For gamers that like to spend a few hours building up a civilization from their early beginnings into a thriving empire, there are few choices better than the 4x genre. For those new to the term, 4x stands for “explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate.” These are games about starting small, exploring your surroundings, building up your power and finally taking on your opponents. Not for those with short attention spans, the 4x genre of game will usually be a lengthy but entertaining game experience. Newcomer to the genre, Hegemonic by Minion Games, seeks to put their spin on a 4x game. Do the succeed in creating a game that will span the ages? Read on to find out!
In Hegemonic, players are tasked with taking their fledgling space empire from a single sector to the far reaches of the galaxy. Each turn, players will be exploring new tiles, advancing technologies and claiming more piece of the galaxy with one of their three different base types. Eventually players will bump into their opponents and battles will ensue for the precious galactic real estate. At the end of each round, players will score victory points based on control of each sector. The player with the most victory points at the end of the game wins.
Minion Games did a nice job with the components in this heavy box. Each player gets an indented board that will house all of their bases in the game. Taking a page out of games like Terra Mystica, the player board also helps to provide information for the player as they build their bases. When you remove a base to build it, the new information revealed dictates to a player their new income and retention limits. It’s nice having all of that information at your fingertips.
Also included are a number of sector tiles to be randomized before the game. This modular board helps to ensure a different game each time. I did notice some slight warping on the galaxy boards and score track board, but that could just be an issue with my copy of the game. The game also comes with a set of player action cards (one set per player) and a deck of technology cards. Both sets of cards are well designed with text and iconography to make their understanding a pain free process.
Finally players get a number of different bases, ships and political agents to be built during the game. These are made out of plastic and are quite numerous, allowing for players to truly build out an empire as they expand across the reaches of the galaxy.
How to Play:
First players must select a civilization to play and, if using them, a leader card. If not using the leader cards then there is no difference in the civilizations other than color. The galaxy is constructed based on player count (we usually go with the suggested layout) and each player draws 5 tech cards. Each player places their starting galaxy along with one of each of their bases on their home sector (Industrial Complex, Political Embassy and Military Outpost). The player with the Arbiter token will be the first player for the round.
A round is broken up in to 6 phases:
1. Collection: Each player collects CAPs (money) based on how many of each base type they’ve built. The more a player builds, the higher their income will be.
2. Exploration: Starting with the Arbiter, each player draws a sector tile from the draw stack and adds it to the pool of face up sector tiles. They then choose one tile to add anywhere on the board. Next, they draw a new technology card and either discard one or play one. Players should always have exactly 5 tech cards (until combat starts).
3/4/5. Action Phase: Each player simultaneously chooses one of their 6 action cards to play. After each player has chosen, the cards are revealed and players execute their actions based on the number in the upper left of the cards (lowest to highest). If 2 players have the same number, the Arbiter chooses the order.
Possible actions include:
Build: Players can build news embassies, complexes or outposts on the board by paying their construction costs. New bases must be in range of an existing base of the same type. Players can also build warp gates, fleets or agents. The latter two options are used in attacking your opponents.
Attack: Players use their industrial complexes, fleets or agents to attack opponents bases. More on that later
Gain Caps: Players gain caps depending on if they are using a basic action or the discover card.
Draw new tech cards: Players gain and/or play tech cards depending on if they are using a basic action or the discover card.
Explore a new sector: The discover cards will let players draw and place another sector tile.
Each player gets 2 actions for the card they play. Most cards have 2-3 different action options to choose from and players can take their actions in any order and even repeat actions.
6. Arbitration: The arbiter token passes to the player with the most CAPs. Then each player must discard CAPs down to their retention limit (as shown on their player board). Finally scoring happens. Players score VPs based on if they control a galaxy board (have the most power) with bonus points being given if you are in control of the galactic core and/or if you are the only one on that galaxy board.
Combat in Hegemonic is somewhat abstract. You are not going to be building up fleets or armies and sending them off to battle. You do have 3 ships you can make to focus the attack of your military outposts, but they are more of a laser pointer for your outpost’s power than the actual gun. The same goes with your political agents. They focus your attack, but only have minor attack bonuses.
When a player plays an attack card, they must first pay a cost (the cost doubles if they are taking over a base rather than just destroying one). To begin, players calculate their total power. This is based on which type of base is being attacked and which type is attacking. Mostly power is based on adjacently and how many types of similar bases a player has built within range. Other bonuses might be factored in based on tech cards a player has advanced. Once each player has figured out their base power, they each play a tech card in from their hand. Each card has a number from 2-8 and they add this number to their base power. The player with the highest total power wins the conflict. If the attacker wins, they either destroy their opponents base(s) or replace them with their own (depending on if it was a destroy or takeover action). If the defender wins, the attacker’s fleet/agents are destroyed (if they were attacking with them).
