In this Action Point in our series covering Space Empires 4X from GMT Games, I want to take a look at my favorite part of the game, combat! The name of the game in Space Empires is winning by totally destroying your competition. Well, that is not the only way to win, but you will most likely win by actually fighting your opponents because if you turtle and wait for them to come hoping that you will not be noticed, think again! Fortune favors the bold. This means that you will be forced to build heavy ships of war, arm them with the latest Technology and venture out to meet them in the cold blackness of deep space or risk being killed while you hide at home.

Combat occurs when players of differing empires end their turns in the same hex. Combat is mandatory and you must fight it out, at least for one round. The player who enters the hex first is considered the attacker and the other player the defender. The combat actually occurs off map as you will have to take all units involved in the combat off the board and line them up in what are referred to as “battle lines”. Below is an example of an off-board setup for combat:

Combat Screening

The players then determine whether they have the ability to Combat Screen for some of their ships. This is determined by counting up the number of combat-capable ships that each player has and the player with the most will have the option of Combat Screening. Before I go into what Combat Screening is, I want to answer a question that is probably forming in your head as you read. Well, why doesn’t each player know how many ships each side has before the battle starts? Great question and this is one of the many nuances that are included in the design for Space Empires.

In Space Empires, players will only have one counter representing a type of combat ship in any given hex and that counter will be turned upside down to hide its identity. Underneath each of the ship counters, you will notice that there is a white counter. This counter is a generic numbered counter with values ranging from 1-6 that will identify how many ships of that counters type are in the “stack”. I really like this hidden identity part of the design as in other 4X games I have played, you can see that your opponent’s force has a Battleship, 2 Destroyers and 3 Scouts coming at you, which allows you to plan and anticipate what you might need in order to win that combat. Not so in Space Empires though as you will not know the identity of those ships or even how many there are.  You can sometimes deduce what the ships might be though by watching your opponent and how those counters are used. For example, if your opponent places a counter in a hex with a Colony and never seems to move that stack but does add new ships to that hex, you can deduce that it is a Ship Yard. You can also do some guessing about how many Ship Yards are there based on how many ships they place each round (this is important because Ship Yards do participate in combat in that hex and have a 3 Attack value). Although, this is not totally reliable as you will not necessarily know the level of Technology they possess.

Space Empires 4X Hidden Ship Counters

Back to Combat Screening. At the start of each firing round, the player with the most number of combat-capable ships is able to screen some of his ships. He can screen up to the difference in the number of ships. So, if the attacker has 4 ships as compared to his opponent having only 3 ships, he could elect to screen 1 ship. This is a method that can be used to protect ships that you feel are important to you. For example, if you have only 1 Destroyer enabled with Scanners, which aid you in attacking and destroying enemy Raider ships, you might want to hold that Destroyer back in order to make sure it doesn’t get destroyed. Combat Screening simply means you remove the ships from combat. They will not be able to fire in the round they are screened and will also be unable to be attacked by your opponent. The ships that are being screened can even change from round to round. This can be used to great effect by moving ships that have taken a hit, and are potentially one hit away from being eliminated, out of the line of fire to protect them. A really nice little nuance to the design that rewards players that plan and have more ships as they can utilize more battle tactics to best their opponents.

Fleet Size Bonus

After the Combat Screening step, players will determine if they have a Fleet Size Bonus. If one player has twice as many unscreened, combat-capable ships as their opponents, they will have a Fleet Size Bonus and will be granted a +1 bonus to their Attack Strength values. This bonus will be determined at the beginning of each firing round to account for losses in ships.

Resolve Combat – Firing Order

Fire combat in Space Empires is never simultaneous. Each ship has a printed firing order referred to as a class. A units will always fire first, followed by B units, C units, etc. If players in the combat have the same firing class, they will then look to see who has the highest Tactics rating granted from Technology investments. If one player’s Tactics rating is higher than the other player, his ships in the same class will always fire first. If the firing class and Tactics rating is the same, the defender will fire first. There are some markers that can affect combat though, such as Nebula or Asteroids. If the combat is occurring in a hex with a Nebula or Asteroids marker, all ships will then fire at E. Bummer for those large Battlecruisers that thought they were gonna destroy the competition during the A firing phase! But this is another great design element in the game as a smart player can utilized terrain in various hexes to bait a more powerful player into attacking them. This can level the playing field and is really a great part of the game.

Resolve Combat – Fire Resolution

After a firing unit is selected and a target is declared, you will simply add the units printed Attack Strength together with its Attack Technology Level to come up with the number that you will have to roll less than or equal to in order to determine a hit. Remember to add +1 if you have a Fleet Size Bonus. For example, a Battlecruiser has a printed Attack Strength of 5, and if it has an Attack Technology Level of 1, its total Attack Strength will be a 6 (5 Attack Strength + +1 Attack Technology Level 1 = 6). Remember to add the +1 to the number if you have a Fleet Size Bonus. Player then will have to add the target unit’s printed Defense Strength to its Defense Technology Level and this number will be reduced from the “to hit” number to determine the final number you are aiming to roll less than or equal to. I really like the concepts of Attack and Defense Strengths and the differing Technology upgrades as I imagine plasma cannons, rail guns and upgraded thermo-nuclear missiles are added to ships when they increase their Attack Strength and conversely with Defense Strength, I see the addition of armored plating for hulls, energy shields and turbo-lasers on the sides of large capital ships that act as anti-aircraft guns shooting down incoming Fighters and missiles. A great thematic element included in this game without the naming of these specific tech.

For example, assuming no Fleet Size Bonus, the player owning the Battlecruiser as mentioned above with a Total Attack Strength of 6 will then reduce that number by the value of their target’s Total Defense Strength, which happens to be a Cruiser that has a printed Defense Strength of 1 but has a Defense Technology Level of 2 for a Total Defense Strength of 3. Taking 6 – 3, the end result of a 3 will be the number that the attacker is attempting to roll less than or equal to. The player then rolls a 10 sided die and comes up with a 2, which scores one hit against the Cruiser.

Resolve Combat – Recording Hits

Damage is cumulative and is simply recorded by placing Damage markers on or near the Group counter during the battle. When a ship takes hits equal to its Hull Size, it is destroyed. You then just adjust the numbered counter underneath the Group counter or remove the Group counter if it was the only ship of that type in the battle. Hits cannot be assigned between ships in the same group. One ship will take all of the hits until destroyed and then additional hits from subsequent rounds can be assigned to other ships in that Group.

Players also have the option of retreating from combat but can only do this action when it is their ships turn to fire and the retreat action is in place of a fire attack.

As you can see, combat is pretty basic in Space Empires but there is enough strategy and interesting tactics to it that it is always an adventure. Good players will use their advantages to their greatest benefit, including terrain markers such as Nebula and Asteroids, Combat Screening to preserve their most important ships to remove damaged ships out of the line of fire to live to fight another day and will also utilize other tricks that we didn’t discuss such as Decoy units. Oh, those Decoys are powerful and can give you 2 or 3 turns to prepare your forces for a deciding fight…on your terms!

In our next and final Action Point focused on Space Empires 4X, we will take a look at a few of the solitaire scenarios that are available in the base game.