Release Date: November 2013
Publisher: Minion Games
Age: 10 and older
Pros: Big space game, great components, fast for the genre
Cons: Learning curve, abstract aliens
Kickstarter has created a golden age of board games: now anyone with a great idea can his own game published, by raising money directly from the public. These games vary in quality, but Hegemonic is toward the high end, and may be the first truly classic game in its genre to be funded by Kickstarter.
That’s high praise, but I do need to qualify it. Hegemonic is a 4x space game, a genre that only has a few contenders, most notably Twilight Imperium. These games are best with 3 or more players, all serious gamers, all able to commit 3 hours (generally more) to taking a game seriously, and all able to play games that have military, political, resource management, and strategic aspects that all must be optimized for a solid game.
Where Am I?
The basic premise of Hegemonic is each player controls a faction of humanity, a race that has conquered all of the Milky Way. Now, humanity is spreading to a new, unexplored galaxy, and the players are in competition to gain control of the most of this new galaxy. Each player begins with a home system, and gets to pick an unexplored system to put adjacent to the home system.
While most exploration games have basically random exploration, this “pick a system” aspect to Hegemonic is both weird…and brilliant. A player chooses from a pool what system he wants, and places it. Usually, he’ll pick a desirable system to place near himself, but he could place a relatively weak system near an opponent, stunting the enemy’s growth (although the latter is only rarely worthwhile).
Each system can be developed in limited ways, either politically, militarily, or industrially. Additionally, a system may already be occupied by an alien race–there are three in the game. Much like the player factions, they have backgrounds that have no relevance. They quickly become “yellow aliens” or “purples”…although bland, political control of alien factions is extremely helpful in the game, and systems with alien residents are usually desirable to “explore.”
Each player’s faction is rated in military, political, and industrial power, and a very easy to read card. As a player builds bases of each type, his faction improves, he gains improved income and other benefits, including access to higher level technology. In addition to bases, a player also can build agents (good for expanding political power), fleets (great for attacking), and warp gates. The universe is a big place, and bases generally can only influence nearby hexes (“sectors”); warp gates can connect distant sectors, and are key to an integrated empire.
Each turn is divided into multiple phases, starting with income, then discovery and technology (where you can play cards to get technological advantages). Next come action phases; each player secretly plays cards to determine actions, from building (a big part of the game), more discovery (or income), or to directly attack other players.
The “combat” system is another brilliant aspect of the game. A player can attack another player’s political/industrial/military bases with his own bases of one type (supplemented, possibly, by agents and fleets). There are no dice involved, instead a player’s power is determined by how many bases of the right type can support the attack/defense (making those warp gates critical!). Additionally, players not involved in the combat can still contribute some power based on their control over the various alien factions. Finally, players play tech cards to add even more power. Combat is a little involved, but with practice adding up all the points isn’t too rough.
Usually, combat is the weakest aspect of multiplayer games–if it is bloody, then the players involved in the combat, even the winner, will be so weakened that they become vulnerable to the other players in the game. Hegemonic keeps the attacker at minimal risk (usually, just a fleet or an agent), motivating players to just “give it a shot,” and often the card played is a bigger factor than anything else. The stakes are generally small for the defender as well, just one base. This is a game of careful exploration and rabid expansion, with only a dash of open conflict.
After actions, points get tallied up, region by region, with the biggest bonuses from sole occupation of a region and control of the core regions (in the center of the galaxy).
Are We There Yet?
The other big weakness of games of this scope is time–Twilight Imperium can easily take eight hours, and many other large scale conquest/explore/research games likewise take a full day of play. Hegemonic has a harsh cap on time–the game ends once the galaxy is explored, and it fills up past (the above picture is the second turn of the game). Even a six player game can easily wrap up in five hours, providing a very satisfying game that wraps up in one afternoon.
The main drawbacks to the game aren’t that much. It’s a little complicated, but that’s par for this genre, and I’ve certainly seen many worse. The technologies are a bit limited, but fewer options reduces the chance of a “broken” technology that would unbalance the game. The human and alien factions could sure use some actual influence on the game…but again, it’s a good sacrifice in the name of balance. The main weakness is if one player has little skill, it can unbalance the game as the helpless player creates a bit of a power vacuum (and can fall so far behind in the few turns to have no chance of catching up), but it’s hard to name a game in this genre that doesn’t have this problem to some extent.
For the right gaming group, Hegemonic could be the “game of the week” for many months, and it won’t surprise me if, twenty years from now, this one is on many “best games of all time” lists. Only the “not for everyone” issue keeps it out of the “A rating” for me.
Product Page [miniongames]