Deep in space, far from our own home, alien civilizations have arrived at a new star system, and each one is interested in establishing dominance on its many planets. Prepare your engines for the leap into Hyperspace!
What Is Hyperspace?
Hyperspace is a 4X* game for 2 to 4 players (up to 6 with the expansion), ages 14 and up, and takes about 20 minutes per player. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $69 for a copy of the game (or $119 to expand the game to 5 or 6 players). Additional pledge levels are available that include art books, even more alien civilizations, and even a weekend playing games with designer Sandy Petersen himself. The sci-fi theme may be fine for kids as young as 10 (though I’ve only seen a fraction of the alien races and their abilities), but the game complexity and length may be a bit much for younger or more casual game players.
*4X is a game genre named after four Xs: Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate. Generally, these type of games include exploration on a map of some sort, increasing your population (or army, or fleet, etc.), building up your technology and abilities, and attacking other players.
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. In particular, a lot of the graphic design has changed from the prototype to what you see on the Kickstarter page, so you should consult the Kickstarter page for the most up-to-date information.
There’s a lot
- 116 plastic miniatures:
- 32 Colonies (8 per player color)
- 24 Starbases (6 per player color)
- 16 Corvettes (4 per player color)
- 12 Destroyers (3 per player color)
- 8 Cruisers (2 per player color)
- 8 Super Ships (2 per player)
- 16 Citizens (4 per player)
- 40 plastic rings
- 4 Civilization sheets
- 8 Super Tech tiles (2 per player)
- 42 Planet tiles (including 4 Homeworld tiles)
- 38 Secret cards
- 84 Common Tech tiles
- Progress board with progress tokens
- 8 Native Alien tokens
- 12 Action markers
- 8 Production trackers
- 280 Resource tokens (atomics, metal, organics, hyper)
- 12 Ship Wreckage tokens
- 24 dice (2 sets in different colors including d6, d8, d10, and d12)
- Additional tokens for specific civilizations
The 5-6 player expansion will include additional plastic miniatures and plastic rings, along with things like progress trackers and action markers. Depending on which pledge level you choose, you can choose 2, 12, or 21 more alien civilizations to add to the game—each one will come with its own homeworld, civ sheet, super ships, citizens, super tech, and possibly other tokens.
The prototype I received had the four core alien civilizations (Broodmaster, Fungi, Skith, and Venge), but you can download a PDF if you’d like to learn more about the other civilizations. The PDF doesn’t give specific game rules for these aliens, but has some flavorful descriptions of their abilities and images of their super ship and citizen miniatures. The illustrations and plastic miniatures are excellent, as you might expect from the publishers of Cthulhu Wars: while all of the players share the same models for colonies, starbases, and ships, each alien civilization has its own citizens and super units, which are diverse and bizarre. In the finished version, it appears that the unique units will be in grey, and you snap plastic rings to the bases to indicate your player color, which will match the common units.
The planet tiles are stretched hexagons and are quite large compared to most games, but as we discovered, they can still get quite crowded and you might find yourself wishing they were even bigger toward the end of the game. The graphics and design were not finalized in the prototype, but the images on the Kickstarter page look much more polished. This is a game that will take up a lot of space on your table, and look great doing it.
How to Play Hyperspace
You can download a draft of the rulebook here. Note that my prototype rulebook differs from this version, so there may be some discrepancies. Also, if you’d like to give the game a try in a digital version, there is a demo version available on Tabletopia.
The goal of the game is to score the most points (via the 4 Xs: exploring, expanding, exploiting, and exterminating).
Set up the planet tiles face-down according to the maps based on player count; homeworld tiles are placed face-up in their appropriate places. Everyone’s progress tokens are placed on the progress board at the start of each track.
Give each player a set of components: a civ sheet, action markers, production trackers, super tech tiles, and plastic miniatures. Each player will populate their homeworld: place a starbase in orbit, and one colony in each continent (the divided areas on the planets).
Any production tokens (atomics and metal) on that continent are slotted onto the colony. Everyone sets their atomics and metal production according to the total number present on their colonies. Give each player 2 atomics, 2 metal, and 2 organics. Players will also receive hyper tokens based on turn order. Deal 4 common tech tiles to each player. The civ sheet also lists each player’s starting fleet and any other additional setup instructions.
The progress board tracks everyone’s VP, and also has a few tracks for you to advance as you accomplish certain tasks, earning VP, secrets, and hyper tokens. The tracks include probe (exploring new planet tiles), research (creating new tech), and battle.
On your turn, you may take up to 3 actions, which are usually chosen from the following:
You may use these actions in any order, and perform the same one more than once. There are a few other options, like Self-Destruct and Rebirth, but they’re less commonly used. Some tech cards also provide actions that may be used.