The hardest part about combat is figuring out all your bonuses as they are calculated differently for each base type. It will take you a while to get a firm understanding of how it works, but when you do, it makes sense. I’d say it will probably take most of the game before you can get through an attack without having to reference the rulebook or a player aid.
The game ends when either the sector draw stack is empty or the last empty sector has been filled. At that point, the round is finished and players score VPs based on their tech cards played. The player with the most VPs is the winner.
Hegemonic is a somewhat abstract type of game. When I opened the box and started learning how to played, I must be honest, it was not what I was expecting at all. When I think of a 4x game, I think of starting with a small, weak civilization. I don’t know much about the known world (or universe), but as the game progresses I slowly build up my tech and learn about the rest of the world. Eventually I meet other civs and conflict arises. At that point we are both powerful and somewhat established. Conflict, while unavoidable, is usually handled in the mid-late game.
Hegemonic doesn’t follow that classic style of game at all. If Twilight Imperium treats combat like easing into a warm bath then Hegemonic is akin to running up to someone with a super soaker. By turn two we were fighting over sector tiles. That’s almost unheard of in a 4x game. In Hegemonic there is no slow build up, it’s more so about keeping your opponents at bay while you expand into safer areas and consolidate your power.
And that’s one of the issues I have about Hegemonic. It doesn’t really feel like a 4x game. The exploration is automatic and it’s really more just tile placement. Researching is somewhat abstract as well. There is no tech tree to speak of. A player can only ever have 3 tech cards in play at any time. And while tech feels like a nice bonus, you will never feel like you are racing to a powerful tech to out gun your opponents.
So if Hegemonic doesn’t feel like a 4x game then what does it feel like. My first inclination was that it was more of an abstract war game. Hegemonic seems to thrust you into combat from the very early stages. The game is about area control and in your limited space, you will sometimes have to wrest control of a sector from the person who owns it.
But even with all the fighting, it almost feels a little too abstract to be a war game as well. There is no building up fleets of different ships, you won’t be marching them across the board in a wave of doom. Your fleets (limited to 3 ships or agents) act more like a laser pointer for your bases. You use them to say “I’m attacking you here with the power of these bases.” While the fleets do give you a +1 power bonus in battle, they are rarely going to win a conflict for you.
This may feel like a lot of complaining and that I don’t like the game, but that’s not really true. I think Hegemonic is a good game, but I also think people should know what they are getting. So this game doesn’t feel like a classic 4x or war game, what does it feel like? To me, it’s more of an abstract area control game with some role selection and a healthy dose of combat. And that’s not necessary a bad thing. For some people that might scratch just the right itch. Hegemonic is something different, something unique and also is highly strategic.
One of the things Hegemonic will have going for it is its low amount of luck. There are no dice to be rolled. While the tech cards are done via a random draw, there are many different ways for you to get cards into your hand so you can quickly cycle through the deck if there is a card you really want to find.
Even combat has minimal luck. You can usually figure out both you and your opponent’s base power before you even initiate a combat. If you know you have a high tech card to play during the battle, your risk will be quite minimal. For fans of high strategy/low luck, they are going to be loving Hegemonic.
The other thing I really enjoyed about Hegemonic is its quick play time. The box boast a play time of 45 minutes per player, but I think one players get a solid grasp of the game and how conflicts work, that number could easily drop down to 30/player. Getting a space exploration game finished in 2 hours with 4 players is almost unheard of.
So while at the end of the day I think Hegemonic is a well put together game with some really unique rules, it just didn’t quite scratch the right itches for me. If I’m looking for a 4x game I’m probably going to turn somewhere else. However the things Hegemonic does right, it does really well. I think this game will appeal to a lot of people, especially someone looking for a highly strategic game.
Overall we had fun playing Hegemonic. The learning curve is probably a bit steeper than it needs to be based on the abstract nature of combat, so that’s something to be aware of. But once you get a solid feel for the rules and combat, the game will play quickly and be very tactical. If you are the type of player that likes to plan a few turns ahead, then you will really enjoy Hegemonic.
Hegemonic will also appeal to the war mongers out there. While it doesn’t feel like a true war game, there will be combat aplenty in Hegemonic. For the people that think empire building games progress just a little too slow, they will enjoy the fast paced combat in Hegemonic. Combat is unavoidable in this game. If you enjoy an ebb and flow of territories constantly changing hands and being under attack, then this is the game for you. If you yearn to jump right into conflict over a galactic sector then you’ve found your game. But for those looking for a traditional 4x game, than this probably isn’t the one for you. However, if you are looking for a quick playing, more abstract space conquest game, then Hegemonic is absolutely worth a look.
If you are interested in getting a copy for yourself, it’s about $60.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – A fun area control game with a lot of conflict. Quicker play time can help get it to the table often.
• Doesn’t feel like a 4x game
• Conflict rules are fairly abstract and take some getting used to