Our latest multiplayer-day went through a few revisions on the way to happening. It was going to be five people, but Mark’s work called him off to France for a couple weeks (…there are worse fates), and then Patch’s work called him at 6 AM on a Sunday (…and that’s one of them). So… we ended up with three-player Space Empires 4X again. This time we tried a 2-vs-1 scenario I had noticed in the scenario book after the last session; we actually went with the Close Encounters version where the single player (Dave) drew six empire advantage cards and kept four.

Jason and I of course then made up the team. Thankfully the scenario uses “suspicious allies” rules, because we wouldn’t have a chance at any unified action. By the end of the day we had some limited contact with each other (generally in the middle of the board), while the main strip between us was still mostly intact at the end of the day. I had set up a single shipyard out on that border, and most turns built a new SC to explore the region, but we use heavy terrain, and most of them just died instantly.

We also did two things to get things going faster, which worked. First, we used the 30-point homeworlds, but without much more to spend on, so after the initial hump of not enough shipyard space, things started humming along. The other was a ‘turn 0’ idea I had: everyone flips over three (non-deep space) tiles next to their homeworld, and moves a SC into each; do not bother to roll for any black hole you find (the price is having a black hole to dodge for the rest of the game). Then start the game, with a little knowledge of where your miners and colonies might want to go. It’s minor, but I think it helps, and is very fast.

Dave picked Space Pilgrims, Industrious Race, Fearless Race, and Star Wolves. The first negates terrain (other than pulling Danger! chits), which was certainly handy, the second allows colonization of asteroids, which he revealed mid-game, and did much to accelerate his economy. Star Wolves never came up as he wasn’t facing bigger ships (that the bonus applies to) until late, and he didn’t go the carrier route, and was only building the biggest ships he could. Fearless was handy for a long time, as the free rank “A” firing trumped everything until very late when BBs appeared. There’s a few times when retreating early might have been best, but he wasn’t afraid to throw away mid-game ships, and the big battles later happened over his colonies, which he was loathe to abandon.

His major successes in early exploration were mostly on my side of the map (actually, he got a lot of ‘safe’ deep space tiles early on), including a space wreck back on his edge of the board which got him Move 2. There was a barren planet in the area between him and I, another almost in the middle of the board, and a set of three at the far corner between us. I’m not so sure what was in the area between him and Jason, but it was taking a lot longer to clear out. I had a slow start thanks to most of my planets being in the outer reaches of my home area.

We had also opted to use terraforming 2/nebula mining from Close Encounters, just so miners would have something else to do (we used the base set sheets, but penciled in the extra tech, though I mis-remembered it as 30 instead of 25). Three of the hexes adjacent to my homeworld were a barren planet and two nebulas (and only two planets at range 2 of my homeworld!), so I purchased terraforming 1 during Econ 2, and terraforming 2 during 4. It took a while to get around to mining the second nebula, but the extra income sure helped. My economy was the weakest of all three until econ 5, when I overtook Jason, and I overtook Dave on 6 (though our totals stayed very close; Dave took terraforming 2 in econ 4, but didn’t start mining asteroids until later—I think he was still busy picking up mineral 10s).

I sent in raiding forces as soon as I could get a clear path between us (the first ‘clear’ path had a black hole, unfortunately), and while I established a small shipyard on my outpost out there, it mostly kept busy with colony ships (I got those three planets in the deep corner; it helped my economy keep up). And had enough success to keep Dave trimmed down a little. It helped that another space wreck showed up on my side of the center of the board, and it got me Move 2. (Jason spent on it too at some point, so we were all at Move 2 at the end of the day. I kept remembering that I wanted to spend on Move 3 right after balancing the budget….)

It was right after the first drive petered out and I was trying to face off Dave’s fleet that the asteroid colonies began, and I was seriously worried about the long-term economy building up there. Thankfully, Jason started finding his way to Dave’s empire at that point (aided by a Lost in Space for first contact). He was able to put ever-mounting pressure on from his direction that helped me manage to colonize that far corner without interference. While I was finishing with using destroyer swarms, and moving up to CAs, Dave had been using BCs after extensive construction of bases and shipyards. Jason initially showed up with CAs and moved to BCs, with slightly better tech. He also went his traditional route of taking tactics, which didn’t help in the first round, thanks to the free rank A shot, but helped after that, when when he moved into BBs and DNs, he consistently shot first.

The BC-to-BB period had two or three large fleet battles that tended to go on long, thanks to cold dice, and Dave’s lower technology on his ships vs Jason’s smaller ones. In the end, the first fleet battle went narrowly to Jason, and the second one went to Jason more quickly, but still with considerable losses to Jason.

By that time, my CAs were showing up with increasingly better tech, and I shifted to BCs for the final two rounds. As we were nearing the end of the day, Dave surrendered in frustration, with all his mobile assets gone, and his economy ready to take a big hit as our fleets pressed in. One thing that was a continuing problem for Dave was that with everyone at move-2, the pattern was to wait for round 3 from two hexes away, and hit the least-defended target.

End of the day. Dave = Yellow, I was Red, and Jason Blue.


Dave has expressed problems with the game before, and is currently officially “done” with it. Now, right after the session, it turned out that one big problem is really an expectation mismatch. He sees naval designations, and thinks in terms of (WWII wet-)navy realities where cruisers have no right to take on a battleship and win even with higher numbers of cruisers. He has come to a belated realization that technology trumps size to a degree he doesn’t care for (…I pointed out the differences between a pre-dreadnought and the Iowa; we’ll see if that goes anywhere). He also doesn’t have a big background in space 4X games, which regularly just use naval designations as a shorthand for “size”, and is mentally prepared for mission differences. And he finds the tracking onerous enough that he doesn’t care to have different types of ships.

I’d been thinking his combat problems more stemmed from the fact that combat is a nuanced bucket of dice system, since relatively low-odds results were when the frustration was evident. Personally, combat is a place I find a bit weak in the design. Mostly, it’s a very neat, reasonably fast system with the right level of complexity. The trouble is that it’s a little too easy to get into combats where both sides have low odds of hitting, and then the combat drags out (asteroid fields are especially bad at this; thankfully we hardly ever end up with combat in one); the first fleet combat this time dragged out a few extra rounds with only moderately cold dice.

Accelerating growth by using the 30 CP homeworlds definitely helped, and freed up early game budgets a lot. I assume that effect is still true in full Close Encounters as you won’t be buying many of the extras straight off the bat. Since everyone also started building out pipelines early, this also meant a common early purchase was an extra shipyard at the homeworld. I eventually got to a full 6 there, but was stalled at 5 for a long time as it was another place that I kept thinking about after getting my production set.

Since Dave tends to be central to multiplayer days, there’ll probably be noticeably less SE4X in the future, though I’m currently engaged in a game over Discord (actually, my second game). Hopefully, next time we’ll finally have more than three people, and we’ll be doing a long-planned day of shorter games.