A quick note about resources: atomics and metals are the two basic resources. Organics may be used as either atomics or metals. Hyper tokens may be used as either resource, placed into available slots in a colony to increase its defense by 6, or discarded to gain VP (3 hypers per 1 VP) or secret cards (5 hypers per secret card).
Build: Build a unit by paying its cost (usually metal). Colonies may be built on any continent that doesn’t have any opponent’s units on it, even if you have no ships at that system. When you build colonies, you gain production tokens as shown on the continent, updating your production markers as needed. Citizens may be placed on continents where you have a colony. Starbases are placed in orbit where you have a colony, and then ships are built where you have starbases. When you build ships, you may build up to a total cost of 4, and then place them into a system where you have a starbase. You cannot build a starbase on a tile where one already exists.
Move: You may move any number of ships from one tile to an adjacent tile; moving to a tile that has your starbase in orbit is free and does not use up one of your actions, so you may do this as many times as you want, effectively turning your starbases into a free travel path for your ships. If you move onto a face-down hex, reveal the tile and add any necessary tokens to it as printed; you must pay 2 atomics, and then advance on the probe progress track. If you move onto a face-up hex that doesn’t have your starbase, you must pay 1 atomic (and spend an action).
Produce: Check that your production tracks are updated to match your colonies. Decide whether you will produce atomics or metals, and then take that many from the supply. Whether you produce atomics or metals, each of your citizens also produces 1 organic.
Research: Select an empty tech spot on your civ sheet, pay the cost (usually 1 or 2 atomics), and then place a tech tile in that slot. You must also choose an opponent to gain 1 organic from the general supply. If the tech tile has a hyper icon on it, you gain a hyper token. You have room for 2 common tech tiles and 2 super tech tiles—the super tech tiles are specific to your alien civilization. If you research common tech, draw a replacement from the supply. After researching, you advance on the research progress track.
You may not research any duplicate tech tiles, and some civilizations have restrictions on certain tech. You may discard a duplicate or illegal tech and draw a replacement as a free action (or you can hang onto it to keep anyone else from drawing it, even though you can’t use it yourself).
Salvage: Planet tiles may have organic tokens, ship wreckage tokens, hyper tokens, and secret tokens on them. If you take the salvage action, you may collect any number of organic and wreckage tokens from continents where you have colonies, and hyper tokens and secret tokens where you have starbases. Wreckage tokens are immediately turned into the matching ship (from your pool). Secret tokens are discarded and let you draw a secret card: read it aloud and apply its effect, and then keep it face-down for end-game scoring. Sometimes you may have damaged ships in your storage. When you salvage, you may also place any of these damaged ships back onto the map on tiles where you have starbases.
Battle: Choose a location where you and an opponent both have units, and spend 1 atomic to start a battle. Choose which opponent you are attacking—anyone else present is a neutral bystander. Each unit shows its attack value on the civ sheet—it may be a number or a type of die—as well as a defense value. First, everyone may use pre-battle abilities. Then everyone rolls their dice and adds up their total attack rating. Spend your attack rating to destroy opposing units (which puts them back into the owner’s pool); you must destroy a unit before you may spend attack points on a different unit. If you have leftover attack value that isn’t enough to destroy a unit, you may damage an enemy unit, which puts it into their supply (where it can be salvaged later). Both attacker and defender spend their attack rating simultaneously; destroying a unit does not negate its attack. Finally, both players may use post-battle abilities.
You may advance on the battle progress track if you’re the attacker and removed at least one enemy unit. On the last space of the battle track, you earn a hyper token and up to 2 VP (1 VP per 8 defense removed) each additional time you attack successfully.
Other actions include Self-Destruct, which lets you remove one of your units from the map, a tech from your civ sheet, or a tech from your pool. (Note that super units and super techs may not be self-destructed.) You can also take a Rebirth action as a last-ditch effort for survival: you reset your supply to 2 organics, 2 atomics, and 2 metals, and then reset your homeworld continents as if you just set up the game, removing all enemy colonies and citizens and placing your own colonies on each continent.
If you have at least 15 VP on the progress board, you may declare that the game is ending.
Add these scores to your VP on the progress board:
- 1 VP for each planet where you have colonies (additional colonies on the same planet do not increase your score)
- 1 VP per system where you have a starbase
- 1 VP for every 3 hyper tokens (and hyper icons on secret cards)
- VPs from your secret cards
The highest total VP wins; ties are broken by the player with the most hyper tokens.
Why You Should Play Hyperspace
Hyperspace takes the 4X genre and makes a few interesting tweaks to it. For instance, there’s no upkeep phase where you pause at the end of the round to produce or resolve any effects; everyone just keeps taking turns, three actions at a time, until somebody declares the game’s end. Also, you can plant colonies on any available continent—that’s definitely something I hadn’t seen before, because in most games you’ll have to transport somebody over to a place before you can build anything. Here, the planet just has to be discovered by anyone, so there can be a bit of a race to get a foothold once a planet is revealed. The idea of co-existing peacefully is also one that you don’t always see in 4X games: you can move into a system where another player has units, and you can all just hang around in the same space until somebody decides to start a battle.
