrastructure needed to start the Colony. When a Colony ship moves into the hex where a planet is located, it can immediately land on that planet and start the process. From the moment it lands, it is considered a Colony. Colonization takes a good bit of time and the new Colony will grow in future Economic Phases.
The Colony will only grow during the Grow Colonies phase of the turn, which occurs after the player has taken all of their actions and moves in the 3 Turns to start the round, and completed the Economic Phase by collecting income, purchasing Technology Upgrades and new units. A newly placed Colony does not produce income in its first stage, or the same round that it is placed. It will grow in the Grow Colonies phase to a 1 CP Colony, then to a 3 CP Colony and finally to a 5 CP Colony.
I will say that it is very important that players invest in the development of Colonies early on in the game. There will be a real temptation and pull to start developing more powerful ships (such as the DD, the CA or the BC) and gearing up to destroy your competition but players cannot build a sustainable empire without having multiple Colonies. I always tend to buy a few extra Colony ships in the first few rounds so that I have a steady supply of them available when I find new planets. Waiting until you find planets to start buying Colony ships is not the best strategy. I also like to take some chances as well and move my Colony ships towards areas where my Scout ships are exploring to get a head start. Sometimes this doesn’t work out and I end up moving a few wasted spaces to a dead-end, but it is better than waiting and can be the difference between ramping up quickly and getting pummeled by your opponent.
A very simple part of the game, Mining is a way to enhance and supplement your economy as you work through the process of establishing several Colonies to increase your Construction Point (CP) generation.
As you can see in the picture below, a Mining ship is a unit that has one purpose; to move out to a discovered Mineral marker and tow them back to either your Homeworld or an established Colony for processing into CPs. A Mining Ship can only move one hex each turn, and can never see its movement increase from a player’s investment into Movement Technology. They must move hex by hex until they enter a hex that contains a Mineral marker. Once they enter the hex with the Mineral marker, you can simply place the Mining ship on top of the Mineral marker to signify that you are towing the Mineral. This is a free action and can be done at anytime when the Mining ship enters the hex. The player then will move the Mining ship back to either the Homeworld or a Colony to deposit the mineral there where it will wait to be used until the upcoming Economic Phase. The Mineral marker has either a 5 CP value or a 10 CP value (these more valuable Minerals are only found when exploring Deep Space) and will give the player additional CP to build their empire. I like to use them as “found money” and invest them into Technology Improvement, but that decision will be up to the player and will change based on the situation at the time. With 11 Mineral markers in a player’s home system, that equates to a total of 55 CP, or the production of 11 fully developed Colonies.
Once the more valuable Minerals are discovered in Deep Space, those 10 CP can be a lifesaver as they simply add more to your economy.
I hope you enjoyed this look at the various options available to players to eXplore, eXpand and eXploit the systems that are adjacent to their Homeworld in Space Empires 4X from GMT Games. In our next Action Point, we will take a look at the Technology Tree and the various ships that can be purchased.
Also, you can check out our unboxing video to get a better look at the various components.