Had a couple people over for gaming on Saturday. Dave was busy with work, so it was just me, Mark and Jason trying out Space Empires 4X.

We went with the straight basic rules and the straight 3-player setup. Personally, I think two of the players are still a little too close to each other compared to the third. I think trimming a couple more hexes off the ‘friendly’ area at the edge of the board for those two, and adding them to edge that’s near the big areas of deep space would be better, and should help encourage everyone to meet towards the middle.

However, the game does seem to do a very good job of delivering on its promise of bringing much of the feel of the computer 4X genre to a board game. (Not that the genre didn’t start with board games in the first place….) You start with a rich homeworld, and explore space, discovering minerals that can be brought back for a one-time bonus, and planets that can be colonized for further income. The colonies slowly grow in production over the course of a few turns, and bases and shipyards (to build more ships) can be built there.

There’s a lot of secret info in the game. The composition of groups of ships is kept secret, though each counter represents just a single ship type (including its various technological bonuses), instead of representing a mixed fleet. Touches like this allow it to walk a fine line between there being too much info to track, and keeping a fair amount hidden.

The first job is exploration, with each hex having a counter turned over as it is explored (reminds me of Conquest of Paradise), revealing the aforementioned new worlds, or minerals, or some terrain (nebulae and asteroids, which slow down movement and affect combat), or hazards. One common, and annoying hazard is the “Danger” marker, which kills all ships in the hex exploring it, and then is removed from the board. There’s two sets of markers, color-coded ones for each player, and white, more dangerous, ones for ‘deep space’, away from the starting areas. But in the three player set up, there’s two of these latter adjacent to two of the homeworlds. Jason didn’t explore his immediately, but I tried one on the first turn and lost my scout.

This, and a pattern that tended to put my planets further away from my homeworld gave me a slower start. When Jason and I drew close to each other, I was feeling vastly underequipped, with hardly any ships built, and Jason (and Mark) both having developed speed upgrades (that I never did get around to purchasing). We had several turns of staring each other down over a Mineral 10 marker that had been discovered between us. He had run me off, but his mining ships were off in another direction, so I had time to act on it.

I decided to go for a quantity of high-quality small ships compared to the larger ships that Jason was showing. Mark pressed towards Jason to distract him, as he seemed to get his economy going the fastest. I sent in a force of seven DDs (one older one, and my ‘good’ ones), with attack and defense bonuses and tactics. Mark and Jason had both developed some of the same technologies, but they don’t seem to have developed all of them.

Between that, and Mark, and some bad die luck, Jason’s fleet was severely curtailed. I got the Mineral 10 marker, but couldn’t get anyone through to try and reduce some of Jason’s colonies. My next effort was in developing a third shipyard planet to start scouting the large area between Mark and me. Mark showed up on Jason’s border with four CAs, and then moved on to my territory, and burned one of my colonies when I let him slip around me.

Exploration near the center was interesting as Mark and I were finding a string of black holes between us, and then I found a derelict spaceship (grants a technology bonus if you can tow it home). I sent a miner after it, Mark managed to send a force through the black hole line to try and intercept me, but I had already sent my newest force into the area – 5xCA in my ‘high quality’ line (+2 attack, +2 defense—still slow though), and seeing those in action surprised both Mark and Jason.

We had to call it about there for time. But we got a pretty good handle on the system, and a much better idea of what to do at the beginning. Mark had found several barren planets in the deep space between him and Jason and had started colonizing them, so he may well have become the main threat soon. After flipping over the remaining markers to see what was out there, we found that Mark and I had a string of four black holes holding us apart (we had discovered three).

We had a good time, and certainly want to try it again. I had wanted to pick up the game for myself before, and now I’m really considering it (and GMT needs all the encouragement we can give for more SF games).