Ah, Earthlings–even when we’re working to save humanity, we can’t work with each other. As our planet nears its end, warring factions race to find a new home, or technology to save the Earth, or–failing that–destroy each other … Before the Earth Explodes.
Before the Earth Explodes is a compact 4X game by Adrian Adamescu and Daryl Andrews for 2 players, ages 13 and up, and takes about 20 minutes to play. It is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $19 (plus shipping) for a copy of the game. I did play the game with my 10-year-old nephew and I think that 10-year-olds with some gaming experience may be able to handle it.
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Note: My review was based on a pre-production prototype, so exact components, artwork, and component quality is all subject to change, though this should give you a rough overview. For instance, my trackers were just generic plastic rockets, but the final trackers will actually be clips that attach to the sides of the cards and slide up and down.
There may be a draw bag for the resource cubes in the final version; the prototype did not include one so I just used my own container for drawing cubes.
The prototype does not have all of its final artwork yet, so there’s only one illustration each for ships and planets, though I imagine there may be more in the final game. I do like what I’ve seen, though–it reminds me a little of old sci-fi book covers. Since the components are primarily cards with some resource bits, there aren’t a lot of custom components, and the look of the game will primarily be dependent on the final art and design.
Green Couch Games typically has small boxes for their games, about the size of two decks of cards, so it’s likely that this will be a game that’s easy to take with you for on-the-go gaming.
The goal of the game is to be first to reach one of the victory conditions: 7 colonies, 7 technology, 7 damage, or a special ship condition.
Give each player a player board, 2 trackers, four player actions cards, and 2 resources at random. Give the taller player the tie breaker card.
Place the space quarry cards on the table and put 2 randomly drawn resources on each one. Shuffle the ships and deal 3 face-up on the table, and do the same for the planets.
Each turn, players secretly choose one of their four actions. Then the actions are revealed and resolved, and players may colonize a planet if able to. The action effects are divided into Phase 1 and Phase 2.
The four actions are:
The actions are resolved by first playing the Phase 1 effects and then the Phase 2 effects in alphabetical order (unless canceled). After that, each player who didn’t have their action canceled may colonize a planet by paying the resources (or technology) shown on the planet card. In the case of both players choosing the same action, the player with the tie breaker card goes first, and then passes the card to the other player.
At the end of the turn, add 1 random resource to each space quarry card unless it’s full (3 resources). Refill the ships and planets, and players pick up the actions played back into their hands.
Most ships have a one-time-use ability, which is activated immediately as soon as you take the ship. Some ships have a victory condition effect, either making it easier for you or harder for your opponent. For instance, the Intergalactic ship means that your opponent must colonize 8 planets instead of 7; the Trade Federation ship lets you win if you collect 10 resources.
Planet cards also have abilities–these are also one-time-use, but may be activated during Phase 2 effects or the planet colonization phase. You turn your planet face-down after it is used, but it still counts as a colonized planet.
Be the first to:
Before the Earth Explodes is a 4X game, a term I explained in my recent review of Master of the Galaxy, and I think that these two games show how different 4X games can be from one another. One of the key mechanics in Before the Earth Explodes is the simultaneous action selection, one that I’m particularly fond of. It’s a concept that’s used in many games (a few examples include Yomi, Go Nuts for Donuts, and Eggs & Empires): everyone makes their choice at the same time, but your choices affect each other in various ways.
In this case, each action has one other action that will cancel it (and damage you in the process), and each action except Occupy will cancel/damage another. But because the actions also have different effects, you have to strike the right balance—do you pursue the colony or technology victory, or do you try to predict what your opponent will pick and damage them instead? If you can correctly guess what your opponent is doing each turn, you could win an “exterminate” victory pretty easily, without ever moving yourself forward in any significant way. On the other hand, if you can stay a step ahead of your opponent, you can achieve victory while they’re choosing sub-optimal actions in order to damage you. Since this is a two-player-only game, it can really feel like a battle of wits as you choose your actions—there’s a little less chaos than in simultaneous-selection games with more players. You only have to consider one other person.
Each of the goals can be achieved quickly if nobody interferes with you. For instance, choosing “Scout” every turn will give you a ship and a technology; you only need 7 technology to win, and some of the ships will increase your technology even further. Choosing “Occupy” every turn will let you colonize planets rapidly (and cheaply). Of course, as you go for your goal, it’s important to interfere with your opponent, too. If your opponent continues to pick “Occupy,” then you take “Invade.” But if you take “Invade” every time, then they can switch to “Scout.” You can’t be too predictable, or you’re certain to fail.
I’ll admit that so far I’m not very good at the game, but I’ve enjoyed it. I like that there are a variety of ways to win, even in this compact, quick-playing game. You really do get to pick which of the 4 Xs (Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate) you want to focus on—but you have to mix it up so that your opponent doesn’t guess what you’re up to. While I don’t usually play as many two-player-only games myself, I’ve been a fan of Green Couch Games’ compact boxes, which are great for travel and on-the-go gaming.
For more about the game or to pledge for a copy, visit the Before the Earth Explodes Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: I received a prototype for review purposes.