Overview: The Post-Human Assembly is reaching out to explore a neighboring galaxy. Each of the Great Houses has its own ideologies, and plans to achieve hegemony with a combination of industrial strength, political power, and martial might. Hegemonic is a 4X board game currently funding on Kickstarter.
Ages: 13 and up
Playing Time: 45 minutes per player
Retail: $75 ($69 during Kickstarter campaign)
Rating: 3.5 out of 4 Xs — strong on Explore, Expand, and Exterminate, but a little weaker on Exploit. Game mechanics are solid but theme can feel abstracted.
Who Will Like It? Fans of 4x games and math-heavy strategic planning.
The setting is thousands of years after humans spread across the Milky Way, a time of stability of calm that ends when the Great Houses decide to go conquer the neighboring galaxy. There are alien civilizations present, but their presence is mostly passive, represented by places you can build political embassies or the technology cards you can put into play. Unlike some other similar games I’ve played, Hegemonic allows you to attack with all three types of strength: industrial, political, and martial (military).
- 1 Galactic Core board
- 9 five-sector Galaxy boards
- Tokens in 6 player colors:
- 90 Industrial Complex tokens (15 each)
- 36 Quantum Gate tokens (3 pairs each)
- 54 Political Embassy tokens (9 each)
- 18 Political Agent tokens (3 each)
- 72 Martial Outpost tokens (12 each)
- 18 Fleet tokens (3 each)
- 1 score track
- 12 score track tokens – (2 in each color)
- 36 Action cards (6 sets of 6 cards each)
- 54 Technology cards
- 48 Sector tiles
- 6 Player Start Sector tiles
- 1 Arbiter token
- 100 “CAP” (Capacity) tokens
- 6 player boards
The set I played was a prototype so artwork and final layout is subject to change, though in general the cards were fairly easy to understand. The various tokens are squares, circles, and triangles; these shapes appear on your player board, the hexagonal sector tiles, and on the cards, so it’s easy to tell whether something has to do with Industrial (square), Political (circle), or Martial (triangle).
The plan is to have wooden pieces (the prototype I played used laser-cut acrylic, but that’s too expensive for mass production). One of the Kickstarter campaign’s stretch goals is to replace the wooden bits with sculpted plastic miniatures. The shapes will still be based on squares, circles, and triangles, but will look more like buildings.
The goal of the game is to have the most victory points by the end of the game, which occurs at the end of the round when either no more tiles are in the draw stack or all of the open board spaces have been filled.
Choose a starting player, who receives the Arbiter token. Set up the galaxy by placing the Galactic Core board and then placing a number of the 5-hex galaxy boards around it. The rulebook has recommended layouts for different numbers of players, but you can customize these as you see fit. The sector tiles are sorted according to the number of players and placed in a draw stack.
Each player chooses a Great House and takes the player board, tokens, home sector tile, and action cards of their color. Optionally, each player takes the House Ability card associated with their house, or you can distribute these randomly. If the House Abilities are not used, then all of the Great Houses are equivalent. Each player gets 5 Technology cards and 2 sector tiles. All of the tokens are placed on the player board (as seen in the photo above), filling up the various spaces.
Starting with the Arbiter, each player places their home sector tile on a galaxy board, not adjacent to any other player’s home sector. (There are suggested placements in the rules.) Each home sector has space for one industrial complex, one political embassy, and one martial outpost, which are removed from the player board and placed on the tile. Then each player places one sector tile from their hand adjacent to their home sector, and places the remaining tile face-up in the sector pool.
Each turn consists of several phases: Collection, Exploration, 3 Action phases, Arbitration.
Collection: You collect CAPs (the basic currency) based on what you’ve already built. On the player board, each base (industrial, political, or martial) has a yellow number above it — you get the number of CAPs above the last empty space on each track. As you expand, your industry, political power, and military will earn you more income.
Exploration: In turn order, each player does the following: add a sector file from the draw pile into the sector pool, and then choose any sector tile in the pool to place in any open space on the board. Draw a Technology card from the draw pile, the top card on the discard pile, or one of your own already built technologies. Then, either discard a Technology card or “advance” (build) a technology.
To advance a technology, you must have the requisite Tier Level, either by having built enough units of that type, or by already owning a Technology that is one level lower. You may only have three Tech cards advanced at any time, but you can discard them to make room for new Tech cards.
Action (x3): Each player chooses one of their 7 Action cards, and then the cards are revealed simultaneously. The cards are resolved in numerical order; in case of ties, the Arbiter decides who goes first. When you resolve your Action card, you take up to 2 of the actions listed on the card.
The available actions (with priority numbers) are:
- Assault (1): attempt to destroy an enemy base of a different type of power (e.g., use Industrial power to “liquidate” a political embassy or martial outpost).
- Industrialize (2): build complexes and gates, or use “merger” to replace an enemy complex with your own.
- Politicize (2): build embassies and agents, or use “infiltrate” to replace an enemy embassy with your own.
- Martialize (2): build outposts and fleets, or use “strike” to replace an enemy outpost with your own.
- Subvert (3): attempt to replace an enemy base of a different type of power.
- Discover (4): gain CAPs, add new sector tiles, or discard and draw Tech cards.