Battles are fairly quick, because it’s a single round of combat (which may or may not involve special abilities), although they’re also the action that takes the longest to resolve. Apart from battles, most actions are pretty quick, and once you’re familiar with the game, you can start thinking about your turn in advance, so the game moves along at a pretty good pace. That said, our learning game for 4 players took significantly more than the estimated 20 minutes per player, so you should take the “short play time” noted on the Kickstarter page with a grain of salt. It may be short compared to other 4X games (Twilight Imperium comes to mind), but I imagine there are a lot of people who consider 2 hours to be a long game.
What really sets Hyperspace apart for me, though, is the specific alien powers. Sure, we’re all used to games where you fly around and reveal tiles, harvest resources, build things and attack each other, and so on. I really like the way that the alien civilizations are differentiated. Aside from the unique citizens, super units, and super tech, each civilization also has a bonus, a weakness, and a victory ability that provides an additional way to make progress. For instance, the Fungi can build their colonies for free (thanks to spores), but their weakness is that they must spend organics (the wild resource) first, before spending atomics or metals, which leaves less flexibility. The Skith have an alternate reality power that lets their ships simply show up at a battle (turns out they were there all along!), but their research costs are more expensive than other civilizations. Success depends on effectively managing your civilization’s strengths and weaknesses.
And there are a lot of wacky powers, too. Just in the core set of 4 aliens, there’s already a lot to explore. The Venge have complicated friendship relationships—they won’t defend against you if you’re a friend, but they also do extra damage to their friends. (They only hurt the ones they love, I guess.) Plus they have a grudge track, so that any time you choose somebody else to receive a bonus, they get to trigger an effect. They’re not so great in a 2-player game, but once there are at least three players, they can be extremely effective. The Broodmaster have super ships that don’t do any damage in combat, but they can also prevent one of your ships from attacking at all, plus they can hire neutral mercenaries to do the dirty work for them.
I read through the descriptions of the other races, and I’m really impressed with the sheer variety of it all. With 25 total civilizations to choose from, I imagine it will be really hard to choose just 2 of them at the 5-6 player pledge level, and I imagine there will be a lot of people with much lighter wallets by the time this campaign is over.
The rulebook looked a little intimidating at first, but I found that the game itself isn’t too complicated to learn, especially now that the “industrial capacity” has been dropped from the game. The actions are mostly easy to understand: build colonies, then starbases, then ships, and then send them off to battle other people. Use colonies to produce resources, and choose technology that will complement your civilization’s natural strengths. Although the actions themselves may be simple, the choices are not: which tech do you research? Should you attack or coexist peacefully? Which opponent do you choose to receive a bonus from a secret card?
I do like that there are a few different ways to score points, though I did find Hyperspace to be a little more combat-focused than some other 4X games. That may be my only quibble—that if you don’t enjoy a bit of confrontation in games, it may be a bit too much fighting for you. This is because most of the progress tracks max out: you can only score 4 times for exploring a new system, and that’s only until everything has been discovered. Likewise, once you have researched 4 times (2 common techs and 2 super techs), you won’t score any more on the research track, even if you self-destruct some tech and replace it with something else. The battle track is the only one that’s unlimited: as long as you keep removing enemy units in battle, you can keep scoring points. I haven’t yet played with a few of the latest rules tweaks (for instance, now you can buy secrets using hyper tokens), so that may change it up a bit, but so far combat has seemed pretty crucial for scoring points once the initial exploration and researching has been done.
Speaking of secret cards, don’t underestimate their importance! Secrets can be salvaged from some systems, and can also be claimed by hitting certain spots on the progress tracks. Each one has an immediate effect, and then you keep the card for end-game scoring: each one has a hyper, 1 VP, or 2 VP on it. The trick in the older rules was that once you’d hit all of the progress track secrets and all of the system secrets had been claimed, there was no way to get more of them. The ability to buy them with hyper tokens could really shake things up. Then again, there are a limited number of ways to earn hyper tokens too… which takes us back to battling again.
Although there may be more fine tuning and tweaking of the rules between now and the finished version, I’ve enjoyed playing Hyperspace so far. The learning games can take a bit of time, but we all enjoyed figuring out our alien abilities and taking our super units into battles. It may not be quite a good fit for those groups that shy away from combat, though I haven’t seen enough of the expansion alien civilizations to know whether there are many that will give you other paths to victory. I can say for certain that if you go all in on the Starship Captain pledge, there are enough aliens to keep you busy and learning for a long time to come!
If you’re looking for a solid sci-fi 4X game, especially with plenty of space battles, visit the Hyperspace Kickstarter page to get more info or to make a pledge!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.