I travel a lot for my job here at Cryptozoic and I love almost every minute of it. What makes it so enjoyable is that I know I’m visiting places to discuss and play our upcoming releases with retailers, distributors, and fans. One of the negative aspects of travel can be all the solo free time, whether you are waiting at an airport, flying, or just sitting in a hotel room. But given my job, it gives me extra time to play and grow familiar with various games. One of those games is Master of Orion: The Board Game, which Cryptozoic is releasing this summer.
Due to all my travel, I’ve also had to chance to play a lot of WG Labs’ recently released Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars on my laptop as well. In fact, I have it open in the other window right now. Because I’ve been playing both the tabletop and PC iterations so much, I really have to give kudos to Hobby World and designers Igor Sklyuev and Ekaterina Gorin for capturing the essence of a 4X empire-building game like Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars (and all of its classic predecessors) in a board game. Not only did they stay faithful to all the key aspects of a 4X game, but they streamlined them into an hour-long experience.
WHAT! An hour-long 4X game?
That’s right. This new board game has everything a 4X gamer like myself wants, just distilled into an hour playtime. 4X tabletop gamers are always prepared to sit down and play the same game for hours, or even days. Many of us love this extended play, but it might be hard to get others to join in on the excitement. As Master of Orion: The Board Game can be played in an hour, I’ve found that I can get any type gamer to the table, including my personal play group that ONLY plays 4x games. Everyone has asked to play it again.
But without a sprawling board and huge fleets of minis, how can this game capture the 4Xs: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate?
eXplore: No card draw is free in Master of Orion: The Board Game. If more cards are needed, you have to use one of you limited actions per turn to Research. Researching allows you to draw two Structure Cards from the Structure Deck, essentially exploring what options you have to build out your empire. Some races can even Research more; the Psilon, for example, draw three Stucture Cards with each Research action.
Exploring only gets you started, as you still need to build an empire. You need to choose the right time to Research, as the 3-5 action cubes you get each round are also used for everything else in the game. Also, your hand limit at the end of the round is five cards, so if you Research too much you will have to discard Structure Cards without any benefit.
eXpand: At the heart of all 4X games is a solid engine-building system and Master of Orion: The Board Game is no different. Each player has up to four Systems they can expand into. These Systems, represented by card tableaus, can hold up to five cards each. Each card (originally drawn from the Structure Deck using the Research action) is built using a mixture of Food, Production, and/or Fleet resources and most likely will produce more of the same resources every round. As you expand into more Systems (tableaus) by building additional Structure Cards into them, this production of resources increases, allowing you to build even more expensive cards in later rounds.
However, there is a catch. Even though all your cards can produce resources, only the top card in each of your four Systems is active. Therefore, sometimes expanding into an existing System may be detrimental. You will need to time the right time to overwrite a previously built card, or attempt to plan ahead and build over cards that only trigger their activated ability when built. No matter what, expanding your empire is a valid path to victory; if you can complete all four Systems with five cards each, the game immediately ends and Victory Points are counted.
eXploit: Did you draw something with your Research action that just doesn't work for your strategy? It might be something too expensive or just not antagonistic enough. There is a solution! There is an action called Exploitation. Each card has a value on the bottom left that is worth additional resources or cards, if you discard the card. If the card is Exploited/discarded, you get these resources immediately! So you might be able to complete that card that’s been sitting in your hand since the start of the game or get a bonus for discarding a card that you would have needed to discard at the end of the round anyway.
Exploitation isn’t just an action; it’s a central component of playing a 4X game. It’s important to realize what your path to victory might be. You may have a card that really pumps up your attacks so that they devastate your foes. Maybe you should lean into that strategy and crank it up a few notches. All grey Structure Cards allow you to look at the top four cards of the Structure Deck and keep three, so if timed right you can go through a good portion of the deck to find what you need to eXterminate those pesky Mrrshan.
eXterminate: Player elimination is a big no-no in game design, but is still a VERY important part of 4X gaming. Little feels better than roleplaying a warlord that is hell bent on destroying the other races of the galaxy. But it also really sucks if you’re the guy who gets kicked out of the game. What makes Master of Orion: The Board Game so great in this regard is that you can still attack others and eliminate them fully from the game, but—due to the short length of play—a player’s elimination ends the game.
A player is eliminated when their Morale goes below 0 in a round. Morale is lowered in many ways but more often than not it is when another player has a larger fleet than you and uses one of their actions to place an action cube on your board, attacking you. You can defend against an attack by building your fleet up or by using a Propaganda action, which raises your Morale by 3 once per turn. Many cards and abilities cannot be used unless you have Morale of 6 or higher, so the Morale Track is very important. If you are eliminated by having your Morale go to 0 or below, all is not lost; you still may win if you have a higher score. But since Morale also counts toward your final score, it is much harder to win if you’ve been eXterminated!
Fans of the classic video game, 4X gamers, and game groups of all tastes will all love this concise, thrilling new entry into the 4X genre. Master of Orion: The Board Game lands in a store near you just in time for Gen Con! If you going to the Origins Game Fair, there will be a limited number of these games at our both for pre-sale! For more news on this and other exciting games, keep scanning Cryptozoic.com or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.