Note that the Industrialize, Politicize, and Martialize actions have the same priority. Each Action card (except Discover) also includes the Basic Action: gain 2 CAPs, or draw a Tech card and then discard or advance a Tech.
After each card has been resolved, the Action phase is repeated two more times before moving to Arbitration.
Arbitration: The player with the most CAPs takes the Arbiter token. Each player discards CAPs down to their retention limit, which is the lowest number revealed on your player board. (As you build more and more units, you reveal lower and lower numbers. By the time you have built the last of any type of unit, your retention limit drops to 0.) Finally, scoring takes place.
You score points for having the most power on each of the galaxy boards and the galactic core board, based on the strength of your industrial complexes, political embassies, and martial outposts. (Gates, agents, and fleets do not count toward scoring.) You also get bonus points for having exclusive power on a board, and for having any sort of base on the core board. When the game ends, you score everything again, plus you get points for the Technologies you currently have advanced.
I won’t explain here the specifics for resolving conflicts, but each type of base has its own calculations for attack or defense. Tech cards in your hand can also be used to increase your attack or defense power — each adds a different number depending on the type of power involved in the conflict.
Note that this review was based on a prototype and limited number of plays, since the Kickstarter campaign is well underway and has about two weeks left. In some cases we had questions about the rules while playing and didn’t have time to stop and get clarification in the middle of the game. I also realized I’d done the “Action” phase incorrectly so we were only playing one Action phase per round instead of three — this abbreviates the game significantly but still gives a pretty good feel for the mechanics.
First, here’s what I liked about Hegemonic. There are three types of bases you can develop, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages — but any of the three can be used to attack your opponents. Also, when you choose to initiate a conflict, you can decide whether to use the cheaper “assault” which just destroys the enemy base, or pay twice as much (and go later in the turn order) to “subvert,” which lets you replace the base with one of your own.
I found it interesting that as you develop one type of strength, you have a tendency to continue along the same lines. That seems realistic, if not always very interesting: I’m already strong in industrial power, so rather than trying to build up political power where my opponent has a head start, I’ll just amass even more industrial strength and then turn that against his embassies. In a two or three player game, you may end up with each player focused on one type of strength and ignoring the others. However, once you get to four players, I imagine that the balance of the three types of power becomes much more important.
I also liked that the gameplay is fairly straightforward. It’s easy to see from your player board and the cards how much money you earn, how much things cost, and so forth. Actions are spelled out pretty easily and you can tell which type of power is involved in any given action or technology. And although you start off with a bit of conflict-free exploration, it doesn’t take long before you start butting up against each other and the extermination begins.
Now, here’s what I didn’t like so much: resolving conflicts. The two things that matter in a conflict are power and range. You need to know how much power each side has, and the power is determined in part by the range. Where it gets confusing is that power is calculated different not only for each of the three types of power, but also for attacking or defending. We had to refer to the rulebook in nearly every conflict to figure out exactly how much power each side had. While I understand that it makes sense thematically to have differences in the types of power and differences in attacking vs. defending, when it comes to gameplay I think it could have been simplified somewhat.
I mentioned earlier that the presence of aliens is somewhat passive. Presumably the Tech cards (with buzzwordy names like Psionic Ecology and Quantum Tunnel Lattice) are alien technology — but you basically just draw one each turn, regardless of where you are or what you’ve done. I suppose it’s just floating about in the galaxy, ready to be taken. Also, the sector tiles with embassy locations have different colors, representing different factions. When a conflict takes place, all of your embassy locations on a particular sector color act as one, because it’s the same alien faction. But it doesn’t feel like the aliens themselves are really participating in any significant way.
I’ve been asked by a few people how it compares to some other 4X games. So far, aside from this one I’ve only played Empires of the Void (reviewed by Erik Wecks here) and Eclipse, another highly-rated (and quite expensive) game. Without doing a detailed compare-and-contrast, I think I’d place Hegemonic somewhere in between the two. I like both Hegemonic and Eclipse more than Empires, but despite the similar-looking player board the feel of the economics and the conflicts are different. For instance, Eclipse has you competing for different types of technology, and you can score a lot of points simply by developing technologies rather than engaging in any direct conflicts with the other players. In Hegemonic, direct conflict is pretty much unavoidable: your choice lies in which type of power you choose to build up and use in your attacks. I think I may recommend Eclipse for players who want a heavier emphasis on developing technologies and the economic game, and Hegemonic for those who want to guarantee a lot of direct head-to-head competition.
Of course, there’s one other major difference between Hegemonic and the other 4X games out there: your chance to influence the game itself. Currently, all of the slots for naming the Great Houses are taken, but if Minion Games hits its $55k stretch goal, they’ll add another 18 Fringe World Houses, allowing you to name a house and help develop its powers. Plus, the more Minion Games raises in the Kickstarter campaign, the better the components will be, from the upgraded tokens to velvet token bags to interlocking boards that won’t slide around while you’re playing.
Check out the Hegemonic Kickstarter page for more info and to back the game. The campaign ends on Monday, February 4.
Wired: All three types of powers can be used to attack in different ways; mostly straightforward gameplay allows for a rich experience without too much setup and explanation.
Tired: Time spent figuring out power and range for conflicts may negate time saved with those straightforward rules for the rest of the game.
Disclosure: Minion loaned a prototype for review purposes.