Saturday, May 24, 2014

Space Empires

Space Empires is a 4X (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) game by GMT, with a couple of solo scenarios, plus options for two, three, four or more players. I read through the rules last night and put the smaller of the two Doomsday Machine solos on the table this morning. Total time was a bit  more than two hours from punching counters to end of game.

Components:  Mounted mapboard, plain black numbered hexes, no "starfield" background. Not exciting to look at the board by itself, but a starfield might make things look cluttered. The map has areas outlined for each player's home space.
The counters are diecut, about what you'd expect--they don't come out as cleanly  and easily as the ones in Conflict of Heroes, but they do come out. If you're obsessive, you might trim take nail clippers to the corners. although I probably won't bother. Each player has Home Area counters, designated by an outline color--red, green, yellow, pale blue--and there are Deep Space counters which have a white outline. Might be hard to distinguish "white" from "pale blue" if you have glare or poor light. Note that most of the Home counters are in one area of one counter sheet, but there are a few more on another sheet. I spent a few minutes thinking "I should have 26, I'm only seeing 24..."
The game requires some bookkeeping but the record sheet is intuitive, and the items listed on the chart are in the correct order by turn sequence. I don't have any compulsion to do my own Improved Version, which is rare.
Four d10, two orange, two black. Given that squadrons can have up to six ships, perhaps they should have included two more dice--but I have thirty d10 of my own within arm's length, so it's hardly a problem.

Game: in the "Small / Easy" version Doomsday Machine scenario, you start off with your home planet against one edge of the map--think of it as being the center of a clock dial, where your territory is the lower half of the dial and the upper half is off the board. Staring forces are three scouts, three colony ships, a mining ship and four shipyards. There are three Movement phases, followed by an Economic phase; the rules call each phase a Turn, but I'll use Turn for the four phases together. You know in advance that Machines will show up during the Economic phase of Turns 7, 9 and 11; the first one is weak, the second tougher, and the third tougher still.

Turn 1: I discovered two Mineral deposits and two Planets. I realize now that I sent my Miner out discovering when it shouldn't have been able to--only warships can explore strange new worlds. I sent two Colony ships out to the new planets and paid the Technology cost to increase Move to 2 for new ships.

Turn2: Lost two of my three scouts, built two replacements (which get the Move 2 tech) plus a colony ship and a miner. Planted a third colonies.

Turn 3: Lost another scout, bought upgrades for Shipyard Capacity and Hull Size tech and another Colony ship. Established a fourth colony.

Turn 4: Lost my remaining two scouts but I have explored almost all my home space and I don't know whether it's worth exploring Deep Space.  I invest in technology for Ship Attack Rating and Hull Size.

Turn 5:  Mining ships still hauling minerals back to colonies. Put down the fifth and final colony--there are more planets but they're far enough from the homeworld that I don't think it's worthwhile building more colonizers. Technology upgrades to increase Move to 3.

Turn 6: The first Doomsday machine is due at the end of next turn, so it's time to make the final Tech developments and start building warships. My warships can now be Attack 1, Move 4, Size 2 cruisers. I build two of them.

Turn 7:  I build four more cruisers. There are five spawn points around the perimeter of the Deep Space area and the first Machine appears at one in the lower left (using the clock dial analogy, it's at the 7:30 position). My colonies happen to be mostly to the right, so the Machine will be aiming at my homeworld.

Turn 8: My fleet intercepts the Machine and engages. This one is pretty weak; it only kills one of the six cruisers. I lose another two exploring. During the exploration I find some minerals which my Miners can collect, so it's not a complete loss, but it certainly wasn't worth losing the cruiser. I vow to stop exploring, and I build four more cruisers.

Turn 9: My squadrons move to central positions. During the Economic Phase, a second Machine appears, at the far left (9:00 position). There's one uninhabited planet between the Machine and my homeworld, but no colonies. Four more cruisers come out of the yards/

Turn 10: My miner tows that last mineral deposit to a colony, while my navy intercepts the second Machine. This one is tougher and kills four of my cruisers. Fleet mainteance costs are rising and my mineral resources are dwinding; I can only build three replacements, not four.

Turn 11: I build another three cruisers, bringing me up to thirteen. The final, and toughest, Machine appears at the far right. There are two colonies between it and my homeworld.

Turn 12: My fleet intercepts the Machine just before it reaches the first colony. Our first round of fire lands several hits...and then apparently our targeting software decides to go on strike. Cruiser after cruiser explodes, while our return fire only rarely manages to connect. Finally the gunners fix the problem and resume effective fire. After five rounds of combat,  with five cruisers left, and one of them damaged, they finish off the last Doomsday Machine. Victory!

Debriefing: I think I should have built one more colony ship, and maybe another scout (it which case I'd have lost the scout rather than a cruiser).
I realized after game-end that I was moving my ships too fast. Your starting Move 1 means you get to move 1 in each phase, but Move 2 doesn't mean you get to move 2 in each phase--instead, you move  1 in the first movement phase, 1 in the second, and 2 in the third. Move 3 means 1, 2, 2.  The same mechanism used in some of Jack Greene's naval games, so I've seen the mechanism before; I just didn't keep in mind that "Move 2 doesn't mean moving two". Intercepting the Machines in time would have been somewhat harder but I don't think it would have made a difference to this game.
A few times I lost track of which pieces I'd moved. I suppose I could start with the leftmost hexrow and keep working across to the right, but I like to move my warships first and then come back for the civilians. The hexes are big enough, though, that I could easily put the counters at the top ("north") of the hex on the first phase, at the bottom of the hex for the second phase, and keep alternating.

Rating: More elegant than I expected; particularly, the bookkeeping is a lot less painful than I expected. I'll happily give the scenario another go. Josh had to talk me into buying this one, but I'm glad he did.

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